Review: Evernote Clearly

New York Times Article: "War of 1812 Bicentennial Disorganized in New York State"

Today, in addition to enjoying Thanksgiving, I have been taking the time to look at Evernote Clearly, a browser plug-in for the Google Chrome browser that competes with ReadabilityInstapaper, ReadItLater, and the Safari Reading List.

As an example, I took a current article from the New York Times, “War of 1812 Bicentennial Disorganized in New York State,” clicked the Evernote clearly icon, and saw it transformed from the cluttered experience with advertisements above and to the right of the content, into a clean, crisp view of the content I was interested in. The display of Clearly is stunning, in fact. Within the same tab that was active when you made the request, the Clearly interface slides over the content. As a reader, you can choose from a sepia toned “Newsprint” view of the text (shown below), a modern black-and-white presentation (called “Notable”), or a “Nightowl” version that is white text on a black background and would display well in the dark. These presentations are similar to what is available in the other offerings in the simplified reading interface space.

Evernote Clearly "Newsprint" Display of "War of 1812 Bicentennial Disorganized in New York State"

But the real attraction, for users of Evernote, is the little Evernote icon, on the right side of the Clearly interface. Click this elephant icon, and the content is sent to Evernote for longer term storage, search, and availability.

As a long time user of Evernote, one of my pet peeves has been the difficulty of getting a readable clipping of a subset of a complex page, such as what the Times presents. Historically, you had to either clip the whole page, and live with the clutter (and the searchable text such as the “First Federal” add above showing up in your search results for Federal records), or to manually try to select the correct subset of content. This was a dodgy proposition, with results that vary every time, and sometimes one has to try a couple of times, or manually edit the Evernote clipping to get it to read well.

One no longer has to do any off that when using Evernote Clearly. A single clip on the Evernote elephant icon on the right hand ribbon, and a clean version of the content is sent to your Evernote content set in the cloud. Syncing your desktop or mobile Evernote client software, brings the content down. The finished product looks like the image below. In typical fashion, Evernote has automatically created a title from the page title, and added timestamps for creation and update. Additionally, it has added the original URL as a clickable field, put it into the catch all folder (in my case, “Evernote”) and done a reasonable job of content presentation. So far so good.

But what else would an Evernote user (who is still using ReadItLater and starting to experiment with Readability) need to ditch the other products, and do all of this in Evernote with Evernote Clearly.

  • Presentation. The competition for this service really own the “reading list” presentation. Evernote touts itself as a “shoebox for the mind” or a “shoebox for the Internet”, and it can feel as cluttered as a shoebox full of clippings. Obviously, the multi-faceted search and organization capabilities mean you can find things. But, if I’m on a cell phone or a tablet, I might want to just see the articles I saved to read later. A simple tag or folder could gather this, and the mobile apps could surface up a button to navigate right to this content.
  • Organization. It would be nice to have an ability to configure a specific foldering or tagging scheme for content coming in from Evernote Clearly. This is separate from the presentation issue above, and is more of an issue for long-term cataloguing and organization of clipped stories.
  • Cross-browser support. Some of us use several browsers. I regularly use Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, and sometimes use Internet Explorer, Flock, and Opera. I need to be able to do this from any browser. Hopefully, the technology involved was standards-based, and will be portable to other browsers as they become more compliant.
If I get some of those features, even the gorgeous Readability product will have a hard time completing with the simplicity of using a single product.