Saturday, June 21, 2008

Zoho Notebook, revisited

When I was still in Law School, Zoho Notebook was released, and I was incredibly excited. The screenshots I had seen closely resembled OneNote’s interface of multi-colored, tabbed pages. But Zoho was web based, and was supposedly optimized for rich media content like videos and sound input. It even had Skype integration.

image But when I finally got a hold of it, I was very disappointed. I didn’t use it for more than an hour, and I went back quickly to OneNote. Why? Well, that’s the thing. I couldn’t quite remember until I decided to give it another chance this morning. The verdict: I still hate it.

First, the media richness comes as advertised. You can insert and save videos, audio, RSS feeds, HTML and files from the outsanding Zoho Office Suite (i.e., Writer, Sheets). You can run an entire Web page from within one window on Zoho. It’s impressive. Unfortunately, the awesomeness stops there because Zoho doesn’t work well as a conventional web-based notebook. For a notebook to succeed (any notebook), there can’t be layers of friction and process between when I decide to note something, and when I put it in my notebook. Zoho is full of friction.

It’s the little things

  • Can’t quickly copy and paste items. I have to double-click to create a window before creating text. If I want to cut and paste an image, I have to double click within a window.
  • To scroll down in a page, you’re limited to a slider on the right side of the interface or your up and down arrows. Occasionally, Zoho responded to the mouse wheel, but these bouts of functionality are unpredictable.
  • Functions like control-V and control Z don’t work as expected. For example, to paste something, you must first click, then press control V. If you want to undo, you can press control-Z, but what happens from there is a guess. Once, text I had just pasted remained, while a photo I pasted five-minutes ago disappeared. Z-spooky.

To reduce this friction, Zoho does have a Firefox add-on, but it’s not as nice as the Google Notebook add-on, because you have to have a Zoho Notebook tab open in order to import your text and images. That doesn’t sound too onerous, but walk through the steps. 1) Decide you want to save something. 2) Open Zoho in another tab. 3) Highlight and right click to save to Zoho. With Google Notebook, Evernote, and OneNote (in Internet Explorer) you don’t even have to leave the page.

It’s the big things, too

Ultimately, what makes Zoho unusable as a notebook isn’t its quirks or added friction. I think these problems would be reduced once you become accustomed to the interface. No, what KILLS Zoho is the shocking lack of a search function or tags that might allow you to find your notes later. In a notebook, that’s simply not up for debate. You have to be able to quickly retrieve what you’ve deposited. Zoho fails here by offering neither tags nor search.

Zoho, of course, could be an excellent collaboration space. With its media richness and Skype integration, I’m sure lots of people are using it this way. But not me. I’m looking for a notebook.

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