by Laura M. Browning
The tools, tricks and resources that served us best this past year.
Every year, new gadgets are released, software is updated, new social networks try to woo you. Now that the holiday chaos has settled and we’re heading into a productive new year, we wanted to take toll of what we really used last year—and loved so much that we’re still using this year. We asked around the Mightybytes office and found that the best things aren’t necessarily the newest or the flashiest, but the ones that are clean, lean, and solve real problems.
Here’s our list of favorite things we’ve carried from 2010 into 2011:
Readability is one of those bells and whistles that helps get rid of other bells and whistles. That is, it’s a marvel of simplification: a bookmarklet that makes reading content-heavy websites easier. It removes clutter around the article you’re reading and can change the font, size, margin, and even convert hyperlinks to footnotes. Best yet, it compiles multi-page, broken up articles into a single article. Developer and programmer Whit uses it every single day.
The rise of web fonts and Typekit – Remember back in the day, when web designers could only use fonts that were already installed on users’ computers? That meant that your webpage could look, well… close to what you wanted it to look like. Fast forward to the last couple years, when technology caught up and let us include a much wider variety of fonts. When we started developing sites like the Joffrey Ballet and our own www.mightybytes.com, beautiful fonts made the work much more enjoyable (yes, we are design wonks).
Dropbox – Flash drives are so 2009. (Even worse, we just heard somebody telling the person on the other end of the phone to “just email the file to yourself so you’ll have it”). This nifty alternative was mentioned by almost everybody at Mightybytes. A web-based and downloadable software for online backup, file sync and sharing, it helped Stacy and Tim work on Return on Engagement without printing out one piece of paper during the pre-publication process. This made lots of trees happy. Not to mention our inboxes.
Evernote has been touted for its ability to fill in the cracks left behind by word processors, spreadsheets, or whatever you’re trying to use to keep tabs on all that stuff. We love it to catch the odds and ends in our lives – like collecting recipes we find online and adding audio and video clips to our virtual notebooks (we often use it to photograph whiteboard notes from meetings). You can tag all your ephemera to stay organized, and there are (of course) iPhone and Android apps so you can always have your notes with you.
Google Chrome – Okay, so it’s not brand new, but with increased stability for Mac and its continued all-around awesomeness, Chrome still makes our 2010/11 list. It’s lightweight, functional, and even supports HTML5 video. Project manager James says, “I don’t want new versions of my web browser every week. I don’t want to wait while Firefox installs plugins. Google Chrome is simple and doesn’t get in the way. I love that.”
Linkub.us isn’t just another “read later” site. Linkub.us (pronounced link-you-bus) is your landing page, your list of bookmarks, your site map for your own personal web browsing. This was another tool mentioned by nearly everybody on the Mightybytes crew; Information Architect Jared regularly uses five different computers (really, Jared? Five?), and having linkub.us as his homepage allows him to keep all bookmarks at his fingertips no matter which computer he’s using. Plus, it was created and developed by Whit, which makes us want to support it even more.
Social Media Tools
Now that everybody’s already on the Twitter bandwagon, what’s left for social media? Lots.
Social Mention – The tagline says it all: “Like Google Alert but for social media.” Set up alerts (or just do simple searches) to dig through Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and dozens more all at once.
MyEmma – Sure, we’re design geeks, but anybody who’s been on the receiving end of a poorly designed newsletter knows that looks really do matter. Oh, and it’s also helpful if the people you’re sending your newsletter to actually want it. MyEmma has helped us manage looks as well as the under-the-hood stuff like customer groups and contact databases.
HootSuite – It’s important that you just not have a presence on networks like Twitter or Facebook, but that you can measure results. How often has your business been mentioned on Twitter? How can your team coordinate its social media outreach? HootSuite swoops in (sorry) with a customizable dashboard that keeps you on point.
Odds and Ends
Little Snapper – Need to take frequent screen caps? So do we. A bit like iTunes or iPhoto for screenshots, Little Snapper organizes them for you and lets you mark them up as needed. Tai uses it to collect screenshots of web pages and images he finds inspiring.
Kayak – We’re especially in love with the Kayak mobile app, which is a simple-but-powerful tool to search for airfares, flights, and cars. It seems like these sites are a dime a dozen nowadays, but Kayak comes out ahead for its lean, unobtrusive design and powerful search engine.
In the age of Kindle and iPad, books may seem old-fashioned, but they still have some of the best – and best presented – information out there. (And let’s be honest: some of the best tools on the Web are ones that make your content more book-like, not more Web-like. See above: Readability, Typekit). Whether you read them on paper or your e-reader, these are the ones we loved last year:
HTML5 For Web Designers (by Jeremy Keith) and CSS3 for Web Designers (by Dan Cederholm) – The first two books released by A Book Apart, these have quickly become the bibles of HTML5 and CSS3 for newbies and experienced designers alike. Mightybytes art director Joy says that learning HTML and CSS were some of her best achievements this year and found these books easy to read. She says that “the books are short and sweet and are a fantastic resource that doesn’t feel like an overwhelming amount of geeky text. I love them.”
Content Rules by Anne Handley & CC Chapman – Content is king. It’s ultimately what gets customers and what keeps them. Handley and Chapman have created a great hands-on guide for creating and implementing online marketing-related content strategy.
The Green Workplace by Leigh Stringer – We all know by now that “being green” is important, but how do you take sustainability into the workplace? Stringer offers practical tips and big-picture advice for making your office or workplace more sustainable.
Real-Time Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott – With more and more people tuned into news organizations’ websites and Twitter feeds, it’s clear that stories now break in minutes, not hours or days. Scott provides great stories backed up with real-world stats on how the business world is changing… in real-time.