If you are curious about where Evernote is going, you might want to spend some time with another one of our products, the smartphone app Evernote Hello.
Evernote Hello lets you capture information about the people you meet: name, email address, picture, etc., in three unique ways, including very fast business-card scanning. Evernote Hello stores contacts in Evernote, lets you push information to your address books and it can, with a single tap, send the person you’ve just met your own information back, closing the social loop.
But for Evernote watchers, there’s more to Hello than its utility. There are several features that we’re experimenting with for possible inclusion in Evernote or in our other apps. As Evernote Hello product manager Martin Cheng said when I grilled him on this strategy, “Evernote Hello was always thought of as an experimental platform. It’s where we try new interactions and ideas.” Here are some of them.
#1: Hello Connect
One of the coolest things about the current version of Evernote Hello is Connect, a feature that lets people quickly, and rather magically, exchange contact info. It works one-on-one, or in a local grouping with people (like, sitting around a table). When you all fire up the Connect feature in Hello, one of the devices will send out a series of audio tones, and the devices nearby that hear those tones are then assumed to be in the local group. Once the grouping is established, everyone’s name shows up in everyone else’s app, and each user can import all (or some) of the contacts they’re looking at.
The feature could be used for more than just sharing contact info. We’re already thinking about using Connect in Evernote Food (sharing recipes with friends) and even in Evernote (for quickly sharing notes, say around a conference table).
We’re still tweaking the technology, privacy controls, and interaction model, but we think Connect is a great tool for making data social on demand. This is going to develop quickly.
(As a side note, Hello Connect has evolved significantly from its first early days in the product. Originally it was based on having users share PIN codes. As Cheng says, “It is the perfect example of trying things out in a smaller product before thinking about putting them in Evernote.”)
#2: Structured scanning
You can add contacts into Evernote Hello by scanning business cards. The scanning is quite accurate, especially considering how hard it can be to get a good image from a hand-held smartphone camera.
But just scanning text accurately isn’t enough to be useful in this context. With business cards, you also have to process the data and put it in the right places. You need to the know the difference between a name, an email, a company name, and so on. Evernote Hello does a good job of this, too, and this technology, is already being rolled in to some other Evernote apps.
Evernote Food, for example, knows a recipe when it sees one, so it can tell which notes stored in Evernote are recipes that should be displayed in Food. We are also looking at adding structured document scanning to Evernote, for processing other document types that users tend to store.
Just because Evernote appears to store everything in mostly-unstructured notes, it doesn’t mean that the service has to stay unaware of what those notes actually are. When the app knows that, it can do more for users.
#3: Automatic grouping
Evernote Hello knows that if you meet a bunch of people at close to the same time and at about the same place, they’re probably all connected somehow for you. Evernote uses that context to help users make connections later: When they’re looking at a person’s contact information, other people met at the event will show up in Related Notes.
Our other apps may also start doing this kind of loose grouping. It’s not hard to create a bucket for a bunch of notes that are related in time or space, even if you used multiple devices or apps to create the notes. For example, if I record a meeting with a person on my iPhone in Hello, and a few minutes later create a note in my laptop or my Sky pen, Evernote might well assume those two records are related, and link them together.
Automatic grouping gets really interesting when you’re working with other people in Shared Notebooks or in Evernote Business notebooks. Automatically creating storyboards or briefing books from numerous shared notes created by co-workers could help people uncover a collective meeting intelligence that, so far, remains elusive. We’re looking into this.
#4: The data type of “Person”
Evernote stores notes about anything. Evernote Hello stores notes about people. The idea of the person as high-level entity in Hello is obvious since that’s what the app is about, but the “person” data type might find its way into Evernote as well.
We have ideas of making Evernote more adept at helping users rediscover not just stored notes and memories that can be useful to them, but to the people connected to those notes as well.
#5: Integration with other data sources
In Evernote Hello, you can enter just the email of a person you meet, and the app will look into your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts (if you’ve given it access) to fill out the rest of a profile for you. We believe that our tools should illuminate the content you’re capturing, not just record it. There is context all around us, and our technology should be smart enough to see it, know it, and work with it for us.
Evernote apps already integrate with your calendar and your location. We are looking to future integrations that make sense, from social data sources, commerce sites, sensor platforms, business services, and more.
Parts of Hello are already in Evernote
Features from Evernote Hello have already made their ways into Evernote. When you create a new note and it automatically titles it based on what’s in your calendar or what your location is, you’re using a feature pioneered in Hello. We also pioneered the Page Scanner function, which de-skews (flattens) a photo of a notebook page so it’s easier to read, in Hello. The app uses the function to de-skew pictures of business cards before scanning them.
Evernote Hello is not just a product. It’s a live test platform. Several Evernote features have started in Hello, and more future Evernote features are being tested in it now. If you want hints on future Evernote capabilities, spend some time with Hello.
Read more about Evernote Hello. Or better yet, just download it and give it a spin. It’s awesome.
Rafe Needleman is Evernote’s Platform Advocate, and author of Evernote’s Opportunity Notes blog about startups.