Why you shouldn’t trust your todo app 15

Lessons learned from the demise of Astrid, Catch, and Orchestra

Why you shouldn't trust your todo app

With the death of Astrid, Catch, and Orchestra, I’ve taken a bleaker and more pessimistic outlook on the vitality, and long term sustainability, of so-called task managers in the marketplace. We invest so much time into organizing all of our next actions into, what we believe to be, our trusted system. We spend hours, sometimes days or weeks, in categorizing each of these next actions, creating our project index, defining each of our projects, and what people and resources will we need in order for us to successfully complete the project. We define our life goals, our 5 to 10 year goals, and our 3 to 5 year goals. We look at where we want to be at the end of each calendar year.

We spend all this time, hoping that the app which we have called our trusted system will always stick around, be financially viable, and have a sustainable business model. But we never really think about the, “What if?”

The “what if” is a very scary notion. What if the company, to which I have trusted my most precious information with, shuts down? What if they become financially unstable? What if their business model suffered from unsustainability? What if they lose our data? What if there is no clean and clear way of exporting our data to another app? These are the questions that thousands of people, who were users of Astrid, Catch, and Orchestra, have to, suddenly, ask themselves.

And so, I ask each of you, do you really trust the company that created your to do app, and that you have called your trusted system? Do you know what the exit strategy is if you ever wanted to export your data? Do you know what the import strategy is with other to do apps in the marketplace? What can you really do with a JSON or HTML file? Do you know if you really own your data or is it stored on that company’s servers? I hate to paint a doomsday-like picture for all of you, but in the aftermath of three very popular apps shutting down, I believe it is time to reassess and reevaluate who owns, and where are we storing, our most precious data.

Let’s be clear about one thing – free is not a sustainable business model and our investment of our most precious data – our next actions and projects can ultimately be an investment in a fool’s stock. From the moment the venture capitalist revenue stream dries up, with no premium or ad revenue streams in the foreseeable future, or export strategy that provides you with data you can use elsewhere – your productivity will take a nosedive into treacherous waters, leaving you worse off than you were, before you used the app. Paid apps are not free from my merciless plight, though admittedly there is less for concern. At least, with a paid model, you’re funding the financial viability with a steady revenue stream.

So, what is the answer then? Where does that leave us, besides the murky swamp like picture I’ve painted for you? Do we revert back to paper as I have done before with my Evernote Moleskine? Perhaps not, as it is not practical for everyone. Well, do we use simple text files that sync up to Dropbox, as I have attempted to do in the last couple of weeks? That too, may not be the best answer. Well, what about using NoteSuite for my Mac and iOS friends, as I detailed in my post earlier this week? After all, they use the iOS iCloud to sync up the data, as opposed to their servers, therefore you are the owner of your data, and not them. Do we abandon Evernote, our beloved elephant friend, because we are concerned that they may not be the 100 year company they claim? I don’t think so. I am confident that they will be around for quite a while.

This is all to say that I don’t have the right answer. In fact, I don’t think that any of us really do. But, what I strongly suggest we all do is find out what exit strategy, and the important strategy, of any app that we want to use. In the end, looks, I am afraid, are not everything. We may be attracted to the latest, shiny app because it does things that we wish one of our other apps can do, but just remember the lessons we should all have learned from the demise of Astrid, Catch, and Orchestra.

If you need help in trying to discern what the import and export strategy is with your app, let me know in the comments, and I will be more than happy to assist.

About Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold is a productivity coach, keynote speaker, author, and podcaster. He is most well known for his eBooks, Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done, Simplify your Life with Springpad, and Make it Happen: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your eBook. Daniel is also the co-host of the GTD® Virtual Study Group podcast.

  • apinaud

    Love the topic Daniel. If you bring a panel count me in. As you know I am an OmniFocus user, but this year I move for a period of time to Nozbe my whole system. It open my eyes on how much we trust our system for certain things and how dependent we get to be to certain features.

    Great post!

  • Kevin Tea

    It has long been a concern of mine about the number of me-too services that spring up and developed by eager and bright developers confident that they can jump on the cloud based service bandwagon. That more don’t crash and burn is a source of constant amazement.

    You know full well that I am forever trying out new services for my site which I am more than happy to do but on a day to day basis I find I am withdrawing my horns and using a set of core packages that I have an inherent trust in.

    I believe that developers who concentrate on IOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry (there’s another tale!) and so on will be the ones that flew too close to the sum and end up like Icarus. Those that work up multi-platform packages will more likely develop in the long term and enjoy a happy and prosperous old age.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Kevin. I noticed though that Todoist doesn’t have a good exit/export strategy?

  • Andrew Mckay

    Good post Daniel and certainly very relevant. Maybe another option is install software on pc/Mac and use dropbox type service to sync your files or host your own server and get away from the online apps.

    • That’s a great point – the question of course is what software? 🙂

      • Andrew Mckay

        I’m too scared to open that answer that one 🙂 OneNote would be a good starting point but I have seen some many others. Got to admit I do find the online apps fascinating, maybe the whole idea of collaboration and networking is what I find fascinating.

  • Robert Kok

    Great topic. I’m using NirvanaHQ for Task Management and these topics are discussed with the developers / owners on the support forum. So in case of NirvanaHQ I do trust the company.

    Critically important for me is offline access to my data. If the internet connection goes down I need be able to access my data. This also means that if the company’s servers shut down or are ceased by three letter government agencies I can still access my data.

    I know only one person (Merlin Mann) who was able to use only plain text for everything. This left me wondering how he was storing content that doesn’t fit into plain text.

    iCloud is something I do not trust, because I have seen too many developers struggling with it and replacing it. I hope NoteSuite can prove me wrong, but have my doubts after reading https://notesuite.desk.com/customer/portal/articles/1200868-icloud-syncing

    Lets not forget that even with cloud services we should still back up our data.

    • As always, Robert, incredibly well said. I’ve been doing a ton of research on plain text task based systems. None of which have really thrilled me. Most of them rely on Dropbox for 2-way syncing; and if you’re using CrashPlan or Carbonite, that info is continuously backed up. I would like to talk with someone who has done it successfully though as well!

  • Matthias Wilhelm

    As far as I know a transfer of Evernote data to NoteSuite is currently not possible yet. The same applies regarding a tranfer of data from Evernote to DEVONthink. In order to improve exit strategies from EN I hope this situation will change someday!

  • I find that I get bored with some of the apps before getting too attached. But one that has my attention now is IQTELL. I am liking it much more than most. But after reading this post, I feel like I need to research the company before getting in too deep. Historically, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, iPhone Notes has been all I need. And all without fear of vanishing in my opinion.

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  • Dragan Ruzic

    Great blog-subject Daniel, I’ve been wondering this myself. I even started a thread in the GTD Linkedin group:


    The reason was that, even if I’m heavily tied to Omni Focus and keep my main stuf there, I was looking for a light weight app that could just hold some real simple things like.. well, “remember to buy milk”, the main reason being my new Android phone where i don’t have Omni Focus.
    I started using Catch and fell in love with it, really. It had apps for both iPhone and ANdroid and worked impecably. And then they disscontinued it. I went over to Any.Do for fast ideas and everyday-family- to do stuff. It works well.

    Maybe my answer to your post would actually be that I would not trust a newcomer in the field, and I’m not trying to be snobby about it. I have deep respect for developers who work hard for months, years, and then finaly release their baby app…OK, but my way of doing things will still be:
    Omni Focus for my company stuff, knowing that I always have my hard copy backup on the Mac (automatic feature in OF if I chose so) as well as my clone backup of my whole Mac through Super Duper program.

    All these new apps coming out all the time, well, I’ll give them a try for some simple stuff, NoteSuite being quite interesting because of the iCloud sync. I’ve never had issues so it’s OK with me.

  • Great post Daniel! But I think it should depend on the app you’re using. I believe everyone of us have its own experience with the productivity software that we’re using and yeah, some of them do not necessarily meet to our preference which surely leads to demise. I wonder if you have heard about Nozbe Productivity Software? It’s a great app too.. Here’s a review of it.


  • joelhfx

    Nice topic! It’s important to support your cloud GTD service providers if you can. Some services put too much out there free, and there is little value in subscribing. However, if the subscription fee is reasonable <$40/year than more people will pony up the cash for premium even if they don't want or need it. I tend to like buy into those business models.

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