Paperless re-visited (part two)

So, in my last blog post, I re-defined the paperless problem as really being about ubiquitous capture. Paper isn’t going away and neither is data. In fact data expands to fill any available storage space, but that’s another story.


So what we are really looking for is a “capture anywhere” system. And if it works on our smartphone, computer, web, tablet and everything else we use, then it’s a winner. Assuming it works properly.


There are a few contenders in this space; Paperless (yep, someone took that term and made an app), Evernote and DevonThink to name a few. I did my homework and gave in to Evernote. It’s the most cross platform and best supported app for my money.


More and more as I get older, I have lost all patience for bad technology. If something doesn’t work first time, overtime as advertised, I drop it. Life is too short for crappy technology or software. Although the Gods know, there’s a lot of crappy tech out there. For this reason I chose Evernote. It isn’t crappy. When it comes to ubiquitous capture Evernote is your app. You can capture from tablets and smartphones (Apple or Android), computers (Windows and Mac), email, the web, cameras, Post-it Notes, Moleskine notebooks and just about anywhere else data is generated.


It runs on Windows, Android, IOS (iPhone/iPad) and Mac as well as in any web browser. So there is no excuse not to capture whatever you need when you see it. My computer parts photos all go in and become searchable.


Evernote lets you snap a photo of just about anything and store it as a note. If it’s a picture, it gets OCR’d and turned into searchable text. If it’s a PDF and it doesn’t have a text layer, it gets one added. Even hand written notes can be scanned or photographed and become searchable. You can search for that wine label from just the photo you took. The web site back-end adds searchable text for you. At this point I need to tell you that you can’t export or copy/paste the text, it exists to help you search, not for you to read.


The same searchable text conversion happens on any notes you write with Penultimate. This is a tablet app that lets you write with a stylus. For those with Windows tablets who can actually write on a screen with a stylus, this is a nice iPad app to check out. Evernote acquired them and hence the app syncs to Evernote now. Frankly, I got the top of the range stylus but I still can’t write worth a damn.


As well as all these methods to get your data into Evernote, you can clip web pages, URLs, cut and paste and email to Evernote. There are a number of mechanisms for arranging and sorting your data. Notes, Notebooks, tags, saved searches and stacks, to name a few. I will go into those further in another blog article.


Now the magic is that the whole of your data gets synchronised across all your devices including the web site. And that this sync actually works. This is the promise vs deliver problem, and Evernote was the only one I tried that actually did this bit right.


The mobile Evernote lets you snap any document by using your camera as a scanner. There are special options for scanning Post-it notes and Moleskine paper notebooks. These options do things like recognise the Post-it note colour and automatically categorise the note accordingly. There are stickers included with the Evernote compatible Moleskine notebooks that let you tag your notes. So snapping a picture of the written note with a sticker attached, enters it to Evernote and adds a tag you decided. Of course the camera can be used on anything, not just these ones i have mentioned. Did I mention wine bottles? I have a notebook called “Things I buy” in which I keep snaps of the products I buy regularly. So when it comes to which of the 4 different but so similar filter plates for our fish tank…I just look it up.


Your free Evernote account will be enough to get started and learn what it can do for you. But if you want to use it seriously, you will need the Premium option which costs a small amount of money. For that you get more data storage, usage and the full OCR facilities. I found this a very good Freemium option. Free to try and use in a small way and once you pay, the full options light up. If you buy the right Moleskine notebooks, you will get 3 months of Premium Evernote included. You can add this to an existing account or start a new one with the credit supplied.


There’s the whole C-L-O-U-D debate. Should you trust some random web site with all your data? I made that assessment for myself and decided that if I used a decent password and the two-step verification option, then I had enough security with Evernote to satisfy my paranoia. But if you had classified data, you might want to do a bit more research than I did. But I figured Evernote is big enough and public enough that if they were not doing security right, they would have been hacked by now.


Evernote is very easy to learn. It passed the “grumpy John” test. There’s a great book by Brett Kelly called “Evernote Essentials” that will explain it all in easy to digest chapters. Although the free videos on the web site are probably enough to get going if you have absolutely no clue at all what I have been saying.