Evernote Makes Employee Reading of Messages Opt-in

Evernote has been through the wringer with its decision to add machine learning to its repertoire, effectively trying to pave the way to added services based on scanning the contents of users’ notes. Users were not happy, not least because Evernote made it opt-out. The settings looked like this: 

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Evernote has now had a change of heart, rather coyly calling it Evernote Revisits Privacy Policy Change in Response to Feedback: No longer would it implement the planned Privacy Policy changes for January 23.

“Instead, in the coming months we will be revising our existing Privacy Policy to address our customers’ concerns, reinforce that their data remains private by default, and confirm the trust they have placed in Evernote is well founded. In addition, we will make machine learning technologies available to our users, but no employees will be reading note content as part of this process unless users opt in. We will invite Evernote customers to help us build a better product by joining the program.”

It’s probably the best solution in the circumstances, but it was poorly handled, and reflected a lack of understanding, once again, of what the product is. Evernote is simply that: a place where you can store your notes forever. That needs to be paramount. Anything else needs to support that, and not undermine it. 

Users’ reaction was becaues they prized privacy and security above other layers of features and services that may arise from running semantic engines and whatnot over Evernote. And certainly doing it via opt-out, and a privacy policy that raised suspicions.

I personally would love to see more done with my notes — complex search is still poor, finding similar notes is still poor — but I need, and I’m sure I’m not alone — to be confident Evernote isn’t going to do anything weird with my stash without my permission. Especially have employees poring over them. 

Apple Takes on Evernote?

Apple’s update to OSX allows users to import Evernote notes into Notes (if you see what I mean) painlessly and effectively: Import your notes and files to the Notes app.

As far as I know, this is the first time an app with some heft has included this capability — there are third party tools for OneNote, but no native functions. 

To me, this is the first serious challenge to Evernote, since why would you bother with Evernote if you’re an iOS and OSX user? 

There are limitations, I suspect. I can’t find any way to add tags and it seems the tags preserved in an enex/xml file are lost on import. That’s a showstopper for me. And of course some of the deeper features of Evernote aren’t there — saved searches and what have you. And if you use Android and/or Windows this is not going to help you.

But I suspect the bigger thing for most heavy users will be a sigh of relief that a player like Apple sees it worthwhile to add this feature. For many users there’s been growing disquiet as to just how  long ‘Ever’ means for the company, and the ramifications for their vast Evernote collections. 

Sharing on Evernote

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Despite some competition, Evernote still owns the space where we save stuff we might need for ourselves. But is it up to the task of our increasingly collaborative world? I’ve gotten a bit confused about what can and can’t be synced and shared and with whom so I asked them. This is what I think I learned: (some corrections made after checking with Evernote)

Syncing between devices

  • If you’re a free user, anything you add on any device can be viewed (and edited) on any other device.
  • If you’re a premium user then you’ll be able to download and store offline all notes to your Android or iPhone.

Sharing notes

Notes can be emailed to other users.

As of today it’s possible to share a note with anyone via the web app (desktop apps soon) via the share button:

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which allows you to share via Facebook (and later Twitter etc) as well as via a link which can be pasted elsewhere. Others will not be able to edit this shared link, but any changes you make to the original note will update the shared page.

Sharing notebooks

(this is where I might be off the mark. Expect corrections)

  • Any notebook can be shared with any other user via any app.
  • One of you needs to be a premium user for others to be able to add to the notebook.
  • If you’re on the web app (just redesigned; very nice) and/or a Mac, any additions or edits any shared user makes will sync to the others’ devices. (Other platforms coming soon; the pre-release version of Windows includes this feature already.)
  • Any imported files or watched folders will also be synced between users if one of the users is premium.  (Free users are limited to to text, audio, images, and PDFs. If the contents of the shared notebook/watched folders are limited to those file types, then any user can share them. If the file types go beyond that, or if the sharer wants recipients to edit the content, then the individual that’s sharing the notebook must be Premium.)

Footnote

Three things I asked Evernote if they might work on:

  • Drag and drop doesn’t seem to work for copied text and images. Just copy some text from a page and drag it over into Evernote. It used to. Evernote answer: fair point. We’ll look into it.
  • I feel Evernote has fallen behind on the ability to extract the relevant content from a web page and copy that, without all the extraneous stuff.  Readability and Thinkery.me do this very well (the latter, brilliantly; a Chrome plugin lets you merely right click a link for Thinkery to rush off and grab the salient text and save it.) Evernote answer: fair point. We’ll look into it.
  • Revive the timeband. I loved that thing. Evernote answer: any 3rd party developers interested in doing it?  

The Lost Art of Clipping

(This is a copy of my Loose Wire Sevice column, produced for newspapers and other print publications.)

By Jeremy Wagstaff

One of the lingering peculiarities of the web is that it’s not easy to save any of it.

This is somewhat weird. You’d think we’d have figured out that this was something people wanted to do quite a lot: If you like something you see or read, surely it’s a natural enough thing to do to want to keep a copy of it somewhere?

Back in the days of newspapers, we’d be clipping things all the time. We had a whole department at the BBC doing just that; if I needed background on Laos, say, I’d call up our secretary who would call up someone else who would magically deliver me a buff folder containing all the newspaper clippings on Laos. I felt like I was in MI5.

Nowadays we’ve got Google. Or if we’ve got the budget, Lexis Nexis or Factiva. But what about if we want to do the clipping ourselves?

Well, there are options. None is perfect.

First off, there’s Evernote, which you’ve heard me talk about before. For Windows and Mac users, it does an excellent job of saving anything you ask it to, whether it’s text or a screenshot.

(Tip for Windows users: Don’t bother with the new beta version of the software, which is not good. Go with the old one until they get their act together.)

But Evernote is by no means perfect. You’ve still got to select the text, or the bit of screen you want to save. And this can be fiddly, because most web pages now are optimized for ads, not reading, so the chances are that just dragging a mouse over the text in question will include all sorts of detritus you don’t want.

In which case, try a browser bookmark called Readability (free from lab.arc90.com/experiments/readability/). When you visit a page you want to save—or part of which you want to save—click on the Readability button and all the detritus will disappear, leaving just the main article on the page. It’s great for saving stuff, but also worth using if you’re having problems reading web pages cluttered with ads and other bits of nonsense.

(It does a remarkably good job of this, but it does sometimes leave out important bits, such as the date of the articles, material which I find useful to save.)

Another weakness of Evernote is that it assumes you want to save all this material to one big database. Most times we do, but sometimes I find I am just saving bits and pieces for a specific task or project and would rather keep them all in one place separately.

Another weakness of Evernote is that it assumes that what you’re clipping stuff only from the web. While it will let you drag other material into Evernote using the mouse, or the clipper application, Evernote is aimed primarily at users of the browser.

But if we’re gathering material we’re probably gathering them from other sources too, such as Acrobat PDF files, or Word or Excel files.

If that’s your game, then I’d recommend a new tool called Topicgrazer. From the makers of Topicscape, a 3D mind mapping-file organizing application, Topicgrazer simply grabs everything you choose to copy to the Windows clipboard, and stuff it in one text file, with links to the files or wepages the material came from.

It’s a simple but powerful tool, and works remarkably well. Even things that are notoriously difficult to copy, such as spreadsheet cells, handle well. It’s not the most beautiful of apps, nor the most customizable, but it’s surprisingly good. Topicgrazer costs $10 from Topicscape.com.

Another tool I really like for its simplicity is something called CintaNotes. CintaNotes does something similar to Topicgrazer—one keystroke saving whatever you have selected in whatever application–but instead of copying it into one document, it creates separate entries, where the title is the name of the file, or the webpage.

CintaNotes also saves the source of the material as a link. CintaNotes is free from cintanotes.com, and was put together by a 29-year old native of Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk called Alex Jenter.

Where it differs from Topicgrazer, and where it comes closer to Evernote, is that it saves all these entries in a chronological roll, one after the other. And like Evernote it lets you add tags. In fact, it’s a bit like Evernote’s younger sibling.

But maybe that’s its strength. Evernote is intended to capture everything you might ever want to capture. CintaNotes, though powerful, is perhaps best used as a specialiist cabinet, where you just keep stuff that is specific to one project. It loads faster than Evernote, and doesn’t take up much space, so you might find it more to your liking if you’re not a serial clipper.

There are other tools out there. Some folk just copy and email themselves stuff they like the look of, and there are add-ons for Firefox and Chrome to help you do this. The Opera browser has its own note-taking application, which works well—so long as you only want to save stuff from the web.

I don’t think any of these applications help in one regard: highlighting and annotating text. Perhaps it exists, but I’ve not yet found an application that lets you add highlight to text you find, and add your own notes in a seamless (and easily retrievable) way. After all, that’s what we’d do with those newspaper clippings of old: We’d highlight the bits that were relevant, and could rarely resist scrawling our own comments in the margin.

There are other bits of our clipping past I’d like to recreate: The feel, the smell, the atmosphere of those little scissored flakes of newsprint, carefully layered in those buff folders. Even if the clip was only a few weeks old, you couldn’t help feel you were somehow handling a slice of history. The mere act of cutting out the article, stamping it with the date, and adding it to a folder lent it importance, reverence, that Evernote and its ilk don’t quite capture.

Maybe it’s too much to ask, but I’d love to get a bit of that back.

Software, Slowly, Gets Better

Is it just me, or are software developers beginning to get their users? For a long time I’ve felt the only real innovation in software has been in online applications, Web 2.0 non-apps—simple services that exist in your browser—but now it seems that ordinary apps are getting better too.

Evernote, I feel, is one that’s really leading the charge. They’ve taken the feedback that us users have been giving them and have added, incremental release by incremental release, some really cool features. For example: now you can save searches in the Windows version. Reminds me of the old Enfish Tracker Pro, whose departure I still mourn. In fact, Evernote isn’t far off becoming a real database instead of a dumping ground for things you’ll read one day. Maybe.

Skype, too, have pulled their socks up. I hated 4.0  beta, not least for its big bumbling footprint. But the new version is better—a lot better. The main improvement is the option to make it look like your old Skype. But it has some nice new touches, including a chronology scroller that might interest Evernote’s legal department (Skype on the left, Evernote on the right):

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Move the bar on the right and you can move easily through old chats. Legal niceties aside, I think this kind of innovation is great to see, and almost restores my faith in designers realising that we don’t just use software in the here and now, but also as repositories of past heres and nows, if you know what I mean.

In short, our decision to commit to software is largely based on how much we will be able to get out of it. Not just in terms of hours saved in what we do now, but in what past information we’ll be able to get out of it. We have been using computers long enough now to have built up a huge repository of interactions and memos, and we want, nay we insist, to be able to get that stuff back. Quickly and easily. And, increasingly, to be able to move it to other places should we wish.

Google understands this relatively well. A chat in GTalk, for example, can be readily accessed via Gmail. And, now, we can also see and search our other data held within Google’s silos, right within Gmail, via some widgets from Google’s Gmail Labs. Here are two widgets that let you view your calendar:

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and here’s one to see your documents within Google Docs:

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Note the window at the top for searching through your document titles. This means one less step to access your data.

All these things have some basic concepts in common:

As I’ve mentioned, it’s about being able to get what you’ve put in out. Skype have listened to their customers and realised it’s less about the interface and more about the information the interface gives access to. If they were smart they’d find an easy way to send old chats to your email account or at least make it easy to search all your chats from one box. (I’m told that, or something like it, is coming in the ‘Gold’ version of  Skype 4.0 next year. Until now only group chats—three or more people can be saved to your contact list.)

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Secondly, software should, where possible, work with other people’s software. Emusic’s new download manager (above), for example, does something that has been missing ever since the service launched. Previously, if you wanted to include MP3 files you’d bought from the service in iTunes, you’d need to either drag them across into iTunes or re-introduce the folder into iTunes. The new version of the downloader tool now synchronizes automatically with iTunes, meaning you don’t need to do anything. Thank God for that.

There are tons of other things that software needs to do that it presently doesn’t. I could start listing them but I need to go to bed. But maybe in this downturn developers could take a note from some of these examples, and use the time to look more carefully at what users need, at how they use your software, and explore new and better ways for them to use it for what they do, not what you think they should do.

An Answer to Our Scanning Prayers?

 NeatDesk

I’m always amazed at how weak the market for scanners is. The devices aren’t always that good, and the software that accompanies them is generally speaking pretty awful. Those that were once good, like PaperMaster, are now dead.

So it’s good to hear that NeatReceipts, once interested mainly in, well, scanning receipts, is now called The Neat Company, and is about to launch NeatDesk – “the all-new desktop scanner and digital filing system.” It’s got what looks like a pretty cool Automatic Document Feeder scanner that will take receipts, business cards and documents—in the same scan.

I used NeatReceipts and thought it was a good effort—it did a good job of trying to parse receipts, although the user interface was overly complex and the software not particularly stable. Neat Co says the software has been completely overhauled.

The device is going to sell for $400+ once it’s launched. More anon.

The Neat Company – Preorder Sale

Update: Evernote have added PDF preview for Windows. Is there room anymore for Paperport and its ilk? This is a great addition to Evernote and something I think really pushes it into the ‘capture all your cr*p’ category. Good on them.

Evernote’s Smart New Look

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I like Evernote but I’ve always found the notes a bit messy: different fonts, lots of weird formatting, and not particularly easy to read and scan through.

That seems to have changed with their latest version, where the notes are decently sized, free of too much extraneous stuff and easily distinguished from each other with elegant gray space.

Amazing how a few user interface tweaks—to make things simpler and more intuitive than to impress and show off-turn a maybe into a must-have.

Some Tools for the Productive

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a big fan of tools that help sort through your stuff, or at least help you keep it orderly. TiddlyWiki is one of them, but it’s often just sat on the wrong side of the line in terms of easily getting stuff into it while you’re doing something else. You know the situation: You’re browsing, you like the look of something and you want to put it somewhere you can find it again, but you don’t really want to start moving around into other programs. TiddlySnip, in this case, might provide the answer:

TiddlySnip is a Firefox extension that lets you use your TiddlyWiki as a scrapbook! Simply select text, right click and choose ‘TiddlySnip selection’. Next time you open your TiddlyWiki file, your snippets will be there, already tagged and organised.

It works well. On the same subject, I’ve heard from the PR folks involved with EverNote, the scrolling toilet roll of stuff that works not unlike TiddlyWiki, but now, in its 2.0 beta,

allows users to search for text within images—the first time such a product is available to the public.

What this means, apparently, is that you can search images for embedded typed or handwritten text. There’s also a portable version of EverNote that you can put on your USB thumbdrive. Both versions might be worth checking out.

Directory Of Clipping Savers

Update Nov 7 2006: A new kid on the block for Firefox 2.0 users: Zotero. (Thanks, Charles)

I recently wrote in WSJ.com (subscription required) about how to save snippets of information while you’re browsing. I didn’t have space to mention all the options I — or readers — came across, so here’s the beginnings of a list. Please feel free to let me know about more: The basic criterion is that the service lets the user easily capture material they’ve found on the Internet (for stuff that’s more socially oriented, check out my Directory of Social Annotation Tools).

  • Zotero. It not only does a great job of storing globs of web pages or the whole thing but it has an academic bent too, allowing you to store bibiographic information too.
  • ContentSaver:   is both a browser add-in and an Office-style application at the same time: With the additional toolbar and the extended shortcut menus in the browser, you can easily gather material during your Internet research. 35 EUR (Thanks, Ganesh)
  • eSnips:    Save real web content not just links: relevant paragraphs and images you find on any web site….oh yes, and links too. 1GB free
  • wists.com: The idea is to bridge the gap between blogging and bookmarking. It aims to make simple list blogging as easy as bookmarking and make bookmarking take advantages of weblog publishing, with automatic thumbnail image creation etc. (David Galbraith)
  • Net Snippets: The friendly, intuitive way to maximize the effective use of information from the Internet and online research
  • Jeteye: enables users to create, send, view and share any type of online content, add notes and annotations and save it all in user organized Jetpaks™ through an easy drag and drop interface.
  • Google Notebook: makes web research of all kinds – from planning a vacation to researching a school paper to buying a car – easier and more efficient by enabling you to clip and gather information even while you’re browsing the web.
  • ClipMate: ClipMate saves time and makes you more productive by adding clipboard functions that the Windows clipboard leaves out – starting with the ability to hold thousands of “clips”, instead of just one. ($35)
  • Clipmarks: Clip and tag anything on the web
  • Onfolio: a PC application for collection, organizing and sharing information you find online. ($30 to $150)
  • EverNoteQuickly create, organize and find any type of notes on an endless, digital roll of paper. (from free to $35)
  • ScrapBook: a Firefox extension which helps you to save Web pages and easily manage collections. Key features are lightness, speed, accuracy and multi-language support.
  • Omea Reader: Free and easy to use RSS reader, NNTP news reader, and web bookmark manager. It’s fast, it aggregates, and it keeps you organized.

My personal favorites? I love ScrapBook because it lets me save stuff in folders on my own computer. Clipmarks is great for online stuff, and the tagging/folder mix is powerful. EverNote has its moments but for all its interface ingenuity, it’s not easy to organise stuff.

An Opera whinge:

Some readers have pointed to Opera’s ‘Notes’ (Flash Demo) function which is neat, but doesn’t do as much as ScrapBook (there’s also a Firefox extension called QuickNote which performs more or less the same tricks as the Opera Notes. And besides, I’m still mad at Opera for not supporting drag and drop. What is it with them?  (Sad to say that, because I think Opera have been great in improving interface design. But I think they’ve dropped the ball. Back in February 2003 I was wowed (WSJ.com link; subscription only, I’m afraid) I wrote:

Just when I thought software had become as innovative as a bacon sandwich, something came along to prove me wrong. There is software out there that is innovative and that actually makes things easier. It’s a Web browser made by a Norwegian company called Opera Software ASA and its latest incarnation, released last month, is a real gem.

Of course, that was before Firefox came along and stole my heart.

A New Way To Grab Stuff

The folks at EverNote tell me that version 1.0 for Windows is officially launched today:

As you may recall, EverNote lets you place all of your notes and content (web clips, images, text, passwords, to dos, etc.) on an endless, instantly searchable, digital roll of paper. Our founder, Stepan Pachikov, likes to say that EverNote gives users that much sought after ‘perfect photographic memory’ — a single place for all your info, accessible anytime, any place.

Some new features for those familiar with the earlier beta version:

  • – A Web Clipper where you can instantly export web content into EverNote from IE or Firefox. Our beta users have found this helpful for quickly capturing content while reading news, researching or shopping online;
  • New category icons (over 50), where you can easily assign icons to identifiable individual categories, such as Web Clips, Business, Personal, Travel, Shopping and more;
  • Ability to email or print notes;
  • Backup support;
  • Extensive improvements to categories, tool tips and keyboard shortcuts (a new total of 80).

Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a way to store data from the web on the fly.