My so-called (online) lifeNovember 18, 2005
After two hard drive crashes in the last six months, I decided it was time to re-evaluate how I work. I lost a few files that I can't recover and thousands of files that can only be replaced by investing a huge amount of time (primarily photos and MP3's). One of the hardest things to lose was my blogroll. In this new world, losing your subscription list is a lot like losing your address book.
Of course, much of this could have been avoided by regular backups, but I am surprisingly bad about that for someone who has worked in technology for as long as I have.
The loss of data was accompanied by something almost as significant - the loss of the tools I use everyday. When you rely on desktop applications, losing them for 1-2 weeks at a time is a major inconvenience. When you get them back, you have to start from scratch, installing, updating, and customizing them just so.
So, I've set out to actually learn something from these experiences and make some changes. My main decision has been to move my life online. I want to access all of my core data and applications from any machine with a network connection. And if my primary machine goes down, I want to grab another machine and get going without missing a beat. Lastly, I want to be agnostic about which operating system I use. The following tools allow me to be 100% productive whether I'm using a Windows, Macintosh, or Linux machine.
Lists and Information
Backpack. This has been the most significant change over the past two months. I now use Backpack to keep track of nearly everything in my life, from website redesign projects (shared with the web team) and brainstorming for the new year to the Blogging Church book project, Christmas lists, and car maintenance. Once you upgrade to a paid account, you will constantly find new uses for it. You'll have enough pages to start new ones whenever you're inspired and the file storage feature is very handy.
Backpack is easily the one application, online or off, that I can't live without.
Writeboard. This has been a radical change, but an exciting one. I am now writing Blogging Church using Writeboard. 37signals has been writing their upcoming book on Getting Real using Writeboard; hopefully our book will be the second.
Why the switch from the desktop? First, I trust their hard drives more than my own (and I can easily export copies at any time). Second, the revision history is so simple and elegant as to be highly useful. Third, I can now work on the book anytime from anywhere (with an internet connection, obviously). Fourth, they've integrated Writeboard into Backpack, so my one Backpack page for the book now contains notes, a chapter list, attached documents, and links to each individual chapter in Writeboard. Oh, and it prints beautifully.
What's missing? Word count, spell check and auto-save in case your browser or connection has trouble.
Google Reader. I never thought I'd use an online newsreader. I have been a huge fan of NetNewsWire for two years, I think it is easily the best overall newsreader, and was convinced that there were too many advantages to a desktop application. More and more, however, I want to be able to access blogs and other feeds from any machine. I also want my subscription list and saved articles to be safe and secure.
I have used Bloglines off and on, but have always found it very frustrating. In fact, I'm amazed that it is as dominant as it is. I experimented with Newsgator's online edition, but it didn't make much of an impression (their Outlook edition, however, is sweet). Finally, I decided to give Google's new reader another try. I used it for 15 minutes when it first launched and didn't like it at all.
This week, though, I gave it another 30 minutes and became addicted. The flow takes a bit to get used to, but it quickly becomes very simple. The desktop feel and keyboard shortcuts make it fast to work with. Use j and k to move up and down through your posts, spacebar to keep reading a long post, r to refresh for the latest news, and s to star a post to save for later. Unlike most readers, you can easily see all of your new posts in one view (similar to a river of news) instead of being forced to click on each of you feeds like email folders.
They could make adding a subscription more intuitive, and the default sorting is crazy (relevance?), but I'm happy to say it's everything I need.
Gmail. I've been using it since the day when invites were being purchased on eBay and I couldn't be happier.
Del.icio.us. When you use multiple machines, you inevitably face the browser bookmark problem. You bookmark a great site when you're doing research at home, but that doesn't help you much at the office the next day. Del.icio.us is an easy way to bookmark sites, tag them in any way you like, then find them later.
For the small desktop applications that you can't do without, here's a great way to get back in business quickly following a crash. I created a page in Backpack to store all of my apps in one place. I've uploaded the install file for each application and then created a note for each one that includes my license, purchase date, and other pertinent details. This way, I don't have hunt through receipts and emails trying to track down all the information. I can go to one page and be up and running in minutes.
I hope this lists is helpful for those of you thinking about moving more of your work online. If you have tools and sites you love, post a comment so we can check them out!