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Using Evernote for Mac OCR

I've been wanting OCR software for Mac OS X and I haven't been seeing anything other than Omnipage but I don't need OCR badly enough to spend THAT kind of coin.

One of the regulars here had mentioned Evernote on Twitter (thanks, Bruce) and I signed up for their Mac Beta. That was confusing: they never said that I WAS signed up, and when I downloaded the software and tried it I was told my account didn't exist. A few weeks later I got a notice of updated software and when I downloaded that, everything started working. I have no idea if you can or cannot get an account (there's a Windows version too), but there's no harm in trying. I also don't know what this is going to cost when it's out of beta, so I don't know whether I'll be keeping it..

But for the moment, this is neat. The basic idea is that you can drag and drop anything (web pages, cut and paste stuff, pictures, movies) into Evernote "notebooks", add tags if you like, and retrieve it later by searching. The very nice part is that it automatically does OCR on pictures and that at least partially solved my OS X OCR needs.

What OCR needs? Oh, nothing really important. There's a typed up list of our neighbors phone numbers that comes out once in a while. It's currently eight double-sided pages and they ("they" being the management of this community) don't provide it electronically, so it's not searchable except by eye. It can be annoying when I say "Oh, by the way, Joe said.." and my wife responds "Which Joe?" and I say "Umm, you know, Joe and.. what's her name? They live over on Pheasant.. umm, I think they live on Pheasant.."

So then we go paw through all those pages looking for "Joe" until we find him. This has happened so often that I've thought of retyping all those pages so that I can search them, but that's a lot of work. Enter Evernote.

What I did was just snap pictures of the typewritten pages and drag them into Evernote. I felt like a cold war spy while taking the pictures, but after syncing with their server and patiently waiting a few minutes, I could search those photos for any name within. Wow - that was easy.

I did find that the OCR isn't perfect. There are some names I couldn't find but taking another photo and dragging that in can fix that. I used iPhoto to enhance some of the pictures; that didn't help the OCR (actually seemed to make it less accurate!) but it made it easier for me to see the images after Evernote found the applicable ones.

I'm not sure how much else I'll use this for, but this alone made me a fan.

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© Anthony Lawrence

Wed May 28 12:35:33 2008: 4252   anonymous

Did you ever tried Readiris Pro 11?

Wed May 28 12:41:18 2008: 4253   TonyLawrence

No, I hadn't noticed that. It's a lot less money than Omnipage, but still more than I want to spend. OCR is a very minor need for me.

Wed May 28 13:57:19 2008: 4254   BruceGarlock

I am a huge Evernote fan. About the only thing left that would allow me to switch from YoJimbo, completely over to Evernote is the ability to import a YoJimbo database, and some "forms" like YoJimbo. For example, in YoJimbo, there are separate database like forms to enter in information for the following:

* Serial Numbers
* Passwords
* Notes
* Images
* Bookmarks

I like the way there are separate fields in each of these note types in YoJimbo, plus the ability to enter a free-form note. If Evernote offered a way to customize a small form, that would be even better! I also like the way YoJimbo encrypts an individual field in say the password note type. Just the password field is encrypted, and shown by dots until you unlock it with your password.

So, if YoJimbo and Evernote could merge, that would be my killer app. I use YoJimbo all the time, and for things that I absolutely need to have in multiple places, Evernote gets a copy of the data too. I am using both right now, and would love it if one or the other would integrate the best features from the other one in their product.

I emailed the developers of YoJimbo (Bare Bones) years ago, basically explaining a product like Evernote to them, as the features I wanted. I forget their answer, but they basically nixed the idea. I also use Circus Ponies' "Notebook" and asked for an on-line version of that in addition to the desktop version as well. These desktop/on-line "fusion" apps really give a user the best of both worlds. I really see this as the future for almost any application. With cloud computing gaining traction, AJAX, and other Web 2.0 ways of doing things with a web app, soon everything will be stored locally, and on the web. It also solves the data backup requirement.

About the only drawback to all of these cloud apps, is the trust required by end users. We all know by reading license agreements that nobody guarantees anything, so trusting that the company storing your data will be around, or have a plan in place for if things go south, is very important.


Wed May 28 14:06:09 2008: 4255   DavidHoskin

I use DevonThink - the OCR is superb, and I cannot see surviving as a consultant without it.

Fri Sep 5 12:42:18 2008: 4527   bruceg

I am a DevonThink users as well. In fact, my scanning workflow involves scanning everything into my DevonThink db. Then, I drag the PDF into Evernote, so I have a copy locally, and on-line, not to mention in my DevonThink db. I am also still chugging along with YoJimbo, but since I can never get it to sync (ala .Mac, and now MobileMe), I am kind of favoring Evernote primarily. Just being able to access my "stuff" from anywhere is so important sometimes. Having it locally, is equally as important, in case the 'net' is "down".

One other thing to note about Evernote, is that it does handwriting recognition. Now, it doesn't do it all that well - especially with my chicken scratch - but it does do larger lettering fine, which is usually a heading or title to a handwritten note anyway, so searching seems to work well.

Bruce Garlock

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