Creating Order from Chaos with Evernote

When he parks his car, author Timothy Ferriss snaps a photo of the nearest cross streets with his camera phone. In business meetings, he'll often take pictures of sketches and notes made on a whiteboard. When he's out for dinner, he'll whip out the phone again to capture an image of the label on the wine he's drinking. He never knows when he'll want to recall the data later.

Ferriss, a productivity expert, blogger, and author of the best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek, then ships those photos to what he calls his "augmented brain," which exists not in his head, but on the Web.

He is one of a growing number of people using a Web-based service and software application running on smartphones and PCs called Evernote that is quickly becoming a receptacle for much of the ephemera that otherwise gets cluttered and sometimes lost in a person's busy life.

At first, Ferriss resisted the suggestion from readers of his blog that he try the application. "I have this philosophical stance where I tend to avoid accumulating new gadgets and software because usually they create more work than they are meant to prevent," Ferriss says. But when a few reader suggestions turned into dozens, he decided to try it. "At first it wasn't clear what the appeal was. But the more I used it, it became really clear why they liked it."

Word Recognition in Photos

Founded by Stepan Pachikov, who co-founded handwriting recognition software company Parascript and is a former vice-president of Silicon Graphics, Evernote is designed for people struggling to become more organized. A February survey by the National Association of Professional Organizers, a trade group, found that 96% of some 400 adults said they could save time every day if they were better organized. "No one remembers everything as well as they would like to," says Evernote CEO Phil Libin. "We take the stress out of it."

Backed by $6.5 million in funding from Russian investment bank Troika Dialog, Evernote has signed up 1.2 million users since it was founded in 2004. It's growing at a healthy clip, adding about 100,000 new users a month, Libin says.

The service comes in free and paid flavors. For $5 a month or $45 a year, customers get 500 megabytes of storage a month, versus 40MB for the free version. Paid users also get an ad-free experience when logging into their account on the Web or via the desktop program. Notes are password-protected, and paid members receive an added benefit of having their notes transmitted over an encrypted Web connection.

One of Evernote's most popular features, users say, is its ability to recognize text in pictures. Send a picture of anything with text—say, the cover of the book How Rome Fell—to Evernote's server farm in San Francisco, and it will be turned into searchable data and then synchronized with your computer the next time you launch the Evernote application or sign into its Web site. Later, when you're struggling to remember the title, simply search for the word "Rome" on your phone and find that picture. Evernote runs on several types of phones, including Apple's (AAPL) iPhone, Research In Motion's (RIMM) Blackberry, Palm's (PALM) Pre, and Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Mobile, as well as PCs running Mac OS X and Windows.

Notes from Cameras and Scanners

It's not just Evernote's features but also its partnerships with other companies that are winning it new users. Eye-Fi, a memory card that also gives cameras a Wi-Fi connection, lets you send pictures directly to your Evernote account. A new feature harnesses the GPS chips found in many phones to plot your location on a Google (GOOG) map. Evernote is also bundled with Sony Ericsson's Experia X1 smartphone, and soon it will be bundled with Fujitsu's (6702.T) Scansnap line of desktop document scanners. Deals with notebook PC makers and more phone manufacturers are in the offing, Libin says. "This is the digital equivalent of the napkin you make notes on," says Michael Gartenberg, a digital media analyst and vice-president at Interpret, a consultancy. "This is the type of tool for people who want to capture all that stuff and save it. But what really makes it useful is that it's on the phone, which you have with you all the time."

Indeed, while 64% of the tool's users rifle through their Evernote stuff on their PCs or Macs, more than half get into their accounts from both computers and phones, with iPhone owners leading the pack. The latest version of Evernote's iPhone application was downloaded 260,000 times in the first four days after Apple released its upgrade to the iPhone operating system. Tens of thousands of BlackBerry and Palm Pre users have downloaded it for their devices.

Currently, Evernote accepts audio files—say an MP3 recording of a meeting or interview, or voice memos recorded on a phone. It soon will include a feature to turn spoken words into searchable text, Libin says. Searchable video no doubt will follow.

As feature-rich and popular as it is, Evernote certainly has competitors. Microsoft's OneNote is a popular application for Windows PCs and, among other things, mimics a paper notebook, letting those who have tablet PCs keep track of notes they "write" on the screen with a handheld stylus. On the Mac apps like Soho Notes, Circus Ponies, and Yojimbo are also aimed at organizing collections of miscellaneous stuff into an organized and searchable pile.

Still, Evernote is winning endorsements that likely will enhance its appeal. Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist who is also CEO and founder of the Web site, uses Evernote to keep track of myriad usernames, passwords, even travel details. "Any time I get an e-mail containing an airline reservation it goes into Evernote," he says. "I just fire it off and forget it."

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