Try to remember: Evernote vs. Springpad

The two best-known data collection apps go head to head.

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Finding your data

The test of any storage tool is whether you can retrieve the information you need when you need it.

Evernote

Evernote's method of organization is straightforward. You organize your items by putting them into notebooks (such as "Work," "Favorite Web sites" or "Roof repair estimates"). You can also add tags as a way to filter them down even further.

To find your items, you can click on a notebook and/or one or more tags in the left-hand column. You can also simply start typing into a search box, and Evernote will immediately beginning filtering the items according to your search term(s).

Springpad

Like Evernote, Springpad lets you organize your information by assigning each item to a notebook. In Springpad, you can even assign an item to more than one notebook; however, it's a little more awkward to go from one notebook to another. In Evernote, you just have to click on a new notebook in the ever-present left column, while in Springpad you need to go back to your home page first.

Once in a notebook, you have a number of filters you can use to find items faster. You can click on an entry type (such as "movie" or "product") or a tag. You can also look for anything you may have flagged, or for current alerts (which can be dated tasks or products that have price changes).

Unfortunately, there are also a few glitches -- for example, when I go to my Alerts section, the listing of overdue alerts includes both those tasks that are actually overdue and those that I've completed, which is less than useful.

You can also type a search term into a box at the upper-right corner of the screen.

Social networking

Springpad is more of a social networking beast than Evernote is. While Evernote assumes you want your notes to be private (and, in fact, only recently introduced limited sharing capabilities), Springpad takes the opposite tack.

Evernote

Evernote lets you send individual notes to email, Facebook or Twitter -- and that's about it as far as social media is concerned. Your notebooks can be shared with other users as well -- either as a general URL (such as www.evernote.com/pub/yourname/testnotebook) or with a specific user (who doesn't have to be an Evernote user). If you have a free account, others can only read your entries; a premium account is needed if you want others to be able to edit the notes as well.

Springpad

With Springpad, a single privacy icon on every entry toggles between completely private and completely public -- if it's public, the entry can be found at your Springpad URL (springpadit.com/username). Springpad also allows you to "follow" people (in the same way that you "friend" people in Facebook); you can see the public entries from people you are following in a notebook called "Friends Stuff" and your public entries will appear in theirs. If you want to save one of their entries to your own notebook, you click on an "add" icon.

The Share button (which sits above every individual entry) also lets you share your entry via Twitter, Facebook, email, or a number of other services, including Digg, Delicious, Posterous and a long list of others. Springpad can also pull in information from a number of sources, including your Facebook and Google profiles (if you authorize it to access your accounts).

Quite a few entry types -- mostly media types like movies and books -- are public by default, which I found slightly unsettling. You can make them private by either toggling the privacy icon for that specific entry, or by switching the default privacy level for each type of entry in the Settings area. The URLs for private entries can be shared with individuals via email.

Outstanding features

Each of these apps has a couple of killer features that the other would do well to emulate.

Evernote

One of Evernote's neatest features, at least as far as I'm concerned, is its optical character recognition functionality, which automatically makes the text within an image file searchable. This multiplies the usefulness of the application by several factors -- for example, I can scan in business cards (or, if a scanner isn't handy, just photograph them), and know that I will be able to search on the company name or any other info on the card (including notes I may have jotted down) to find the contact information.

Evernote vs. Springpad

Evernote finds text within graphics files and makes them searchable.

Click to view larger image

And Evernote's OCR does a pretty good job -- I've found its interpretation of printed material close to perfect. When it tackles my messy handwritten notes, the fact that it ever finds anything is a constant surprise to me. (Evernote will also search within PDFs if you have a premium account.)

Evernote also has a tool (that sits in the bottom-right notification area in Windows or the top-right menu bar in OS X) that lets you "clip" images from your desktop and drop them into an Evernote notebook. I've found this very useful when, for example, attending online meetings when a PowerPoint presentation was being given. Want to save some of the information in a slide? It takes only a couple of seconds to clip the info and send it to Evernote.

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