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COTA: Evernote aims to be Google for your brain

November 3, 2012

I discovered an infographic recently that said, “Google receives more than 2,000,000 search queries” and, “Facebook users share more than 684,000 pieces of content.”

Staggering numbers? Consider this: Those numbers represent what happens every minute of every day.

Every minute.

We’re generating more information at a faster rate than ever before. Yet I don’t know anyone who feels as if their memory is improving. We’ve all become fairly adept searchers. But Google isn’t going to help us find the recipe for Grandma’s Cinnamon Rolls or the clothing sizes for our kids.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been using Evernote (www.evernote.com) to store all kinds of information, and I still have trouble explaining exactly what it is. It’s a filing cabinet to supplement your memory. It’s a bucket for anything and everything, with the ability to pull out random connections between items to help you retrieve the information—much like pulling out the data from inside your mind. It’s like Google for your own brain.

The whole exercise began with CEO Phil Libin, who had been considering how our memories work. How do we remember something, like the name of a restaurant? The trigger might be thinking about whom you were with when you heard about it, where you were, what else you were doing at the time, or a related word or image. From these bits and pieces, we can often dredge up a forgotten but important thought. But not always.

Libin realized we needed something better than our own brains. We needed an electronic memory—somewhere we could put in information in any form, be it a typed document, a handwritten note, a photo, a website, a spoken conversation. The trick would be instantly retrieving the information on any of your devices on the fly without worrying about how to organize it. The result, says Libin, is your brain offloaded to a server.

“When people want to capture a thought, they don’t want to stop what they’re doing,” he says. They want to find whatever it is whenever they need it, as effortlessly and intuitively as we now find things using Google. “Google is great, but it only knows about public information,” says Libin. “We needed something that could handle your information.” More important, you wouldn’t need to remember much about what exactly you were looking for. As with your brain, what you would need is only a vague clue—like a person, a place, a word, a time. Evernote is the tool that makes the connection. And with its growing suite of complementary applications, it’s working hard to become the absolute repository of everything you might ever want to remember.

Evernote can store meeting and class notes, voice memos, web pages, photos (including text that is automatically recognized and indexed for searching), receipts, product manuals, warranty information, phone numbers, and on and on. You can put information into Evernote directly, clip it from web pages, upload photos, send it via e-mail, or use third-party applications to automatically insert. It’s great for parents, students and people in business. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a demographic that wouldn’t benefit from having instant access to its own memories.

There are native applications for both Windows and Mac desktops, smartphones and most tablets. All of them sync over the Internet to keep everything, everywhere up to date (and regularly backed up). So far, the strategy is working. Evernote’s feature-rich completely free version surpassed 15 million users late last year.•

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Cota is president and co-founder of Rare Bird Inc., a marketing communications firm specializing in Internet application development. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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