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.

Reading Apps: Readability. Instapaper. ReadItLater. Evernote.

ReadabilityRead­abil­ity is a handy tool that takes an arti­cle or web post, cleans it up, as the name implies to improve its read­abil­ity, and dis­plays it for you in your browser. They also gather up arti­cles posted this way for you to read later, or to send to your Kin­dle. Aside from one-by-one view­ing of a cleaned up arti­cle, the ser­vice has required a $5 monthly fee. In the process, Read­abil­ity shares rev­enue with the content-providing publisher.

There are sim­i­lar ser­vices, notably Instapa­per and Rea­d­It­Later. Back in May, I wrote a blog entry com­par­ing these two. I have still be pass­ing back and forth between these two, lik­ing Instapaper’s inte­gra­tion with Read­abil­ity, and lik­ing Rea­d­It­Later for the clean­li­ness and usabil­ity of its website.

Both Instapa­per and Rea­d­It­Later have mobile apps. Both were inte­grated with the incred­i­bly pop­u­lar iPad app Flip­board. One dif­fer­en­tia­tor for Instapa­per was a close inte­gra­tion with Readability.

On Novem­ber 16th, Read­abil­ity announced a free option, as well as the impend­ing release of apps for the iOS plat­forms (iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch). Here is a sum­mary of the new Read­abil­ity freemium pric­ing model, with $5 a month get­ting the pre­mium plan:


Free users are lim­ited to 30 Read­ing List arti­cles and 30 Favorite arti­cles; Pre­mium users have no lim­its, and also can Archive arti­cles, receive an auto­mated daily digest to their Kin­dle (over wi-fi, and thus with­out addi­tional costs from Ama­zon), and up to 70% of their monthly fee goes to authors and publishers.

The announce­ment led to a fairly pub­lic dis­cus­sion between Instapa­per founder Marco Arment (The rela­tion­ship between Read­abil­ity and Instapa­per) and Read­abil­ity found­ing part­ner Richard Ziade (Read­abil­ity & Instapa­per).

The space has got­ten quite crowded, in fact, since Apple added a sim­i­lar “Read­ing List” fea­ture to its Safari browser. And the day after Read­abil­ity announced its new pric­ing model and forth­com­ing iOS apps, Ever­note launched a sim­i­lar ser­vice, Clearly, as a Google Chrome app.

For me, Rea­d­It­Later has been the main appli­ca­tion I have used for this pur­pose, because of the crisp, clean, and I would even say, beau­ti­ful design of their web site and apps. While I use Ever­note almost obses­sively, its ten­dency to grab every­thing, or inex­plic­a­ble web page ele­ments, has made it a frus­trat­ing experience.

Using Rea­d­It­Later, I have missed the Read­abil­ity inte­gra­tion. Even with Rea­d­It­Later, I felt that Read­abil­ity had a bet­ter interface.

With Read­abil­ity going to the freemium model, I expect to use that more, and move away from Instapa­per entirely. I will then be com­par­ing Rea­d­It­Later with Read­abil­ity once the Read­abil­ity iOS apps are released, and with Ever­note Clearly in Google Chrome. Those promise to have a high design aspect, with high-quality fonts. And of course, while I steered clear of Read­abil­ity when it only had a paid model, freemium (as Ever­note can attest) has a qual­ity of draw­ing peo­ple in to get them hooked.

My sum­mary of the score­board at this point is:

  • Rea­d­It­Later — First to mar­ket, in 2007, with a great user inter­face design sense.Still a major player.
  • Instapa­per — Sec­ond to mar­ket, in 2008. Clean, but not styl­ish. A lit­tle nerdy as far as the design goes. Pos­si­bly suf­fer­ing from a mor­tal blow from the one-two punch from Read­abil­ity and Ever­note this week.
  • Read­abil­ity — Has the most beau­ti­ful design of the bunch. Set itself apart as with the com­bi­na­tion of gor­geous design and a paid model, pro­vid­ing a com­pen­sa­tion model for authors and pub­lish­ers to off­set what might be lost adver­tis­ing revenue.
  • Ever­note — Promises much needed cleaner imports of arti­cles into its widely pop­u­lar “mem­ory” service.
  • Apple Safari — Handy, if you hap­pen to be in Safari on the OS X Lion or iOS 5, but I don’t think any­thing but diehards Apple fan­boys will use this as much as any of the oth­ers on the list get used.

[Updated on 13 Decem­ber 2011 to cor­rect some inaccuracies.]