After Pledging A “Better Evernote”, Evernote Updates Data Sync, Now 4X Faster

Earlier this month, Evernote — the note-taking app with some 80 million users and over $250 million in funding — took a humble pill after former TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid slammed the company for letting its software development slip and the app fill with glitches. “I could quibble with the specifics,” wrote CEO Phil Libin, “but reading Jason’s article was a painful and frustrating experience because, in the big picture, he’s right. We’re going to fix this.”

Today comes part one of that repair job: Evernote is updating the synchronization that lets you keep exact copies of all of your data across different devices and in the cloud. It’s the first time since syncing was first introduced in 2008 that the whole system, including the server side, has been upgraded. The new technology is going to more reliable, but also more zippy — some four times quicker in synching users’ information, Libin promises.

It’s part of a bigger push the company is making over the next couple of weeks that will include a refresh of its apps on mobile and desktop, as well as an API update, as the service adds on more devices and more users.

You could argue that Evernote of late has been too focused on growing and less on servicing the users it already has. (Case in point: last week’s new deal to expand its partnership with Deutsche Telekom.) That’s a particularly bad state of affairs for a company like Evernote, which has often touted the permanency of its product.

In that regard, it looks like the updates are coming not a moment too soon, especially if you look at how some users have responded to sync lately:

Libin notes that the new sync will work regardless of what version of Evernote you use — although the difference is likely to be a lot more noticeable to power users with large amounts of data in Evernote.

“Sync now often takes a couple of seconds to complete, and when you get a new phone or computer, downloading your notes will take much less time,” Libin notes.

In a blog post, Libin writes that part of the reason the older sync has become less effective is because of the growth of the different elements of how Evernote works: the number of notes you have, the size of files (which can be as heavy as audio or as light as little notes), the number of users on a server, the number of devices, and the number of people with whom you collaborate.

All of these have exploded in scale as Evernote has increased its own functionality beyond being a simple smartphone app, and into an all-in-one organiser for yourself, your business, your diet and so on, and built out its user base to match. “We would set ourselves up for fast and reliable service for years to come, factoring in the rapid increases in mobile usage, wearable devices, larger images, video and collaboration that we expect in Evernote,” he writes.

The original system had been designed for a much simpler concept of the app, for a much smaller number of users.

“When we originally designed the architecture, we only had to support a few thousand, mostly single-device users, taking text notes for themselves,” writes Libin. “Now, we have tens of millions of users, most using multiple devices, storing and sharing notes, photos and documents.” It’s also gone from one server to more than 700 across “multiple data centers.” A more technical explanation is over here.

This is not an overnight change — and indeed, although Evernote only responded to criticism publicly in January, Libin says that the company was actually on the road to a larger upgrade for months already. In the case of sync, he says that the company redesigned how it worked a whole year ago on the server side. Like the company’s approach to implementing security (too slowly for some observers) it’s gone slowly on the sync update to make sure that there would be no service interruptions.

“First, our Service team completely re-engineered the way that Evernote synchronizes your notes. After that, we migrated every single note, resource and bit of metadata onto the new sync platform. We also upgraded the hardware on some of our older servers. Then we tested. And tested. And tested some more,” Libin notes.

It was only in the last few weeks that servers finally began to migrate over to the new infrastructure. As of now, all Evernote servers are running the new sync engine, Libin says.

The next step, he says, will be to upgrade apps and APIs, which should happen over the next couple of weeks.