Rory Cellan-Jones

Memories in the cloud

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 7 May 09, 12:23 GMT

Suffering information overload? Trying to find that document, that website, that digital photo from way back when?

Well, there are now plenty of ways you can store that information online - sites like Flickr allow you to keep your photos, Delicious helps you tag and bookmark links, and Google Documents provides an online store for, well, documents.

I've just met the boss of a company that claims it can do all this and more. But will Evernote - and the memories it stores in the cloud - still be around in five years' time?

Phil Libin.jpgPhil Libin, the chief executive of Evernote, describes it as "an external brain for everyone". The idea behind the service is that you can store notes, audio recordings, web clippings or photos with Evernote - and they will be accessible on any computer or on a mobile phone. There is an Evernote application for Windows, for Mac and for the iPhone and the service is coming to other phones imminently.

What impressed me was the search capability, which includes a function allowing you to look for text in photos. Phil Libin showed me a search relating to a company he'd met at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Among the results was a photo taken on a stand featuring a man wearing a badge with both his and the company's name on it.

Evernote - which is based in Mountain View, right at the heart of Silicon Valley - launched in June last year, and has so far attracted about a million users worldwide.
There are two options - a free service or a $5-per-month premium subscription which allows you to upload far more "memories" each month, with greater functionality.

I'm always rather dubious about that kind of mix of free and premium (how many Spotify users upgrade to the paid service?), but Mr Libin says that growth in paying customers is now ahead of new free users, and he claims that the company is now on course to be profitable next year.

But Evernote is based just down the road from the one company that seems likely to crowd out a small start-up, Google. And I have to confess that after trying out Evernote earlier this year, I ended up reverting to using Google Documents - it lacked many of the bells and whistles of its new rival, but I wasn't sure that I needed them.

If my behaviour is at all typical, then Evernote may struggle to achieve the critical mass of users it needs. So the big worry for those who have signed up is that the company will be one of the many Silicon Valley start-ups that have a great idea, but don't make it.

Phil Libin is of course confident that his venture won't meet that fate - he says it's actually a great time to be starting a business because there is less "noise" around from other ventures - but he's keen to reassure users that their memories will survive, whatever happens to the company. That's because Evernote stores everything not just online, but locally on your computer - so even if its servers go offline one day, anything that you've synchronised to your PC will be safe.

We are putting more and more of our lives into the internet "cloud" - and that raises all sorts of issues about security and trust. Companies offering these cloud services will need to provide plenty of reassurance to their users over the coming years. But it's refreshing to see that, even in these dark times for investors in new technology, smart companies like Evernote are still being born in Silicon Valley.

By the way, I used another new service which stores data in the cloud, AudioBoo, to record an interview with Phil Libin. You can listen to it here, but just in case AudioBoo disappears from the cloud in five years' time, we've also uploaded it to the BBC's embedded player. After all, we hope that the BBC and all of its online services will still be around for the foreseeable future.

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  • Comment number 1.

    This just sounds like another version of the hundreds of online storage sites on the web. I use dropbox, I can put just about any file on there (an impressive 25GB storage) and can make them public or private. I can download smaller ones to my phone should I wish to (or large ones, but that would take ages without wi-fi) and you don't have to use an app to make it work.
    They too have a premium version with more storage but also a referral system so you get more storage the more friends you refer. I don't use it regularly but it has come in handy a few times for sending big files to friends.

  • Comment number 2.

    Just listened to the interview very interesting. I've just set up an account. I have so many things running around in my head at any given moment and this would be ideal as I don't always have a pen and paper handy.

  • Comment number 3.

    Ah: an RCJ twitter-tease. Not about security in the Cloud after all. But it should be - because I for one am very nervous about it and am fed up with creating identities simply to avoid the auto-links to whatever-mail whenever I find something useful (like NetVibes, which I still don't trust).

  • Comment number 4.

    We have a similar concern with our listing website as one of our aims is to ensure that users' information with exist forever. We are considering how we could set up some kind of trust to ensure that, when we are gone, the site will be maintained. This may be an issue that site owners, generally, do not put much thought into.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hmm, store all my photos, emails and so on in "the cloud"? No thanks. I prefer to stay ORGANISED in the first place. The search/indexing giants are making a killing on the fact that most people are lazy and can't be bothered to organise their inbox properly in order to be able to find things. Not only that, they seem to be encouraging it!! Like Hotmail once said "no need to ever delete an email again". Actually, I can think of a few reasons to delete old emails, storage capacity not being one of them.

    Need to send a big file to someone? No problem, I have a decent net connection so run my own Web and FTP server so I just provide a link to my servers; when done, close the ports again.

    I am very dubious of all the cloud based things that are going on right now (and still to come). I like being in control of my own OS, what documents I create (and how) and can relax knowing it's backed up and there's no chance of a cloud hosting going bust - I wonder what would happen to the data stored on there then, I guess the company who buys them out would "own" it and could easily change the T&Cs (facebook anyone) to their own needs.

    To question wizzardsblog about his/her comment: "I have so many things running around in my head at any given moment and this would be ideal as I don't always have a pen and paper handy." I take it that you always have a PC and internet connection handy then?

    Anyway, you guys can give your private data and thoughts to whoever you like, mine stay mine with no chance of leeks, data loss or theft.

  • Comment number 6.

    I use Evernote, I used to use Google Notebooks. It's a great place to store your ideas and research - not many other services satisfy this need. I think we will be seeing Evernote in 5 years time.

  • Comment number 7.

    reading this I was surprised that Rory Cellan-Jones did not mention Google Notebook (see #6) to make the comparison, I think it has been available longer even than Google Documents; unlike David-Whitehouse I have not (yet?) switched.

  • Comment number 8.

    The character recognition and indexing from images is what knocked me out when I first saw Evernote. When did this cleverness sneak into an app I could download and use for free!?


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