Online Notebook Smackdown: Evernote Vs. Springpad

I’m a digital pack rat, which means I tend to get unreasonably excited about online notekeeping systems. I’m driven by the conviction that there’s got to be one best way to use the Internet to save and retrieve every bit of information I might want to look at later, whether that means Web clippings, important e-mails, voice memos, receipts, photos, maps, shopping lists, restaurant reviews, instruction manuals, or whatever. Of course, you could just store all this stuff on a single hard drive—but then you’d have to carry that drive with you everywhere. Putting it in the cloud means it’s available from anywhere, including your mobile devices.

I thought I’d found the beginnings of an answer back in 1999, when a developer at the Silicon Valley startup where I was working created, in his spare time, one of the most elegant content management and publishing systems I’ve ever seen. It was intended as the custom backend for the news website I was managing, and the beautiful thing about it was that you could easily create categories for articles, and categories-within-categories, and categories-within-categories-within-categories, then post stories to as many categories as you liked and navigate to them using a nifty system of nested links. It was like one of those cubby hole racks for your closet, only infinitely expandable. I thought it would make a great product on its own, but alas, the startup was in a different business (e-books) and when it eventually died, so did the publishing system.

I’ve been searching for a replacement ever since. Right now I think there are two main contenders for the title of best online notes application: Evernote and Springpad. I signed up for Evernote—created by the Mountain View, CA, startup of the same name—shortly after the Web version of the service was launched in June 2008, and I’ve stored just over 2,100 items there, averaging about three per day. And I’ve been following Springpad closely since Charlestown, MA-based Spring Partners opened their service to the public in November 2008. You can read my review of Evernote here and my news articles about Springpad here, here, and here.

If you’re the kind of computer user who spends a lot of time grazing for information online, or if you’re just a busy person juggling a lot of plans and commitments, a cloud notekeeper would probably be helpful. Both Evernote and Springpad let you capture information in multiple ways—whether you’re at your computer using a Web browser or you’re out and about with your mobile device—and they both make stored notes easy to find it later. But when it comes to what you can do with your notes, and how the companies earn money, the two services couldn’t be more at odds. Today I thought I’d compare the two tools, with a focus on the major similarities and differences rather than the specific features (which are many; Evernote’s product overview page is here and Springpad’s intro video is here).

SpringPad's Web interfaceIf I were forced to cut to the chase, I’d have to say that Evernote is great for geeks and serious info-hoarders while Springpad is better for shoppers, cooks, soccer moms, and other average folks doing everyday stuff. But for the details, read on.

1. Evernote costs money if you use it a lot; Springpad is free forever. You can sign up to use Evernote for free, but non-paying users have a file upload limit of 40 megabytes per month. That might be enough if you’re only saving Web clips, but if you’re uploading stuff like Word documents or Powerpoint presentations, you’re going to exceed it fast. A premium Evernote subscription, which raises the ceiling to 500 megabytes per month, costs $5 per month or $45 per year. Springpad, by contrast, is totally free and solely advertising-supported. Spring Partners makes money through lead generation—for example, by … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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