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We are obvious Evernote fans here at 40Tech – but that doesn’t mean we aren’t open to other options! Recently we were contacted by the good folks at Shelfster, and asked if we might be interested in doing a review on their “application which allows you to easily organise and share with others your favorite information from the web, offline documents or real world”. They even provided us with 10 invitations to their private beta for our readers! We took their app for a spin, and found that Shelfster is pretty cool, overall. Have a read through and let us know what you think in the comments.
The first 10 comments with a raised hand will get the invite link.
For a quick walkthrough of some of Shelfster’s features, check out the public notes I made and posted in Shelfster while trying it out.
Shelfster is a free tool that attempts to bridge the gap between note taking/web clipping and annotation/social sharing. This is a good thing, because Evernote, as awesome as it is, just doesn’t share as well as it could. For example, if you want to share a single note in Evernote, the only way to do it is by email (or by email to a service like Ping.FM, but that’s a different post altogether). You can’t find information via Evernote, either, socially or otherwise — Evernote is mainly meant for note taking, and it does what it’s meant for extremely well. With Shelfster, both sharing and searching for information is pretty easy.
Now that the main differences are put to bed, let’s look at the good and the bad of Shelfster.
- Free users can store double what Evernote allows every month — That’s 80MB per month over 40, which is good for frequent picture uploaders who don’t want to pay the $5/month to Evernote. There will be a Pro feature in Shelfster as well, but it is not completely developed yet.
- More user friendly interface than Evernote (online or off) — or at least it feels that way as Shelfster adds a bit of pretty to counter Evernote’s straightforward utility feel. This will definitely appeal to users who value aesthetics with their function — or over function, as it were.
- The desktop tool makes it fairly quick to create new notes or to load images from your hard drive or the web clipper. It’s been recently updated too, but still has a few things to be desired — see the next section for what I mean.
- Searchable public notes using tags and the tag cloud tool. This makes it pretty easy to find information that you are interested in or that is popular in the community.
- Reputation tools allow for an increased likelihood of quality content to be found when searching.
- The ability to add modules (such as the Tag Cloud module) to your Dashboard indicates further extensibility — possibly community driven, which would be a fantastic addition to Shelfster’s longevity and usefulness.
- The ability to follow those that interest you in whole or by tag — a great way to get specific information, which can be much more difficult to come by on other platforms, like, say, Twitter. You can also copy the public notes of other people into your own Shelfster account to make sure you don’t lose them if the person disables their account.
- You can mark notes as public or private and share them as such on a per note (not noteBOOK, Evernote) basis
- Better clipper than Evernote — at least for me. I have never been able to get Evernote’s web clipper (desktop) tool to work the way I want. Shelfster’s clipping tools are nearly as good as OneNote’s clipper, working well both in and outside of the browser. Evernote could learn here, I think.
- You could keep research notes and your blog/microblog in one place. Due to the social aspects of Shelfster, you could potentially blog through your public notes, should you so choose, especially if Shelfster ever decided to go the personal subdomain route. Even if they didn’t, the right sharing tools could allow you to research, write and then post all from the same platform.
The Bad (bear in mind, they are still in private beta)
- No offline storage or search capability — Shelfster is web only folks! This is a huge ding for me. I recognize that cloud computing is where it’s at (or at least going), but not being able to take notes while away from a web connection is a problem. If you only use Shelfster to collect and share info from the web, then more power to you – but what if you want to look something up when your internet is down or you are away from wifi? This definitely puts Evernote light years ahead of Shelfster in my books.
- Doesn’t have that API connection to all of my useful services like Evernote does (at least, not yet). Once Shelfster becomes a fully developed tool, they may well release an API or develop a few key partnerships that will give them a leg up in this area. They will have to do something, as Evernote is expanding its connectivity with other software and services all the time, and that is a huge part of its appeal.
- No mobile apps as of yet. There are plans for an iPhone app (of course) and other mobile platforms for Shelfster, but nothing on the immediate horizon. As much of our lives are mobile, these days, getting a sense of how they plan to tackle this space is necessary to develop a complete picture of Shelfster’s usefulness.
- No text recognition for images. The lack of OCR will be an issue, especially after the release of a mobile app, which will lead to people taking pictures of restaurant menus and street signs, hoping to find them later by searching, like in Evernote. This is a necessity for on the go users!
- No GPS capability. This will be a necessity that will hopefully come with the mobile app. GPS will make Shelfster a much more powerful tool for collecting information wherever you are (one of the main reasons Evernote is so awesome).
- The bare minimum of sharing tools only. Actually, not even. Shelfster will connect you to Delicious, Facebook, Digg and Stumbleupon. That’s it. Not even a connection to Twitter for note-sharing. This is a serious and somewhat surprising oversight for a social service. Unless Shelfster is planning on being a direct rival to Twitter, which I doubt, they should probably get on this one quickly.
- Shelfster has the downside of being "yet another" social network — one more thing to find useful people to connect with. Deeper integration into existing popular networks (like Twitter) would be a good thing for Shelfster that could increase its appeal in the face of the dominating Evernote superpower.
Another comparison for Shelfster (and competitor to Evernote that we’ll cover in a later post) is Springpad, which also offers social following and sharing of notes. Springpad has been around for a bit longer than Shelfster, though, and allows users to customize the way they view their notes (different styles of notebook depending on topic; like recipe books, project management, meeting notes, etc.). That is a definite differentiator that could pull a specific audience type toward Springpad, while Shelfster has yet to fully realize their own niche.
Shelfster has a lot of potential and it is still developing. It’s definitely worth a try for those who are looking for an alternative to Evernote (or Springpad). If you want to give it that try, leave us a note in the comments (and make sure you use a contact-able email address) — we’ll be happy to give an invite to the first 10 people who raise a hand.
What do you think of Shelfster? Will it replace or supplement Evernote for you?