Evernote is a service that promises to help you “Remember Everything”, promising to:
allow you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere.
Evernote is basically a self-described “external brain” that allows you to store any idea, reminder, memory that you need to remember in a trusted system.
I have been using Evernote for a few months now, and I wanted to weigh in on the system, and share my setup and how it helps me remember things.
What is Evernote?
Evernote doesn’t profess to be an all-in-one GTD system, or some enterprise-level software bundled with a hosted web service. It does one thing, and it does it very well. You put notes in, Evernote remembers them.
A system as simple as this can be used for an infinite number of applications, such as studying for classes, remembering where you parked your car, recording and swapping recipes–pretty much anything you can imagine.
Now, that’s not to say that the software is dumb, on the contrary, it is some of the smartest software I have seen. Not only are you able to enter text notes, you are able to attach photos, clip web pages in their entirety, attach files, and even encrypt content to keep it safe. When you attach an image to Evernote, it doesn’t just store the image in a note, but the service uses OCR technology to index any text that may be contained in that image, making the search function much more efficient and useful.
The search functions are very easy to use, but do not be deceived by the initial simplicity. There are many advanced search functions and expressions at your disposal to narrow down what you are looking for in your notes. Once you find what you are looking for, you can simply save the search, and bring it up later without having to remember the process.
Evernote is available as a Freemium service, and has client software for the Mac, Windows, iPhone, many other mobile platforms and a web-based interface.
How I Use Evernote
Though I may not be the default use case for using Evernote, I have found it very useful in my day-to-day life by adopting my own system of to-dos and reminders.
Evernote gives you notebooks in which to store notes. You can create as many notebooks as you please, and arrange them in a variety of ways. Personally, I have a notebook for each main category of note, such as: School, Work, Blogging, and Writing. This way I can separate my tasks, reminders and notes into categories that are natural to my brain.
Along with notebooks, each note can have many tags, which you create yourself. For instance, I have tags for: Next Actions, Errands, and Assignments. Tags allow you to easily search for one type of note, within the scope of all of your notes, or in a specific notebook. You can choose multiple tags, so that you could find all notes that are both Next Actions and Assignments.
Each note created has a series of more advanced attributes, such as creation date, GPS coordinates (for those iPhone users), and whether or not the note contains a certain type of media (image, PDF, etc.). This comes in very handy when creating a saved search string to find a specific type of note. While I don’t own an iPhone, I do use the creation date attribute to my advantage.
Using a combination of notebooks, tags, a naming scheme and creation dates, I can put together a search string that will give me a list of notes that have actions associated with them and are due on a certain date. When creating a new note, in the title, I place the name of the notebook in brackets at the very beginning, that way I can easily identify which notebook the note is from, regardless of the view I currently have.
For an item with a due date, I simply change the creation date to the due date and tag the note with the Future tag. When I want to find out which notes have actions associated with them that are due on 04/08/09, I simply place a string in the search, using the advanced search attributes, and I have all of the information I was looking for. For instance:
created:20090409 -created:20090410 tag:Future
will return to me all of the notes with a creation date of 04/09/2009, which have the Future tag. This kind of functionality is irreplaceable to someone attempting to organize their lives and keep their tasks organized.
Why Go Premium?
Earlier I mentioned that Evernote is a Freemium service. Why bother paying for a Premium subscription when the free subscription delivers 95% of the functionality that is offered in the premium subscription? Two reasons:
When I say “Value” I don’t just mean in the monetary sense. When talking about services and software, one must think of “value” less as dollars and cents, and more what you can get for minimal dollars and cents. Let’s take a look at the two levels of service side-by-side:
As you can see from the above charts, the Premium service allows you to use 500MB of notes every month. At the end of the 30 day period, that limit is reset, and you get a whole new 500MB. While the Free service offers 40MB/month (which may seem like a lot), it does lack the ability to sync any file (up to 25MB per note) with the service. This is the reason I chose to upgrade to the Premium service.
When I first started using the Free service, 40MB/month seemed like a crazy amount of space, and really it was. When I sprang for the Premium service, however, the number of notes in my account jumped from 40 to 250 in 24 hours. Knowing that I have 500MB/month allowance makes me want to keep anything and everything I possibly can in order to rely on this trusted system, rather than leave all of the “stuff” to distract my brain from moment to moment.
Having the ability to sync any document with a note is extremely useful. I am currently in college, so I can create a new note for an assignment, and attach the original criteria in the native format that the instructor gave to us. This is a godsend. I don’t have to log into Blackboard and find my way through a maze of ill-designed links and buttons in order to figure out whether the teacher wanted tabular or list data on a PHP assignment.
When I started using the Free service, it was just on a whim. I had heard great things about Evernote, and I wanted to check it out and see if it could help me in my daily life. Once I started using it for everyday things, I started to realize the value in Evernote, which lead me to use it more.
I was hooked. All of a sudden, Evernote was an altruistic company (the idea mostly fueled by their first podcast episode), someone who truly deserved my loyalty and respect.
The company is altruistic, and the service keeps me coming back for more.
The Client Software
Now that I’ve effectively heralded this service like it was the second coming, I’d like to take a few paragraphs to talk about the different client software versions. I use the three main clients, Windows, Mac OS X and the Web interface.
The Windows and Mac OS X clients are very similar, each with its own platform-specific qualities. I enjoy using the Mac OS X version most of all, and have even gone as far as making my aging iBook G4 a dedicated Evernote machine.
The Windows version does have a portable client, which comes in very handy in a school computer lab situation. But, because I have a laptop that has a stripped down version of Mac OS X, I haven’t spent much time using this client.
The Web Client
The Web Client is a fairly decent piece of web technology which gives you easy access to your Evernote data from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a modern web browser. This interface gives you drag and drop capability for moving notes to specific notebooks and assigning tags to notes.
While the Web Client is a fairly well crafted product, I can’t help but feel that some of features are a bit lacking when compared to its desktop brethren and other Web 2.0 applications that are available out there.
I do occasionally use the Web Client, especially when I am at a public computer, and don’t have access to my portable installation, or just need to drop a quick note to myself without worrying about waiting for the service to sync. This comes in handy on days when I make a vast number of changes in the desktop client on another machine.
These interfaces each have their own merrits, and I enjoy their use and always come back to them when I need to remember even the smallest piece of information.
Evernote gives you the ability to send email to a unique address which gets put into your default notebook. I have found this vastly important when going through my Google Reader feeds. This way I can send an article that I wish to read later right to the service, and be able to catalog it later using a desktop client when I have a chance.
Using the unique email address, I can stay on task better, and I’m not necessarily taken out of my current work flow in order to remind myself of some small piece of information. This functionality has become more and more important as I start to rely more on this service.
Evernote has a built-in “Web Clipper” which allows you to select text and images from a web page to save as a note. This is really handy, and can make remembering information (such as changes made to a base Ubuntu installation and the console commands needed) extremely simple.
Along with the software-based Web Clipper, Evernote has provided a bookmarklet with the same functionality. I use XMarks to synchronize my bookmarks on all of the Firefox installations I use, so no matter where I go, I have the Web Clipper at my disposal.
Though Evernote is currently my preferred note taking/GTD application, there are always a few issues that I have with any piece of software or service that I use on a daily basis.
Lack of Linux Client
Though this may not be an extremely valid criticism, I feel like I am being left out while using Ubuntu as my primary desktop at home. I would love to be able to use native software in order to track all of my information without having to resort to a less-than-stellar web interface.
I currently run the Windows client through WINE on my Ubuntu rig, but as you can see from the screenshot, there are a few problems when doing so. Aside from the visual quirks, (as most Windows software has when running in WINE), there are some serious functionality issues which cause long periods of hanging and seriously diminish the amount of work I can get done using the service.
Using the Web Clipper bookmarklet and the Email functionality allow me to take notes in pretty much every situation under Linux, but I still tend to enjoy using the desktop clients in order to organize and change my notes.
No Linux client is a big minus for me. But, that being said, Evernote has released their API, and anyone is free to create software that interfaces with their service. I would really love to see an Adobe AIR application that had the same functionality as the Windows and OS X clients, with the added bonus of being truly cross-platform. If I had the time or technical skills, I would jump on this task. I would be willing to make a donation to any open source Linux Evernote client project if it looked promising.
I didn’t mention that Evernote has an iPhone client, and for good reason. I would absolutely LOVE to have an iPhone, if only for the features that Evernote offers to their members. With an iPhone and the Evernote client, a user can take photos and enter notes on the fly, with the added benefit of the built-in GPS location information that the iPhone uses.
This would be absolutely and completely the best thing that I could possibly have. I forget everything if I don’t have some sort of paper and pencil to record whatever it is I need to remember. With an iPhone and the Evernote client, I would be more likely to remember and go through with whatever idea sprang to mind.
But, as these images display, AT&T service skips right over my house, which would be the main place I would use said iPhone.
Yep, that white area right in the center of both of those diagrams is my house. Nice AT&T, nice.
I absolutely, positively could not recommend Evernote more. This service has completely changed the way I remember and find information in just a few short months.
If you have never tried Evernote, what are you waiting for? Go sign up for an account now, you won’t regret it.