Play in the Cloud – Web App Faves

Do you remember as a child turning on the radio, waiting for its tubes to warm up, and then dialing in a static-y station so that you could hear some tunes as you fell asleep?  You envied those short wave operators who could hear scratchy messages from people in other countries.  Remember that?  Of course not, you little punk.  You’re growing up in the age of broadband.  And boy are you lucky.

Today, I want to talk about the web applications that really do enrich my life.

Poor old MS Outlook is lonely these days.  I never call and I never write.  I left her on my desktop for my Gmail in the cloud.  As someone who spends a lot of time on computers that belong to someone else and carries an iPhone between computer stops, Gmail is my email client of choice.  Label an email so it can be filtered and retrieved with similar emails.  Archive it to clear your inbox but still have that email handy in All Mail.  Skin it with a theme to give it the appearance you want.  Easily search through all your emails to retrieve just that item you were needing but archived in the oh so distant past.  It is the only chat agent I use.  Click on the Gmail labs beaker icon and customize this little sucker to stand on its head if you like.  (For example, check out how Gina Trapani tricked out her Gmail.)  Excuse me a moment, I have to break up this love fest between my iPhone and my Gmail.  Ah, shoot, never mind, let them have their fun.

Moving on.  My family is literally scattered around the world.  Email and chat are good, but for video chat, Skype gets my family’s vote.  In an unscientific trial my wife and I talked to each other using Gmail’s video chat and then Skype and determined that Skype had less lag and more immediacy.  No matter how bad the video quality, it is so cool to actually see folks smile (or give you that “is that supposed to be funny?” expression).  My son even “showed” me his new apartment!

The only radio I use these days is in my car and pretty much just to hear the news on NPR when I drive to work in the morning.  The rest of the time I am a Pandora-whora.  On a computer or on my iPhone, Pandora has not only replaced music on the radio (with the exception of internet radio) but cut significantly into my iPod listening.  Create up to 100 “stations” that play music that sounds similar to a song or artist of your choice.  Pandora uses over 400 parameters to identify music that will satisfy the “if you liked this” – “then you’ll like that” criteria.  It works quite well and provides greater variety than my own playlists.  Occasionally, I even happen on an artist who is new to me.

Lastly, I hope the cable company is shaking in their boots.  In fact, I’m sure they are.  Cable internet services are beginning to put quotas on the how much you can transfer or throttle the rate of transfer.  I believe this is directly related to (and in my non-lawyer opinion an unfair trade practice) restricting our ability to enjoy alternate viewing services like the now famous Hulu and its competitor Joost.  ABC is coming soon, but Hulu offers links to view Lost, et al, on the ABC viewer.  Unfortunately, if there is a way to subscribe to ABC or CBS shows on Hulu, I have yet to find it.  In a very non-public spirit PBS offers only a slim percentage of its shows on the internet.  Most other networks are readily available.  Hulu allows one to subscribe to one’s favorite shows and even get an email when a new episode is available.  Now, if your computer is connected to your TV (mine is), Hulu not only begins to threaten cable, they also begin to nip at the heels of my beloved TiVo.  Of course there are other ways to enjoy your shows (Fancast, network sites, etc.), but I like Hulu’s subscription-to-a-show feature.

Google has a ton of other web apps, documents, calendar, etc., but with DropBox, my use of those apps is minimal.  Current project documents, bookmarks, and my KeePass database are always available to me in my DropBox folder or at their website.

My guess is you guys have different faves and I’d love to hear about them in the comments.  What am I missing?

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