10 Free Things That Better My Internet

Ashim D’Silva

The Internet has come a long way, and with web 2.0 breaching our holiest of holies, the Internet isn’t shared anymore. Your Internet is very personally yours, and mine is mine. I’m always signed into a dozen different services, so everywhere I go I’m seeing an Internet just for me. I spend a lot (and I mean a lot) of time online, so I thought I’d share the little things that make my life easier, and my Internet better…

Note: I use Safari, but a lot of these should be fine on any browser.

1. Inquisitor

Inquisitor is incredible. It’s a plug-in for the search bar of your browser, that displays results as you type. It also learns from the choices you make and sets up shortcuts for searching many different search engines (all customisable). As a result, my visits to google are practically negligible, and I jump straight to the content I want.

Note: Inquisitor is available for Safari and iPhone (US store only) and is in beta for Firefox and Internet Explorer.


2. Readability

I do a lot of reading online – blogs, news, articles, … – and have to accept that not all sites are heavy-reading friendly. Enter the beautiful bookmarklet: Readability. Set up your bookmarklet at their site, and it sits happily in your bookmarks bar. Open a page, click the bookmark and instantly everything but the main text body and images is removed (ads, menu, feed buttons; the many distractions) and the text is formatted to the settings you chose. Once you’re done, hit refresh and you’re back to the original.

Note: A bookmarklet is a bookmark that is actually a script. Instead of sending you to a page, it does something with the page you’re on.


3. Google Reader

If you’re an avid RSS reader, you’ve probably got your reader of choice waiting for you, and although desktop clients offer some added stability and speed, since the move to doing a lot more with my phone, I appreciate web apps vastly more than I used to. Reading on my phone, I can star a post I want to follow up on my comp, things are marked read globally so there’s no overlap, and with google gears, all google services get a very nice perfomance boost and offline mode.

Reader also has nice bookmarklets you can set up. There’s a really handy Next button you can add to your browser that simple takes you to the next unread post waiting for you – great for a quick break.


4. Gmail Notifr

You don’t need a browser open all the time to be signed into Gmail: there’s the beauty of a notifier. Gmail has it’s own notifier, and it’s really good and has calendar built in, but it only allows one account at a time, so I had to search around a bit and I came across this baby: multiple accounts, unread counts, mail previews (click to go directly to that mail).

The Mac Only Multi-user Gmail Notifr: http://ashchan.com/projects/gmail-notifr
The Multi platform, single user Google Notifier: http://toolbar.google.com/gmail-helper/

There’s probably more, so search for one that suites you if these don’t.

5. Quick Add Google Calendar

So, I’m a Google fanatic. There’s a mini calendar that sits in my main toolbar, and clicking Quick Add Event… brings up this window. In plain english, I can quickly jot down whatever I need and the calendar interprets this and creates the corresponding event: beautiful simplicity.

Note: With PUSH notifications, my phone calendar gets notified immediately as well! 😀


6. Action Method

I’m really, really forgetful, hence the heavy use of calendars and notifiers to keep me organised. That’s input. That then gets translated into a whole bunch of steps/actions that need to be done for a particular project, and Action Method is pure gold there. I have all the little things I need to do, divided into their projects, with deadlines, delegated to different people if they need be. It’s developed by the brilliant Behance team.

Important: This is not entirely free. It gives you 50 action steps for free and then charges you $99 a year. Just enough time for you to entirely fall in love.
So, having exhausted my free steps, I’ve moved to the unbelievably simple TaskPaper, which looks not more than a note pad, but with the most carefully added functionality. Mac/iPhone only though: http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/taskpaper

Note: The online version runs in browser, and there’s also a free iPhone app. No desktop app however.


7. Groove Shark

Internet radio is nice, but there’s heaps of times when I’d rather pick a song I want to listen to. Groove shark has an incredibly vast library; search for a song and play away. No sign up, no fees, you can make playlists, or turn on the radio option which finds music similar to whatever you’re listening to and builds a playlist as it goes. It’s like a radio station that listens to you!


8. Press This

If you blog on WordPress, this is in your tools page. See something on the web you want to blog about, select it, hit Press This and you’re launched into a post editor with the selected text/images and a link to the original page.

9. Wolfram Alpha

Okay, so I don’t use this everyday, but the input interpretation and computational power here is phenominal. It draws out graphs, solves equations, the works… all from basic plain english input.


10. …

So, 10 was kinda hopeful and I’ve run out. So suggest something. What do you use to keep you going? Have you got a favourite site/app you can’t live without?


I forgot an important service that I use quite often, and that only speaks of how integrated it gets with you: no interface, fits directly into your standard system. This service is Aardvark. You add it to your chat client, and then chat to it like any other friend. You ask it a question. It goes out and asks the question to selective chosen friends of friends that are interested/knowledgeable about the subject matter. You tell it what you want to answer questions about and it asks you when those come around. In my opinion the greatest idea in web 2.0.


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