Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What I’ll miss about Google Notebook? Speed and Search.

Digital Inspiration notes that several newly invigorated competitors are tripping over themselves to offer easy-import tools now that Google Notebook has been left for dead. Ubernote, which has some striking UI similarities to Google Notebook, offers a guide to importing Google’s Atom files. Zoho’s solution is even easier, because you don’t have to import your notebooks one at a time. Apparently, Evernote is working on an import solution as well, but it’s not quite ready.

Being able to import your notes into another app is nice, but it’s only possible because Google’s web-based product was so superior in the first place. Of the products mentioned above, only Google Notebook provides multiple sharing and backup options, including both HTML and Atom formats. Evernote does full XML import / export, but you have to install the desktop app on Mac or Windows to take advantage of those functions.

Of course, the option to take your game elsewhere isn’t the only advantage Google Notebook had. As you would expect with a Google Product, Notebook was fast and it was easy to find your stuff. I’m not sure what you look for in a Notebook, but being able to store and find my stuff when I’m in a hurry is about the only thing I demand. To illustrate what I’m talking about, let’s take a look the two competitors now offering import tools.

I’m actually pretty impressed with Ubernote’s expansive list of features, and I love their UI because it borrows so liberally from Google Notebook’s design (it also borrows liberally from Evernote’s name and mascot, but we’ll let that slide for now). Yes, Ubernote offers just about everything Google Notebook offers, but unfortunately, it’s much, much slower. No, I don’t expect Ubernote to match the scale and resources that Google Notebook had, but the load times are a noticeable drag. In my experience, Ubernote’s search function is only slightly slower than Google’s. But page loads and clippings take much longer. “So what,” you say? “So it takes a little longer.” But as Jeff Atwood noted today, even a little lag time can have a huge negative effect on user experience. What I loved about Google was how quickly I could clip text into its Firefox extension and move stuff around, without ever leaving the page. Ubernote’s Firefox add-on and bookmarklet don’t come close in either speed or convenience.

Still, I could actually see myself using Ubernote if they smoothed out the rough edges and sped things up a bit. A recent blog post implied that the hiccups and slow speed might be caused, in part, by their recent growth spurt. They say they’re working on it, and I hope they are. It’s an app with a lot of promise.

Zoho Notebookimage
Zoho Notebook is not quite so promising. Recall that I care about two things: speed and search. Zoho’s Notebook is plenty responsive, but as I’ve noted before, it gets an “F” in search. Why? Because Zoho offers no help when it comes to finding your stuff. There’s no search box. There are no tags. Ubernote, Google Notebook, Evernote, and Zotero all feature both tags AND search. But apparently Zoho doesn’t think these features are all that important. Actually helping you locate what you’ve stored with them is unnecessary. I know I’ve said this before, but that’s kind of ridiculous. Somehow they managed to copy OneNote’s look and feel while omitting one of the most obvious and crucial functions. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Frankly, I kinda wish these sites rushing to capture Google’s market share were forced to do it the old fashioned way. Not by creating an easy-import tool for a dying product, but by making their products more useful to end users. All I want is to quickly clip notes from the web, and find them equally fast from any internet-connected computer. If you can do that, I don’t care about your import tool. I’ll export all my old notes to Google Docs (another killer option Google Notebook offers). Then I’ll start over with a product aimed at winning both my heart and my notes.

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