Over a year ago I tried using Evernote. Everyone who spoke of it said it was a great service and that I should give it a shot. I was rather impressed with it’s ability to OCR my writing from a whiteboard and that was enough to keep me interested. The problem though was that I didn’t know how to use it so my sporadic Evernote use quickly turned into no use at all.

At the time I wasn’t really sure what I would use Evernote for. At first I thought I would use it exclusively for capturing whiteboard brainstorming sessions and I did. But when my whiteboard use dwindled so did my Evernote use. I remember trying to use it for project note taking but at the time, I did most of that on the studio’s wiki, project management software, or via e-mail. All three of those services provided me with rather substantial means of tracking and tagging my notes well enough so that I didn’t need to do much more. 

Now, a year later I see the real power of Evernote. It’s not just meant for work, and it’s not just meant for play. It’s meant for my life. A collective digital scrapbook that I can scour at a moment’s notice. Whether it’s a recipe or an interesting game mechanic, my Evernote will give it a home and keep it safe until I need it. I didn’t quite understand that before my need for a service of that nature became so strong. 

Almost over a year ago, a feature of a web service I use daily went unnoticed, lists for Twitter. When this feature was first introduced I asked myself, “Why would I want to make a list of people I follow? What would that list even be?” I couldn’t answer that question. Today I follow over 1,000 people on Twitter and lists make complete sense to me. Much like Evernote it wasn’t until I had a problem that Twitter lists showed it’s real value. I was having a hard time keeping up with people’s tweets whom I wanted to read on a daily basis. They were often hidden amongst several hundreds of other tweets and visiting their individual profile was time consuming. So I started a list of people whom I’d like to read every day on Twitter. The list works great and it really helps me keep up to date with those users. 

So what does Evernote and Twitter lists have in common? They weren’t put in context to me when I was first introduced to them. I didn’t understand how either Evernote or Twitter lists would be effective yet yet now that they are effective, I can’t stop using them.  Building a great service or a new feature is only half the battle the other half is presenting it in a way which will resonate with the target audience. Twitter could have created empty lists for me that could have been slightly suggestive as to the type of users I would add to that list. Entrepreneur, gamers, techies, any of those would have been great context for what lists are meant to do. Evernote similarly could have made suggestions as to how I should use their notebooks, and add media so it all makes sense and the value became apparent. In the end, it’s not just what you build but how you present it.