A memory like an elephant

Finding something to write about is often quite difficult and it’s annoying when a product goes pear-shaped before I can write about it.

An example of this is Google Notebook which I have been finding very useful for making notes about interesting websites I find, and for collecting research. The way it works is that you can select any text or pictures that you come across in your browser, and save it to your notebook, which is kept on Google’s servers and which you can access from anywhere on the Internet.

Just as I was about to write and tell you about this, Google announced that they were not going to be developing it any further and that it would no longer be available to new users. Existing users, like myself, can still carry on using it but it would be pretty pointless my telling you about it, because you couldn’t get it anyway.

I then went out to see if there were any other similar tools and came across a gem which allows you to save all manner of important information to notebooks stored on the Internet. The product is called Evernote and is superior to the Google product because it not only lets you capture information from the Internet but lets you add stuff to your notebooks in a number of other different ways and formats.

You can still use it to copy interesting information and pictures from the Internet, but you can also add text files and PDF documents to it, or indeed, even pictures. The Evernote logo is an elephant which, I suppose, symbolises the fact that you’ll always be able to recall the stuff you feed into it.

Evernote allows you to establish an account for free and allows you to upload a fairly generous 40 Mb a month of data to your various notebooks. On arrival at the site, I suffered a slight reverse when, instead of letting me sign-on and create an account for myself, a message popped up with the fact that the elephant had gone to sleep temporarily, but was expected back at any minute.

It seems the Evernote people were doing maintenance on the system and, after a short while, the it came back online and allowed me to sign on. The information stored on Evernote is organised into any number of notebooks that you care to create and it indexes all the content and allows you to search for anything you want using keywords.

The way you’d typically organise your information on Evernote would be to create a notebook for each subject you’re interested in and store your info appropriately. You can add keywords to items as you add them to your notebooks to make them easier to find in future.

You can download a program that puts a button into your browser which, when clicked, will add whatever material you’ve got selected to your notebook. You can also download a program which runs on your PC and allows you to to add information to your notebooks even if you are not connected to the Internet.

The really clever thing about the system is that information is synchronised between your notebooks on the Internet and on your PC so that changes made to one notebook will reflected in the other. Programs are also available for a number of different mobile phones which will allow you to add information to a notebook, or search for information wherever you are.

Some mobiles cannot Evernote directly but, if they can send e-mail, they used to add information to a notebook by sending a message to an address you are given when you create your account. Even pictures taken with the camera on your cell phone can be e-mailed and this may not seem to be too exciting until you realise that Evernote can look at pictures you send and decode any text that it finds in them.

So for example, if you took a picture of someone’s business card, and sent it to Evernote, the system would make sense of the text and then, when you want to track that person down, it would just be a matter of searching for the business card using anything you can remember about the person. This sounds like a great feature and could help store the info from the vast piles of business cards that you get over the years.

I was surprised how good the recognition of text was in pictures I tested Evernote on but it is not infallible and it might be worth your while, when you add pictures to Evernote, to add a couple of tags to the picture including, perhaps, the person’s name and business.

Evernote can also recognize and index text files and text that it finds in Adobe PDF documents, providing that these have been created in such a way that the text remains intact. The paid version of Evernote can even index wordprocessor and many other types of files containing information that you might need again.

Evernote looks like a very good and useful product and should certainly prove very useful for anyone who wants to file away information in such a way that they can always find it again in future. I would say that it is superior to the Google Notebook except that Notebook will export the contents of a notebook into a wordprocessing document or a PDF document.

I have occasionally found this feature useful when collating research information that I’ve collected from various Internet websites but, apart from that, Evernote sounds like an ideal solution to help you keep your memory on track. You could quite easily keep all the stuff you have to know on Evernote, and be able to access it from anywhere.

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