Tools of the Winternet

I like the Internet. I like it a lot. Much has been written about how the internet has revolutionized the way we operate in our day to day lives. In my travels on the information superhighway (I love this 90’s phrase), I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that help me make the most of the journey. I thought I’d share them with my readers.

1. Google Chrome Search Shortcuts

Let’s begin with the browser. Google Chrome is now the most used browser on the web and for good reason. It’s light, functional and easy on the eyes. But there are some secret things baked in that make it especially great. The one that I think I love the most is search shortcuts!

Type in a URL in the Omnibar at the top of Chrome and then hit the spacebar and in many cases, you can now search that specific site with the keywords you type next. Not only that, but in Chrome’s setting page, you can customize how the shortcuts operate. In my case, I often search the ESV Bible online. I customized my ESV Bible search engine so that I can just type “ESV [space]” and then my term. I also have customized search shortcuts for Reddit, Amazon, eBay, Tumblr, etc.

2. Feedly

In case you didn’t already know, I’m an information junkie. I love being hooked up to streams of information and combing through them for things that interest me. I also like to be organized with the information I take in. There was no better tool for this than Google Reader. I relied heavily on that RSS reader to deliver my information without having to surf around to all my favorite sites. Unfortunately, Google discontinued Reader early last year. Many other RSS readers jumped at the chance to steal the audience and Feedly, in my opinion, offered the most seamless transition.

Feedly looks and feels a lot like Google Reader and that’s a good thing. They offered import of your feed list and other features like themes and appearance. Feedly also has an open API to allow for 3rd party apps to work off their information. They have a decent mobile app to boot. I have fully migrated to Feedly and my information streams barely skipped a beat. RSS is still a great way to get news and information without also having to see all your friends’ status updates.

3. Pocket

In my quest for loads of data and information, I usually consume it and most on. On the occasion that I find something interesting that is more long form, I usually throw that article into my Pocket for reading later. Pocket is great for stuff like this. It saves the page as a bookmark and then strips out all the ads and sidebar stuff to display just the text in their reader. You can tag your articles if you’re into that and you can archive when you’re done. The articles are searchable too! I usually use Pocket’s mobile app on my tablet to settle in and read my articles later on when I have the time. It’s great.

4. Google Keep

I used to carry a small cashier’s notebook with me to jot down ideas, lyrics, quotes, bands I wanted to listen to, etc. Now I typically use my phone and the Google Keep app for this. Many people use Evernote for stuff like this. Evernote is a great service, but for just throwing off quick notes and stuff, Keep keeps it simple where Evernote feels like too much. Keep is very fast, has a great look and feel and is just plain easy to use. It feels like Google has more that they could integrate into Keep like sharing notes and stuff like that, but it’s honestly okay just the way it is. The most recent update beefed up the notification system to include location-based notifications, which is a neat little feature.

5. IFTTT

If you’re using multiple services across the internet (and who isn’t?), you may wish you could play them off each other for a more unified experience. Well that’s where IFTTT comes in. IFTTT stands for “if this, then that” and it’s built on a bunch of APIs from a bunch of different services. Basically you create an IFTTT account, hook up any of your services you want to from their list of “Channels”, add a “Trigger” for the channel and then an “Action” that you want to trigger. With this setup, you can, for instance, save every Instagram photo you take to your Dropbox account. You can even create an online “Journal” by hooking a bunch of social media channels into Evernote to get a timeline of everything you post across all services. Right now, I have much of my social channels hooked up to my Tumblr blog, which now serves as a repository for my public postings. There’s tons of cool stuff you can try out on IFTTT.

6. Google Drive

I mentioned before that I don’t use Evernote very much and that’s because I rely so heavily on Google’s ecosystem, including Drive. I use Drive all the time for document editing, cloud storage and sync, sharing docs and files, collaboration, you name it. Since winning a Chromebook and getting extra storage space with it, I’ve almost completely stopped using Dropbox. Drive offers everything Dropbox does plus the editing suite, which is great. If you check out the website I built for my Fantasy Football League, you’ll see that all the stat pages are powered by Drive, which makes updating the site a breeze on a week to week basis. There are still a few word processing features I wish they would integrate (specifically column formatting), but it’s a fantastic service.

7. Tweetdeck

Honestly, I don’t use Twitter very much. It kind of annoys me with it’s forced brevity and everything. What I do like is how it can be used for quick hitting information about a live event or news story. But, my organized mind doesn’t like the one steady stream, so I use the List feature to parse the data out into separate streams. And that’s where Tweetdeck’s Chrome app comes in. With Tweetdeck, I can set up columns based on my lists and filter my Twitter stream much more cleanly than I can with the actual Twitter site. It makes it much easier for me to stomach the network.

8. Google Music All Access

The current state of the online music industry is trending towards a streaming subscription model. Spotify is probably the one to credit for starting that trend. I use Spotify from time to time, but when Google unveiled it’s service with a special introductory price of $7.99 a month, I jumped on it. Not only can I stream any music they have in their vast library, but I can upload my own songs to my library as well. I can stream them through my browser or my mobile devices. Plus, the mobile app allows you to “pin” songs, albums or playlists to your device for offline listening. You can even set it to only sync those songs when you’re on Wi-Fi to save your data plan a bit. This service as become the main way I listen to music. I am finally free of iTunes!

So there are a few of my favorite Internet tools. What cool tips and tricks do you have when it comes to the Information Superhighway?

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