App of the Week: Evernote

So far, the App of the Week series has looked at two apps that represent the ends of a spectrum from long-term storage of your core content with Dropbox to short-term content collection with Drafts. This week, we're going to look at a category-creating app that bridges the spectrum: Evernote. Evernote includes a web browser interface, PC and Mac Apps, an iOS app, and more. There is also an entire ecosystem of apps that has built up around the core Evernote capabilities that are also worth exploring if you add Evernote to your workflow.

So, why would you use Evernote?

Originally created as a simple note-taking application to sync notes across all your devices, Evernote has evolved into an entire ecosystem of physical and virtual information capturing products. The Evernote Marketplace offers products as diverse as a high-quality stylus and scanner to unique carry bags and device stands. Evernote has also recently added specific features to provide for collaboration using Evernote, including Evernote chat.

However nice those aspects are, they are not why I use Evernote. I use Evernote to capture both text and images that will be archived so that I can search for them later. Everything you store in Evernote is indexed for searching, including images with text, making it easy to later find a quick note that you wrote, a receipt that you filed in it, notes that were on a whiteboard, or anything else. You can also tag items to add an additional set of searchable terms.

Image Text Search

When you upload images to Evernote, the Evernote servers go to work and run OCR (optical character recognition) on them and index the terms that the OCR finds within the image. This is how you can take a photo of a whiteboard and later find that photo by using terms that were on the board. This has saved my bacon more than once.

Workflow

Typically, on my mobile devices I use Drafts to capture text and my camera to capture images, then import them into Evernote. Other times, I'll open the Evernote app directly and use the text editor and image capture that's native in the app. I put the captures into Evernote Notebooks based on the area of my life for which they are useful (for example, I have notebooks for Personal, Speaking, and Writing in addition to notebooks for my clients and other technical and operational aspects of my work life). This allows me to narrow searches, as well as browse historical notes quickly and in context.

I capture notes like coupons, travel certificates from airlines and hotels, receipts from purchases and government sites, and gift ideas for friends and family. I also use Evernote to have notes available in multiple environments, like sharing between PCs I use for specific customers and all of my devices.

Summary

In short, to capture ideas, notes, and other temporal information for archival and retrieval, Evernote is a slam-dunk.

Evernote: Notes Anywhere and Everywhere

With the emergence of real mobility as demonstrated by the Apple iPhone, Google Nexus One, Microsoft Windows Phone, Windows netbooks, and now the Apple iPad, we have a new problem: keeping track of our data and making sure that it's available everywhere we might want it. Last week, I wrote about using Dropbox to keep track of all of our files, and it is a key component to the overall system of keeping track of your stuff. Another key is to be able to capture notes, photos, web pages, and even screen shots and have them organized and available wherever you are and whichever of your devices is at hand.

Enter Evernote, the ubiquitous capture tool.

Like Dropbox, Evernote is a system designed from the cloud out, and it uses the cloud for some very interesting functions that I'll discuss more in a bit. First, though, let's look at the basic functions.

Capturing Where You Are

One of the keys to your personal organization is being able to capture your ideas, notes from meetings, white boards, web sites, and your computer screen in the moment wherever you are. Evernote is the tool I use to do that.

Two weeks ago, a prospective client invited me into their headquarters to meet with the CEO, President, two Vice-Presidents, and a member of their board who had introduced them to me. As we sat in the executive suite, I pulled out my iPad to take notes and opened Evernote. I typed into Evernote during the meeting, capturing their concerns, the key outcomes they wanted, the people involved, and the next steps. Then, before I left, I sync'd the note to the cloud. When I arrived back to my office, the notes were already there. They were on my iPhone, too. In other words, I could go to work on the project using my other computers without skipping a beat.

That's how I want to work! Do it once, use it everywhere. Perfect.

iPad App

The Evernote iPad app has even more interesting capabilities that make the overall system more powerful. For example, you can view all of your notebooks and see the number of notes in each:

You can also see everywhere that you created notes, provided the device you were using allowed Evernote to figure that out:

And you can look at all of your notes by tags that you create and assign to your notes:

Cloud Functions

In addition to the synchronization functions, and browser-based access to your notes, the Evernote servers also process your image notes and perform character recognition (OCR) on them so you can search their content. This is especially useful when you've taken a photo of a whiteboard and loaded it into your Evernote notebook.

The servers also organize your files using metadata plus information you enter yourself such as tags and the notebook into which you store it.

Together this creates a powerful storage and recovery environment for text, images, audio, PDFs, digital ink, and attached files (the latter with the premium service only).

Try it and let me know how it works for you.