9 ways social media can support your creativity

computer with brushes and paintsSome new mothers worry about when they’ll get to sleep through the night; I worried about when I’d get to write a novel. I’d always figured that I’d write a book some day, but now that I had a kid, would some day ever come?

For me, the answer lay online. Not in an online writing group: I felt far too protective of my writing to consider sharing it with people I’d never met. But I was brave enough to reach out to other local writers by using the web to connect.  I found a couple of other writer friends who liked the idea of starting a creative writing group for people like us: people who earned a living as professional writers or communicators, but wanted an outlet for personal writing. I created a simple web site that explained the purpose of the group, with an application form for would-be members. Once we had found our fellow writers, we used a Yahoo Group to run an e-mail list that let us schedule meetings, circulate drafts and store files.

Whether your creativity takes the form of a solitary activity like writing or painting, or is intrinsically collaborative (like theater or filmmaking) the web can help you connect to the people, resources and ideas that foster your creativity. Creativity often demands social connection: for peer support, for feedback, for knowledge, for collaborators.

The social web offers a lot of ways to capture, hone and feed your creativity:

  1. Find your medium. YouTube not withstanding, the web is still a text dominant medium. Blogging makes it easy for writers to find a creative outlet online; photographers have Flickr, and filmmakers have YouTube. But there are lots of creative projects that don’t fit inside these boxes, so you’ll need to get even more creative in finding your online voice. Take pictures of your canvases; shoot a video of someone interacting with your installation piece; film your play, tape your song, make your own music video.
  2. Engage another hemisphere. I rely on my netbook for writing – but I rely on my iPhone to spark my creativity. Not by serving up poetry or inspirational stories: by turning off the very parts of my brain that are key to my writing. When I hit a wall, I pull out my iPhone and plug into a game of Flight Control: an utterly uncreative, dangerously addictive game that involves landing planes on a tiny landing strip. A few minutes of Flight Control is so absolutely absorbing that it lets my creative neurons recharge until they’re ready to fire up again.
  3. Collaborate. My first adult forays into fiction writing happened spontaneously online. An online chat with a pal turned into an extended riff on a “what if” scenario, and within an hour we’d written our way into a story. Over the following weeks it grew into a manuscript, albeit one that we never published or even edited. But even in raw form, that collaborative writing process reconnected me with my writer self. I was far braver as part of a team than I was able to be solo; by collaborating online, I rediscovered the joy of writing and recommitted to writing on my own.
  4. Keep an inspiration file.“Things that aren’t even cats”. It’s a line from a Malcolm In the Middle episode that has become our internal label for “none of the above”. I’m not sure why we find it so compelling, but somewhere in that phrase lies the kernel of a story about organizing ideas online. And when the inspiration for that story hits, I’ll be ready, because I am religious about maintaining a list of story ideas in Evernote, an application that keeps my notes synced between my mac, my netbook and my iphone. Wherever I am, I’m always ready to jot down an idea or retrieve one.
  5. Talk it out. Sometimes the mere act of writing something down strips it of its passion – or feels like too big an obstacle. Text recognition services and software can help you brainstorm out loud, whether by writing full documents by voice, or just using a mobile service like Jott to make calls that will get transcribed and set back to you as notes.
  6. Relocate. When I want to do an intensive bit of writing, I have to get out of the house and out of the office. But I don’t need a quiet garret: I do best in a cafe with lots of light, and interesting people who aren’t too creeped out when I stare blankly into the middle distance that they happen to be sitting in. I’ve made it easy to dive into a day of cafe writing by buying a tiny, lightweight computer just for writing days; it’s always packed into a tiny backpack that’s ready to go with the essentials for a day of writing. (The essentials: computer, mouse, headset, advil, hand cream, nicorettes). And I use a couple of programs that ensure my writing machine can access any relevant notes on my primary computer: Evernote, which is my master notebook, and Dropbox, which lets me keep a folder full of files synchronized across computers.
  7. Find material. Artists are the world’s most incorrigible thieves. As anyone with a writer friend can tell you, everything is subject to appropriation: that quip you made at a party, the video of your first birthday party, the story of your most painful breakup. The social web liberates you from stealing from your friends’ lives, and opens the door on a world full of images, characters and experiences that are yours to borrow and embroider. Stay within the bounds of intellectual property law (i.e. no stealing someone else’s words, images or stories) and you can find all the real life material you need online.
  8. Remove distractions. The same computer I use for my creative projects also contains an endless series of distraction. My hard drive is never more organized than the day before a major writing process: I can procrastinate for hours by consolidating folders, renaming files and optimizing my software setup. To limit my techie procrastinations, I use a separate computer on writing days, and keep it as light as possible: I’ve deliberately minimized the number of software tools installed on my writing machine, and I use a low-powered computer that makes it hard for me to run distracting programs or do much geeking out. I also keep a separate, distraction-free account on my primary computer: if I want to write, I switch to my alternate login, which denies me access to the chat programs, email and files that would pull me out of writing brain and into work or geek brain.
  9. Expand your horizons. I’ve always been comfortable with words, and assumed that in some previous life I accepted the deal that my ability to write would come with an inability to draw a straight line with a ruler. My family is full of visual artists, but drawing stick figures appears to be the outside limit of my artistic capacity. Happily, I’ve discovered that online design doesn’t require the kind of eye-hand coordination that has always defied me: I’ve created photo collages, illustrative graphics and entire web page designs, and had a heck of a good time doing it. You may have a preferred medium, but trying out other forms of creative expression online – whether it’s making a movie, recording a song, or writing a poem – can help you discover other kinds of creativity in ways that fuel your primary creative commitments.

Are you an artist/geek — or a geek/artist? Or maybe even a techno-skeptic who has nonetheless found ways of harnessing technology to your creative self-expression? I’d love to hear about the  practices, tools and work habits that have helped you turn the social web into a tool for supporting your creativity.

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On Managing Information Overload and Extremely Lame Superpowers

This blog post originally appeared on the site of the Harvard Business Review site.

We all struggle with information overload. If somebody would just push a button and turn off the Internet for a year, maybe, maybe, we’d catch up on our work, organize our contacts, and restore our sanity.

But instead of turning off the Internet, many of us, perversely, turn to it, the very thing that’s creating the pain, in hopes of relieving it.

My version of this: I use a tool called Evernote, a desktop, mobile, and web application that collates all your notes, links, and even snapshots and then uses built-in character recognition to make it all full-text searchable. For example, I could snap photos of business cards with my iPhone. Later, when I want to contact someone, I could search in Evernote on the company name in the picture of the card, and I would find the photo along with text of what’s contained in it.

The value here is the behind-the-scenes process of making any information I collect in any format text searchable. It could also match notes to location and provide context. If I got a business card from a friend who recommended a restaurant, I’d know when I search on that friend, or that restaurant, about that connection. This would free me from having to sit down after returning from a conference and type new contacts into a contact manager, for example, and it empowers me to maintain context that’s otherwise lost.

Evernote has helped me attenuate — not cure — my information overload problem. I turned to Evernote CEO Phil Libin to learn more on managing information overload. He talked about what we overwhelmed users can expect is coming to help us, why much of social media is merely entertainment, and his “extremely lame superpower.”

AS: Do you think we are suffering from information overload?

Libin: If you compare me to my 10,000-year-old caveman ancestor, pretty much every part of my body and what it can do has been magnified and amplified by technology: how much stuff I can haul around, how fast I can move, how many people I can talk to.

My ancestor had a couple of hundred facts in his head he could remember and recall easily — which berries were good to eat, which people in his tribe were trustworthy — and I’ve got the same thing. There are a couple of hundred facts I can keep in my head except instead of berries, it’s Simpsons quotes. For him the facts were the sum total of all info he was exposed to. For me, it’s a small fraction. We are exposed to far more than we can comfortably keep in our meat brains.

But how can tools like Evernote, which come from the very source of our overload, actually help? You don’t put out fires with fire?

A big part of information overload is the anxiety about information overload. For me personally, the feeling I was forgetting things was contributing to the problem. Then I started using our tool, and whenever I had something to keep track of, I would throw it in Evernote and allow myself to feel confident I’d captured it. That contributed to making me feel comfortable about all the information I was processing in my life.

Are you a GTD adherent?

I’m not. I figure five to 10 percent of the population has the “organized” gene. These are the lucky people who will be able to follow any program, GTD or anything else. The rest of us aren’t going to do it. We’re not particularly well organized or we’re lazy.

You think organizational tools like yours can actually improve your quality of life?

When I moved to California three years ago I decided to learn about wine. I’d go to a restaurant and have a bottle of wine and I wouldn’t bother writing it down because I knew that I’d never find it when I needed it.

Now I just take a picture of the wine bottle in Evernote, and I know I can find it by words in the wine label or by geotagging, meaning it will show up when I come back to the same restaurant. Or, I’ll remember I had that bottle with a certain colleague, and then when I search Evernote for his business card, the photo of the wine label will be the note next to it.

It makes me feel like I have this extremely lame superpower: the ability to remember bottles of wine.

What other techniques and solutions do you personally rely on?

Ignoring things. I used to try to keep up on Facebook and Twitter. I just completely stopped doing that. If someone tweets at me they shouldn’t expect me to see it. You have to stop caring about the random stuff on social media and treat it as entertainment, which is what it is.

What has shaped your company’s approach to the overload problem?

One of our big influences is The Long Now, a project dedicated to long-term thinking — 10,000-year long-term. We say the memories you put in Evernote will be around the rest of your life, and for your grandchildren.

What’s in your Evernote notebook that you want your grandchildren to have?

I do a lot of cooking and all my recipes are in there, plus the stuff I’m eating. I took photos of every thing I ate during my last stay in Japan and everything is geotagged. I don’t think about what I want my grandchildren to see but what I would have wanted to see of my grandfather’s. I would love to see photos of everything my grandfather ate in a given week 80 years ago.

Can we expect any technical leaps forward that will help us manage the volume of information?

The other two big influences on Evernote are Gordon Bell and Ray Kurzweil. If you want to know where this is really going, you’ve got to read Gordon Bell’s Total Recall. He recorded everything for twenty years and then wrote a book about what life like this was like. What he’s doing only one in a thousand people would do. We’re taking his ideas and dialing down to what lots of people can do.

Ray Kurzweil talks about how two hundred years ago, nobody was exposed to any technology, but right now it’s everywhere all around you. It’s never more than a few inches away from a phone, computer, pad, et cetera. The next step is on the inside, to get to things by thinking of them. But that’s still maybe 20 years away.

Would you get the Evernote brain chip?

Oh absolutely. I’d be first in line. But our marketing department doesn’t like me to talk about that.

Part 4: My $400 MacBook Air Light

Continued from Part 3: How to migrate your current Mac setup to your new Mac netbook

Two weeks into my new Mac-ified netbook, I’m no longer longing for that MacBook Air. While I still find it occasionally inconvenient to work on a teensy weensy screen, the lightness and small form factor of the netbook are actually preferable to the larger (and slightly heavier) Macbook Air. Now that I’ve got the Mac OS to work with, I realize that my frustrations with the netbook were 90% software, 10% hardware (and the hardware issues are largely addressed by the fantastic Microsoft Arc mouse — a must, given the poorly-located trackpad buttons on the Mini).

Overall system performance is excellent, especially now that I’ve spent 5 minutes and $50 to upgrade the netbook to 2 GB of RAM. Here’s how. Certainly, the Mac OS runs faster than Windows did, and I think it may even (gasp!) be faster than Ubuntu.

The one major drag is that the system doesn’t sleep. If I close the Mini, it freezes — so I have to shut down every time I head out the door or move to a different café. However it looks like the new (and much more complex) process for installing Snow Leopard may resolve this issue, so I’m going to give it a shot, even though it means moving all my user settings again (sigh). Hopefully it will get the internal microphone working too.

Update: Sleep now works!! Find out how here.

Other than the mike and the sleep functions, the netbook works perfectly. And while it’s certainly slower than my Macbook, I can successfully run 6 or 8 concurrent applications with no noticeable lags except when switching between apps. The main concessions I make to its performance are to use Safari rather than Firefox (since Firefox is a notorious memory hog) and to try and shut down applications I don’t need at any given moment.

I can’t recommend a Mac-ified netbook as a primary computer, largely because I wouldn’t recommend any netbook as a primary computer: they are simply to small and under-powered. As a satellite computer, however, it’s fantastic: at about $400, the HP Mini is literally one quarter the price of a MacBook Air, and I just love having a super-light, purse-sized computer. But even the small form factor imposes a minimal trade-off: the Mini’s keyboard is the largest you’ll find on a netbook, and at 92%, you’ll hardly notice the difference between typing on your netbook and typing on a regular laptop.

As for the difference between a netbook running Windows or Ubuntu, and a netbook running the Mac OS: there’s simply no comparison. Setting aside my relentless Mac evangelism, it is just a hell of a lot easier to use a single operating system. Apple’s Migration Assistant made it incredibly easy to get all my apps right onto the new machine, and cloning my user account got me my settings, my browser history, my mail — the whole enchilada!

Best of all, now that I’m living a two-Mac (as opposed to two-OS) lifestyle, I can keep both computers perpetually and perfectly in sync with each other (and with my iPhone!) using:

  • MobileMe for my calendar, address book,Safari bookmarks, keychains and mail accounts
  • DropBox for my documents and other files (but not synced to iPhone — thankfully!)
  • Evernote to keep all my notes, organized by topic and tag
  • Gmail IMAP for e-mail messages

Just about the only thing that doesn’t stay synced are any new apps I install or one machine or another. If I were really brave I’d consider using DropBox to sync my Applications and Library/Application Support folders in sync too, but that just seems a bit scary — especially since DropBox occasionally confused about which folders it’s synching.

Stay tuned for Part 5: Who should install the Mac OS on a netbook >>

The 9 software choices every Mac user needs to make

This is part 2 in a series, Coming out as a Mac user.

As you embark on your new Mac lifestyle, you’ll be faced with choices that challenge you to think about who you really are, and what’s really important to you. Are you an iconoclast, a design freak, a fashionista who does everything with style and flair? Or are you a conciliator, a mediator, the kind to bring people together and bridge between worlds?

Choosing the right applications for your Mac often feels like a choice between these two different identities: the choice between a shiny, stylin’ Mac-specific app, and an often less-shiny, cross-platform-compatible alternative.

But you don’t have to choose between personal style and social substance. You can the coolest kid on the block and play well with others, as long as you’ve got your Mac kitted out with the right tools for every job. Here are my recommendations on the key software choices for every Mac user:

  1. safarifirefoxSafari or Firefox? Both. Use Firefox for any browsing you might to want to organize, track, or enter data into: there are more add-ons for Firefox, so things like adding bookmarks to delicious are much easier in Firefox. But with all those add-ons (and frankly, without ’em) Firefox is a memory-hogging beast: if your Mac slows down, or craps out, try quitting Firefox, and you’ll often find that your problems will clear right up. So Safari is my choice for any quick Google searches or browsing that I don’t plan on tracking, and in fact, if you specifically don’t want to track your surfing (for example, while enjoying the latest clothing-free video offerings) you can turn on “private browsing” and Safari will keep your session off-the-record. And do use delicious to store bookmarks, rather than storing them in your browser: that way they’ll be accessible from Safari, Firefox, and even from a PC if you need to use one.
  2. iWork or Microsoft Office? Ideally, both. iWork’s apps are great for specific things: Keynote makes super sexy presentations, Pages is great as a lightweight layout/desktop publishing app, and Numbers…well, I can’t imagine why I’d use this over Excel but I’m sure that someone will now tell me. But for day-to-day document creation, and especially, document sharing, you might as well stick with Word and Excel. You’re going to have lots of new stuff to learn on your Mac, so you might as well stick with these old workhorses and have your word processor and spreadsheet editor feel familiar. Plus, if you are doing any kind of collaboration with your friends from Before The Switch, those PC users are going to send you Office files that you’ll find easiest to work with in Office. Just to be sure to go with Office 2008 as opposed to an earlier version — it was a nice upgrade.
  3. MobileMe or Google Calendar? Both. MobileMe isn’t cheap — $109 per year — and lots of techies will point out that you can do just about everything it offers for free by using other services. Sure you can. But for $109, spare yourself the headache, and ensure your calendar, address book etc. are backed up and accessible via web browser (useful if you’re on another computer). If you’re an iPhone user, this is a must: MobileMe does an amazing, seamless, effortless job of keeping your iPhone and Mac synced in real-time, without any cables or manual backups. But MobileMe is very much a single-user tool: it doesn’t offer much in the way of collaboration for teams. So if you need to share calendars with your colleagues, use Google Apps, and use BusySync and MobileMe to keep your Google Calendar perpetually synced to your computer and your iPhone.
  4. Apple apps or Entourage? Apple apps. If you’ve been an Outlook user, it’ll seem natural to go with Entourage, Microsoft‘s Outlook knockoff for Mac users. RESIST! There are some things to like about Entourage, like the one-stop-shopping for calendar, contact and mail info, but that’s also what you need to be wary of: Entourage stores them all in one big database, so if one part goes down or gets corrupted (typically, your mail) then the whole thing is wrecked. That’s the stick….but there’s also a big carrot: the glory of Apple’s own free, built-in Mail, Address Book and iCal applications. These are so core to the Mac system that you’ll find benefits cropping up all over the place once you start using the native applications. Names typed in Address Book-enabled apps turn into easy links to that person’s contact info; your iPhone and your computer can stay constantly and effortlessly in sync thanks to MobileMe;  e-mailed invitations convert to calendar events (I know, just like Entourage), and there is full, seamless integration between contact info, emails and calendars.

    If you really really want that all-in-one feel for your mail, address book and calendar, you can use a wrap-’em-up application like CRM4Mac; and if you’ve already made the (wrong) decision, you can get help switching away from Entourage. A final tip: if you ever need more help or tips for the Apple personal info management apps, you’ll find that googling “Address Book” gets you exactly nowhere….or rather, everywhere, since you’ll be swamped with results. Google for “mail.app”, “AddressBook.app” and “mail.app” to find resources specific to the Apple applications.

  5. Preview or Acrobat? Preview is all you need to view a PDF, and it also provides all the support you need to create PDFs of most documents (by choosing “Print” and then working from the PDF drop-down in the bottom left of your print dialog box). The only reason to use Adobe Acrobat is to create complex or advanced PDFs like forms that people can fill out within the PDF itself.
  6. Nambu or TweetDeck? If you’re a Twitter user, you’ll want a client to use on your Mac. People with multiple Twitter accounts will want to use Nambu, or possibly Seesmic Desktop (Nambu is prettier, but more crashy.) People with a single Twitter account can use TweetDeck, which is pretty and not crashy. Both Nambu and TweetDeck can be even more life-changingly awesome if you follow my recommendations for grouping your Twitter follows.
  7. VooDooPad or EverNote? Right now, you probably take notes in a variety of applications: Word, TextEdit, even — god forbid — paper. As a result, it’s a pain to find your notes, let alone have them all open when and where you need them. Please, please, please: switch to a dedicated note-taking program that keeps all your notes in one place and lets you organize them by keywords or categories. It will rock your world and change your life; just see my blog posts on VoodooPad and EverNote. Which brings me to my painful recommendation. VoodooPad represents everything I love about Mac applications and Mac developers: it’s pretty, it runs fast, it’s intuitive, it integrates with all the native Apple apps, and it has the most wonderfully responsive and helpful developer (I taxed Gus with many questions and suggestions, all addressed quickly and effectively). But VoodooPad is very much a local, single-user app; about a year ago, I switched to the cross-platform, web-enabled Evernote, which lets me access and edit my notes via web browser, too. Read my ecstatic reviews of both EverNote and VoodooPad to see which one is right for you.
  8. Dropbox-backupBackup or Dropbox? Definitely, absolutely, positively both. Backup is MobileMe’s service for backing up key files; it’s not big or fast enough to replace regular backups to a local drive (using Apple’s awesome Time Machine), but it’s the easiest way to automate regular backups of key files (like your Documents folder). Dropbox is your answer for sharing files with a team, or keeping your files accessible across computers; just install Dropbox on your Mac, and any file or folder you put there will be backed up to a web server. You can choose to share some or all of your Dropbox folders with colleagues, and you’ll probably want to spend the $99/year to get the large-scale capacity that allows you to store virtually all your files online. In fact, I’d recommend putting your Dropbox folder at the top level of your user directory (the folder that holds your documents, pictures, music folders etc.) and then stick all those folders inside DropBox so they stay synced and backed up.
  9. iChat or Skype? Again, both. I use iChat as my primary chat tool for working with our team (we connect via AIM accounts, but iChat also works with your MobileMe ID); it’s fast, it’s got a lovely interface, and it uses Bonjour, Apple’s local networking protocol, so I can stay connected to people in my office without being online with the whole world. But Skype is now the virtually universal platform for connecting via audio or video with clients and colleagues; I’m far more likely to schedule a Skype call than an iChat session, and when I’m on Skype for a call or meeting, I often use its chat function to share files or URLs while we talk.

I know, I know: I’ve promised to help you choose between software tools, but I’m mostly recommending that you choose “all of the above”. But that’s what’s beautiful about the Mac: the consistency of the user experience across applications makes it relatively easy and intuitive to use a new tool, so you might as well use the best tool for every job. In many cases, that means using one software tool when you’re flying solo (MobileMe, Keynote, Safari, Backup) and another tool when you want to tap the power of cross-platform collaboration through the social web (Google calendar, DropBox, Firefox, Skype).

What other software choices are you struggling with as a new Mac user? What software choices would experienced Mac users recommend? Let me know in comments below.

3 tips to make better use of the Firefox browser

My MacBook Pro is in the shop — a virtually painless experience, BTW, since I now have all my files on DropBox. That meant it took just a few minutes to have access to all my files on my temporary computer.

But for just a few days, I didn’t bother customizing all my apps the way they’re set up on my usual machine. That means that instead of loading my iGoogle home page as my default for all new Firefox windows, I actually see Firefox’s default — a version of the basic Google search window. Look what caught my eye:

I’m a sucker for tips and tricks. And there are a few handy ones on Firefox’s tip collection, though many of them are about bookmark management and not as relevant if you use delicious. Here are three I didn’t know about, and how I’m going to use them. (The how-tos are quoted directly from the Firefox tip page.)

Bookmark keywords

You can add keywords to your bookmarks for easier and faster access. From the Library, just add a short keyword in the keyword field, and you’ll be able to access that bookmark by simply typing that keyword into the address bar. For example, you could give your del.icio.us account the “links” keyword, and from then on simply typing “links” into the address bar will take you right there.

How I’ll use it:

  • To create links that use keywords corresponding to online actions I take on a daily basis; entering actions is more intuitive than site names. Like “bookmark” for delicious, “log” for logging time in Harvest, “note” for adding something to Evernote, or “blog” for the “add a blog post” page on SocialSignal.com
  • To create shortcuts for all my Google apps, because I tend to get lost floating around in there: Calendar, Docs, Email.

Find As You Type

Rather than using the “find” bar to search for a word on page, just click anywhere on that page and start typing the word you want. Your cursor will immediately jump to the first instance of that term. You can use it for links, too. For example, instead of moving your mouse across the page to a “learn more” link, just start typing the word and when the cursor finds it, press enter.

How I’ll use it:

  • I have a bad habit of losing track of whether the “find” bar is on or off in Firefox; if I’ve left it open from my last search, but automatically hit cmd-F to open it, it closes instead…and when I start to type my search term, nothing happens. This will solve that problem.

Reopen a closed tab

How I’ll use it:

  • 30% reduction in how often I say, “oh, fuck!”

Take note of Evernote (especially if you’re an iPhone user)

Since upgrading to a 3G iPhone, I’ve gone on periodic app binges in which I download every app that looks remotely interesting and take it for a whirl. So far, the best discover I’ve made is a free app called Evernote — and it’s changed my computer use even more dramatically than it’s affected the way I use my iPhone.

Evernote is a notetaking application that lets you take notes on your computer (Mac or Windows) and keep those notes synced with your iPhone and the Evernote web site. Any note that you take on your iPhone gets synced back to Evernote, too. You can keep multiple notebooks (e.g. one for draft blog posts, one for grocery lists, and one for each client project) and choose to keep some or all of these notebooks local (just on your computer) or online (synced by Evernote). While you can keep as many notes and notebooks as you want on your local computer, the free version of Evernote limits data uploads (i.e. syncing) to 40 MB a month. But it only costs $5 per month to get an account entitling you to 500 MB of data uploads, which Evernote says is enough to hold thousands of typed notes, five thousand snapshots, or 450 audio notes.

The Evernote interfaceEvernote interface

That’s right: audio notes and snapshots. Use Evernote to capture audio notes on your iPhone and they’ll automatically sync to Evernote on the web and on your computer — no waiting for your next iPhone sync. Use Evernote to hold your iPhone snapshots and they’re synced, too.

And since Evernote features optical character recognition (OCR), any text you snap with your phone (or another camera whose contents you drop into Evernote) becomes searchable. For those of us who are whiteboard-dependent, that means you can now capture your whiteboard notes and they’ll be searchable! Ditto for business cards, flip charts, signs — whatever you care to shoot. (OCR only works on notes that have been uploaded to the web, so if you want your images to be text-searchable, you’ll need to put them in a notebook you keep synced online.

The Evernote interface makes it very easy switch between notebooks, and to move notes back and forth among them. You can tag any note with as many keywords as you want, so that provides a further layer of categorization.  In other words, it’s a terrifically easy, flexible and powerful way to take notes on your computer or iPhone, and keep them in sync. (NB that you can’t edit pre-existing notes on your iPhone, however, including those you created on your phone; and it would be MUCH easier to take notes on the iPhone if Evernote let you rotate the phone to use the wider version of the iPhone keyboard.)

If you install the Firefox clipper extension (or the “clip to Evernote” bookmarklet in any browser), you can use Evernote to store and tag your favourite web clippings, too. Unlike del.icio.us this lets you stash the actual web page (or highlights) rather than just the URL and description. Unlike del.icio.us there’s no sharing feature, however, so it’s not a del.icio.us substitute if you like the social in social bookmarking. (I’m hoping some clever person will hack together a tool for saving a web clipping to Evernote and del.icio.us simultaneously, or keeping web clippings synchronized between the two.)

One social thing you CAN do with Evernote is to share a notebook, and optionally publish it as a widget on your blog or webpage. I’ve created a little notebook of web clippings about how to use Evernote, and set it up as a shared notebook, which you can see here. Once you make a notebook public you can add it to a Facebook page, or to your blog, as a widget that looks like this (click on any box to open that note; you’ll need pop-ups enabled): (NOTE: I think Evernote has discontinued support for this function.)

Evernote’s interface, syncing and clipping features make it a very tempting choice as a primary notetaking application. For the past three years I’ve been a devoted user of Voodoopad, and it’s painful to think about giving it up — not just because the migration process will be a bit arduous (see below) but because of how much I’ve loved VDP. It’s hard to think of an application that’s had a more profound impact on my work habits: where my notes used to be scattered across an assortment of paper notebooks (remember those?), Word docs, text files and scraps of paper, just about every thought, phone message, meeting record and blog post I’ve written in the past three years is captured in one of a dozen Voodoopad notebook. (I use one for each major client or project, plus a catch-all file.) Vooodoopad makes it a snap to keep and retrieve notes, and its creator, Gus Mueller, is the most responsive developer I’ve ever encountered.

But the iPhone syncing and the Evernote interface are significant advantages. Since I routinely use about a dozen different Voodoopad notebooks, I end up with a lot of open windows. In Evernote it’s much easier to switch between notebooks. Also I really like being able to sort a notebook’s contents by date — something that I still can’t do in Voodoopad.

On the other hand Voodoopad has one MAJOR advantage over Evernote: data import and export. Right now there’s no easy way for a Mac user to get data in or out of Evernote.  The Windows client offers an option to import databases, export a note or notebook to HTML. (Both Mac and Windows users can send notes by e-mail.)  While Evernote suggests that export might become available to Mac users in the future, for now the only exit path is via Windows. That makes switching TO Evernote a big pain (I’ll have to export my Voodoopads, then run Evernote on Windows in Parallels to get the data in….and why does that sound like a nightmare?) and switching to a future app just as annoying.

The wishlist item that would make Evernote REALLY rock out — or convince me to stick with Voodoopad — is if either program offered Google Doc- or SubEthaEdit-like collaboration. (SubEthaEdit is a 100% real-time collaborative editing program that’s great for writing documents, code or note-taking with your colleagues.)

I’d love to have collaborative notebooks on Evernote, in which I invite a designated set of colleagues to access and/or contribute to a notebook. In an ideal world this would include complex permissions options so that I could designate any synced notebook as “publish only” (make all notes in this notebook visible to the people I’m inviting), “publish or contribute” (my invitees can add their own pages to the notebook as well as viewing mine), or “publish, contribute and edit” (invitees can view pages, add pages, or edit existing pages). In my super fantasy scenario you could also turn on live collaboration for any note you’re currently editing, so that you can do live collaborative notetaking the way you can with SubEthaEdit.

I’m not sure whether collaboration is in the cards for Evernote, but I’m hopeful. It’s clearly a feature-rich program with lots of bells and whistles I’ve only begun to explore. For example, it was only in researching this post that I discovered Evernote will sort notes I create on my iPhone according to where I was when I created them. If I create a notebook of restaurant notes I’ll be able to find all restaurants I’ve visited within 1 mi of my current location.

I’d love to hear from other folks about their experiences with Evernote, and particularly about any neat features I may not have discovered. And if you’ve tried both Evernote and Voodoopad, which one have you landed on?