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10 More from the Webware 100

10 More from the Webware 100

10 More from the Webware 100

    Last week, I looked at the apps chosen by CNet for the productivity section of the Webware 100. There were, however, 10 other sections – 9 categories of apps voted for as top in their class and an extra categories of apps chosen by the editors at CNet. This week, I want to look at a selection of applications from the rest of the Webware 100, with an eye towards their use to increase or improve personal productivity.

    Some of the categories aren’t very productivity-oriented, like the music and audio section – I love Pandora and Amazon MP3, but I can’t say they help with my productivity in anything but the most indirect way (by giving me music to listen to while I’m working). The browsing category is particularly useless – picking the 10 best apps for web browsing is a bit like picking your ten best fingers. But scattered throughout the list there were some interesting apps, worth taking a look at.

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    1. Digsby/Pidgin

    Both Digsby and Pidgin are multi-protocol IM clients, meaning you can use them to connect simultaneously to a variety of instant-messaging networks: AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Google Chat, and others. I use DIgsby, which is highly customizable with various skins, which allows me to chat in a very clean, clear, and large-fonted format that’s easy on my aging eyes. Digsby offers integration with Facebook’s chat system, which is nice – the built-in client on Facebook tends to crash on me a lot. It can also pick up your Twitter account, but I find that much too annoying and difficult to work with in Digsby, and leave Twitter duties to dedicated clients. (Interesting that there were no Twitter clients in the Webware 100…)

    2. Skype

    I certainly don’t need to sing the praises of Skype – the VoIP service is already beloved by many. I pay about $40 a year for a SkypeIn number, unlimited US SkypeOut calling, and voicemail, and use it as my business phone. A cheap handset attached to my desktop makes it very phone-like to respond to calls; for interviews for articles I’m working on I use a $30 Logitech headset and either CallGraph or Skype Call Recorder to record the calls to MP3 (always ask permission when using call recording software!). I also use PamFax to send faxes for a small fee (which can be taken from my Skype credit).

    3. Gmail

    Like Skype, the glories of Gmail are widely known. What makes Gmail more than just another email service are the various “extras” Google has added to the service, both directly and as options available through labs. Some of my favorites:

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    • Canned responses for saving snippets of text (up to whole emails) to reuse in future messages;
    • Tasks which also integrates with Google’s Calendar, allowing you to place dated tasks directly onto your calendar;
    • IMAP access which means I can check my email from wherever, online or through a client, and not worry about things I’ve read showing up as “unread” when I download my email on a different computer;
    • Google Docs and Google Calendar integration allows me to view my calendar and recent Google Docs from Gmail;
    • Google Chat pop-ups directly in the Gmail interface.

    4. Dropbox

    Dropbox is a file syncing service that has one feature that sets it apart from similar services: shared folders. You can set up a folder on your desktop that is “mirrored” on another desktop – say, a client’s or collaborator’s. Then, whenever you want to share a file to them, you just drag it into the folder, and it’s uploaded to their computer (or held until the next time they’re online). So far, I’ve only used this for work, but I think I’m going to set up two folders on my parent’s computers. The first one will be on their desktops, and I’ll use it to send them family photos and other files (since the whole concept of “email attachment” seems so confusing to them). The second will be deep inside the folder structure, which I’ll use for backing up my own files – since all they do is web browse and read email, they never come even close to using up the 160 or 320 GB of space on their hard drives, making it a perfect site for my off-site backup.

    5. Drop.io

    Drop.io offers an easy way to share large files – with no sign-in or registration necessary. Of course, you can create private, password-protected repositories, but you can also just upload a file and send people the drop.io/whatever URL. You can upload up to 100MB for free, and photos, videos, and audio get converted so they can be viewed or listened to online.

    6. Aviary/Picnik

    Aviary and Picnik are, believe it or not, high-quality online graphics editor. Aviary is the more complex of the two, offering full-featured vector and raster creation and editing, spread over 4 sub-apps. Picnik is more of a touch-up app, allowing you to sharpen, adjust colors, resize, and do other photo editing tasks. Online image editing is a bit of a solution in search of a problem – local apps like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or even IrfanView are more powerful and work faster, but folks with netbooks, especially those with small flash-based drives, will appreciate the ability to work on an image now and again without having to install software or wait for their slower processors to apply unsharp mask..

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    7. Evernote

    Evernote keeps getting better and better. The basic idea is you can make notes in various ways – type directly, clip form the web or other documents, take a picture, record a voice note – and the program keeps it organized. Evernote also syncs to an online repository (subject to transfer limits) and to any other computer you install the client on. Apps for mobiles like iPhones and, just released, Blackberry allow you to create and send notes in a variety of formats from your smartphone (unfortunately, neither iPhones nor Blackberries have good enough cameras for up-close shots of text like business cards – try putting a magnifying glass or card over the lens for close-up shots). My favorite recently-discovered feature is the ability to store and index PDF files, of which I have hundreds (academic articles downloaded for various research projects). Since I have a free account, I don’t sync these online – they’d quickly use up my monthly transfer allotment.

    8. Google Voice

    Only available to former Grand Central users, Google Voice offers powerful call forwarding and voicemail services. Basically, you get a single number that you can have forwarded to any or all of your phones – and you can set up rules to decide what gets transferred where. Voicemails can be forwarded as audio files to your email, or you can read – yeah, “read”, since they do so-so voice transcription on your messages – them online in a very Gmail-like interface. Got a troublesome caller, maybe from an autodialer system? Mark it as spam and block it, just like email! You can also make low-cost international calls, but a) I don’t have any to make, and b) the process is a bit complex, so I’ve never tried this.

    9. Windows Live Sync

    You’d be forgiven for mistaking Windows Live Sync with Windows Live Mesh – both synchronize files placed into a designated folder over the Internet, and both are free. Oh, and then there’s Windows Skydrive, which doesn’t sync but, like Mesh, offers online file storage. Apparently, all these services will one day be a single service, probably called Windows Live Skymesh Sync (or, more typically Microsoft, Windows Live File Storage and Online File Synchronization for Windows, Premium Professional Version 2010). Whatever it’s called, the technologies involved are pretty slick – I use Mesh to backup my netbook, storing all my documents in a folder that’s synched to my “regular” computer’s desktop (and from there saved to an external hard drive and, through Mesh, to the Web).

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    10. Twitter Search

    THe only Twitter-related choice in the list, this once gave me heartburn at first – I mean, really? But after a little thought, it seems a more fruitful choice. Twitter Search is what transforms the screaming multitudes on Twitter into a resource – a cross between a social network, news feed, and trend tracker. It’s real-time, which means you get what’s going on right now, and several Twitter clients incorporate it into their interfaces. I keep a couple of Twitter searches in columns in Tweetdeck – one that catches sites, tips, and jobs for writers, another that lets me know when people are talking about Lifehack, and a couple of “topic of the moment” searches for whatever I’m interested in on any given day.

    Well, that’s my take on the Webware 100. A lot of the apps chosen were, to be perfectly honest, a bit… well, boring. Maybe that’s what happens when web applications stop looking like the future and start being the present? In any case, I feel like there’s more interesting stuff going on out there – maybe you’ve got a favorite web application or service that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments.

    More by this author

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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