Monday, February 21, 2011

Using the "Power" of Cloud Computing with Evernote is another great example of a powerful cloud computing application that has many of the benefits of cloud computing. I use Evernote to drop items into a notebook that I need to be able to access from anywhere, (iPhone or any web connected computer). Being able to access information from anywhere and via any device is a key benefit to cloud computing. The real power Evernote brings to the table, in my opinion, is OCR, making everything I upload searchable. Then I thought, why not scan in all the paper that I keep (bills, etc) and put it into Evernote. What would happen?

Update (2/21/11): After using Evernote for about a year, I've updated this article with my discoveries and experiences.  Also added new features in iPhone app released on 3/1/2011 at bottom.

Evernote utilizes another key benefit of cloud computing, which is being able to apply large shared processing to problems that are difficult to solve on a small PC client or something even smaller, like a cell phone. Whenever I upload a picture from my cell phone (iPhone in my case), via the web or their client side application from my PC, Evernote uses an optical character recognition (OCR) program to pull all the words from an image or PDF and make them searchable. Now, whenever I search for say “cambria”, or more likely, “santa maria”, I’ll find the name of that wine I really liked. Not only does Evernote find the image that I’m looking for, it shows me where the words are in the image. This isn’t just for wine, although I have more ideas on this, it goes for business cards and just about any other content that you think can be recognized by a computer. Business documents and sales receipts are another good example.

I use the camera on my iPhone and a HP all-in-one (scanner, copier, printer with document feeder) with a free app called ScanDrop to scan in all of the bills and other document that I want to keep (and find). ScanDrop turns one or more pages into a PDF file and then lets you tweak (rotate the pages or quickly order them), add tags, upload the PDF to Evernote into the folder you desire. The workflow is pretty easy. I thought I would scan in over a year's worth of stuff just to see what the possible benefits are. Here are just a few use cases that I've come across so far:
  • I use the iPhone app to snap pictures of business cards and then give hand them back.  If I ever want to find the person that I spoke to at a conference, I just search for anything that might be on the card, like company name, using the iPhone app or the WEB UI from my PC. The picture doesn't have to be perfect and so far, it's worked pretty well and I don't end up with a bunch of business cards littering my bag.

  • I take key notes while at conferences via my iPhone or iPad without having to drag around a laptop.
  • I was at Home Depot the other day renting a truck. They wanted to know my insurance carrier name and policy number. Rather than go out to the car, I searched for it on my iPhone and got all the needed info, and showed the proof of insurance to the rental agent.
  • I hate keeping receipts, but a lot of times you buy something or a service that has a semi-warrantee. By scanning the receipt, or using your phone to upload an image, you can toss the paper and, if needed, show the proof of receipt via your phone later. There is no guarantee the merchant will accept this, but many times it's worth not having to keep all that paper around.
  • I tag receipts and other documents that I might need at tax time with a key word, allowing me to find all this stuff when it comes time to do my taxes.
  • I use to sort my bills and keep them in their own file folder. Now I just scan, upload, and then toss the paper into a yearly file. If I want to find something, I'll just search Evernote.
    For example, if I enter my VIN number into Evernote search, it brings up my insurance policies, registration, proof of insurance and more. Now that's cool!
  • If my house burns down (I hate even saying that), I have instant access to all my insurance paperwork and other important documents are backed up off-site. Think about that, backing up your important paper documents off-site. If you've read my article on Network Backup, you know I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to keeping your data safe. Now you can do that to paper as well.
  • This last one might be a tad geeky but it's handy. If you use twitter and want to save whatever you are posting or re-posting (tweet or retweet) you can just add "@myEN" to your message and it will be saved to your Evernote account. I retweet stuff to a friend (normally cool links) once in a while and I like to be able to keep a copy of them. By adding "@myen" to the message, it gets sent to my Evernote account in case I ever want to find it in the future. If you are an iPad Flipboard user, you very likely see all kinds of articles that you want to keep. By just "retweeting" the article to @myen, you can quickly save the URL and move on with your day.
There are many of other uses, and after living in this mode for a while, it's well worth the effort. Google Docs allows you to scan directly into your docs account and have that content run through an OCR but I don't think it's as flexible and they have some strange limits on file sizes. In addition, there's no iPhone app that makes that easy. I haven’t done nearly enough analysis to know if Evernote is enterprise or business grade, (I’ll be working on a re-usable scorecard in the future) but for a small business, this could help streamline operations and take work out of the back-office and allow you to spend more time with customers.  In addition, ScanDrop can keep a copy of all the PDF files you generate when you scan documents giving you a bit of a backup.  Speaking of backup, installing the Windows Evernote client and running the synchronize process pulls an entire copy of your Evernote database to your PC.

Evernote takes cloud computing concepts like mobility, ubiquitous access, device independence, integration with other applications and more, and adds to that a little punch of their own, OCR. By making an app for your mobile device, Evernote takes it to the next level. As of 2/2011, Evernote has an app for iPhone/iPod touch, iPad, Android devices, BlackBerry Palm devices and Windows Mobile.

UPDATE (3/1/2011)
Evernote released an iPhone upgrade today and promised a iPad release very soon.  It was big enough to warrant a quick update.

New ways to see your notes
  • Snippet view: Intelligent note list view shows you more useful content (not sure I like this)
  • Image view:  Browse all images contained in your notes
  • Attachment view:  Browse through files attached to your notes
Creating notes
  • Attach multiple images and recording to a single notes
  • Record 90 minutes long audio notes
  • Add text and snapshots to a note while recording
  • View and modify location data
  • View notes in specific notebooks
  • Find notes by tag
  • New search screen with quick access to Saved Searches


- Chris Claborne

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