Evernote is difficult to qualify. According to the company, they want to be the “Global platform for human memory.” – hence the elephant head in the logo. Well, that sounds like serious stuff. Luckily, that is what it does. The software is easy to use but at times can be confusing. We are recommending it, however, because it provides the best multimedia, content synchronising service across multiple devices on the planet.
Why should you care?
Well, first of all we like to collect information when we travel. We might want to capture a Web page, store a pdf document, take a picture of something (like a sign, or a wine label), make an audio recording, etc. The trouble is, we travel with lots of different devices. Sometimes we have a laptop to hand. Other times, just a smartphone. Over time, we end up with lots of different types of files spread across lots of different types of devices. What we really want is a digital scrapbook that allows us to capture all this disparate stuff and load it to some central server somewhere, where we can get to it at any time and from anywhere. Enter Evernote.
– capture notes, photos, audio, docs, attachments, etc… and have them synched across all your mobile and non-mobile devices
– everything is indexed and searchable
– OCR photos of text AND handwriting!
– some limited sharing of data with outsiders and collaborators
– notebook sharing for teams is crap
– interface isn’t uniform across all devices, leading to some confusion
– iPad / iPhone versions cannot edit notes created in desktop version, only append text to them
Evernote is a Digital Scrapbook
To start off with, you need to sign up to use the service. You can have a free account, which limits how much data you can upload/download per month, or a premium account (less restricted). Next, you need to download software. Thankfully, Evernote supports quite a lot of devices: PC, Web Browser, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre and Windows Mobile.
The best way to familiarise yourself with the software is to begin with the desktop version. It has the most features and the best graphical representation. As you can appreciate, the mobile versions are slimmed down and can be a little more confusing at the outset.
Evernote uses a Stack > Notebook > Note taxonomy as its filing system. You can create as many notebooks as you wish and put as many notes into them. These notebooks, in turn, can be grouped together as a ‘stack’.
A note can be anything. Literally… a photo, a document, a recording… anything. You can tag notes with your own keywords (which helps when you need to search and retrieve them, especially files that don’t contain text) and you can browse notes by certain criteria (attributes), such as when or where they were created.
You can have all of your notebooks and their content synchronised to your smartphone, if you wish, in order to read them offline, or choose a subset of the data to keep on your device.
One of the really clever features of the Evernote service is the ability to convert photographed text into searchable text. Evernote uses OCR (optical character recognition) on their servers to do this, so your computer isn’t involved in this at all. For instance, if I take a photograph of a menu in a restaurant that just happens to have the word ‘lobster’ in it, then I can always retrieve that photo later by searching within Evernote for ‘lobster’. This really comes in handy, because it can be very boring to tag all of your photos. This way, you can let Evernote do it for you.
This also works with photos taken of handwritten text! It’s not perfect but you’d be surprised at how well it does when working from a photo of a handwritten paged snapped by a mobile phone. It will blow your mind.
How do you use it?
Imagine you are surfing the Web on your computer and you see a really good Web page that you want to capture. You can use the Evernote browser bookmark, or simply right-click on the page to capture it as a text file, or as a pdf if you need to preserve all of its formatting.
Any document that you can print, can also be captured to Evernote. You can drag-and-drop any file into the Evernote application. You can create RTF documents within Evernote, including in-line images and attachments. Evernote also gives you a unique email address, so that you can email things into Evernote notebooks. This helps to integrate Evernote with other workflow processes that don’t have direct connectivity.
On the smartphone, you use it in a similar way – although you are limited in some cases by your device. You can clip Web pages (but not pdf them). You can upload photos that you take with your smartphone camera. Ditto for audio recordings. To do all of this, though, you have to be inside the Evernote App (except when clipping pages in your browser).
Evernote has been very aggressive at supporting new mobile platforms right from the start, including iPad Evernote and Android. I’ve been using the iPad version for several months and – while it doesn’t offer full fidelity with the desktop version – it is much more user-friendly on the big, portable screen. I find it useful for clipping documents for travel, such as hotel bookings, flight information, car rental booking, etc. Having everything available at your fingertips in an A4 format is very convenient for retrieving and for showing it to other people.
One annoying thing, however, is that you cannot edit RTF documents on the iPad / iPhone version of Evernote. For instance, you might have created an attractive document on the desktop version of Evernote, which BY DEFAULT makes it an RTF. Then, for some strange godforsaken reason, you try to open that note on your iPad in the Evernote App and it tells you that you cannot edit RTF documents – only that you can ‘Append’ plain text to it, that you will need to re-integrate properly when you get back to your desktop version of the software. Pants! This is stupid. Evernote: please fix. Otherwise, choose some other file format that will have full-fidelity across devices, please.
Collaboration: Notebook and Note Sharing
Evernote isn’t great when it comes to sharing your notes with others. This part of the software is still evolving, so stay tuned.
If you want to share a note, or notebook, with the public – this isn’t a problem. You do this on your desktop version of Evernote. You will then be given a URL that you can pass out to people in order to access your note. If you want share it with only certain people, then they have to be registered on Evernote as users in order to authorise them with passwords. After that, it’s the same mechanic. This time, you would give Evernote a list of email addresses for the people who should have access and they will be sent a link to the URL of the note or notebook – which they can access after authenticating themselves with Evernote.
The real problem, though, is working with groups and trying to use shared notebooks for collaboration amongst teams of people. This is where Evernote fails miserably. It will allow you to share a notebook but, then, nobody else can do much with it (except read the notes in it). Even if you give them ‘modify’ rights, all they can do is create a new note from WITHIN that notebook on their desktop or Web versions of Evernote. They cannot clip a Web page from their browser and put it into a shared notebook (it won’t show up as an option in the drop-down list, even though they have access to it otherwise). They cannot clip a Web page into a personal notebook and then try to move it into the shared notebook, because nobody except the ‘owner’ of the shared notebook can move notes in and out of it.
What about exporting a note from a personal notebook and then importing it into a shared notebook? Nope, doesn’t work. Why??
How about clipping a webpage to a personal notebook and then emailing it into a shared folder? Okay, this does work BUT if you want to preserve the full fidelity of the page (graphics, formatting, photos, etc) you will need to do this from WITHIN the Evernote desktop application. Otherwise, all that will be received is text (in most cases with a few exceptions, depending upon your email client).
At the end of the day, Shared notebooks for teams in Evernote is very frustrating.
Clipping a web page from within your browser on you mobile phone will be very slow and requires several steps and, in some cases, a hack (see comments below). Nevertheless, you can clip a full page – graphics and all – save it to your personal notebook, then email it to someone else’s shared notebook. If you want to designate the name of the shared notebook it should go to, then use ‘@’ in the subject line. Read this for more info on emailing into Evernote accounts.
Evernote is trying to branch out with new products and services. The trunk is one of those new features. Basically, third-parties offer Notebooks full of content that you might be interested in. You can add these ‘trunks’ to your Evernote account. Whenever the service offers new content, you will find it in your Evernote application. For the time being, most of the trunks tend to be from publishers that want to extend their reach. They may or may not have phone apps, which is probably why they are covering their bases by offering their content in this way.
Evernote is also striking partnerships with various companies to extend the Evernote services. One example, is the ‘Droid Scan’ application. This allows you to take a picture of a document and then have it turned into a clean, easy-to-read pdf. This is useful when the camera on your phone takes substandard photos. Documents would otherwise look like blurry and dark photos. Instead, they will come out looking like crisp documents (as long as the photograph offers enough detail for the Droid Scan service to do its job).
Evernote Safari iPad Web Clipping Forum on Nomadz.net – if you need to know how to clip web pages on your iPad, check out our forum topic. It has tips and code excerpts.
iPad forum on Nomadz.net – everything related to iPad, including Evernote uses, tips and code snippets.
Evernote Corporation Website – home page of product.
Evernote on Wikipedia – everything you ever wanted to know about the company and more.
Macworld interview with Phil Libin, creator of Evernote – how to capture everything that happens to you in your life 😉
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