Asking about MarginNote's user experience


#1

Greetings,

I am the head of a university writing and journalism program, and my department has been considering a batch purchase of MarginNote apps for our students. My colleagues and I feel that the app accomplishes a lot of what our students do, and would integrate well with their workflow. Having said that, I’ve studied some of the exchanges on this forum and I’m a bit concerned about three recurrent issues that users have raised:

  • Ongoing problems with syncing

  • A lack of responsive answers from MarginNote tech support

  • Few replies from MarginNote support in answers to this forum’s queries

Are these accurate issues that users have experienced? I’m asking in order to determine if users feel that this is a fair assessment. Your answers will enable us to decide whether our department should move forward or hold off on our batch order of MargninNote.

Much obliged.


#2

From my point of view, syncing has always been robust for me and something I’ve never had to think about. I’m currently studying an MBA remotely, and have annotated textbooks with hundreds of annotations each with no problem. I cycle between the Mac, iPad and iPhone version continually as I do a lot of travelling, so obviously this is something that’s important to me.

They recently added the ability to create and sync folders of documents, which may have had some teething issues with extremely large file edge cases. I do note that there have been a few improvements to syncing in the last few releases, and judging by a recent forum post this may have helped.

I believe the development team are based in China, and it seems most of them don’t actively visit the English forums. That being said, I do know there are at least a couple who regularly use this forum to collect feedback - even if they don’t actively respond to threads. I’ve noticed a large number of suggestions that I’ve made here shortly be incorporated into releases, sometimes even the next release.

The app is actually one of the most well-maintained that I’ve used, with updates consistently issued roughly every 1-2 weeks. You can see this in the version history in the App Store. They frequently push out new features in addition to just bug fixes, which makes me believe they actually have a sizeable development team even if they don’t respond actively on the forums. It’s unfortunate that the lack of forum activity from the team makes the app seem a lot less well supported than it actually is.

From a support perspective, it definitely seems like it will continually be developed for the long haul, with the major v3 rewrite having been released last year. The app has also been around for quite a long time (The original MarginNote was released in 2013). This is something I find rather reassuring, given how volatile the iOS app development landscape is where countless apps I’ve relied on have suddenly been abandoned.

I also had a highly positive experience taking part in the Beta for MarginNote 3, where the development team were very receptive to incorporating user feedback. I assume as a potential institutional customer, you probably have your own support needs so I’d suggest reaching out to them directly via service@marginnote.com.

If you ask me, the level of polish and the thoughtfulness in the design of the workflow is probably the biggest testament that the development team are actively engaged with user feedback. As an IT project manager by profession, I think it’s highly unlikely that the app could have simply been designed this well without having been iterated continually around the needs of users.


#3

Hello! I am also at a university. I am just starting to investigate MN with the intent to annotate journal articles and to grade assignment documents from students.

  • Syncing Problems: Yes. I cannot get the sync to work reliably and transparently. By example, I can only import to the root folder, not to sub-folders. When I make changes in PDFs on the cloud using some other app (PDFExpert), those changes do not show up in MN.

  • Lack of Direct Tech Support: I have no experience on this. How much to you really need tech support though when you have an app that works? Alternatively, are you needing a better user manual? This latter issue would bother me when I would be sending out an app en-masse to (mostly) un-initiated undergraduate students.

  • Lack of Support Here: Perhaps this is supposed to be mostly a forum for users helping other users.

Otherwise, I’d be curious to know what else you are considering. From what I know, only two apps take the same approach for margin notes on an iPad (MarginNote and LiquidText). Otherwise, you are faced with PDFExpert and its comparable apps. They each have their own pros and cons.

FWIW, when the tech support and sync side worries you the most and when having margin notes to play with is a luxury rather than a critical need, PDFE stands in quality well above MN for support and cloud services.


JJW


#4

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Question: Are you employed by MarginNote?


#5

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I find it curious that there’ve been so few replies to this query. From my students and colleagues’ perspective, it’s also a bit troubling.

Yes, there are few apps out there that appear to do with MarginNote does, with exception to LiquidText (I don’t believe they have a desktop app) and PDFExpert, which is certainly solid but has certain limitations.

In any case, I am troubled by the problems that seem to plaguing the syncing functionality. I understand the concerns about the “Lack of Direct Tech Support” vis-a-vis undergraduates, but I don’t find that they abuse such privileges; in fact, most are fairly self-reliant tech experts.

Still, I’ve heard from many other people that tech queries – both here and via MarginNote email support are quite lacking. We found that rather troubling, and it might be the determinative factor that governs our decision. If we make a major investment in purchasing hundred of MarginNote apps, we would expect some level of service and support to ensure that our students and colleague could use the product successfully. That seems like a perfectly reasonable expectation.

Moreover, I cannot quite fathom why a development team would set up a forum for its users, but not visit it or respond to users questions or concerns. ( @Jun ) Perhaps I’m missing something, but that seems like an abrogation of responsibility to tending to users’ needs.

We still haven’t decided whether we’ll invest in this product, but we are concerned about these matters. Having said that, we sincerely hope MarginNote can correct some of these issues. It would certainly enable us to make a decision with greater confidence.

Much obliged.


#6

Nope, I’m just an end user. I find it a very well maintained product in terms of frequent software updates, but naturally I don’t have the support needs of an institutional buyer.

I would guess the main reason for the lack of response is that they probably don’t have many English speakers on their team, which is something they should address given that they sell this product internationally. No doubt they aren’t doing themselves a favour by the impression the lack of response leaves.

Ultimately, I think this forum is a channel for collecting customer feedback, similar to the beta test. They do incorporate the feedback, even if they don’t respond. Did you try emailing them?


#7

Well, I have emailed support dozens of times for many serious problems, including issues with syncing (which many users on the forum have acknowledged).

Whenever I email MarginNote support, they asked me to send screenshots of the problems that I’m having. I’ve provide them with exactly what they’ve requested, but then they fail to acknowledge my emails – and then rarely respond with a fix or even helpful suggestions.

Like so many users in this forum, I desperately want MarginNote to succeed. Really! But the continuous problems with syncing and other glitches, the lack of forum answers and support, and the constant dearth of any serious email support present serious problems.

I’ve been a big support of MarginNote, and have provided them with a lot of feedback over the year. I even contributed my input to their beta version. But if they can’t make some serious corrections in the near future, I’ve just got to find another app. I need better reliability in an app, and this is no way to treat users.

I sincerely hope someone with MarginNote is hearing this.


#8

From what I see, this is the standard for everyone. No support.

The two paradigms are the MarginNote or LiquidText approach versus the PDFExpert (or PDFPen or …) approach. As a single-user with enough tech-know-how, I am going with the mix of PDFExpert and MarginNote. The former is my stalwart app when the main purpose of the annotations is to provide me or others with suggestions to review later. As I noted, I am using MarginNote to mark up assignments from students. The ability to tag annotations gives me an efficient review method afterward.

At some point, I want to carry the annotation process further to “study” annotations. I suspect however that I will prefer to collect the annotations from MarginNote and export them to a different app (a dedicated outlining, mind mapping, or resourcing app). The significant downside is that MarginNote flattens its own annotations its PDF export (but MarginNote preserves the annotations from PDFExpert, so this behavior is … limiting). The upside is that, in the study mode, I can export the annotations separately out to the outlining or mind mapping or other apps. I have yet to explore this option further.

As others have noted, the development team is not native English speaking. I am curious in this regard to know whether there is a mirror forum in Chinese behind a wall that we cannot see past where everyone gets all of the support they need.

FYI … WRT LiquidText, do not expect any better user support. I also caution that, unlike MarginNote, LiquidText destroys annotations that are imported from other apps (e.g. PDFExpert).


JJW


#9

I’ll chime in with my 2c!

  • researcher, lifelong learner. I use marginnote to read novels and articles from academic journals, in both pdf and epub format.
  • marginnote on iPad pro, iPhone, and Mac.

I think marginnote can use a fair amount of polish, even though it’s a product that’s years old.

Marginnote is good for individual learners who want to digest information within the app. I use anki outside of marginnote, but have never used the study or flashcard functions.

As for syncing, it’s gotten better. Originally (4 months ago), right after release, it was pretty buggy but I’ve had no issues since.

As for feedback, I’ve emailed their support and am relatively active on this forum. And yes their support sucks.

Their design again needs polishing but their updates are frequent (every 1-3 weeks).

As for buying a group of students, I’m not sure if marginnote would fit that, since it serves a very specific method of studying. I think some students may fare better with liquid text, or even just pdf expert, but marginnote has many (but relatively weak) export options and no collaboration.

Edit:
Most other note taking apps are not nearly as updated frequently as marginnote. Notability, which I use extensively, is up there along with marginnote. I’ve used goodnotes, bear, and liquid text, and their updates are not nearly as frequent as those of marginnote, even if looking at feature additions (and excl. bug fixes)