Good online services you pay for have their own page
And good places for shopping online have their own page
Why bother with this page? Why not use Google to find "EVERYTHING"?? Because Google will find everything, and it won't make any editorial comments. And you have to know what to search for. This page presents some things that I, not robot, commend to you.....
The following are services in which I have no interest, apart from being a happy user. Well, unless you count being a minor shareholder in some cases, or places where I have posted "stuff", or participate in affiliate programs. (And I only sign up for an affiliate program if I would recommend the service to my mother.) But something gets listed here only if I would recommend a product to my maiden aunt, regardless of any (slight, in every case, except the space I've given Google for their clearly- not- from- me ads) chance of personal gain.
N.B.: The search engine just looks through the web site for the words you enter. It cannot answer "Which program is fastest?"
Free is good! But! Be careful. Not all "free services" are good things. Be sure you learn a bit about spyware before you get too adventurous roaming the internet. (I've put together a little introduction to spyware avoidance for you.)
See also my page about other good web services which are not, alas, free. Think about it... while some things can be free (to the end user), unless there is some way for the service/ information provider to recoup expenses, can it exist? Some things are worth paying for!
The links that follow are to the US site for most of the businesses. If you are in another part of the world, the site may re-direct you automatically, or maybe you'll want to seek out a local version. Sorry... I too resent the US seizing the ".gov" domain for the US government, as if any others were second class. My decision arose from the fact that this page is more likely to be found by a US reader than by anyone else.
Most of the following are services I "know and love", having used them for many years. I have at least make preliminary checks into the others. I started using most of them following recommendations from sources I have found to be reliable, not least the UK magazines Computer Shopper and the now deceased Personal Computer World.)
The first part covers things that many web users may find useful.
The second part covers things that will only be useful to people who have their own web pages.
The third part covers things related to email
The fourth part covers things I've "heard about", and done a quick check on, but do not know well. Caveat Emptor!.
Down at the bottom are some concluding notes and links which I hope you will check out.
Google: Surely you know about Google? I meet people who don't realize that there are other ways to go to a website! Be sure you take time to explore some of the "corners" of Google... it offers many other services apart from the search engine. maps.google.com and finance.google.com are two that I use frequently. The Street View in the former is spooky! (But not, in my view, sinister.) (maps.google.com lets you do many of the things that the more complex... and system invasive... wonderful Google Earth does, but you only need a normal internet browser to access the information.) And then there's trends.google.com... fun: You can see how often people have seached for things. When did Ronan Parke begin his rise to celebrity? (Sadly, as Google extends its hyphae, things which would once have been free are now "free" only if you let them track your researches. And then I begin to wonder if what I see about my page's popularlity is what they would tell you about my page's popularlity, or what they want me to think about it's popularity?)
Wikipedia: Many people search the whole web when they want to "look up" something. If you are simply after some fact, such as you might find in an encyclopedia, try Wikipedia first.... it will save you wading through some of the dross that clogs the internet. Note that you can contribute to the content of Wikipedia. Suitable things that are on Wikipedia can be accessed from maps.google.com and Google Earth. In other words, if there's a Wikipedia article about an important building, then if you look at that the map of part of the world the building is in, there will be a link from the map to the Wikipedia entry. Are you, say, a fan of a local museum? Put it in Wikipedia, with geographic coordinates (not hard), and you will help the museum prosper in two ways. Put it in Wikimapia (see next entry) too, just to be thorough!
WikiMapia: Just as Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia, WikiMapia is an online, user extended, atlas. Wikimapia has an excellent distance measuring tool. I hope maps.google.com copies it soon! See section 3 for some similar projects.
BBC News: Access this from time to time to stay up to date with some of the things that matter... efficiently. You get recent top stories in boxes, but, more usefully to me, a list, in newest- to- oldest of story subjects. I run my eye down the list. Most things I skip over. When I see something interesting, I right- click on it, open the story in a new tab, read it, and then close the tab... and "presto", the list of available stories reappears instantly. When I get far enough down the list that I hit a story I looked at previously, I know I've seen everything that is new.
Not really a "service" in the sense of other things here, but the BBC also, for a week, makes available any radio programme... so if you missed something, you can listen later. You will have to get your machine set up for playing audio transmissions, but it's not terribly difficult, and you have the first class help from the BBC to aid you.
Flickr: Addictive! View thousands of photographs, many of which are stunning. You'll need to learn a bit about using the site to avoid the dross... but it isn't hard. You can post up to 200 photos of your own for free. (To do that, you have to set up a Yahoo account.. not onerous, and also free.) Try using a search on a tag, and be sure to select for the photos to be sorted "most interesting first."
The tag searching is very useful if you want a picture of something specific. Also useful... and fun(?) are the "groups". Any "train-spotters" out there? There's a group for you! There are SEVERAL groups trying to assemble collections of every McDonald's outlet on the planet. (Billions and billions of hours wasted??) There's a group with a picture of the "state bird" (daft concept to being with?) for every US state. (That group has assigned tags with a consistent format... you don't need to go to the group, just do a tag search on "CTstatebird" to find pictures of Connecticut's state bird.) And a group assembling an album of pictures of London underground station entrances.
Panoramio: Another photo sharing site. I don't like it as much as Flickr... but it does have two "killer" features: Suitable photos at Panoramio are incorporated in maps.google.com and Google Earth. If you have a good photo of, say, a beautiful bridge, put it on Panoramio, and within a few weeks anyone using either of the Google GIS services will see a "there's a photo of this" icon next to the bridge when they look at the map or aerial photo of the bridge's locale. The second killer feature is a monthly contest with a neat prize... a GPS unit that geotags your photos for you. I can't promise the competition will be renewed every month, but it has run for many months up to 12/08.
Independent Movie Data Base (IMDB): Watching a film that's really good? Wonder who directed it? What else did he/ she do? Just visit the IMDB. Lots, lots more. The trivia discussions can be very interesting.
Skype: STOP PRESS: 8 Sept 11: For several years, I have been a fan of Skype. I have used it for many calls, recommended it to friends. Microsoft must have liked it, too: They bought it.
Recently (at 9/11), I have been having annoying hassles with my Skype. Advertising pushing itself in front of me. Frequent "updates". When I enter a new contact as, say, "Brown- Joe" it is recorded as "Brown- J". I have one contact whose number was corrupted, and over an hour of "playing" with it, across several sessions, has not fixed the problem. I've even deleted the contact, re-entered it from scratch... and it still dials the wrong number. I repeatedly tag numbers as "home" or "other"... but the Skype system entirely ignores what I enter and ignores edits. So: This software is no longer in the same league as the other things I commend here. Will I keep using it? Probably- the price is right. Am I disappointed that a great product has become annoying? YES!
WORSE! Now (9/11) the bloody thing has infected my internet browser... When I launch it, my time is wasted with the opening of a page of Skype offers!!!. Very disappointing to see what was a great service compromised.
Make phone calls to ordinary phones anywhere in the world for less than 5 (US) cents per minute and to other Skype users for free. Requires a broadband connection. While you don't need one, a USB telephone handset... a simple one ($20) is fine... makes things seem more natural. You can use any other microphone/ speaker arrangement if you'd rather. It is probably best to use headphones or a handset. Otherwise, the person you are speaking with hears a distracting echo of everything you say. Versions exist for Linux, Mac and even Windoze. It will also run on some cell phones and other special devices. I use my Skype for outgoing calls only, which is very simple. You can set it up to receive calls and even take messages or forward calls. You can do conference calls and video calls. Even chat by keyboard! Who needs Instant Messenger? You can install an add-on to Firefox that turns most phone numbers in web pages into buttons which, when clicked, initiate a Skype call to the number.
Snopes: Was there really a man with a JTOL unit who earned a Darwin Award? For intelligent... if sometimes obsessive!... discussions of things that seem too implausible to be true, visit Snopes. (Search for "rocket Arizona" to find out about the Darwin Award.) (Not very useful... but entertaining, if you are a little bit twisted: Darwin Awards.
Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreading: Want access to 28,000 eBooks? Want to help make the 28,001th book available, free, to all of the internet? Then check out the subsidiary page from me that the link above will take you to.
Tucows: There's lots of good software available via the web. Besides my modest guide to free Windows software, there's the much bigger and better operation at Tucows. They have editors who check what's in their library, and it is organized. If you distribute freeware or shareware of your own making, Tucows will put your program in their library for free, if it is good enough. (Their standards may be "a pain"... but they are also a great goad to get you to tidy all those loose ends you "knew" you ought to do something about! Be sure to download their guide to submissions. You can do a lot about your "cows" rating, just by RTFM. (Hmmm... wrote that, then went to the Tucows site, trying to find a link for you to their cow rating standards. Frustrating. Couldn't find it. If you find it, let me know? I know they published it in the past. Couldn't even find a sensible "help" button! But the software in their library is still great!) They will also encourage you to avail yourself of more services, which are not free.
TinyURL service: Ever wanted to email a long URL ("www" thingie) to someone? And then they say it "doesn't work", because they don't know how to "reassemble" URLs split into multiple lines by the email software? Or pass on a URL over the phone, or via other non computer channels? TinyURL is just what you need. You go to their site, type in whatever long URL you want, and they'll return something more manageable.
For instance, to visit the page you are reading from you can enter....
... or you can enter...
If you are planning to USE a TinyURL you picked up somewhere not 100% reliable... and remember to allow for mistakes by others, as well as deliberate malevolence, you can enter....
... to see where you will go if you use the TinyURL you have.
There's a neat Google maps image at...
(Some of those sand dunes stretch over 50 miles.)
Isn't http://tinyurl.com/9wozlo a nicer URL to try to pass on?
Shields Up: Protect yourself: run www.grc.com's free security check from time to time. The results are not the simplest thing to read, but the issue of whether your system is vulnerable isn't simple either.
BeeLoop GeoTagr: Want the latitude and longitude of a place? This is the service for you. (There are some links to other resources for map-o-philes further down the page, too.
Prairie Home Companion: Not really a "service" in the sense that the other pages listed here are, but I commend this site to you highly if your blood pressure has been pushed a little high by "life". It lets you listen to episodes of a weekly radio show that Garrison Keillor has been doing for many years. If you don't want to listen to the shows, there are transcripts of parts of them which you can read. You can listen to a whole show, or just segments of it.... Do give "The News From Lake Woebegon" segment, sometimes just called "monologue", near the end of the show, a try. Right up there with Charles Schultz, which, from me, is high praise.
Check your HTML.... is it valid? Are there mistakes? They may not prevent your browser from displaying your page in a reasonable form, but what will happen in other browsers? You might as well write HTLM that meets the official standards... not the tweaked ones that Microsoft programs generate, that result in code that works best, or only works in a Microsoft browser (funny that). All you have to do is go to the site, enter the URL of your page, and you'll be told of any problems. Don't be downhearted! At first, you'll have a little work to do, but you soon get the knack of sticking to the rules. I've done a page about using the W3C HTML validator for you.
Check your links.... This tool from the same people who provide the validator. It will check all of the links on your page, and alert you to any that are broken. Again, all you have to do is go to the site, enter the URL of your page, and you'll be told of any problems.
Google Adsense: This is not merely free. They pay you! And besides the lovely money, you get all sorts of information about the visitors to your site. One I particularly enjoy is a world map, flagged with the location of your most recent 150 visitors. It is quite spooky. Not only can you see where they are, but all sorts of details like who the ISP is, which may well be a corporation or government agency, how many of your pages they viewed, how long they stayed, what search terms they were using that led them to your site.
I know that I should also investigate Google Analytics, as it offers ways to learn more about you, gentle reader, and what you read, where you go on my site. I believe it is quite simple, but does require embedding some code in the pages you want to track. I just haven't had time, and my older solutions continue to do good jobs for me. And then there's the Google Website Optimizer to try!
FreeFind: If you give your site a search tool, not only do you help your visitors, but you also help yourself. Google offers search bars, and I have no doubt that they are very good. Long before Google came along, I started with FreeFind, and I have had no reason to change.
I said that you help yourself as well as helping your visitors. With a FreeFind search bar, you get weekly emails to tell you what searches people have been doing. This helps you understand your customers, and to improve your pages. These emails Just Arrive. You don't have to log on, navigate to the right page, etc, etc, as you do with Adsense. I wouldn't be surprised if Google will email the information, but I haven't noticed how to "turn that on".
You simply embed about 40 lines of code into your page, and FreeFind does the rest. You can see the code if you view the source of my Sheepdog Software homepage.... but don't worry, the nice people at FreeFind tell you exactly what you need.
Visitor tracking- 1: Even if a visitor doesn't use the search bar I provide, I can learn a lot, thanks to the service from Extreme Tracking.
To quote from their site: "Conveniently arranged, numbers, percentages, stats, totals and averages. All the way up from simple counting your visitors until tracking the keywords they use to find you."
You simply embed about 25 lines of code into your page, and Extreme Tracker does the rest. You can get an idea of the code if you view the source of this page.... but don't worry, the nice people at Extreme Tracker tell you exactly what you need. Don't, please copy the code from my page to your page... You need code tailored for you. (If you copy the code on my page exactly, the hit counting for your page will become part of my hits reports. Among other things, you won't be able to see your hits data!)
Visitor tracking- 2: Even without a visitor using a search bar or somesuch, I can learn a lot, thanks to the service from StatCounter. I particularly like their weekly summary of page visits. (Aggregate numbers, at this level... but you can go to their site, drill down. But the email distinguished first time visits, returning visits, etc.)
Hundreds of sites tell you that there services are "free", and "no hassle" and "easy to set up". StatCounter's actually IS... all of those things. (If you want access to bigger logs, i.e., to be able to go back further into the history of the activity on your site, you can buy into that. But the FREE tracking's allocation of log space is generous. And, I think, you get everything in the free service that the paying customers get... just not so much space on the StatCounter servers, for "old" data.)
To quote (slightly tweaked) from their site with info on just one of the many features: "Drill Down is one of the most advanced features StatCounter offers. It allows you to drill down on your stats and view visitors relating to them. You can drill down on many of the stats StatCounter offers, for example you can use a Keyword Analysis..." and see the search terms people put into Google before following a link to your site.
Visitor tracking-3: Too cool! Revolver Maps. I found this at the same site as FlagCounter, see the previous entry. And again I am bending my rules, recommending this at the same time as I'm adding it to my site. Note: While both Flag Counter and Revolver Maps are cool, I am, for now, sticking with my tried, tested, trusted, reliable Extreme Tracking account. It isn't as "pretty" as the new kids... but, it has a lot of information for you with little overhead for your users. I have been paying $5 per month for many years for my "pro" version of Extreme Tracker, but many of its features are present in the free version.
What you see below is what I got in less than five minutes, on my first attempt at using Revolver Maps, without doing any tweaking, and without doing anything clever when I inserted the code into my page. It has been running since 12 July 2011.
Oh dear. I was supposed to be working this morning... and, with regret, Gentle Reader, I must tell you that writing this doesn't count... but this Revolver Maps thing is just too much fun. Wait 'til you start playing with the control buttons in the lower left corner of the widget.
By the way... when I was spending the five minutes to set up the above Revolver Map, there were lots of options. Nothing perplexing... just stuff like what color I wanted the visitor dots to be.
Please don't let the low traffic at the page you are reading harm your impression of Revolver Maps. Of course, you could help me with the low traffic issue by clicking some or all of the "share" buttons at the top of the page....
Word of advice: When create your first RevolverMaps widget, and put it on a page, also put a comment line on the page saying what page the widget was created for. (See my further comments on visitor tracking for the reasons behind this guidance.)
Visitor tracking-4: Too cool! FlagCounter. I must admit that I am making an exception to a rule here. Usually I only list things which I have tried myself for a while, or at least investigated closely. However I saw Flag Counter on a site that I trust, and it looks really neat. To quote from the Flag Counter page:
Add a free Flag Counter to any webpage and collect flags from all over the world. Every time someone from a new country visits you, a flag will be added to your counter. Not only will this make your site far more interesting, but clicking on your Flag Counter will reveal amazing information and charts!
You have to add a bit of code to your page, but this is normal for such services. I have used similar (Extreme Tracking and Adsense) for years without regrets. One little caveat: Every such little "feature" you add to your page adds overheads for anyone visiting your page... but in this brave new world of increasing penetration of broadband, do you care?
Dynamic DNS: (Actually... this no longer actually qualifies to be listed here with all the free interent services... but it was free from before 2009 until the end of 2011, and is still available for a short free trial, with moderate terms thereafter. ($20 per annum at 8/12).
If you have an "always on" connection to the internet, e.g. DSL, or broadband, you might want to consider hosting things directly from your own PC. There are security issues involved, so don't embark on this lightly... but if you feel ready, then the service provided by DynDNS may be of use to you. It solves the problem people who do not have a static IP address have. There's more on this at my guide to the why and how of dyndns services, and in the pages about my FarWatch, a system that lets anyone with an always on connection and at least an old Win98 box set up something that lets them see that all is well at a monitored premise. They can check in on the premise from any internet terminal in the world. Mine has a temperature sensor (adds about $40 to the cost of the project), and I can see that the heating hasn't failed.
Icons / Favicon: If you have a photograph that you would like converted to an .ico file, the nice people at html-kit will do the conversion for you. Fill in a box on their page with an address they can fetch the photo from, and minutes later, free (as is everything on this page, remember), you can fetch your .ico file. Once you have that, save it on your server as favicon.ico, put...
<link rel="shortcut icon" href="favicon.ico">
... into the <head>...</head> block of any webpage you want marked with the icon, and you're done! (That's what causes the little Border collie, known as a sheepdog in the UK, to appear in association with this page.)
Mailwasher: Mailwasher tries to solve the problem of spam, and, in my opinion, is one of the better approaches. It lets you preview what is in your POP3, IMAP, Hotmail or AOL mailbox while the emails are still on the server. You don't download the emails until you've weeded them. Initially, you fetch just the headers (Sender's name, subject, etc.) You can even preview the text of individual emails. You then delete un-read any rubbish, and fetch the Good (or Not-Konwn-Bad!) stuff. Works with all email clients, because it does its work before the client accesses the mailbox.
The people behind Mailwasher are to be commended for embracing many of the email systems on the web, not just cherry picking. Even Pegasus (my email client of choice, and I know of at least one university using it) and Compuserve users were included in the spectrum Mailwasher serves, so it has been around for a while!
You can set up blacklists and whitelists. The program/ service won't delete things without telling you.
Works with Windows... 95 to Vista at 12/08. Linux: The Mailwasher site says "While there is not a native Linux version of MailWasher available, there is a Linux version of MailWasher Pro available from the Firetrust website." (I think this means that only the you-pay-for-it version is available for Linux. $40. The main limitation, as I see it, of the free Windows version, vs the $40 version, is that it will only service one eddress.)
Mailwasher, besides acting sensibly if something is on either your blacklist or whitelist, will also pick out some emails as possibly spam. Pegasus gives you the "preview headers, and fetch only the emails you wish to" feature, but without any of the filtering that Mailwasher offers.
One last reason to use Mailwasher: If you are on a dial up connection, or an expensive mobile link, you can skip downloading big attachments you don't want. Probably even defer downloading, if you will be on a cheap, fast connection later.
Mail2Web: Many people today don't bother with an email client, e.g. Outlook (Express or standard), or Pegasus... they use a web based interface, and leave any mail they want to save on a remote server. I have (for the moment!) an account with Compuserve that I don't want to close down, I don't want to access with their quirky software, and I don't want to access via a client. Mail2Web to the rescue! It lets me have a web based interface to my Compuserve mail. I think I had to convert my mail account to POP3, but that was a small price to pay to get to where I am. The account is at least 10 years old... I suspect there are few people out there whose accounts aren't already POP3, or IMAP or SSL, which Mail2Web can also handle.
Adobe Photoshop Express: NOT recommended. I'm not going to say "don't bother with that" often, but I will make an exception to that in respect of Photoshop Express. It is an online photo manipulation service, which is just a Bad Idea. See my information about photo manipulation software for good answers to any need to do that work.
Google Calendar: Google has a bunch of tools for collaboration. One is a calendar, which you can put online, and give specific people access to it. Other people have similar products, of course, but Google does things well, will be there tomorrow, and hasn't been convicted by multiple authorities of monopoly abuses and software theft.
del.icio.us Bookmarks: From their site: "The primary use of del.icio.us is to store your bookmarks online, which allows you to access the same bookmarks from any computer and add bookmarks from anywhere, too. On del.icio.us, you can use tags to organize and remember your bookmarks, which is a much more flexible system than folders."
It also allows sharing your bookmark lists with others, viewing theirs, and Google-index-like discovery of good bookmarks.
Funny Error Messages: This is probably more for play than for work, but if you want a bit of fun, give it a try.
Soundclips from the BBC: A few classic things, all funny.
"Simply the Best: This is a human edited (I think, hope!) link farm, showing you where you can find good fonts, software, audio clips, etc, etc.
Remember the Milk: A system offering online "To Do" lists, which can issue email and SMS reminders, and has many other interesting features. You can add tasks to your list with a simple email, say from your phone, if a full browser isn't available at the moment you want to add the task.
ADrive: One of several services which allow you to store files online. Do keep in mind that there is no promise that the company will continue in business forever. Don't let the copies at ADrive be your only copies! 50GB free at 12/08, but space provided should not be your only criterion.
Humyo: Another service which allows you to store files online. Also allows streaming and embedding. 10GB free at 12/08. See also comments under ADrive, above.
LogMeIn: A long-time player in the remote access sector. Allows you to access your computer via a different computer, someplace else on the internet... be that in the next room, or in the next country. Windows and Mac.
Woophy.com, OpenStreetMap.org, www.Geograph.org.uk: I've barely tried these, but they were recommended to me by a source I trust. If you like WikiMapia (see section 1), you might like these services. Woophy lets members put photographs online, tied to where they were taken (But so does Wikimapia.) (Like the map features of Flickr or Panoramio.) Openstreetmap seems to be concentrating on getting street names for everywhere. Their Jo'burg, South Africa, map was certainly better than others I found when planning a trip a few months ago. Geograph's page tells us, "The Geograph British Isles project aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometer of Great Britain and Ireland, and you can be part of it." An interesting idea, but no substitute for Google's Street View! Speaking of the mighty Google... you won't often hear me criticize it, but I will mention that their map info can be unreliable. They have the Victoria and Albert museum in London about... oh! Stop press. Brave New World that we live in. They HAD the V&A about 1500 feet(?) from where it is- ten days ago (Nov/09). But when I went to check the exact distance just now, it was in the right place! I still can see no way to submit correction suggestions to them. (They could also do with adding a distance measuring tool like WikiMapia's! But these are little niggles. Google and all its works really are major steps forward for humanity. I wish the Sussex Police would wake up to the fact. I spent 40 minutes the other evening (Nov 'Z 09) trying to get the right authority aware of a dangerous situation on the roads. When speaking to the police, a) their map system wasn't working, and b) they couldn't access maps.google.com so that I could ensure that they understood where the situation was.
Well tested by me, frequently used, is BeeLoop's Geotagr, discussed in more detail above.
I will try to get back to this page soon. I have to tell you about family history resources, multimap, USGS maps, PayPal (for buyers... xref in sellers).... and lots, lots more! Travel planning- Wikipedia, Lonely planet, charity navigator, efax, and various mail services.... So many good services, so little time!
N.B.: The search engine just looks through the web site for the words you enter. It cannot answer "Which program is fastest?"
Page tested for compliance with INDUSTRY (not MS-only) standards, using the free, publicly accessible validator at validator.w3.org