You don't need a desktop app to seize control of your digital life
Ready to manage your entire digital life online, from making backups to finding old photos? Web services can help you. With such services, you can also discover new music, protect your online privacy, improve your personal habits, or keep a journal. And the best part is, some won’t cost you a penny.
Even Microsoft is tying its popular Office suite to the cloud with the upcoming Office 2013. It's a pretty clear indicator that, sometime in the near future, Web services and desktop apps linked to Web services will replace traditional stand-alone programs.
For that to happen, however, you'll need the right services. Here are 20 that we recommend now.
AccountKiller (online privacy)
Want to erase an online account you don't use anymore? Concerned about your personal data online? AccountKiller gives you detailed instructions (including links to the offending sites) on how to delete your account for services such as Facebook, Google, Skype, and Twitter. AccountKiller rates each site's ease of deletion using a color code—white represents the easiest, grey indicates a harder process, and black means deletion is near impossible.
AccountKiller | Free
Need a reminder to check the oven in a few minutes, send an email reply tomorrow, or make a call next week? FollowUpThen lets you create email reminders that come back to you when it's time to take care of a specific activity. Premium users can also receive SMS alerts, use calendar integration, and even customize the look of their reminder email messages.
FollowUpThen | Free; $24/year for the premium version
HabitForge (personal improvement)
Based on the idea that a chore performed 21 days in a row becomes a habit, HabitForge lets you set a habit that you want to develop and sends you an email the next day to ask whether you did the task. Complete a task for 21 days in a row, and you get a congratulations email. You can develop habits alone or with groups. Users of the free, ad-supported service can set only one active public habit at a time.
HabitForge | Free; $10/year for the premium version)
Designed around an "if this happens, then do that" structure, IFTTT lets you automate tasks for your online life. You can use IFTTT to send any of your Instagram photos to Dropbox, receive an email message with the top stories from an RSS feed every week, create a blog post from tweets you mark as favorites, or get a weather report via text message every morning.
IFTTT | Free
Lifecrowd (social calendar)
This service is designed to help you meet people and participate in activities you've always wanted to try but never get around to doing, such as surfing, skydiving, wine tasting, or learning how to paint. You can also add activities to your “life list” and receive notifications when a similar activity is happening near you. Sign-up is free, but most activities have a per-person fee. Event hosts can be almost anyone, so make sure you are comfortable with who is hosting your event before putting down good money. Lifecrowd is currently available in Chicago, Los Angeles, Orange County (California), San Diego, and San Francisco.
Lifecrowd | Free and up
Lost Photos (old-photos finder)
Even though this service from software developer Space Inch requires a desktop app for Mac or Windows, Lost Photos is designed to root through your online email accounts to retrieve all the photos you have stored there. Once you've retrieved your photos, you can post them to Facebook or Twitter, email them to someone, or just store them on your hard drive. Lost Photos is currently free for Windows users, but you have to wonder if the company has plans to release a paid version of the app for the Windows 8 user interface in the coming months.
Lost Photos | Free for Windows; $3 for Mac
MiMedia (online incremental backup service)
Many online backup services are convenient and easy to use in that they silently copy your files to an offsite server. Uploading the contents of your entire hard drive, however, can take weeks.
MiMedia offers an alternative. This service sends you an encrypted hard drive in the mail. All you have to do is fill up the drive and send it back to the company; afterward, you can use MiMedia's desktop software to send incremental backups to the MiMedia servers.
MiMedia | $50 to $325 per year
Music-Map (music discovery service)
This easy-to-use site lets you input the name of a musical artist and then view a tag cloud of related artists. The closer an artist is to your selection, the more likely you are to enjoy that artist's music, according to the site.
Music-Map | Free
MyPermissions (online privacy and data protection)
This service lets you quickly find out which apps and services have access to your other online accounts, such as on Dropbox, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. You can also get email reminders alerting you to new apps, or use the service's browser add-on, MyPermissions Cleaner, to analyze all the apps that have access to your various accounts and receive alerts when new services are authorized.
MyPermissions | Free
OhLife (personal journaling)
Want to keep a journal, but having difficulty finding the time to write? OhLife tries to solve that problem with an email-based approach. Every day, OhLife sends you an email asking, “How'd your day go?” You answer the email message, and the service compiles your answers into an online diary.
OhLife | Free
Onswipe (webmaster support)
Onswipe | Free
Prezi (presentation software)
Launched in 2009, Prezi offers an alternative to PowerPoint-style slideshows. Since the service uses a virtual whiteboard instead of slides, you can display the entire concept of your presentation at once. As you go through the presentation, you can pan across the whiteboard to highlight different ideas. Prezi recently launched a new set of features for its service, including 3D backgrounds and fade-in animations.
Prezi | Free to $160/year
Primadesk (online account dashboard)
Primadesk sets out to unify all of your disparate online services into one cohesive whole. With Primadesk you can view at a glance your online email, documents, and photos. You can also manage your online content to transfer photos from, say, Facebook to Flickr, or to move an Excel file from Google Docs to SugarSync. Primadesk officially emerged from beta testing in early 2012.
Primadesk | Free for up to five accounts/1GB storage)
Soluto (PC maintenance)
What started as a tool to improve a Windows PC's boot time has morphed into a simple click-and-repair system to help you maintain your PC as well as the computers of up to five friends. In addition, you can use Soluto (via the service Ninite) to remotely install popular apps such as Adobe Reader, AIM, Dropbox, Google Drive, OpenOffice, and VLC. Soluto also lets you remotely manage a variety of PC problems, such as reducing boot times, setting the default browser, defragging the computer, and installing Windows updates.
Soluto | Free
Squarespace (website creation, hosting, and management)
Squarespace has been around since 2004, but the company recently came out with the sixth version of its easy-to-use website building platform. The latest version, Squarespace 6, features drag-and-drop page building, social integration for displaying content from Instagram or Twitter, automatic design adjustment for mobile and PC visitors, and new website design templates.
Squarespace | $96/year for 2GB of storage; $192/year for unlimited storage
TaskRabbit (errand-help referral)
Need someone to run an errand for you? Willing to pay for it? TaskRabbit lets you hire people in your area to carry out everyday tasks such as delivering or picking up goods, doing your grocery shopping, fixing a pipe, helping you move, assembling Ikea furniture, or conducting research. The service is currently available in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County (California), Portland, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Seattle. TaskRabbit says it performs background checks on all of its task assistants.
TaskRabbit | Free to sign up
Want to remember what you were up to a year ago? Timehop sends you an email message with all your social networking activity from exactly one year ago to the day. The service integrates with Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, and Twitter, and it can even surface old SMS messages if you have them stored on your current phone.
Timehop | Free
TinEye (image search)
Have a photo of something, but unsure about what it depicts or where it came from? Input an image at TinEye, and the site will look for other places the image has appeared online. You can use TinEye to find a higher-resolution version of an image, see it in various contexts online, and learn whether anyone is using a modified version of the image.
Tin Eye | Free
ToS;DR (user rights)
Use this site to keep track of online terms of service. ToS;DR has an index of the terms of service for an assortment of online and digital services such as Facebook, Steam, and WhatsApp. Each rating is based on how much ownership a service claims over your data, whether it uses tracking cookies from third parties, and what happens to your data if the service is sold to another company. The site is currently a work in progress, and some major services—such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter—have yet to be classified.
ToS;DR | Free