Evernote: Software to help you remember everything, forever

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Farhad Manjoo writes about Evernote, which he describes as software to help you remember everything, forever:

If you ever have the pleasure of meeting the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Phil Libin, don’t be alarmed — or offended — when he asks you to pose for a photograph. And when you hand Libin your business card, expect him to take a picture of that, too. Libin might also snap shots of signs and placards around your office, billboards and movie posters he passes on the street, the labels of wine and sake bottles he encounters at restaurants, and untold other scraps that pass through his hands during the course of a day.

Libin is a big, friendly, mustachioed fellow, and though there’s a certain compulsion to the photographing thing, he isn’t actually crazy. He’s simply an ardent proselytizer of his product. Libin is the CEO of Evernote, a software company that’s building what has been called “a backup for your brain.”

All of Libin’s photographs — that shot of you, your office, the movie posters and the wine labels and the random notes — fly into his Evernote account. There, the company’s servers extract meaning from the image data, rendering Libin’s memories searchable.

When he wants to recall the cut of your jib, the name of the sake he ordered last week, the flight number for his recent trip to Vegas, or anything else, Libin can scan his Evernote account by date or keyword. If he searches on “salon writer,” for instance, he’ll come up with my business card, which includes those words. Because Libin can do this anywhere — from his computer or his mobile phone — the software has become, for him, a kind of Google for the real world.

Evernote is a forgetter’s dream, but the tool isn’t only for those of us gone mushy in the brain. In the same way that GPS forever changed our relationship to physical spaces, the permanent, constant archiving of both the monumental and the mundane in life will surely alter how each of us navigates the social realm. During a recent interview, I asked Libin whom he considers his target market. In the mode of a TV pitchman, he answered, “Everyone wants a better memory.” And yet this makes sense: Everyone forgets, and Evernote makes it so you never have to.

The quest for what Libin calls a “human memory extension” is at least a few decades old. In 1945, the engineer Vannevar Bush described a theoretical machine he called the “memex” (for “memory extender”), “a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.” More recently, Gordon Bell, one of the inventors of the Internet, has been obsessively archiving his life as part of a research project for Microsoft.

Evernote combines several recent tech innovations — digital photography, ubiquitous networking, cheap storage and powerful image processing — to make Gordon Bell’s archiving ways possible for ordinary people.

The service runs on a desktop program that works on both Macs and PCs, as well as a Web client for mobile phones (souped-up mobiles with good Web access work best).

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