Three Free Web Services You Should Start Using Right Now
In the schlocky TV show “Once Upon a Time,” which I watch only because my kids make me, there’s a frequent refrain: “Magic always comes with a price.” (If you watch it as well, you know it’s usually followed by a “dearie.”)
Here in the real world, there’s plenty of magic powered by technology–and, sometimes, there’s no price at all. Below I’ve rounded up three decidedly magical Web services that will change your life for the better, even if you don’t spend a penny. You may decide to, as all three offer premium upgrade options, but I’m getting plenty of mileage from the free versions.
Still not using a cloud-storage service to archive (and share) your most important data? For shame! In the past I recommended SugarSync, which offered 5 gigabytes (GB) of free storage and a couple features not found elsewhere.
But earlier this year the company stopped offering freebie accounts. And, truth be told, SugarSync’s interface was (and is) confusing as hell, so I’m pretty happy to be rid of it.
My favorite substitute: Bitcasa, which offers 5GB of free storage and a couple features not found elsewhere. What’s more, by inviting friends to join, you can score up to 20GB of space for your files, photos, documents, music, and other stuff.
The Bitcasa Drive desktop client is a breeze to use, and is actually designed to be a cloud-based extension of your computer’s hard drive. You can drag and drop stuff to that bin or “mirror” any folder to it. And like any good cloud service, this one has sync-ready mobile apps for accessing your stuff on the go.
Personally, I use it to automatically sync (read: back up) my Word documents. Set it and forget it, boom, done. And did I mention it’s free?
For a long time I resisted using Evernote, in part because it seemed a little complicated and in part because I didn’t fully understand the benefits.
Those two reasons: dumb and dumber. Evernote is arguably the single most useful tool on the planet, and if you’re not using it, you should be.
Think of the service as your digital filing cabinet, a place to store every last scrap of information from the real and online worlds: notes, receipts, recipes, photos, files, Web pages, and so on. Want to preserve an e-mail? Forward it to your Evernote account. Want to remember that awesome wine you had with dinner? Snap a picture of the label. Found a cool how-to on the Web? Clip it with Evernote’s browser extension.
All this information gets stored and synced across your devices. Best of all, you can easily organize it into folders and use tags to simplify searches. There’s a bit of a learning curve as your brain works to comprehend this new method of organization. But trust me: Once you start using Evernote, you won’t be able to live without it.
Pocket was originally known as Read It Later, and that’s exactly what it helps you do: read Web content later.
Suppose, for example, you come across a great story like, “Three Free Web Services You Should Start Using Right Now.” Unfortunately, you don’t have time to read it, er, right now. With Pocket, you click a browser bookmark, and presto: The service clips the story and adds it to your reading library, all nicely formatted (and stripped of extraneous Web stuff like ads and banners).
You can read your Pocketed clips in your browser or, better, on your mobile device using the Pocket app. Again, this is better than ordinary bookmarking (or even Evernoting) because of the way Pocket formats the text. And speaking of which, if you’re looking at a Web page in your mobile browser and find it hard to read, just copy the URL, then open up the Pocket app. It’ll immediately give you the option of saving the page with that friendly Pocket formatting.
I am constantly clipping Web stuff so I can read it later. And there’s no better tool for doing so than Pocket.
Have you found any other free Web services you consider indispensable? Name them in the comments!