Just as there is an unfathomable abundance of online platforms at your disposal, there is a preposterous (and wonderful) abundance of tools. To keep things relatively simple, we will only recommend the basics below- tried and true online tools that enable you to find and verify information, communicate with others, create documents, store files, share and edit photos, send and receive money, and keep your computer in good working order.
Fact Finding Tools
Using Google Search, Wikipedia, and Snopes, you can easily find quick answers, review helpful summaries and garner jumping off points for further research, and check the veracity of online rumors.
Google Search serves as the most popular highway of the online world, conveying millions of people to their desired digital destinations every day. If you need something, chances are Google has an answer for you. To learn how to make more of the tool, visit the following resources:
- Tips on improving your search experience
- Google's Web Search Help Center
- Google Advanced Search
- Google Scholar
- Google Advanced Image Search
- Google Trends
To learn more about how Google Search works, review their explanatory overview. Want some context and history? Watch the video below.
Wikipedia is the ultimate jumping off point for information. Its neatly-modularized and mobile-friendly articles make it easy to get the gist of a complex concept, figure, event, or subject with minimal time and effort. Though it would not be safe to directly cite a Wikipedia article, it is easy enough to click through to a an article's references to find more information.
New to Wikipedia? Peruse the following helpful starting points:
- Wikipedia's Featured Content: Carefully-reviewed articles that have been deemed the best Wikipedia has to offer
- Simple English Wikipedia: Great for English Language learners as well as those looking for simple explanations to complex concepts (it is easier to learn about string theory in simple English than more advanced English)
- You can get a quick overview of a month's activities by reviewing its respective Wikipedia page (a new page is made for each new month; here is an example of a summary made for August of 2010)
Snopes will help you determine which online rumors are legitimate and which are full of hot air. Before sharing a rumor or letting a friend know that she has inadvertently succumbed to an online scam, check with Snopes first.
- Top scams on Snopes
- Snopes' glossary of terms: This will help you understand what they mean when they refer to something as ostension or slacktivism
It is next to impossible to create accounts on online platforms without an email address. Even if you do not wish to maintain various online accounts, you may still wish to send the odd digital missive. Gmail is the perfect default choice; consider Hushmail if you're concerned about privacy.
If you need to set up an email account online and want fast, clean, high quality service, Gmail is your best bet. In addition to a clean interface and plenty of storage, Gmail integrates well with other Google services such as Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Calendar, and YouTube, plus it offers a wealth of optional features that can improve and boost the efficiency of your email management experience, such as keyboard shortcuts, Yelp, Flickr, and YouTube previews within messages, and even an "undo send" button that enables you to take back emails with glaring mistakes within 30 seconds of hitting the send button.
To get started with Gmail, swing by the following resources:
- Create a Gmail / Google Account
- Gmail tips
- How to use Gmail Labs
- An overview of Gmail's latest features
When people don't use Gmail, it is typically because (1) they haven't updated their email carrier in ages, (2) they have a business account, (3) someone else set up their email or they just went with the default email provided by their internet service providers, or (4) they are very concerned about privacy.
Those who don't use Gmail out of malaise can continue to do as they please, however we respect others' desires for privacy. Should security be a moderately high concern of yours, consider using Hushmail to facilitate your online communications. The service is ad free and offers unlimited aliases.
Some starting points:
Though Hushmail is known for being relatively more secure than other mainstream email options, the company recommends GnuPG and PGP Desktop for those who desire additional security and privacy. Another email alternative with higher levels of security worth checking out is Autistici/Inventati.
Though phones are tried and true, online communication services offer added convenience, savings, and functionality. Skype and Hangouts are two particularly powerful tools worth utilizing.
Skype is arguably the most popular telephone-like service of the internet. It enables you to call other Skype users for free (either via your computer or Skype's mobile app) and supports voice calls, video calls, and conference calls. Skype can also be used to call landlines (for a modest fee) and its low rates make it a great alternative to cell phones or landlines for making international and long-distance calls.
Some starting points for Skype:
- Create a Skype account
- An overview of Skype's rates
- Skype's page for downloads and information about Skype-enabled products (such as Skype-ready televisions and phones)
A feature of Google+, Hangouts facilitate free, live, internet-based calls with impressive functionality. Though Hangouts, you can:
- Make calls to landlines
- Video chat with multiple people
- Share and watch videos as a group
- Share your screen
- Gain remote access and control others' computers (or give others, such as technical support helpers, access to your own machine)
- Share documents
- Snap group photos
- Overlay humorous accessories on your face
- Utilize various apps to execute an impressive array of additional actions
Companies with Google+ pages can even use Hangouts to broadcast live events through Hangouts on Air.
To learn more about Hangouts:
- Create a Google Account and join Google+
- Review Hangouts' various features
- Review upcoming Hangouts on Air
- The Hangout app on Google Play
- The Hangout app on iTunes
- Rates for using Google Voice to call phones from Hangouts
Document Creation and Editing Tools
Even those who actively minimize time spent on computers frequently need to create and edit documents. Should you need a low cost and powerful document editing program, consider the following alternatives.
Google Docs is the ultimate free online productivity suite. In addition to using Google Docs to create word documents, drawings, presentations, and spreadsheets, you can open documents to collaborative editing, comments, and public viewing, download them in a wide variety of formats, access them from pretty much any device that has internet access, and email them to recipients directly from your editing interface. Files in other common word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet formats can be uploaded and converted into editable Google documents. Google Docs are integrated with Google Drive, which enables you to store any type of file.
Should you prefer to create and edit documents, presentations, and spreadsheets without using the internet, consider downloading Apache OpenOffice, a free, open-source productivity suite.
Apache OpenOffice offers the following features:
- Writer: A word processing program
- Calc: A spreadsheet program
- Impress: A presentation program
- Draw: A drawing program
- Base: A database management system
- Math: A tool for creating equations and formulae for your documents
As multiple device ownership and online collaboration grows more prevalent, convenient storage tools that enable people to easily access shared documents from any location are growing in importance. Two of the most popular storage tools available are Dropbox and Google Drive.
Dropbox is one of the most popular cloud-based storage and file transfer services on the market. Its powerful features make it easy to store, share, and access files and folders from multiple locations and devices.
By storing files in a Dropbox folder on your computer, you can access them from other computers and devices by visiting Dropbox.com or using Dropbox's mobile app. You can even use Dropbox to edit documents from multiple locations (much in the same way you may easily access and edit Google Docs).
Helpful starting points:
- An overview of Dropbox's features
- A more detailed tour of Dropbox
- Dropbox prices (its free plan offers 2GB per month)
If you actively use Google Docs or other Google services, Google Drive serves as a very convenient storage option. As with Dropbox, you can use Google Drive to access documents from multiple computers and devices by visiting Drive.Google.com or the Google Drive mobile app.
Helpful starting points:
- Sign in to Google Drive
- Tips on getting started with Google Drive
- Storage rates (users get 15GB free, then pay for additional capacity)
Photo Storage and Editing
Should you have a collection of digital photos, it would be wise to back them up both on a physical external hard drive and in the cloud. The following options enable you to safely store (plus share, edit, and do other fun things with) photos online.
Flickr makes for an ideal photo storage and editing site if you want to share your photos with a larger audience. In addition to hosting a robust community of photo aficionados (complete with groups you may start or join), Flickr makes it easy to apply Creative Commons licenses to photos, which enables others to use your images around the web so long as you are properly attributed. Flickr also makes it easy to find Creative Commons-licensed images, making it a top destination for those looking for CC images to use (this means more coverage for those who give CC licenses to their images). All users now get one terabyte of storage, so unless you're a vary serious and prolific photographer, you will not need to pay for extra space.
For unlimited photo storage and very convenient access, use Google+. Photos uploaded to this social network retain their original file sizes and names and can easily be downloaded individually, in bulk, or by album using Google Takeout. Photos uploaded to Google+ can be easily shared, edited, or instantly enhanced- plus Google+ will automatically create animated gifs of photos taken in quick succession. Google+ also supports very convenient mobile upload and tagging options.
- Create a Google Account (needed to join Google+)
- An overview of Google+'s photo features
- A video overview of Google+'s photo features
If you want to be able to easily print the photos you store online in a variety of formats, consider Photobucket. In addition to automatic backup, sharing features, and editing tools, Photobucket offers a litany of printing options, from old-fashioned photos to books, calendars, canvases, and mobile device covers.
- Photobucket backup
- Photobucket's sharing features
- Photobucket editing tools
- Photobucket's printing options
The following payment tools are amongst the most simple and convenient payment options available online. For a broader overview of the most popular alternatives, see our guide to accepting payments online (and elsewhere).
If someone has any sort of payment account online, it is likely to be PayPal. This makes the service a convenient default when transferring money to others online, be they friends, family members, room mates, contractors, or sellers. Using PayPal, you can send or receive money within the United States free of charge so long as a bank account or PayPal balance is used. Should a payee use a credit card instead, transaction fees apply. Because PayPal is used to facilitate purchases on a broad range of sites (and even in some physical stores), it is worth creating an account even before you encounter the need to send money directly to someone else online.
PayPal doesn't work for everyone (especially those whose accounts it freezes). WePay makes for an excellent alternative. It enables you to accept bank transfers and credit card payments and charges relatively lower fees.
In addition to setting up accounts and downloading tools, you should be prepared to delete accounts and unwanted downloads- plus download only the software you want (without pesky toolbars and add-ons). The following tools will help you manage all of these feats with minimal hassle.
Just Delete Me
Getting rid of defunct accounts online can be surprisingly cumbersome. Just Delete Me makes the process easy by providing links to account deletion pages on a wide variety of sites. Even without visiting the site, you can leverage the tool's browser plugin to jump to the account deletion page on whatever site you are currently visiting (so long as Just Delete Me has covered that site).
In addition to providing easy access to account deletion options, Just Delete Me shows how easy (or difficult) it may be to delete an account with a certain site, which may encourage you to think twice about getting started on a platform in the first place.
- Just Delete Me
- The Just Delete Me Chrome extension
- Suggest a site for Just Delete Me to add to its database
In addition to cleansing your digital identity of outdated accounts using Just Delete Me, consider using CCleaner to remove temporary files you inadvertently downloaded along with browsing history, cookies, and form histories. CCleaner is free and can be used on both PCs and Macs.
Microsoft Security Essentials Operating System Updates
You need not use services like Norton Antivirus to protect your computer (they often hinder more than they help by slowing down your computer and bombarding you with constant warnings). By keeping your operating system and software up to date, getting Microsoft Security Essentials if you own a PC, and not clicking on or downloading things of dubious origin, you should be just fine.
Should you decide to download additional tools, consider using Ninite, a centralized location from which you can download and update programs stripped of cumbersome options, toolbars and annoying add-ons, and reboot requests. Ninite offers quick downloads of everything from web browsers to messaging apps, media viewers and players, utilities, and document programs.
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