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Digital note-taking app Evernote thinks bigger

For Evernote, the digital note-taking app, the last six years have been a dizzying upward trajectory that startups lust after but rarely achieve.

The company now has over 100 million free and paid users, up from 66 million just over a year ago. It has acquired at least five startups including the drawing app Skitch. Over 16,000 companies use Evernote for Business. And last year, Evernote got into e-commerce with a line of products — backpacks, notebooks, a document scanner, among others — that generate $1 million a month in sales, or $12 million to date.

Now Evernote is rethinking the way users interact with its service.

“We want to own the workspace, to offer the essential modern tools that someone needs to be more productive,” says Phil Libin, Evernote’s CEO.

On Thursday at its fourth annual conference in San Francisco, Evernote introduced revamped desktop and mobile apps with two new features due later this year. One called “Context” automatically displays relevant information from other sources next to users’ digital notes.

A user may see older notes: An online article, for instance, or an audio file related to what the user is currently working on. Context might also show information colleagues have stashed their Evernote accounts, list people on LinkedIn who might be helpful, and recent articles from media partners including The Wall Street Journal and the technology news site TechCrunch.

Meanwhile, the other planned feature, Work Chat, lets users do just that: communicate with one another inside Evernote much like instant messenger, as well as share documents and links. No longer would they have to shift to outside services to message each other.

Basic as the new features sound, they go a long way to making Evernote a more useful tool. Traditionally, the company’s focused on being solely a virtual storehouse for anything and everything a user wanted to tuck away like online articles, recipes, and photos. But outside of storage, the service’s usefulness fell short. For instance, sharing files with other Evernote users has been a chore because it required a multistep process.

“We know sharing within Evernote has been historically tough,” acknowledges Jack Hirsch, VP of desktop products.

But simpler features like WorkChat should make sharing among users much easier. And obviously, the easier it is for users to accomplish more of what they want to do (rather than using outside apps), the more likely users will spend more time inside Evernote.

How well Evernote is doing as a business isn’t exactly clear. It’s in full-on start-up growth mode, which usually means spending lots of money on hiring and product development. Libin said he would like to take the company public within the next few years. To date, Evernote has raised over $250 million in funding from T. Rowe Price, Sequoia Capital and others. Employees number 380, up from 320 in July 2013.

Indeed, the Evernote CEO, a proud sci-fi aficionado, has said on several occasions he has far-flung dreams of Evernote being a “100-year company,” where the brand stands for far more than online storage. Recent moves, like the foray into physical goods and Tuesday’s software update, illustrate that, he argues.

Six years, only 94 more to go.