Why Didn't Google Develop Evernote?

Published: by

Evernote and its competitors have been quite successful at helping users keep track of information. A major use case is Web pages. You find a Web page you like, but want to keep later for reference. Perhaps it is a reference manual to your car; maybe it is an API for the development language you are working on; it might be 5 interesting articles on educational theory.

Whatever it is, you have a need to hold on to certain Web pages and their context for some period of time beyond the next 1-2 hours. You have 3 options:

  1. Keep the browser windows open for a really long time. Many do this, but it is not practical over the longer term. First, you lose context and notes. Second, it clutters your workspace and uses up computer memory. Third, the first browser close or shutdown will have you lose the sites.
  2. Go back to Google and search again. This works, often, but again loses the context. Often if you use slightly different search terms, you get significantly different results. What if you cannot even remember the search itself?
  3. Write them down somewhere. Many use Word docs, Stickies or similar all-purpose writing applications. These, too, however, lose much context and are somewhat difficult to work with. They are a little too all-purpose.

Since 1 & 2 are not ideal, and 3 is weak, along came note-taking apps.

The interest question is, why didn't Google develop Evernote or similar? It had the eyeballs of everyone searching; I would wager that upwards of 90% of all information stored in these apps - and 99% of all Web pages - began as a Google search. Truth be told, if I were looking at writing such an app in the market's infancy, I might have shied away, expecting Google to run with it.

I believe the major issue here is culture. Google is, first and last, a search-ad business. Sure, it has Android, which is largely a defensive play around its search business, and it is a few other elements, but Google's core is, and probably always will be, search ads. Further, I strongly suspect a large number of searches are "repeats", users who come back and search for the same thing again.

Thus, it is strongly in Google's interest not to have users take notes. They would far prefer to have users come back and search again. I could envision the following conversation inside their corporate offices:

"You know, 60% of our users come back and search for the same thing again."

"Really? That is great! Repeat business."

"We could make their lives easier by creating some sort of storage engine for past searches. Even keep it offline in their mobile or desktop. That way, they wouldn't have to come back to use again. Wouldn't that help them?"

"Them? Sure. But you just said 60% of our searches are repeats. Do you want to cannibalize 60% of our revenue?!? Let's help our users, but not by killing our business!"

"OK, fine, I thought it would be great...."

Somehow, I doubt it was quite that blatant; perhaps no one even thought of note-taking and search storage. But perhaps they did.

Either way, this is one of the key lessons of competing with larger companies. If they have a strong cultural incentive to stick with the status quo, it is highly likely that they will not compete there, even in the face of strong competition. Of course, this is not new. This is a key element of Christensen's "Innovator's Solution": go where the big players cannot.