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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.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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