80 Apps and Tools I Use to Work and Play Online in 2016, A Not Quite Exhaustive List [updated]
If you haven't noticed, I like making lists. It's basically what I do on this website. I make lists of things I feel gratitude for, great blog posts other people write, articles and websites that make me think, and whatever else strikes me as being of a kind.
Out of curiosity about how I really do my work and spend my free time online, I started making lists of the different kinds of physical and virtual tools I use to do everything I do. I know me, but it's also like I don't know me at all, because of course this particular list turned into a quite a process.
I made one big list, and then I alphabetized that list so I could keep track of what was on it, and then I organized that list into smaller lists that better described the purposes of the various tools, and then I alphabetized those smaller lists, and then I made those smaller lists into numbered lists, and then I fell down the rabbit hole of my archaic and years-long bookmarking system, and then I reordered all of that mess, and then I started paraphrasing descriptions from the tools' websites and adding my own notes to explain why I use them, and then BAM.
This got kind of long.
The following lists are by no means exhaustive, and they don't even get into the intricate interplay that some of these tools have with each other, but that's okay, because that would just turn into a book that would be obsolete inside of 6 months when some key tool stopped existing or changed and I had to rework my flow again.
So, here goes.
My Desk & What's On It
- Standing desk. I built myself a desk that easily converts from a sitting to a standing desk, and I built it for absolutely no money. I've been using it since January, and in all the time I've been freelancing from home, I have never enjoyed spending so much time at my desk.
- iPhone 6, silver. I use my iPhone to take all the photos I use on my blog, and I use it to keep both typed and visual notes for all of my client projects.
- Case-Mate iPhone 6 Tough Air, pool blue. It's a thin but hardy case that saves me about once a week. I'm a dropper.
- 13-inch MacBook Pro. This is the heart that pumps blood, but it's small enough that I can cart it around to client meetings and work in other locations.
- Rain mStand laptop stand. This stand saves my neck from angling too far down to stare at my MacBook when I'm at my desk, and it leaves space underneath for me to store my ethernet converter, backup drive, and wireless keyboard underneath my laptop when I need more desk space.
- Apple wireless keyboard. I use the wireless keyboard when my laptop is up on its stand. Its layout and size is identical to my laptop keyboard, so there is no physical confusion when I change between it and the one on the laptop proper.
- Apple wireless trackpad. I find that I end up with painful hand and wrist strain when I use a mouse, so I shifted to a wireless trackpad. I can adjust its position to wherever I find it is most comfortable, and my right hand has been so grateful.
- Energizer Recharge charger and Energizer Recharge AA rechargeable batteries. The wireless keyboard and trackpad run on batteries. I prefer rechargeable batteries both because of their greater kindness to the environment and their convenience.
- Moshi ClearGuard keyboard protector. I am the awful kind of person who eats and drinks at their desk but who is also revolted by all the dust and grime keyboards collect. This cover doesn't protect from all out spills, but it has saved me from splashes and insidious crumbs, and it lifts off easily so I can scrub it down with soap and water. It's also thin and barely visible unless you're looking for it. I have used other similar protectors, but this is the only one I've found that keeps its shape and doesn't become sticky over time.
- Apple 27-inch Thunderbolt display. This is my second screen where I do graphics work, and it let's me compare design layout appearances between my much smaller MacBook Pro and the display's 27-inch screen. I also play all my sound through its speakers, because it has a much deeper and richer sound than my laptop.
- Apple Magsafe to Magsafe 2 converter. My particular Thunderbolt display was built for an earlier version of the MacBook, so its power connection is no longer compatible with my laptop. This converter turns its connector into a power supply that works.
- Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1TB portable external drive for Mac, silver. I already use CrashPlan to back up my laptop offsite on a daily basis, but you should always back up your data to more than one location (one offsite and one on) just to be safe. Apple's AirPort Time Capsule seemed a bit spendy to me at $379CAD, so I picked up the Seagate instead for about $80CAD. It runs Apple's Time Machine perfectly well and is small enough to fit into my laptop case if I need to take it with me.
- IBRA CAT7 ethernet LAN network cable, round white. The IBRA connects securely but not so firmly that I'm afraid to break something when I disconnect it. It also comes in white but without ugly black text all over it like most others. Cords can be ugly, but they don't have to be eyesores.
- AUKEY 3-port USB 3.0 hub with ethernet adapter. The wifi's strength and connectivity in my house isn't very reliable, so I use ethernet when I'm at home. The MacBook Pro doesn't have an ethernet port, so the AUKEY adapter fills in the gap, plus it gives me 3 extra USB ports. I'm no longer short USB ports!
- TaoTronics dimmable rotatable LED desk lamp, white. This lamp has 4 lighting modes, a 5-level dimmer, a 1-hour auto timer, a touch-sensitive control panel, a USB charging port, and the base and uppermost part of the lamp both rotate for best directionality. It does all the things while also having a simple and unobtrusive design with a heavy base that keeps it from being knocked over. It has saved my eyes from so much strain in the short time I've had it that I kind of want to give one to everyone I know who spends a lot of time their desk.
- Rory's Story Cubes are kick ass. I shake them, I throw them, and then I find new ideas in a previously blocked brain.
- Adobe Illustrator CC is a subscription-based vector graphics editor, which means it lets you save in formats like EPS, PDF, WMF, SVG, or VML. I am definitely no pro at this program, but I use it fairly regularly for creating better graphics for logos and for print.
- Adobe Photoshop CC is a subscription-based raster graphics editor, which means it lets you save in formats like JPEG, PNG, GIF, and TIFF. This program is like another appendage. I need it to pay my mortgage.
- Browsershots creates screenshots of your web design in different operating systems and browsers so you can see how it renders.
- Color Blender blends any two colours with as many as 10 gradations of shades between them.
- ColorSchemer takes your chosen colour and show its complementary (opposite) colour and varying shades between, as well as lighter and darker variations of the scheme.
- COLOURlovers Search lets you search colour palettes by keyword, hex code, or hues. It can help flesh out a palette or get you dreaming about new ones.
- CrazyEgg creates heatmaps of your site over time so you can see things such as where users click the most and least, what kinds of users click on which links, and how many people scroll down the page.
- Favic-o-matic creates the tiny favicon images that sit next to page titles on browsers tabs. There are a number of places that offer this service, but most of them create blurry little smudges. This one tops them all.
- Font Squirrel has fonts!
- Lipsum Generator generates nonsense paragraphs to populate designs so clients aren't distracted from the design by dummy text they may or may not like.
- MyFonts has fonts!
- Optimizely runs A/B tests live on a site to help you understand how the actual audience behaves in real time so you can optimize your design for performance and engagement.
- Piktochart is an easy-to-use infographic-maker that lets you make not only infographics but reports, posters, and presentations with both ready-made and blank templates.
- Pingdom Website Speed Test tests the load time of a page, analyzes it, and helps you find what elements are slowing it down.
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider helps you find broken links, analyze page titles and meta data, audit redirects, etc. It's perfect for SEO check-ups and site clean-up.
- Screenfly shows you what a site looks like on many devices such as desktop monitors, phones, tablets, and televisions.
Writing and Blogging
- CoSchedule Headline Analyzer scores your overall headline quality and rates its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value. I am terrible at writing headlines for some reason, so this tool helps keep me in line, even if I don't always do what it says.
- Facebook Sharing Debugger lets you update Facebook's share cache so that it captures your image and excerpt when people share your content.
- Hemingway Editor doesn't require an internet connection, it cuts the dead weight from your writing, and it helps you write with power and clarity by highlighting adverbs, passive voice, and unnecessarily complicated words. I find this tool particularly useful when I am writing either a how-to article or something about which I have a lot of emotion. It pushes me to keep it simple, and a surprising extension of that push for simplicity is that it makes me assess what I'm saying and stay more honest.
- Medium is kind of like a public blog where you can go to share work you want shared more broadly. I find a decent quality of content there, and my articles seem to be read more often and are discoverable over a longer period of time than your average personal blog post.
- Share Link Generator creates Facebook share, Twitter "tweet this", Google Plus share, LinkedIn share, Pinterest "pin this", and email "mailto" links that will work anywhere, even inside emails. If you want to make a link that will automatically open up one of these sharing options, this makes it easy.
- Squarespace lets you build simple pages, striking galleries, a professional blog, and an online store, and everything is mobile-ready right from the start. I've been using Squarespace both for my own and client websites since 2009. They're flexible, simple to keep running, and the customer service is pretty good.
- Twitter Validator, like the Facebook Sharing Debugger, lets you update your url's image and excerpt so the correct information shows when your content is shared.
- Typeform helps you create beautiful forms and surveys that engage respondents and boost completion rates. It's easy to use and makes you look like you know what you're doing.
Images Available for Use
- Flickr is a social photo-sharing and storage site I've used since 2006. Not all photos are marked available for use, but you can search photos by usage licenses for your projects and blog posts.
- Pictaculous looks at your image and suggests a colour palette based on that image.
- TinEye is a reverse image search that can help you track down the origin of an image. This can save you from using images that you don't have the rights to use or to help you find the true owner so can ask permission. It can also help you find out where your own photos are being used without permission
- Unsplash offers up 10 new photos every 10 days that are free for you to use. They are beautiful and high quality, and it's just nice to look at them. It feels meditative.
- Wikimedia Commons has a search function that allows you to find more or less what you're looking for. It's hit or miss quality-wise, but they offer attribution text along with the photo download, which makes the whole process of adding photos to your blog or project that much easier.
- Facebook hates me, I swear, but it lets me connect with people in a way that other platforms don't, allowing for longer communication and targeted audiences, so I stay. For now.
- Fastmail is an independent paid email service I started using a couple of years ago when Gmail began randomly losing about a third of my emails and Google didn't give a damn, because I was using a free account. At $40 a year, Fastmail is cheaper than Google's paid email option, and it lets me route all my various email addresses into one inbox and reply to them from the appropriate addresses. It also lets you migrate your email from Gmail with your folders intact, and it has a great iPhone app.
- Instagram is where I find visual inspiration and follow people who amuse me. I use it less for deep communication and more as a way to pass the time over tea and soak in good visuals.
- MailChimp automatically sends out my new blog posts to subscribers and makes the emails look pretty. I also use MailChimp a couple of times a week for client newsletters. You generally get more bang for your buck over other similar services, and they have flexible templates you don't have to be a coder to make beautiful.
- Reflector is a wireless mirroring and streaming receiver that works great with Google Cast™, AirPlay™ and AirParrot 2®. I've used it to mirror my presentations from my laptop and even my iPhone to a bigger screen without wires or complicated setups.
- Skype makes talking to clients and friends and family on webcam easy and free.
- Slack combines many of the ways you communicate with co-workers into one simple app. All your conversations are in shared, organized channels that won't fall down the rabbit hole of email threads that get lost in various ways in individual inboxes. You can upload shared files, set up private conversations, and keep everyone's communication organized and searchable in one spot as a community. Slack has removed so many headaches from my work life. It's amazing.
- Tumblr is some kind of weird social sharing/blogging hybrid that entertains the heck out of me.
- Twitter is public texting, basically, and I've been a heavy user since February 2007. I can't stop, and I won't stop.
- Tweetdeck lets me watch multiple Twitter streams on one screen, tweet from several different accounts, and schedule future tweets for those accounts. I use it for both personal and professional purposes in browser on my laptop.
Business & Productivity
- Fastmail's Calendar is a natural default for me, since it comes with my Fastmail email service. I migrated my Gmail calendar over to it, synced it with my iPhone calendar and Wunderlist, and I've relied on it ever since. It does everything I want a calendar to do — I colour code my events, add notes, attach pertinent files, invite people to calendar events, schedule repeat events, etc. — and it syncs with my various tech.
- Freshbooks is cloud accounting software for small business owners. I create and track invoices, track expenses, accept payments, and can give my trusty accountant access to generate reports. It makes all my prior financial record-keeping look ridiculous.
- Google Alerts aren't a fast and true way to keep track of 100% of particular mentions of interest on the internet, but it's a decent general tool for giving you a heads up when what you're keeping track of is mentioned. I track mentions of my name, my url, my address, and a couple of topics that I want new information about. It acts as a news feed, a heads-up when I'm mentioned publicly, and a safety measure.
- Google Drive stores documents for both personal and group use. Clients and I use both spreadsheets and documents together to create and sort our projects, and I have a number of spreadsheets connected to online forms that let me collect and organize information.
- HelloSign is an easy way to send out documents for signature by email, which makes remote work so much easier to handle. No couriers are necessary, and the turnaround is much faster!
- Instapaper saves webpages so I can read them later, even if I don't have internet handy. I use it to collect articles that I want to share later or that inspire my own or client work. I highlight the pertinent sections to jog my memory and move me through my ideas phases faster.
- Noizio lets you build and mix your own personal noise machine to drown out distractions. My personal favourite is October Rain with a touch of Campfire and Thunderstorm.
- Overcast is a podcast player I use on my iPhone and in-browser on my laptop. I originally used it because it is simple to use and I can export my list of podcasts for use in another player if I find a better one, but it turns out that this is the one for me. I love it.
- Wunderlist is a simple task management app that loads on both my laptop and iPhone. I sync my tasks with my Fastmail Calendar, which syncs with my iPhone calendar, so when I update Wunderlist, it shows up everywhere. I use it for recurring tasks and non-time-specific but daily reminders, like grocery shopping or plant watering, because its shortfall is that it doesn't allow for true time-of-day scheduling. Despite that issue, it helps keep me on track with my regular duties, and it makes a delightful little ding when I click a checkbox to show I'm done.
- 645 Pro Mk III is my favourite camera app. It behaves almost exactly like a DSLR, which means you can shoot it on auto or set it to full manual if you want to control the focus, ISO, etc.
- Crowdfire shows me who my Twitter and Instagram fans are, unfollowers, inactive followers, and more. It helps me clean up my accounts and be more aware of my relationships on those platforms.
- Dragon Dictation is how I write when the words flow better through speaking rather than typing. I dictate all the words and punctuation, and it does the rest.
- Echofon is my favourite Twitter app for iPhone. It handles multiple accounts and makes reading lists easy. I've tried others, but none compare.
- Fastmail (mentioned under Communication above)
- Flickr is my main photo storage spot at the moment, so I use it to upload all my photos off my phone.
- Instagram (mentioned under Communication above)
- Instapaper (mentioned under Communication above)
- LastPass (mentioned under Housekeeping & Safety Measures below)
- MailChimp (mentioned under Communication above)
- Notes lets me take notes, write poetry, and build lists for things like groceries. It used to sync across all my devices, but it has quit doing that for some unknown reason, so I email myself my notes and keep them in a folder.
- Overcast (mentioned under Communication above)
- Rory's Story Cubes (mentioned under My Desk & What's On It above)
- Skype (mentioned under Communication above)
- Slack (mentioned under Communication above)
- Squarespace Blog is exactly what I need to write and edit posts and manage comments on multiple Squarespace websites while away from my laptop.
- Tumblr (mentioned under Communication above)
- TunnelBear (mentioned under Housekeeping & Safety Measures below)
- Twitter (mentioned under Communication above)
- VSCO is my photo editing app of choice. You can use and manipulate its many filters, but it also has settings aside from the filters that give you a lot of control over the appearance of your images.
- Wunderlist (mentioned under Communication above)
Housekeeping & Safety Measures
- CCleaner is a small but effective utility that cleans out the junk which accumulates in your computer over time such as temporary files, browser caches, broken shortcuts, etc. The last time I ran it, it stripped so much junk out of my laptop that 1995 would have thought it was impossible.
- CrashPlan backs up my whole computer every 24 hours. It has saved my heiny on at least two occasions. When my last PC laptop died spectacularly, all I had to do to retrieve my files was download them from CrashPlan into my new MacBook Pro. Easy peasy. Many people think it's good enough to back up their data to an external hard drive next to their desk and leave it at that, but that's the equivalent of storing your family photos in the basement. It's all still vulnerable to fire and flood. Always back up your data to an offsite location as well as an in-house external drive.
- LastPass is a password management service that stores your encrypted passwords in the cloud and can be used on both desktop and mobile devices. I use it to create complex, extremely long passwords unique to each site, and I also use it to run a semi-regular security checkup on my passwords.
- Time Machine is a backup software application distributed with the Apple OS X computer operating system. It is designed to work with Apple's Time Capsule storage unit, but I use the much cheaper and smaller Seagate external drive for Mac instead. Between CrashPlan in the cloud and Time Machine on the Seagate external drive, I should be able to keep my data in existence come hell or high water.
- TunnelBear is an easy-to-use VPN (virtual private network) that securely "tunnels" your internet connection to locations around the world. I use it to protect my privacy on both my laptop and iPhone instead of using public wifi. I also use TunnelBear to make sure that DNS settings are taking hold when I connect domains with their websites, because my internet where I live is slow to show the changes and can fool me into thinking I've failed when everything is perfectly fine.
And that, my friends, is the larger portion (I think) of the tools I use to work and play online right now. I may come across more, so I might update this list over the next little while as they come up.
Let me know if you have better tools to suggest to replace any of those I use, and also let me know if there are others you don't see on my list that need to be here. I'm a nerd, obviously, so I will love you for always if you show me something cool.