Geeking Out In the Cloud with Evernote

Last week my parents brought a dusty box to my home. “What’s in here,” I asked, as I looked around my den, already cluttered with magazines and random papers. “It was in the attic.” Ugh. I don’t have anywhere to put this, and if I haven’t needed it for 18 years, why would I need it now? I opened the top of the box and discovered notebooks and binders and papers from my undergraduate studies. That got me thinking about how over many years, moves, and changes in technology – it has been awhile since I’ve worked from a 3.5″ floppy disk – I lost some good work, including graduate research and writing still relevant to my professional work today. I wish I knew where it was and could access it with ease. I also wish that the students with whom I work had a simple way to archive and access their college work. And that got me thinking about Evernote.

What is Evernote? This 50-second video explains the cloud-based storage service for information and ideas.

Evernote’s best features include ease of depositing information and easily retrieving it anytime, anywhere.

A few quick examples of things that you can do with Evernote (occasionally referred to as “EN” from this point forward):

Academic – Professionals
  • assemble content (PDFs, Word and Excel docs, etc.) for use in lessons, write and store lessons and syllabi
  • quick access and easy retrieval of ideas: thoughts typed out, pictures taken with a mobile device, articles (full or snippets) seen on the web, musings recorded on smart phone – a great help in the car, EN can even transcribe your long voice note into text
  • record audio from a student presentation with a smart phone, reference it for grading and send back to students for their review
  • collect e-mails, papers, and other items to reference for annual performance review

Academic – Students
  • store scans or photos of returned papers, tests and quizzes for future reference, creating a simple to use, easily accessed e-portfolio
  • using a mobile device, take pictures of the white board at the end of class and pay more attention to the lecture (with instructor permission?)
  • type outlines for class notes and readings – review anywhere
  • rehearse for a presentation by creating an audio note on a smart phone
  • collect research materials for papers – Evernote automatically records the URL of all saved content

Personal
  • keep pictures of a driver’s license, ID card, library card, medical insurance cards, important receipts, contents of a suitcase, closet, or other valuables in a residence hall or home
  • storage for all instruction manuals (PDF, scanned, web) and warranties
  • recipes clipped from the web, scanned from a recipe box or as pictures taken from a magazine with a mobile device
  • lists containing long term goals and checklists of things to do and items to pack for different kinds of trips
  • pictures of price tags for items when you’re comparison shopping – should I buy razors at Target, BJ’s or on Amazon?
  • record audio notes and capture artwork from young children, automatically stored in the cloud and easily shared

Getting information into Evernote is easily accomplished with desktop, web and mobile applications. You even get your own Evernote e-mail address: anything sent there goes right into your EN account. Notes can be placed into a specific notebook, much like a folder on a PC, and individual notes can also be assigned tags. For example, I have dozens of notes in a “Tricks” folder where I keep different activities for warming up a group, goal setting, decision making, self-disclosure, etc. Some of the activities are specific to only one purpose, and are tagged as such. But I can use my “Face to Face” activity as a general group warm up or to focus specifically on disclosure, so that note gets both tags.

EvernoteScreenShot1

As you can see, this note was once an index card, one of many, but the EN version also contains my notes on uses for the activity. Now that I’ve scanned my “bag of tricks” index cards I can easily search for a group activity or study strategy at home, in my office on campus, or in the classroom.

Organizing notes can be as simple as throwing everything into one notebook, or more complex by utilizing multiple notebooks nested into different stacks. No matter how you work it, EN’s search functionality makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. It even recognizes pictures of handwriting and typewritten words, so if you’ve taken a picture of a poem that you scrawled out on a napkin a couple of months ago, just search for a word from that poem and the note with the photo should show up. Here’s the main page of the EN for Android app looks like. To take a picture of that napkin and automatically send it to EN, I just press “Snapshot.” 

EvernoteAndroid1
If the note wasn’t legible, search all notes with pictures by date – it’s in there!

Notes can be shared by e-mail and to various social media hubs. My Freshman Seminar Peer Advisor and I would meet to discuss upcoming classes, and I’d take notes during those meetings in EN. From those notes, I’d write a lesson plan, complete with all attachments and links to other relevant notes that I had already created. Then I’d e-mail my Peer Advisor the link to that note, which brought her to a neatly formatted page, locked from editing. I wrote this blog post in Evernote – here’s the shared link: http://www.evernote.com/shard/s55/sh/393ed150-445c-4982-8285-952e1c27f46c/69f4b8a06381209c5551fbd144d74ade. If I want to break the link, I can tell EN to stop sharing.

You can even share an entire notebook, giving individuals various levels of access: view, modify, and invite others.

Notes can also be linked together. Students who take pictures or scan their returned papers and tests into Evernote could link them together to create a coursework master note, allowing them to easily reference those materials as they prepare for a final. If students were encouraged to use Evernote to do this with all of their work, they’d be developing their personal e-portfolios.

Evernote has a number of companion products. I recommend Web Clipper, a browser plugin that simplifies importing web content, and Clearly (Chrome and Firefox), which creates a distraction free web page reading experience. They’ve also developed partnerships with existing companies and software that you might already use. Check out what they’ve done with the iPad in Evernote PeekLivescribe and Moleskine. The company has done a nice job cultivating communities (education, organization, parenting, etc.) with Evernote Ambassadors. Foodies will like Evernote Food, a separate but similar application that is especially robust on the iPhone and iPad.

Concerns about privacy are addressed in a reasonably written privacy policy. Your information is password protected and your password is protected by encryption. That said, Evernote is among the most recent victims in a history of hack attempts on major web service providers. They responded quickly by notifying all users by e-mail and forcing password resets. They are aggressively pursuing two-factor authentication for their users, a security option that Google, Dropbox, and others offer. Evernote also allows you to selectively encrypt text in individual notes, but there’s no way to retrieve that text if you lose your special encrypted password. If you ever want to pack up your data and go elsewhere, you can export your notes.

Want to try Evernote for yourself? Get started with a free account for basic use. Overall storage is unlimited, but the amount of synchronized data that you can add in any given month is capped at 60MB/month with a 25MB limit per note. There’s no limit to local storage. You can go premium for $5/month or $45/year and enjoy 1GB of uploads each month, single notes up to 100MB, and a number of other features. I started as a basic customer, but after a year I decided to upgrade when I scanned my wife’s grandmother’s recipe box into EN and then shared that folder with her. She still uses the box, but when she can’t find what she’s looking for I swoop down to the rescue.

So what of that box from the attic? For now I’ll just wedge it into a corner in my attic. Maybe someday I’ll get a scanner with auto duplex and stuff those papers into Evernote.

What uses have you found for Evernote?
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3 responses to “Geeking Out In the Cloud with Evernote

  1. Deb VanderBilt

    I just started using Evernote as part of my attempt to be all-digital with my sabbatical research project on Digital Humanities. What’s awesome about Evernote is its ability to be accessed from any device I’m on–school, home, my mother’s house in Phoenix. No more emailing myself! I’ve found Evernote the most useful in bringing together clippings & articles from the web. Because of how the tag feature works, Evernote can function as a highly efficient, searchable annotated bibliography. I haven’t said “Now where was that link?” in 3 months!

  2. Really, I’m not a luddite, but while all-inclusive storage is nice, two things come to mind. First, Kasswitz’ “The Universal Library” (and Ley’s postscript to that) come to mind: How can we possibly index everything so that it can be found? I already face that with my the stuff on my flash drive. And, second, if everyone does everything in “the cloud”, isn’t bandwidth going to become awfully expensive? (Of course, if Deb and I are the only two people who use it, then we should be okay!)

  3. Thanks, Chris – this is really useful.

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