Photographic memory at last (no, seriously!)

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- A new service called Evernote gives you a photographic memory -- literally. Simply take screenshots or pictures (say, with your camera phone) of information you'd like to remember. Evernote finds and indexes words in those pictures, and puts the pictures and the indexed words online for easy (and total) "recall."

We live in an age of information overload. It's easy to find valuable information. It's not so easy to remember or retain it.

How many times have you stumbled across a really cool, interesting or useful Web site and thought, "great, yet another amazing resource -- now what am I going to do with it?" Or even more problematic, how often have you found yourself confronted with information on a billboard or product label or hand-written note you'd like to remember, but don't have the means?

How many times have you tried, but failed, to remember some random piece of information?

Evernote is designed to solve all these problems.

The service has been in closed beta for a long time, and has now come out into "public beta" -- i.e., it's "shipping," but new. The basic service is free. At that "price," you can upload up to 40 MB of data per month. If you're willing to pay $5 per month (or $45 per year), you get up to 500 MB monthly uploads and other benefits.

Here's how it works. You install the Evernote application on your PC or Mac and also the browser-specific plug in. In the future, you simply use Evernote's Web Clipper bookmarklet tool to select online information -- pictures, text, whatever. Just click a button to grab it. On your desktop, just type in notes or drag-and-drop pictures into the desktop application.

The data is automatically uploaded to Evernote's servers where it gets scanned, processed through an optical character recognition (OCR) engine, indexed and stored.

It's also a fantastic note-taking application. Just sit there in meetings and bang out notes, which will be auto-uploaded and auto-indexed, and available via keyword search later on. Best lf all, snap camera-phone pictures of the white board, and those will be uploaded, OCR'd and indexed as well. If you *really* want to show off, bring something like an ASUS Eee PC to meetings, then use the built-in Webcam to snap pictures of the whiteboard. Just a thought...

You can use the desktop application to search, sort, label or provide indexable information for all your captured stuff. Of course, once everything is indexed, you can do a Google-like search to find anything.

The first thing I did with Evernote is that I took a picture of the side of the box my new BlackBerry Pearl came in. The box shows five long strings of numbers, including the all-important EMEI number and PIN number for the phone. These numbers are absolutely necessary for various tech support and other issues later on. But in order to take advantage of a $50 rebate, I had to cut all those numbers off the box and mail them to the company. Evernote is perfect for this. I dragged and dropped the picture I took into the Evernote desktop application, and labled it with "BlackBerry," "Pearl," "8110," "IMEI," "PIN," etc. This has all been syncronized together. In the future, when I'm on tech support and they ask my IMEI number, I'll be able to produce it in about five seconds.

What does all this have to do with extreme telecommuting? First: Unlike, say, Microsoft Office OneNote, which also captures and indexes (but doesn't OCR) random "stuff," Evernote stores your goods online, so you can access it on the go from any computer. Second: Evernote has a Windows Mobile version, and is working on Java and iPhone versions. That means you can or will be able to use your camera phone to directly upload pictures or notes without the use of a PC, and also directly access your upoaded Evernote content.

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Even without the Evernote's mobile utility, you can still take advantage on any phone, especially a camera phone. When you sign up for an account, Evernote gives you a unique e-mail address. By mailing notes, forwarding e-mails or sending pictures to this address, you're adding them to your Evernote notebook online. 

And here's another powerful way to use your phone with Evernote. If you're a Jott users (and if you're not, you should be), add your Evernote e-mail address as a contact (first name name "Ever," last name "Note"). When the Jott recorded message says "Who do you want to Jott?," say "Evernote." Your message will go right into your Evernote default notebook like any other e-mailed text.

Evernote is a fantastic resource for any digital nomad type. On my next trip I'm planning to experiment with using it for travel blogging (stay tuned for that...).

Evernote also boasts a list of features that includes a "public notebook," a Facebook application and integration with blogs. You can capture PDF file information, and syncronize notes and to-do lists, according to the company.

Evernote looks like an all-around super useful utility. I'll be using it every day from now on, and will report back on how it holds up over time. Stay tuned.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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