Buzz’s Blog: On Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web

Mar 15 2009   11:37AM GMT

A look at a Web 2.0 App

Roger King Roger King Profile: Roger King

It’s called Evernote and I am a very heavy user. It guides my every workday.

In earlier blog entries in this series on the Semantic Web and Web 2.0/3.0, we’ve said that the primary goal of Web 2.0 developers is to build web apps that perform like desktop apps. Let’s check this definition against Evernote.

It’s a note taking program, but not your traditional desktop note program. Two paradigms of note-taking have traditionally been very popular: build-a-notebook and file-it-away. The first gives you a virtual notebook, with a cover, a title, and a table of contents. Typically the contents are broken into sections, and the sections into pages. Each page might be straight text or indented outlines. The second approach gives the user a set of conceptual folders (and perhaps subfolders), with each one stuffed with notes that might be text or indented outlines. Both approaches might support “sticky” notes, audio notes, video notes, and/or image notes.

The web application concept is making heavy inroads, though. Two of the build-a-notebook programs I use allow the user to export them as webpages so they can be manipulated remotely. This of course means that the machine hosting the notes must be exposed to the Internet as a web server. More practically, it means that the notes can be shared only within a local area network or a closed intranet of some sort.

But Evernote goes a big step further. It is a true web app, with your notes stored on their server. The monthly fee is very modest, and is based on an upload allowance – a very generous one, unless your notes are packed with big chunk of media. My notes consist almost entirely of text and web pages that I find obf interest. I have their cheapest paid subscription (there is also a free one), and I only use a small fraction of my allowance. As of this moment (and yes, I am writing this on Evernote) I have 1,106 notes.

The model that Evernote uses is a variation of the file-it-away paradigm. There is a desktop client (available for Macs and Microsoft Windows machines) that presents the user with a column of conceptual folders, a listing of all notes in a given folder, and a viewing space for some specific note in the folder currently of interest. There is a sync protocol that keeps all notes up to date on the Evernote server. The web interface to the server isn’t as elegant as the desktop application, and I don’t use it much. You can also keep your notes locally on multiple machines. There is even an iPhone/iPod Touch version of the desktop app; I use it on my iPod Touch. There is also a mobile phone app, but I have not tried it. All of these applications are available to you for the one monthly fee.

I’ve done some experiments, and the syncing protocol works quite well. It creates a special folder in your Evernote desktop app if it finds a conflict it cannot resolve. As a result, I have never lost a single note or been forced to use an older version of any note. I have had, however, to dig things out of conflict folders.

So, why is it a Web 2.0 app? This is where I have to admit that the definition of Web 2.0 is, let’s say, very flexible. Yes, Evernote is fast, and the syncing never slows me down; I can create a note, click the sync button on Evernote on my iMac, and by the time I’ve rolled my chair over to my Vista machine, the new note is there. Web pages can upload far more slowly than straight text, admittedly. One more thing: Evernote allows you to put tags on your notes. And of course, you can search by those tags. Oh, and there is a very convenient web page clipper that I have used on Safari, Internet Explorer, and Firefox; it will tuck a web page away with a couple of clicks.

But in truth, it’s a Web 2.0 app, not because it is a web app whose performance approaches that of a destkop app, but largely because it is such a great blend of a desktop and web application. Rather than building a web-only app as an alternative to a desktop app, and then engineer the thing to be as fast as possible for uploading, downloading, and searching notes, they’ve given us the rapid access rate of a desktop, along with the mobility of a web app, and all the pieces seem to work together just right. It’s a very smart, very modern app.

I keep a heavy fraction of my notes on it, including my to-do lists, and whether I am in my home office, my university office, a university computer lab, Barnes and Noble, or wherever, my notes are always available.

Try it.


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