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Evernote: universal human memory extension

Evernote has plans for your brain. More specifically, a vision for the the augmentation of your memory. Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote and a recent Mac convert (who's been enthusiastically replacing his relatives' PCs with Macs to cut down on tech support calls) filled us in on Evernote's big plans.

Originally, Evernote was a Windows desktop application for taking notes, and it was (and is) top-ranked in its class. Then they decided that a broader array of input options and more accessibility could take Evernote light years beyond the initial plans. This included creating a Mac desktop client and a web application to interface everything. It can take your text notes, web clippings, pictures and more, organizing them with a tagging system and attribute filter. The ultimate goal of Evernote is to be, as Phil puts it, a "universal human memory extension."

The Mac desktop client is being developed from the ground up, not ported from the Windows client. This makes for a true Mac experience and a beautiful interface. Feature parity will eventually be maintained (Windows users currently have a slightly different feature set), but the two clients are being developed separately. Read on after the jump to find out what makes Evernote different from your current system for tracking all the information in your life (and find out how you can get in on it!).

What's so special?

Users of Backpack and PackRat, Yojimbo, Together or any other such software are probably wondering what makes Evernote any different from the barrage of information and note organizers available for Macs. It should be noted that Evernote is not a file manager. It deals with notes in the form of text and images. If you use a system like Yojimbo or Together for any form of file management, Evernote won't help you there. So what does it do, and what differentiates it?

First off, handwriting and image recognition. All of the filtering and organization methods (tagging, filtering, searching) in both the desktop client and the web app are very effective, but nothing new. Of course, neither is handwriting recognition; the developers behind Evernote's scrawl deciphering capabilities have roots reaching back to the Newton. But being able to snap a picture of a business card with your cell phone at lunch, sending it to your account and then being able to search for any text on the card is more than just a novel idea. It's a means by which we can build a memory system that works in our favor by allowing images from cameras, cell phones and even screen shots to become searchable, indexable memory tools.

Users of tag-based systems already know that using tags instead of groups or folders allows for more associations to be drawn between items, which works with the way human memory functions. Narrowing searches by attributes such as date, content and source makes finding things simpler. And being able to do something like typing the name of the establishment you were at yesterday and having the beer coaster you took a number on pop up instantly is certainly a useful augmentation to the human brain.

Then there's availability and accessibility. For input, I've already mentioned cell phones and cameras. I'll toss in a mobile version of the web application as well. Add to that the tools available when you're at your computer, which range from manual note composition to browser clippers and screen capture utilities. And for times when you're bereft of all but a pen and, say, a beer coaster, just jot it down and snap a picture back at your computer. And what about getting your notes out of Evernote? You can access your "memory" from your computer or any place with an internet connection, including your iPhone. You can also make notebooks public, email notes and, in the near future, embed your notes in other places on the web.

What's coming?

We caught Phil hot off a big brainstorming session that laid out a roadmap for upcoming features.

The ability to add a checkbox to any note and make it a to-do item is coming. Evernote will track all of your to-do items and make them easy to organize. We're also told that the web interface is going to add Rich Text capabilities with Safari compatibility.

Plans are in the works for a collaborative version of Evernote. The embedding capabilities I mentioned before will also allow for access control to a public notebook by using the privacy settings of whatever you embed the information in.

We talked with him about things like audio notes and the complications of cross-platform audio compatibility. We can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Phil is committed to making Evernote Apple-friendly. We also asked about a Jott Link that would allow voice transcription directly into Evernote and were told it's being looked at right now.

It seemed like just about every oddity or "missing" feature that we noticed was already being fixed or added. For example, we noticed that the source url of web clippings wasn't always available, even though it's always saved. You can find it in the desktop client under Note Info, but plans are in the works to make it more accessible on both desktop and web. Development is high-speed and the team is responsive. Things are looking great.

Can I get some?

By now, you may be feeling left out. Fear not: Evernote has given TUAW a couple of invitations to let our readers get some memory enhancement/brain augmentation of their own. In fact, the first 1000 readers to click this link get in. If you don't make it, watch for more news next week when the next major build is scheduled to be released!

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