On Monday I wrote about an interview of Evernote CEO Phil Libin in which he told Ingrid Lunden from TechCrunch that Evernote has “specific plans” to develop solutions for readers of eBooks, Evernote Planning New Features For eBook Readers.
After I wrote that post, I realized that I had received the Evernote monthly newsletter by email on the same day. In it, I read that Evernote has added a “related notes” feature to the Chrome Web Clipper, a pop-up window that appears when you clip a web page with Evernote. The window displays two tabs: one shows related notes while the other displays all the items that have been clipped from the same Internet domain. A screenshot from the announcement illustrates quite nicely how this should work. I don’t use Chrome so I haven’t tried it.
This solution is very close to what I was thinking about when I read the interview with Phil Libin. I noted in particular the end of the announcement,
Stay tuned, we’ll be bringing this functionality to other platforms soon.
That could be interesting in itself, especially if the algorithms allow some semantic understanding of eBook annotations and clipped passages. If that turns out to be correct, could it be Evernote that will allow people to make the types of connections between books that we assumed metadata would bring? Mike Cane had an excellent example of such a connection on his now defunct blog, The eBook Test, Smart Digital Books Metadata Notes #6. Only in this case, it isn’t the eBook that is smart, but the reader, with Evernote providing the tools for making the connection. This would be the bottom-up approach, while using the metadata would be top-down.
I don’t know if Related Notes works through keywords, or if there is any semantic analysis involved, so it remains to be seen how powerful this could be for eBooks. Even if it only works through keyword analysis, using dictionaries and statistics to calculate text similarity, I think it would be a fantastic feature; I would like to have a tool that would remind me of previous things I’ve read when clipping passages, helping me remember things that are in some way connected across documents.
Of course, Evernote could do even more. If users agreed to share their annotations, it could even bring in related content and book suggestions from other readers, which could be anonymized if necessary. Given Evernote’s emphasis on privacy, I don’t know if they’re planning such a feature, but it would be quite powerful. Evernote has a disadvantage compared to dedicated eReader software, since they need to conveniently integrate into the eReader platform, but as long as eReaders have Internet browsers or email options, it should be possible on most platforms.
On the other hand, Evernote offers a big advantage to users because they can make connections between books read on different platforms, and even between books and other types of content. This sounds more and more promising to me.