People tend to focus on the hype – new technology, new companies, new people. I try to focus on usefulness more than coolness. Although, admittedly, cool and useful sometimes go hand in hand as they do with these ten great tools.
1. Good Customer Service. Calling customer service an internet tool might be stretching it, but too many companies offer a bunch of perks without paying attention to their online reputation. For instance, this domain came up for renew last December. I do not think much about what I pay for my site any other time of the year, but when that invoice shows up I get a little antsy, especially since I pay once every two years. This year, I decided to browse around just in case I was missing something great. And some hosting packages offered me some very attractive benefits; I could install scripts with one click (as opposed to the more complicated and time-consuming way I do now) and some packages would give me free cash for internet advertising.
Then I decided to look at reviews. "Dreamhost should be called Nightmarehost", "NODaddy not GoDaddy", etc. I have not always been with QiQ, but since switching the company has been very nice to me. When I ask for help, they go out of their way way to find resources that I had not been aware of. When QiQ decided to change their policies on subdomains, I found I could no longer manage the subdomains I had set up. My e-mail to them, I thought, would result in the ability to only manage the subdomains I had at the time of the policy change. Instead, QiQ granted me access to unlimited subdomains and unlimited MySQL databases at no extra charge. Peter Harris, the owner of the firm, probably gets most of his money from consulting and hosting businesses. Neverheless, whenever I have an issue or question, someone's always there to help. So I'll tolerate having to FTP scripts I want to run, not having AdWords cash from my hosting company, and even the slightly higher price tag.
2. Microsoft Tag. I found Tag by accident when I figured I did search for Microsoft developed iPhone applications. Tag is amazing. You can print up free barcodes and stick them on brochures, magazine articles, business cards, and even real estate signs and people can scan them with their cell phones. Once a Tag is scanned, the person is taken to a mobile site that contains more information about the product. Because the Tag routers through Microsoft's server, marketers have access to analytics about which tags are popular, allowing them to structure marketing tactics accordingly. Oh, and did I mention that Tag is free? I know I did, but it's worth saying a few times. Tag is similar to QR codes, but they're customizable – you can influence their design, allowing them to match your brand better.
3. Chromium. Google Chrome is a great tool. The fact that Google lets developers contribute to Chrome and, with Rockmelt, design new browser interfaces is even better. There's a pretty extensive support community for Firefox, but Google's Chromium project looks to provide more tools for developers wanting to launch independent browser projects, and not just plugins. I suspect that Chromium will grow in importance over the next couple of years and that now is the time to figuring out what you might use it for. I myself am especially fond of the "inspect element" function in Chrome that allows me to see exactly which stylesheet and element I'm looking at. This is great for design or for finding do-follow links in SEO.
4. Fluther. At first glance, Fluther looks like a fancied up question and answer board. However, it's a signal toward a more intelligent internet. When Google purchased Aardvark they did so because the site had been indexing a large amount of social data. Fluther gets people to ask the internet a particular question, other people (not machines) to respond, and then the asker to elect which answer was the most informative. Because this data is stored online, it holds significant value to people interested in developing next generation search technology. Fluther also makes it easy to access and contribute to this data from your website. They got bought out by Twitter recently … Seems someone is paying attention to it. Are you?
5. Yahoo! Messenger for the iPhone. Yea, yea, an app to talk to people. Is not that what texting, Skype, AIM, MSN Messenger, etc. are all about? Perhaps, but many people bought the iPhone 4 because it featured video calling. There was some hype that Apple would start inching into the social crowd with geotargeting, conference calling, and more. But now Yahoo lets iPhone 4 and 3GS users have video chat. With all of the social data that Yahoo collections, be it through its search alliance with Microsoft, Flickr, Yahoo Buzz, or the few other social networking sites I sometimes wonder if the executives at Google should not try to learn from their purple neighbor. At any rate, I now know that if I want to do video chat on my iPhone I do not need to upgrade to the model with the bad antenna.
6. Zoho. Zoho provides more cloud applications than any of their large competitors, and it seems like every time I go to their site they've just released a couple more. Zoho allows you to integrate with Google Apps if you have an account and provides quality business applications. Not to mention their prices. Several applications are free for small time users and when you do pay, generally it's in the single digits per month. Zoho allows small businesses to have access to software that was previously only cost effective for large corporations to run, and they're forward-thinking enough to recognize that consumers will use programs that play well with others. So if I like my Gmail and Google Docs functions, Zoho will not force me to give them up and will work with me to use their services with the ones I prefer. Not to mention their CRM, which for a one man show like myself is very affordable compared to other services.
7. Bing Maps. Microsoft has been very vocal in advertising Bing, and with recent moves by the company to provide a ton of nifty applications, introduce AJAX controls, and firing a genius to head of the maps division I think that Google executives should be worried. True they still have Street View (which always always takes me as creepy – why is it when I drive around in a van taking pictures of people's homes to post on the internet no one calls it a valuable information resource?) And the stuff they're doing with Mobile turns your cell phone into a free GPS device, but I think Bing might start making a real dent in Google's empire.
8. Google Sets. Google Sets is an interesting tool for internet marketers and people interested in online data management. Sets essentially gives you relationships between words, which is useful when trying to figure out what keywords you should select in AdWords. Sets allows you to run queries about semantics and meaning (as Google sees it) which can be interesting, but is only groundbreaking when applied to other projects. I personally hope that Google keeps Sets around as a subset of services like Trends. I find it a useful keyword research tool for SEO.
9. E-Newsletters. A statistic from a couple years ago found that people spend the most time online reading and writing email, followed by using search engines. With the rise of social media and face (that's what I'm calling it, do not judge me) I'm sure the statistics need to be redone, but it's doubtful email is going anywhere soon. So while people continue to focus on the latest trends, I think that most firms can benefit from re-examining their email strategy. A good email campaign does not overwhelm readers with advertisements; a good campaign suggests solutions to problems and provides information that adds value. Firms that are trusted experts in their field will win more sales than firms that blast out managed sales pitches to everyone and their mother. Think I'm wrong? When was the last time you read an e-newsletter?
10. Yahoo Pipes. I have not used Pipes yet, but I'm working on it. Pipes is an incredibly useful application that allows you to pull data from all over the web and stream it to one page. You can have RSS feeds, Tweets, and more mashed together to provide visitors a full view of conversations taking place about a selected topic. Pipes is one of those things that's popular but not talked about much; the application has been around for a while so it does not make headlines very often. But as RWW noted in 2008 , plenty of people use Pipes very successfully. The logic here is that if people are going to talk, that information might as well be available on your site.
What do you think? Are the tools I've listed here more well known and talked about then I'm aware of? Do you talk about them? I'd like to hear from you.