Can Evernote Make You into a Digital Leonardo?

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a Web page or any highlighted portion of a Web page, an e-mail, an image, an audio clip, or a literal text note. If you have the Windows or Mac version of Evernote installed on your computer, you can also create notes by clipping portions of stored files such as Word, Excel, and PDF documents. You can add text to your notes, tag them to make them easier to find later, e-mail them to yourself or others, and (if they were clipped from the Web) jump back to the place you originally found them. You can also create “notebooks” and drag your notes into them; for example, I’ve started a notebook for receipts from places like Amazon, and another for photos, and another for Web pages that give me ideas for future World Wide Wade columns.

The key feature that makes Evernote a must-have for digital wanderers is that it automatically synchronizes your notes and notebooks across all platforms. That means, for example, that you could have the Evernote client program running on your Windows computer at work and on your Mac at home, and every note you add from one computer will automatically be copied to the other. Likewise, every note you clip directly into Web-based version shows up on both the Windows and Mac clients; and all of your notes and notebooks reside permanently online, where you can access them from any Web browser, including phone-based browsers. Notes and notebooks are private by default, but if you want to share the contents of a notebook with friends or with the world at large, you can make it public, then direct visitors to it via its unique URL. (Here’s an example of a public Evernote notebook that ranks about 20 brew pubs in San Francisco.)

Searching Evernote for the word sidewalkAnother very nifty thing about Evernote is its optical character recognition (OCR) capability. The software can recognize words inside scanned images, snapshots, and PDFs and locate those words when you search for them. The practical import is that you can capture paper documents such as business cards, airline tickets, or travel receipts by scanning them, or just snapping a picture with your webcam or your camera phone; once you upload the images to Evernote, they’ll be searchable, just as if they were text documents. I’ve put this feature to the test, and it works amazingly well—see the screenshots here where I’ve searched my Evernote notes for words like “sidewalk” and “Shell.”

Searching Evernote for the word ShellBut what makes Evernote into true killer app, in my opinion, is the fact that the company has tailored special versions of the software that make it easier to create notes using your mobile devices. The new Evernote iPhone app, which became available last week when Apple rolled out the App Store as part of the 2.0 release of the iPhone firmware, is everything a mobile application should be—simple, elegant, and useful. You can browse your existing notes, or choose from four simple buttons that let you a) create a new text note, b) make a note by taking a snapshot using the iPhone’s built-in camera, c) make a note from a previously saved photo, or d) record an audio note. Each new note is uploaded straight to your online Evernote account and synchronized to your PC. (These uploads can take a while if you’re using the Evernote app on a first-generation iPhone, but they’re quite snappy if you’re within Wi-Fi range or if you have an iPhone 3G.)

The Evernote iPhone app makes me inordinately happy. It begins to bring to life a vision that I (and plenty of other people) have had for some time, of an always-on “information field” that surrounds us everywhere we go and helps us share our best ideas and discoveries with one another. As I put it in a 2005 feature article for Technology Review, this field would “enable people to both pull information about virtually anything from anywhere, at any time, and push their own ideas and personalities back onto the Internet—without ever having to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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  • mattk

    “The new Evernote iPhone app, which became available last week when Apple rolled out the App Store as part of the 2.0 release of the iPhone firmware, is everything a mobile application should be—simple, elegant, and useful.”

    Another view from daringfireball on the iPhone version:

    “I can’t understand why anyone would deem an app in this state ready to ship.”

    Quite a difference, huh?

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