Essentials of My Digital Life

A while back I wrote a post called my favorite web services, and I thought I would revisit it in the spirit of end-of-the-year (or decade I suppose) lists. However, the notion of “web” services has gotten blurrier and blurrier, so this time I decided to make this list more generally about my digital life and the various tools I use.

New since the last round…

: I once called thisĀ the best free application there is, and I’ll stand by that. I use it for everything imaginable. I take snapshots of whiteboards at work and save them in Evernote, and they become searchable. I use the iPhone app on the bus to quickly jot down the little ideas and inspirations I have. I do the same while driving, except I use the voice note feature. I forward useful emails – or snippets of emails – from local mailing lists like Urban Daddy and K & L Wines to my Evernote email alias. And lots lots more. I can’t believe all of this costs me nothing.

: I work with a user experience designer who’s based in Israel and a development team based in Romania, and Dropbox has become absolutely essential to me. I keep all my current projects in a Dropbox folder on my Mac, which looks and behaves like any other local folder except that it syncs with a folder on the Dropbox website, plus a folder on my Israeli colleague’s computer, and one on my home computer, one on my iPhone, etc. So I’ll work on a file during my workday, and – with the time difference – my colleague in Israel takes over after I leave for the day. We can do this without changing our normal way of working.

: A basic to-do list app for Mac (desktop) and iPhone. I haven’t found the perfect to-do list manager yet – they’re either over-engineered or overly simplistic – but Things is pretty good.

: One of those ideas that’s so simple, it’s amazing that no one did it before. Then again, its utility is very narrow and specific. I use it like this: I read my twitters on the bus ride to work, over a spotty 3G connection. Within any given tweet I might see a link to something that sounds interesting. I usually don’t want to read web pages on the bus, on my phone because of the slow connection, and also because I want to get through a day’s worth of my friends’ tweets in 40 minutes. So I just send the interesting links to Instapaper where they wait for me to read them later.

: I kept my distance from Twitter for a while and dismissed it as something that seemed trival, noisy and pointless. I was wrong, and I admit it.

: I’ve changed my tune about Facebook too. Now that no one seems to “poke” me much anymore, and I’m not constantly being challenged to quizzes, I find myself spending a lot more time on Facebook. I use it mainly for the news feed – to stay connected with friends.

Still awesome…

: I use Google for pretty much everything now it seems. Just today, we were ordering prints of some photos from Shutterfly Smug Mug, and we had a choice of matte, glossy and something called “lustre.” Unable to find a definition on the Shutterfly website, my wife asked me, “What’s ‘lustre?'” So I Googled ‘matte vs. glossy vs. lustre’ and immediately found the answer in the first search result. If a piece of information exists, then you can be pretty sure that someone has put it on a website somewhere, and Google can take you right to it. That is all.

Google Groups
: This was essential during our wedding planning last year. The members of our group included me, my wife (then fiancee) and a couple of family members who were helping us with the planning. Whenever one of us would email one of our vendors, we would CC our Google Group’s email alias (, and everyone in the group would receive a copy of the email. More importantly, the whole thread was recorded and available to all of us on the web.

G Reader
: Blogs are supposedly on their way out (I don’t see it), but G Reader is still a big part of my daily web travels.

: I use Twitter and G Reader to discover things. I send the good things to Instapaper, which is kind of like short term memory. Delicious, then, is like long term memory. If something seems good enough that I think I might want to refer back to it a year from now, or share it with someone down the road, then I save it as a Delicious bookmark.

: It’s just an amazing blogging platform. This year I customized a new theme. I also added Facebook Connect login, plus social sharing (at the bottom of each post), related posts (in my RSS feed only), Google Sitemaps support, and more. Each of these things took me about 10 minutes, thanks to the community of WordPress devotees out there making the platform better and better every day.

Yahoo Pipes
: I use it mostly to aggregate and filter RSS feeds, which I can then consume or republish. Check out my Bay Area food events Twitter feed to see an example: FoodFeed SF. It’s made up of a dozen or so RSS feeds, aggregated and filtered (to remove duplicates and irrelevant posts) then sent to Twitter via Twitterfeed.

: I use it to keep my local address book and calendars synced with Gmail and my iPhone. Love it.

: Great music a click away, and the iPhone app is awesome too. I hook it up to my stereo and rock out. Also a great place to discover new artists.

: I rarely contribute anymore, but I still use Yelp all the time – especially the iPhone app. It’s effectively my Yellow Pages to San Francisco. I can find things near me, read reviews and then call businesses with one click.

Standing by…

: I love the idea of Foursquare, but I haven’t carved out the time to start using it. I’ve been known to dis it and dismiss it like I once did with Twitter and Facebook, but I don’t want to eat my words again, so I’ll just say it hasn’t found its place in my digital life yet.

Also, tumblr, posterous, ommwriter

Awesome but not for me…

12 Seconds
: I’m using this as an example, but I could just as easily use Ustream, Qik, Blip, YouTube or even my own employer – Kyte. Online video has arrived, and there are a lot of amazing tools out there. The mobile apps are especially exciting to me. I’m just not really a video guy. I don’t like to talk into a webcam or see myself on the screen. Just too introverted I guess.

One Reply to “Essentials of My Digital Life”

  1. awesome post. i need to check out instapaper- i have the exact same issue with where to put twitter links when i’m not in a proper browsing environment. i’m pretty sure that if something isn’t in evernote it’s not going to get done, if it isn’t in delicious i don’t remember it, and if i didn’t hear it on pandora first i don’t own it. maybe the video thing is generational- i totally do not get why my nieces send all messages in video- feels too much like voicemail cause i can’t control speed of consumption. too much noise to signal. does that make me an official fogey?

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