The internet has changed everything. As we move toward the future, generations are beginning to grow up never knowing a world without having almost every computer in the world connected together. This idea will be threaded throughout this list of the top tools as of right now (Spring 2011). Rodd Lucier, hinted toward this in his top 10 list, and when I questioned him on choosing a program, Keynote, that only runs on one type of computer, Apple, he asked me what would be on my list. The following collection of ideas is my response to his inquiry.
Why is this list called ‘soft tools’? Specific hardware devices, hard tools, are now feeling like a personal preference (e.g., iPad vs Dell laptop, Android vs iMac). However services, apps, and programs, or soft tools, that function across different devices are increasingly important. For me, a pre-requisite for a tool to be essential is for it to be connected to the internet or as it is sometimes ambiguous called: the ‘cloud’. This was reinforced recently when I purchased a new laptop on the way to a meeting. Usually, to configure a laptop to my liking it was a multi-day process. However, I turned the laptop on for the first time as the agenda began. By the time we were reviewing minutes from previous meetings, I had connected to the internet, aka the ‘cloud’, and accessed all my documents needed for this meeting without installing anything. So here are my top tools:
#1: Cloud Notebook: Evernote
Evernote is my new notebook. I use it at all times. Previously, I used a paper Moleskine notebook religiously. Ever since setting up Evernote (yes I’m a premium member) I rarely write down things in my notebook.
One way I use Evernote:
– I rely on my notebook as an extension of my memory. Digital notetaking is something that I’ve tried from time to time with limited short term success. However, none of these solutions were long term solutions. I’ve began to use Evernote as my digital notebook, and something felt very different. The fact that my notebook (and notetaking capabilities) were available on all of my devices and computers in any location that I needed access was a key difference. My notebook might be packed in my laptop backpack, but my iPhone is in my pocket and I can find a note or make a quick jot note in that moment.
Another way I use Evernote:
– Using a paper notebook is great as it has tonnes of features: no batteries, no confusing interface issues, looking cool with my moleskine black book. However, my paper notebook had one huge limitation, to use it effectively, in this digital age, I had to use it with my laptop. Each entry is dated, so to find something in my notebook, I have to do a search in my digital calendar first then find the notes in my paper notebook. Then once I find the note, I usually find reference to digital files on my hard drive from presentation files to spreadsheets to pdfs to digital media. The only link in this chain that isn’t digital is my Moleskine notebook. Now with Evernote (the premium version) my notes are side by side with the digital artifacts by embedding all the content, files, photos of physical items, and todo checkboxes. Not to mention that time stamps, tags and search make finding items much easier.
Yes another way I use Evernote:
– The final way that I use Evernote is to share my notes with others. Sometimes I’m taking notes that affect others or need to be shared. Paper notes are quite limiting to share, but the email feature (yes, a simple email feature) allows me to quickly share notes as well as any attachments that are embedded in the note.
#2: Cloud Platform: Chrome or Web Apps within the Browser
The window to the internet is very important, it has to be fast responsive and play nicely with sites and web apps online. Each of my laptops and computers (from Dell to Sony to Apple PCs) all use the same browser. Using the same internet browser helps keep my head straight, and its minimal interface is really helpful to keep the focus on the task at hand instead of the browser itself. So if you want to use the internet as the platform that will run essential computer tasks then a safe, secure, fast, and automatically updating browser is essential. Chrome is that browser. The Chrome Web App store is the source for these web tools.
One way I use Chrome:
– One way that I’m using Chrome, on all devices is by installing common web apps such as Weebly and Tweetdeck. No longer am I asking if a program is available in Windows or Apple version. Weebly is a website building tool that is housed entirely online. This program has been what I’ve used to create the unplugd.ca site. By using a web app that runs in Chrome, I’m able to update the site quickly regardless of what computer I’m using or my current location. Tweetdeck is a tool to view and update my twitter account. By running right in the Chrome internet browser my perception is that it is faster, uses less of my computer resources and doesn’t clog my task bar or dock with another application icon.
#3: Cloud Productivity: Google Suite – Docs, Gmail, Calendar
The cloud is also a source of productivity tools, and my favourite suite of online productive tools are from Google. Google docs, email and calendar tools allow for the internet to run the program and for synchronous sharing of ideas, information, and authorship. Now I can log onto any computer and get a full suite of programs that don’t run from my laptop but from the internet. These programs are even able to run on my iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad through the internet.
One way I use Google’s suite:
– Calendar sharing is one way that I use the Google suite. I maintain a calendar and am able to share it with all those effected. I also get to see calendars from others who share with me. Previously this type of functionality was available to big corporate types with large IT teams supporting these programs. Google calendar has brought this to the ‘rest of us’.
Another way I use Google’s suite:
– Using an online suite of office tools (like word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more) allow me to work better with others. I am able to share folders, content, and files with others who are working on other projects. Just a few of my joint projects that I use Google docs to share and jointly edit content are: my pickup hockey league, a board of directors, a department at work, volunteers part of a local 10K race committee, and a focus group that I coordinate with shared agendas. No longer is there a question about which document is the most current. No longer is there a question about who has which file. No longer is there isolation of files that could be lost if a hard drive crashed.
#4: Cloud Communications: Skype
The internet and data allows no cost voice and video communications, including group conferencing, for those with a data connection. Skype, is the new ma Bell, and has become a verb. “We need to ‘Skype’ each other” has replaced “Give me a call”. Grandparents no longer just hear their grandchildren, but see them and make eye contact. Priceless. Actually sans price. Free.
One way I use Skype:
– I have used Skype with many groups to run meetings via audio conferencing. The unplugd.ca committee uses Skype to coordinate this upcoming project with people that are at a great geographic distance without any cost. Previously, just to coordinate many people who were in different geographic regions would require a budget for communications. Now groups like the unplugd committee can bring ideas forward at no cost.
Another way I use Skype:
– Skype also allows low cost phone calls to be made to ‘traditional phones’. When on the road this is ultra handy. No longer are phone calls to my boys at the mercy of large hotel charges or cell phone long distance bills. An internet connection allows me to make these calls for pennies.
#5: Cloud Storage: Dropbox
Hard drives in ‘the sky’ are ultra important for two main reasons. Hard drives, all hard drives will die and having another copy of a document outside of the original computer means files live on after hard drives die. Wouldn’t it be great if your ‘my documents folder’ was on every computer you use? Using Dropbox the files/folders that you select are synchronized to the internet securely and to other computers of your choosing.
One way I use Dropbox:
– Cloud storage has personally saved my bacon. A few years ago I was in the midst of writing my thesis for my Master of Education. Right as I had some great content my computer died, the Apple Genius diagnosed the cause: a hard drive crash. My first thought was one of panic. What do I do? What about my thesis? I’m sunk! Then I remembered in the store that I had synchronized my thesis to an online storage space. Within 10 minutes I had my thesis downloaded. Phew.
+1 Cloud Content: Creative Commons
One more thing… the ultimate source of online content for use in a variety of circumstances is the vast online audio, images, text, and video that is licensed as ‘Creative Commons‘. This allows content to be used within the parameters that the creator outlines. That is huge. No need to be NBC to have access to media that will convey a message. No matter what computer, what program you are using, or what message you are conveying, you are able to access and use rich content from the cloud.
So there you have it, my top 5 +1 for spring 2011. I limited myself to only sharing resources that run in or use the cloud for functionality. Why? Because if it isn’t in the cloud, it might not matter. Because if it isn’t in the cloud, the tool will depend on how fast your individual computer is at the current time. Because if it isn’t in the cloud it is tied to a specific location. Sure there are specific programs that are required for specialized reasons. However, I think that the applications that most people use most should and have been proven to be in the cloud.
What is your list of top program/tools?
How have you used the tools that I have shared?