(This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Southwest Graphics, Winter 2007)
Most of us use the Internet for a handful of common tasks: sending email, shopping eBay and Amazon.com, settling a friendly office wager using Wikipedia or IMDB. But there’s so much more out there, including some incredibly useful tools that can make you more efficient and productive while keeping you informed and entertained. Here are my picks; all are free unless otherwise noted:
Get Your Schedule Under Control
Google Calendar lets you create multiple calendars (personal, work, family, etc), share them with anyone you choose, and view your friends’ and family’s calendars. You can have reminders sent to you via email or as a text message to your phone. Advanced users can synchronize the calendars with their PDAs. Start at google.com/calendar.
GooToDo has a funny name, but this online To Do list is seriously useful. Type a quick note—“Work on WebBits article,” for example—and the item is added to your list. Click an icon next to an item to move it up or down your list; click a checkbox to mark it done. Uncompleted items carry over to the next day. The real power comes from email integration: Email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and the note is added to your list for that day. Start your 30-day free trial at gootodo.com; subscriptions are $3 a month.
Grownups Use Instant Messaging, Too
Instant messaging (IM) is an easy, fast, and powerful way to get or give answers to colleagues in other locations (even if it’s the next office over). It’s more immediate than email, less obtrusive than a phone call. It used to be that you needed AIM and MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger to IM with everyone. No more. Download Adium for Macs (adiumx.com) or Trillian for PCs (ceruleanstudios.com) and put all of your contacts on one list.
Stay Up to Date
Blog is such an ugly name. Just think of it as “information you want and need delivered to you.” Sign up for Google Reader (google.com/reader) and start adding blogs (or newsfeeds from websites) to your subscription list. Now you can see what’s new at any site that interests you all from a single web page. (Related Tool: Blogger.com makes it ridiculously simple to start your own blog. Speak your mind!)
Whistle While You Work
Ever wanted to own a radio station so you could play only “good” music? Pandora gives us the power. Tell it an artist or song that you like and in seconds Pandora begins streaming you similar music. As the music plays, you can guide Pandora by clicking thumbs up or down icons, which automatically adjusts the choices Pandora makes for you. Or you can, in the words of Pandora itself, “just sit back, relax, and enjoy the music.” Check it out at pandora.com. (Runner-up:
eMusic.com lets you download 30 DRM-free songs each month for $9.99.)