Evernote Opens a Trunk of Goodies for Online-Notes Fans

7/16/10Follow @wroush

If I only had a second brain—one that could hold my Web clips, store my business cards, transcribe my voice memos, keep my to-do lists, preserve my receipts and recipes and passwords, and archive items from my Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds, just to list a few of the myriad types of information I attempt to manage in my home and work life.

Well, that’s actually what the freemium online notebook service Evernote aspires to be. “We want to be your permanent, trusted, ubiquitous destination for lifetime memories,” says CEO Phil Libin. In what Libin calls “Phase 1″ of Evernote’s development, the Mountain View, CA, startup got pretty good at certain parts of that mission, especially storing Web clips, text notes, snapshots, PDFs, and audio files. It’s won 3.7 million users around the world since the June 2008 launch of its Web, mobile, and desktop applications, and has seen revenue from premium subscriptions grow at 12 percent per month or more for the past two years.

But to function as something truly akin to an offboard brain, Evernote would need to extend into many more aspects of its users’ lives—allowing them to capture and browse more kinds of information on more kinds of devices, and to redeploy their digitized memories in more ways. And that’s what Phase 2 at Evernote will be about, Libin said at a press event I attended Wednesday at San Francisco’s W Hotel.

The company with the big elephant in its logo convened the event (which is viewable online here) to roll out the Evernote Trunk. Aside from being “an astonishingly clever word play,” to quote the droll Libin (who is an Xconomist), the Trunk is a collection of nearly 100 third-party applications, services, and devices that connect with Evernote in various ways.

The new Trunk pop-up screen in EvernoteMost of the Trunk items provide additional methods for users to get information into their Evernote notebooks. Dublin, Ireland-based Dial2Do, for example, introduced a Trunk app called Voice2Note that turns phone messages into text notes in Evernote, while users of Seesmic‘s social media app for the iPhone and Android phones can now save tweets and Facebook updates to Evernote with a couple of clicks. The Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner includes a new button that lets owners send scanned documents directly into their Evernote, and a Japanese product called the Airpen lets users write notes on normal paper and save digital copies in Evernote.

The Evernote Trunk is accessible from the Web, Mac, and Windows versions of Evernote’s own software application, and will be added soon to the iPad, iPhone, Android, and Blackberry versions. The Trunk resembles an app store similar to Apple’s iTunes App Store, right down to the rounded-corner icons, but it is currently more of a showcase of products, services, and content that integrate with Evernote than an actual store, Libin said. Links in the Trunk lead users to places such as the iTunes Store where they can access, download, or buy the actual products; in-app purchases from the Trunk itself may come later.

Many of the Evernote-connected services in the Trunk, such as the Eye-Fi wireless camera storage card, have been available for a while, and simply haven’t been collected in one place before. But 30 of the integrated services were announced for the first time at the press event, including Voice2Note, PDF annotation tools PDFpen and Nitro Reader, the Lil’grams service for sharing baby pictures, the ScanBizCards app for digitizing business cards, and Zeptopad, a drawing and mind-mapping app for the Apple iPad. In addition, Libin announced that Evernote has been working with a small group of publishers to create “branded notebooks,” collections of content from sources like California Home and Design magazine, BlackBook magazine, and Make magazine that users can now read and annotate from within Evernote.

For Evernote fans—and readers of my coverage here, including my recent two-part interview with Libin, know I’m a big one—the Trunk is mainly a convenient new place to discover apps and services that can make Evernote more useful. I’ve already signed up for Voice2Note ($2.99 a month or $29.99 a year) and have found that it works exactly as advertised, depositing accurate transcriptions of my phoned-in voice memos into my Evernote account within minutes. The service is similar in some ways to Jott, Nuance’s voicemail-to-e-mail service, but Jott is more expensive (starting at $3.95 per month) and doesn’t work with Evernote. I anticipate using Voice2Note to capture reminders, to-do items, and other miscellany whenever I’m away from my computer or I can’t slow down enough to fire up Evernote on my iPhone or iPad. (At least one other Trunk app, Pliq.me, also converts dictated notes into text notes on Evernote.)

For Evernote, the company, the Trunk effort is an acknowledgement that one startup can’t build all the tools needed to deliver on the full offboard-brain vision. “We want people to be able to leverage their memories to do more stuff,” Libin says. “Your external brain is going to extend to any device you touch. We’re going to let you add or discover structure in your data through visualizations and semantic analysis and find connections you may never have known about but that make your life feel more augmented. That’s a lot of work, and we obviously couldn’t accomplish even 1 percent of this ourselves, so we have to rely on partners.”

Evernote Trunk PosterFor Evernote partners, adding Evernote functionality to their existing apps is a no-brainer, if it makes their own products more attractive to customers. For example, I love the way my favorite RSS reader for the iPad, NewsRack, allows me to send articles straight into Instapaper, a convenient e-reader program. But NewsRack would be all the more useful if it also gave me a one-click way to save articles to Evernote. In fact, I’ve written to the developer, Ole Zorn, to request this feature, and he says it’s coming in a future release.

According to Libin, more than 2,000 third-party organizations have downloaded the application programming interface keys needed to integrate their software with Evernote’s, so it’s a safe bet that today’s Trunk will only get fatter. And more profitable for partners: Libin says “in-Trunk commerce” is coming to Evernote this winter, and that the company is exploring ways to share its core subscription revenues with partners who add important functions. “Our goal is that for small companies, it should be a viable business model to make things that work with our external brain,” Libin says.

Ultimately, the creation of the Trunk is a step in Evernote’s development into what so many consumer-facing Silicon Valley Web companies hope to become—the center of an “ecosystem” of other services and applications, in the style of Twitter, Facebook, or the iPhone and iPad. The remarkable thing about Evernote is that it and its ecosystem are growing so quickly, with 9,000 new users registering for the service every day, even though it has none of the social ingredients or network effects that fuel Twitter or Facebook’s viral spread. (As Libin told me back in June, “It’s designed for you, not for your friends.”)

Evernote is thoroughly modern—it is, after all, a cloud-based service that buys so deeply into Web-2.0-era notions about sharing and interoperability. But at the same time, there’s something charmingly old-fashioned about it. It’s just a good service, with a simple business model, serving a real purpose: supplementing our poor, tired-out brains.

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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