Blog Post

Evernote = Ubiquitous Personal Memory

Evernote, which was once a Windows-only, highly-complex clippings database, has re-invented itself with a new 3.0 beta release that combines a feature-smart client for OS X (& Windows) with creative and handy web & mobile functionality to ensure you never forget anything. I managed to wait in the beta line long enough to get an invite and wanted to share the first impressions of the program.

The developers of Evernote seemed to have a single principle in mind when developing their new software/service: make it as easy and painless as possible to capture any bit of visual or textual information anywhere you happen to be at any time. From screen captures, to to-do lists, to quick notes via text or e-mail to impromptu captures from your cell phone camera, Evernote removes all barriers to memory.

At its core, Evernote is just a simple, tagged database of images or text/HTML presented via the web and web service (unpublished and used only by Evernote). While you can perform many tasks in-browser, lets focus on some of the more interesting features of the Mac client.

The Evernote Application

As you can see from the screen capture, the Evernote main window provides a Mail-like interface to stored notes with collections (you store notes in “notebooks”) and smart-tags on the left (with an activity window in lieu of a status bar), note list on the top left with a “reading pane” on the bottom left. Single-clicking a note (or clicking on “New Note”) lets you edit or create a new note in the reading pane while a double-click opens a note in a new window. The editor is sparse, but provides enough functionality to enter basic information with minimal formatting.

The entry above was generated by the Evernote bookmarklet which I placed in the bookmarks bar in Safari. After navigating to a web site, just click on the bookmark to have Evernote store a full HTML copy of that page. You can add tags to notes for searching or sorting and Evernote will generate metadata for your entries and will even attempt to OCR text it finds in pictures.

Upon installation, you can customize three shortcut key-sequences that will then be available anywhere you happen to be in OS X. With them, you can take a partial or full screen capture and send it straight to the Evernote application, quick-paste any copied image or text right into Evernote or execute a search over your notes databases.

The thumbnail view of the app would be much cooler if there were a “quick look”-type of feature, but the sorting options give it the “event”-like feel from iPhoto.

Evernote will sync your local notebooks on startup and can be configured to sync every 5, 15, 30 & 60 minutes thereafter. Plus, there is the option to only enable manual synchronization, which is especially handy when you are in an area with limited Internet access/availability.

Evernote Everywhere

For Evernote to be successful, it must work well from any mobile platform. The Safari bookmarklet, Safari browser itself and Mobile Safari interfaces all put note taking & viewing right at your fingertips.

Their e-mail feature works just like sending photos to Flickr or .Mac, and Evernote gives you the ability to generate a new “TO:” address with little effort (one button) in the event you accidentally disclosed it or the evil spammers finally iterate to it.

Evernote Impressions

The developers at Evernote did a great job making the application feel extremely Mac-like. The interface is well-designed, application preferences make sense and the integration with the system is narrowed to a small, targeted subset of specific and useful actions.

I mailed a copy of a photo I took of a good bottle of wine my wife and I tried at Pair – a tasty (but $) local Seattle restaurant – in order to remember to try to find that particular vintage sometime in the future. I could have performed a similar task by syncing to iPhoto or e-mailing to Flickr or publishing to a .Mac gallery, but Evernote will allow me to easily store the information I find out about the winery, locations, price, etc right with the picture and will allow me to retrieve it anytime, anywhere or include it in search results when digging for wine options in the future.

The bookmarklet is handy and is more of an augmentation to a service like, but I made great use of it to note some collectables I wish to pre-order and can see many opportunities to use it to capture articles and information from interesting sites. Google Notebook provides some similar functionality, but lacks the feature-rich local client/sync (give them time, though, especially with Google Gears constantly adding functionality).

It would be great if Evernote as a service published an API so you could do what you wanted (programmatically) with your data. They could also use a bit of social networking features and provide the ability to share notes with other Evernote users, allow for group notes collections/notebooks, send notes via Twitter or IM/SMS or provide RSS feeds of your stored information. While it doesn’t pander to such mashupable “must have’s”, there is no indication they are not planning support for such items in the future, and other sites seem to have some inside scoop that support for these enhancements are right around the corner.

Giveaway Time!

To share the joy of my newfound ubiquitous memory, I’m giving away 10 Evernote invitations to TAB readers. Just submit a comment before 2359 PST Saturday (April 5, 2008) and include your name/valid e-mail or @Twitter handle, if you have one (I’ll DM you for a contact e-mail if you win). Winners will be chosen at random from valid entries and notified on Sunday (April 6, 2008).

If you’re also an Evernote beta user, don’t let the entry-deluge sway you from tossing your opine in the comments. Your views and usage advice will be reaching more folks than ever!

110 Responses to “Evernote = Ubiquitous Personal Memory”

  1. At first Evernote looked like a dream come true, but then i noticed a deal-breaker flaw for me…

    The OCR (Optical Character Recognition – extract text from photos) is not performed locally but on the Evernote server. I do not feel comfortable in sending and storing very personal or sensitive documents on the net. It would be great if i could tag files as sensitive and these would be OCR’d locally and not synced.

    I also noticed that there is currently no support for PDFs.

  2. Thanks for your write up. The analogy to Mail is good – I wonder how much more useful this is than the Notes function of the Mail app.

    I use a MacBook Pro, synced to My wife’s MacBook and our Kids iMac. So the utility of Evernote might make it more analogous to iTunes.

    What I mean is, iTunes allows me to sort, search and collect song, vids and the like. Plus there’s the publishing part of it (better access?)

    I’d love to try Evernote, to see if it could do for my random thoughts and ideas and media collection that I already do with music & movies!

    Here’s hoping for an invite! Thanks!

  3. Looks very cool. I’ve been looking for something like this (Yojimbo, SohoNotes). All have some limitations.

    I think it being able to index text words in pictures…

  4. Michael Brien Lane

    This is the kind of thing that makes computers genuinely useful tools in life.

    I’d like to be included in the invite drawing.

    @Bruce – I’m reading that the entry for the drawing ends on Saturday 4/5, so it’s not too late.

  5. This looks highly interesting to me. I looked at Yojimbo, but never really got a feel for it but I’m desperate for something with a concept like this. Please include me in the list of people who like an invite. :-)

  6. Elizabeth

    I’d like to try Evernote. I’ve yet to commit to an application, so I’m curious to see how it compares to Yojimbo, Soho Notes, and Mori.

    @Daniel: That feature sounds great! I’m not great about tagging everything, so I’d probably only remember the name of the wine, for example.

  7. Hi,
    nice review. I’m just looking for programs to “extend my brain” through my computer (I think I paid enough money for it to let it help me remember things ^^), so I looked at Evernote, too. I found some other programs, so I thought I wouldn’t really need Evernote anymore, but now I realize that it can do some things that others can’t do, so I want to try it again. So I’d like to have an invitation. ;)

  8. I’ve been using the beta for a couple of weeks, and I can’t believe you didn’t mention the coolest feature… the ability to search text in photos and screen captures.

    If you were to search for “Fall,” the photo of the “Fall Line” wine bottle will probably show up in your search results. With a good photo, it works surprisingly well.