Web & communication software

Simplify Your Life With Free Web Services

By now you've probably figured out that I love free Web services. I came across even more great online tools recently. Trackle is a beefed-up version of Google Alerts that pulls customized information from the Web. Songkick tracks your favorite bands and lets you know when they're in town. And Ping.fm lets you update all your social networks at once. Read on for details and links.

Trackle: Get Customized Information Automatically

Like Google Alerts on steroids, Trackle is a free service that delivers customized news and information. It culls the Web for just about any topic you can imagine, from crime reports for your neighborhood to low airfares for specific destinations to your own blog contributions and any resulting discussions.

Just sign up for an account and choose the things you want to track. Trackle offers a couple dozen categories, starting with About Me: You on the Web, you in blogs, you in local news, and so on. Others include Finance, Health, Jobs, and Sports.

For each "Tracklet" you set up, you simply supply a few extra bits of information to customize the results: names, keywords, locations, and so on. But this is effortless, and when you're done you can monitor the results in the Your inbox tab.

Trackle can also send you an e-mail or text message when there's a new alert, either one at a time or as part of a daily digest. There's even a vacation-hold option that cleverly suspends notifications while you're on the road.

I'm loving this service. It's much more versatile than Google Alerts, and the prefab Tracklets make it a snap to get all kinds of useful information. Definitely worth a look.

Songkick: Find Concerts for Your Favorite Bands

About a year ago I missed seeing The Swell Season by a matter of days, simply because I didn't know they were playing in my town. Never again.

Songkick is a free service that tracks your favorite bands and artists, lets you know when they're touring near you, and even sends e-mail recommendations for other concerts you might like.

It can also hook you up with tickets (from resellers as well as the likes of Ticketdisaster...er, Ticketmaster), show you concert-related blog posts, and add your personal comments to the artist's profile page.

After signing up, just head to the Tour Tracker and enter the name of an artist. Songkick adds that artist to your list and suggests similar ones you might want to track. Very nice.

You can also download the Songkicker plug-in, which scans your music library (iTunes, Winamp, or Windows Media Player) and automatically adds your artists to the Tour Tracker. It'll even update the Tracker when you add new music to your library.

I had a little trouble getting this to work with iTunes, but only because I used the installer to create my Songkick account. When I created it on the site and then plugged my username and password into the installer, it worked fine.

One of my all-time favorite artists, Brendan Benson, has a new album coming out this summer, and hopefully he'll be touring to promote it. Now that I'm following him in Songkick, I don't have to worry about missing out.

Ping.fm: Update All Your Social Networks at Once

Want to tell the world you just scored tickets to Coldplay? If you subscribe to more than a couple social networks, it might take you longer to post all your updates than it did to buy the tickets. Ping.fm aims to make updates a unified affair: Just send your missive to the service and it'll post it to all your networks.

Ping.fm currently supports over 40 of them, ranging from mainstream networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to lesser-known outlets like Bebo, Brightkite, and Rejaw.

After signing up for an account (Ping.fm is currently in beta), you'll be able to post your updates via e-mail, SMS, instant message, your phone's browser, Skype, and even an iGoogle gadget.

On the Dashboard page (which I found a little overwhelming at first, in part because of all the clutter), just click the posting method you want to use to get the instructions you need, like your unique Ping.fm e-mail address or the iPhone-friendly browser URL.

Ping.fm can automatically take care of things like URL shortening (handy for the likes of Twitter and Rejaw), and it lets you set up posting groups in case you want to hit some, but not all, your networks.

In short, it's a handy little service, one that can definitely save you some time.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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