I got into a discussion the other day around the merits of Evernote versus Dropbox. Just about everyone has heard of these two services and I wanted to explore why you’d use one over the other. I use both of these services, extensively, so wanted to give my opinion on how they each stack up in four different categories: Security, Data Integrity, Search, and X-Factor (that little something extra).
I’m a bit of a security buff, so I want to tackle security first. Is my data stored encrypted or in the clear on the provider’s servers? Who has access to my data besides me? Is the service “Trust No One”?
Dropbox famously blew itself up on this point, first stating their employees “cannot access your data” and then backtracking when it was pointed out that they in fact could. Ultimately, Dropbox does provide encryption in transit (SSL) and stores your data encrypted at rest (AES-256), however; the encryption keys are held by Dropbox and Dropbox has access to your data and will use it (“when legally required to do so”). Details can be found in their Help Center.
Evernote isn’t quite as good as Dropbox, they do use SSL for data transmission, but they also do not encrypt the data at rest. To make up for that, you can encrypt portions of a note (text only), and when you do this, it is “Trust No One” and you’re the only one who can decrypt it. Another feature is “Local Notebooks” where the notebook you create is not sent to the Evernote servers, this provides some measure of security, but at the price of functionality (that notebook will not appear on any of your other devices).
It’s always possible that either Dropbox or Evernote could go out of business. Just ask folks with blogs at JournalSpace or users with files stored at Megaupload. So, what happens if the worst occurs and one morning you wake up to read that Evernote or Dropbox is out of business and the service is no longer available?
Dropbox creates copies of your data on each of the endpoints you enable, in addition to having a copy online. If you haven’t explicitly excluded your Dropbox folder from your backups, then you probably not only have a copy on your drive, but also in your backups. Your data is safe. To get your data back if Dropbox fails, just copy it out of your Dropbox folder (not even technically necessary).
Evernote stores your data locally and synchronizes it to your other devices. The desktop client does not require Internet access in order to grant you access to your data, so their servers can quit at any time. The desktop client also allows you to export all of your data as HTML or well-formatted XML, both of which would give you access again (though probably not with the same organization).
Winner: Dropbox, though I think this could be a tie, however; Dropbox doesn’t alter your data in any way
Finding your Stuff
Having these cloud services where you can upload all of your digital information is wonderful, until you want to find something. Robust search and organizational paradigms are essential to making a service valuable.
Dropbox is a folder on your hard drive that is synchronized to “The Cloud” and then to your various endpoints. That’s good and bad. The good is that you can use any search/index capabilities that are native, or added, to your Operating System. On a Macintosh this means that Spotlight will index your entire Dropbox and all the capabilities of the native OS searching are available to you. The bad is that if you don’t like those capabilities, or if they are insufficient for what you want to do, there’s not much you can do about it.
Evernote supports tags, so immediately you have an organizational method not available in Dropbox. Tags are a great way to organize documents and notes in a matrix, so you can quickly find all of the related items to a specific tag. Evernote also provides “Related Notes” capabilities when you’re reading or editing a note, which will display other notes in your Library that it believes are similar. These capabilities go a bit beyond the native Operating System capabilities and when coupled with the fact that scanned documents and handwritten notes can also now be searched, I believe Evernote edge out Dropbox here.
This is where strong differentiation occurs. Which service provides you that extra “something” that makes you see a reason to use it over the other?
Dropbox provides you access to your files. That’s it, access. It provides that access through a large number of clients and via the web, and it does an outstanding job at providing the access, but ultimately, it’s just a storage container.
Evernote transforms your data. Not only does it allow you store a wide variety of data types, but it provides organization through the use of metadata like Tags and Notebooks. You have a secret email address that you can send anything to and it will show up in your Evernote Inbox. Take a picture of a document and upload it to Evernote, and it will be OCR’d, indexed, and become searchable. This works on handwriting too…so you can upload those handwritten notes in notebooks you have lying around. Audio works in Evernote too, the app for iPhone allows you to record a message and save in Evernote, to be played using the built-in player.
Winner: Evernote. The X-Factor is that your data is presented to you, not just available.
Not surprising, we have a tie. This article got me thinking that these are really two very different services and they perform similar, but different functions. I use both regularly, but now I’m evaluating how I use each of them. For me, Evernote is a clear winner for storing the written word. Documents that contain text: PDF, Notes, HTML, and even Images (not Photos). The reason is that these Documents are transformed into a format where you can easily read, edit, and search them. The exception are Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents as they cannot be “transformed” or edited from inside Evernote. On the other hand, Dropbox is where I store software, Photos, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, Zip files, Backups, and Code I’m writing (because it can live there and I can access it there from Xcode).
Evernote is where I’m keeping all of my written word (Notes, PDFs, Documentation, etc)
Dropbox is where I’m keeping everything else (Backups, Code, Microsoft Office Documents, Photos)
How are you using these two services?