Going Paperless: Using Evernote’s Shared Notebooks for Dynamic Recommendation Lists

Given that I write science fiction and that I am a science fiction fan, I get asked fairly frequently what books I recommend. I get asked this more frequently by people who don’t generally read science fiction. Sometimes, I am asked for a list of my favorite books regardless of the genre. In the past, I have pointed people to the list of everything I’ve read since 1996. The bolded items on that list highlight books that I particularly enjoyed. I’ve also written a post now and then letting people know what some of my favorites are. The problem is that these are static solutions to a constantly changing situation. I read a new book and love it. I have to go update a static page. I reread an old book and decide I don’t love it so much. Again, I have to go update a static page.

Now, I could use a third-party tool, something like Goodreads, to keep a list of favorites, but what if I wanted to have recommendations about things other than books. What if I wanted to recommend movies? Or music? Or software? Or recipes? I don’t want to have to manage this in multiple places. Fortunately, I don’t have to. It occurred to me recently that Evernote provides all of the functionality I need to create and share dynamic recommendation lists with anyone who is interested. Let me tell you how I do this.

Step 1: Create a recommendation notebook

The first thing I did was to create a “Recommendation” notebook in Evernote. I decided to use one notebook for all of my recommendations because I could tag the notes however I wanted and allow the people using the notebook to filter it based on the tags I provided.

Step 2: Define a tagging scheme

I’m not a big tagger, but I thought tags would prove useful for making it easier for others to filter my recommendations. Since I decided that I would share my reading recommendations, I came up with a handful of tags that allows some simple discrimination in the list:

  • Novel: a fictional book
  • Collection: a collection of shorter work
  • Nonfiction: a nonfiction book

There is room to grow here, of course. If I wanted to capture the short fiction I recommend, for instance, I could add tags like “short story”, “novella”, and “novelette.” But what if I wanted to eventually recommend things other than books? I needed a tag to classify everything that was a book recommendation, in addition to what kind of book it was. So I added one more tag to my list:

  • Books

This way, each note in my notebook gets 2 tags: “Books” and one of either Novel, Collection, or Nonfiction.

Step 3: Add recommendations to the notebook

I use one note per recommendation. For my book recommendations, I came up with a simple format:

  • The note title contains the title of the book and the author.
  • The body of the note contains an image of the cover and a short explanation of why I recommend it.
  • The tags for the recommendation.

Here is an example of what such a note looks like:

Recommendation Note

Because many of these notes follow a very similar format, you can probably create a note template. What I did was to use TextExpander to expand a snippet that populates my note.

Step 4: Share your notebook

Once I added my initial recommendations, I shared my notebook using Evernote’s Shared Notebook functionality. When you share a notebook, you are given a link to the shared notebook that anyone else can use to access your notebook. Here is the link to my Recommendations notebooks:


A person does not have to be an Evernote user to use this link. I tested it by logging out of my Evernote account and accessing the link directly.

Step 5: Tell people about your link

Once you’ve made your recommendation, you can publicize your link, letting people know where to find the recommendations. If you are not sure where to find the link, you can right-click on your shared notebook, and then click on Properties.

From the Properties dialog box, click the “Sharing and collaboration options” link:

Sharing Options

This will open another window which will show you the link you can use to share your notebook. (You can also invite individuals to your shared notebook from here.)

Public Link

Step 6: Keep your recommendations up-to-date

Now, all you have to do is add/remove/change your recommendations as needed. Since the notebook is shared, it will by updated when your client synchronizes with Evernotes servers. If you read a great book, or have a great meal and want to add it to your list, simply add the note to your Recommendations notebook.

Future improvements

There are things I can do to my recommendations list that might improve it going forward. I can, for instance, provide a link to the recommended book right in the note so that someone interested in the book could click right on the link. You could do the same thing for other product recommendations as well.

There is also a fair amount of ability to automate the process behind the scenes using a combination of Evernote’s API, or even something as simple as your Evernote account email address. See something online you want to recommend? Email it to your Recommendation notebook by using your Evernote email account. By including the notebook name in the subject with a @ in front of it (e.g. @Recommendations), you can send the item directly to your recommendation notebook through email.

Share notebooks allow anyone to see and review your recommendations, and if they happen to be Evernote users, they can also filter and search your recommnedations using the tags you provide. It makes for an easy way to share a dynamic list of things with anyone else.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.


  1. That’s a great idea!

    All my friend keep asking me to post a list of endorsed apps, movies and gadgets because, apparently, I spend way more time web browsing than they do. I haven’t updated my blog in months, but I don’t want to turn it into another low-budget gadget reviewing site. I’m going to create a similar notebook for that purpose. Thanks!

  2. I like this idea. I have had to use one just to keep track of the books I read. I read a lot and have a large collection on my kindle so I after almost rereading a couple of books, I decided to create a notebook of all the books I read and leave a quick critic and rating system 1-5. It’s helped me keep track and it’s an informal referral base for friends.

  3. I have shared my recipe notebooks, as friends are often asking me for ideas based on one or more of our dietary restrictions (vegan, grain-free, multiple allergies). One thing that I do as I try out various recipes is to assign each a rating tag. I use a 5-star scale, so that tested recipes show up with tags of ***, ****, and *****. (Anything below *** gets deleted, so I don’t have any one or two star ratings.)

    If you choose to do this, you may want to use a character other than *, since it is a wildcard in Evernote searches, and if you use it in a tag search you must be sure to enclose it in quotes. (eg. tag:”*****”)

  4. One of the reasons I really enjoy this site is because of all I learn about technology. I am more than a bit technology-challenged and I am no longer in situations where I am required to break through my fear and fix my knowledge and skill gaps. I am actually getting tempted to try some of this stuff. (That big sucking sound you are now hearing is the collective gasp coming from my husband and adult children, who have undoubtedly gone into shock at my last statement.)


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