Services/Web Solutions I Loved in 2007

Year transitions mean two things in the media (and the blogosphere)– old year recaps and new year predictions. I predict that I will get to prognostications for 2008 in a future post. I also predict I will love these things in 2008. Meantime here are some great web tools/services I had the pleasure of using in 2007.

Call an 800 number and send a transcribed message via SMS text or email to your contacts or a group lists (or even twitter, tumblr, a blog or group, or remember the milk). Jott is fantastic for me. It is quite good at speech recognition for transcription, and Jott offers the option of including a link to original audio.

I stumbled on to this service via the task manager iGTD and a since-abandoned integration that allowed you to Jott to yourself and have to-do items automatically show-up sorted, classified, and scheduled in your task manager. Now I am thinking it will be a fine way to avoid entangling myself with the new 2008 Washington State Law against texting while driving. (I admit I’ve done this at stop lights and clogged-up off-ramps, but at freeway speeds or in moving traffic, txt’ing and driving is insane.) With Jott, you just speed dial an 800 number and speak what becomes that SMS saying/sending “I’m still stuck in traffic” message to an individual or group.

Basically, OpenDNS runs a network of high-speed DNS servers. Things like MySpace pages and Facebook may call content from tens of different domains. Every millisecond needed to resolve each of those domains slows down the page loading. OpenDNS is free, fast and has nice instructions to setup a Windows or Mac computer to use it or even setup a router. SOHO or small business system administrators can also use it as a sort of filter to reduce phising scams, filter “adult” sites, provide some ‘branding’ for DNS errors and more. Simple to setup up, and for me, faster internet at home.

Yes, this former scourge has become indispensable. Remember when Plaxo seemed like a virus, always pinging you about someone who wanted you to update your contact info. All better now, they are much less invasive and more useful. I do contract work and my client has me using Outlook on equipment they provide. With Plaxo, I’m able to sync calendar and contacts between Outlook, Thunderbird, Google Calendar, Palm Contacts, Palm Calendar, and eventually Macintosh Address Book and iCal. and iPhone. I’m calling it a service, but in this case I also use Plaxo client add-ins for Outlook, Thunderbird and Address Book / iCal.

Imagine having the same home email address for 10 years. I have had just that, despite using 3 different dial-up services, 2 cable companies and a DSL service. Pobox is a sort of email forwarder that gives you a stable address for receiving (and sending) email, no matter how many times you change the forwarding account where it ultimately lands to get read.

Can you also also imagine having 99%+ of your spam stopped at the server and never reaching your “real” address, during that entire time? Pobox does that too. The Pobox spam filter set is amazing– it can be very automatic or let you fine tune the settings. It combines already powerful filters like Sender address verification, SPF, black hole listings, SpamCop, Cloudmark, HELO tests, and even region-based flagging and bouncing. Bouncing is great, it makes your pobox email look failed/dead to spammers. I used the basic service at $20/year for several years, but have upgraded to more expensive service for the last few years.

Family members have been happy with the $20– even those “backending” it with Gmail (already excellent spam filtering), because they feel free to switch services anytime without having a forced address change. Me? I’m happy to have 7 inbound email addresses from 3 different domains filtering through Pobox to one forwarding account. I just did a report and in the last 30 days there where 0.001% false positives where mail was blocked that should not have been blocked. Meantime, I got 4 spam emails in the last 7 days, and see only 6 “possible spams” that were held and not bounced.
I’m getting paranoid about WiFi hotspot security. PublicVPN gives me a nice no-fuss solution for securing transmission of personal data over public wireless (or wired) connections. I tactically purchased a 30 day subscription to cover time when I was going to be out-of-town at conferences. As my subscription approached expiration, I got a renewal notice offering 10% off. I deferred a bit and once again renewed to cover 2 more conferences. PublicVPN service worked great from St. Louis, Orlando, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, San Jose and Seattle. When the next renewal notice (and discount offer) arrived, I re-upped for a full year at $55. It feels good to support a relatively local (Oregon) company and secure my data. All this without the hassle of adding VPN firmware to a Linux-based router and configuring/maintaining it, OR buying an expensive SOHO-solution.

Bunches of things Google
Google Search, obviously. But I’ve also benefited from and used Google Alerts, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google AdSense, Google Sitemaps (Webmaster tools), Google Analytics and Google Talk.

Hmm, that’s a lot of my data. Can you see why I’m hesitant to jump on with Google Docs for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation. So far, online spreadsheet EditGrid (online spreadsheets) seems just fine and offers VERY iPhone-friendly version. Plus I’m not chained to Microsoft Office, and am really enjoying using Apple iWork ’08 with Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets & light data, and Keynote for world-class presentation capabilities– and all for a total investment of $80.

That reminds me…

Apple Quick Tip of the Week via web or iTunes
Short podcasts/video-podcasts (most are less than 1 minute) that give you easy-to-follow and very useful tips for Mac OS X and Apple software. <blockcomments>Jeff Burton</blockcomments>

Oops, looks like I squeezed in some references to applications. Seems like that could be a whole other post. Look for that one soon.