Over the last few weeks, I’ve managed to get hold of invitations to a few semi-private (semi-public?) beta versions of interesting bits of software. OK, they’re not for Royal Ascot or even a posh dinner party, but I have to take what I can get. So be prepared for some serious geekery — sorry.

Evernote wants to be your “offline brain” — a place where you can store all of the interesting detritus of your life that you might want to recall later: this “place” is on the internet, in “the cloud” as people are starting to say, accessible from your desktop, your mobile phone, etc. The further cleverness comes that this isn’t just a place to store files, but a whole lot of so-called metadata besides. So Evernote knows the type of files that you give it, when they were uploaded, and any “tags” or descriptions you care to attach. But the cleverest bit of all is that it can generate its own metadata: it can read text in your files. Well, that’s the idea. I know the camera on my iPhone isn’t very good, but it’s a surprising that it can’t read “Moro” on the left, although it gets “Against” on the right (note that the stored versions are better than these tiny reproductions):
Right now, the software is a web-based service (including one specialized for mobile devices like the iPhone), and offline clients for Mac OSX and Windows. Eventually, they claim it will move beyond character recognition to faces, video, and anything else that can be automatically parsed. Well, someday.

Still, even if they haven’t quite got it working yet, the visionary ideas behind Evernote are best described in this interview with Evernote CEO (?) Phil Libin by John Udell (whose excellent ongoing podcast series “Interviews with Innovators” treads an interesting path between the web and academia).

I’ve also managed to get an account on the Microsoft Mesh “tech preview”, discussed all over the web last week, and, in particular, touted at length on this Gillmor Gang podcast (which is how I got my invitation). I admit, I don’t quite get it — or at least it’s pretty clear that we’re in very early days here. Apparently, the Mesh will be a repository for “all” of your data, translated as needed to different formats and synchronized with different devices, with granular control of who gets to see it and use it. I guess the point is that this becomes the basis for a net-based operating system (perhaps more so when combined with something like MS’s Silverlight to handle the user interface—these all Steve Gillmor’s ideas, not my own).

But at present it’s not an improvement over (say) Apple’s .Mac service, which lets me have an “iDisk” which I can access from anywhere and which shows up on my OSX desktop as a local disk, and which furthermore automatically synchronizes my calendar, contacts, etc. But I’ll wait until the Mac and iPhone clients come around before I pass judgement. And of course there’s an opening for it to be combined with the intelligence of a system like Evernote.

Apparently, I’ve got 10 invitations for the Evernote beta-test and five for Mesh: get in touch if you’re interested. I can, of course, be bribed with, say, co-authorships (I’m an academic, after all).