The World Wide Web is a fast-changing, fast-moving space. Forget plain old email, Twitter and Facebook; now your online life is also shaped by the kind of apps you use (or don’t use). If you’re not in touch with what’s the latest in the world of app stores and on the Net, you will soon be left behind. We bring updates on some of the current trends in the online world.
Pinpointed: Your GPS-enabled smartphone lets you keeps track of all the hot spots around you
Why you should: Status messages about what’s on your mind and what’s new are so last year. The burning question for social networking this year is where all you have been and where you are right now. Check-in or location-based apps are the latest way to interact with your connections—friends, family, colleagues—by telling them about your favourite places and where you are now in the city or outside it. If you think it’s a brag through a bot, especially if you are the jet-setting type, you’re probably right. It’s a fun one though.
How it works: The technology at the heart of these apps is called geolocation, which uses your GPS-enabled smartphone to locate your physical being. From there on, depending on the app you use and your preferences, these apps find out the nearby restaurants or hang-outs your online friends have been to and recommended, or the interesting people you might want to meet. They remotely check you in at clubs, bars and restaurants in live time and automatically share every place you have been to on your social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. You can do virtual check-ins at bars, restaurants, cafés, parks, offices, and pretty much any place else. There are around 6,000 apps to choose from in the market today, with the popular ones being Foursquare, Gowalla, BrightKite and Facebook Places. Of course, you do need to remember to turn off the app in case you’re not where your boss or spouse think you are.
What you pay: Zilch. Most of these applications are free. In fact, frequent a place enough and you might even get some freebies from them as a thanks. Foursquare, for example, has a massive list of places all over the world that offer special discounts and free drinks to regulars or to anyone who has registered a certain number of check-ins at their site.
Upgrade your browser
Why you should: In a world that is becoming increasingly impatient with slow browsing, the old versions of Internet Explorer just don’t work.
How it works: Install Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, which offer a fast-browsing experience as well as a long list of plug-ins. Firefox is an open-source browser which keeps improving itself. Chrome gets brownies for launching Google Apps for its browser, which makes the experience of Internet browsing on your PC equivalent to checking out your favourite apps on your mobile phone. For the power user, there’s Opera—which has a robust set of features, and a nifty mouse gesture system for quick navigation. If you don’t want to try something new, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 brings it up to spec with the other browsers we’ve mentioned.
What you pay: All are free, though Chrome comes with the Google agenda of throwing in as many ads with its products as possible.
Use mobile photo social apps
Why you should: Phone apps are made to combine good entertainment things in your phone—a decent camera, GPS and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. You can take a picture, choose a filter to make it look more exciting, mark your location and post it on your social network. It’s a new way to interact with your existing social networks.
How it works: Once you have downloaded the app of your choice, all you have to do is take a photograph of the place you are in and your app will upload it along with the location on your social networks. Instagram (www.instagr.am) and PicPlz (www.picplz.com), both of which are available for iPhone and Android, offer some really interesting filters along witha choice of “liking" and commenting on other uploads. Foodspotting (www.foodspotting.com) is all about sharing photos of food when you dine out, which is much better than reading a review. A photo, as they say, is worth a thousand words.
What you pay: Most of these apps are available in app stores for free.
Take home budgeting online
Why you should: Want to take that extra cash for a family holiday to Europe, but just don’t seem to be able to manage your expenses? Take help from online apps such as Loot (http://gumbercules.net/projects/loot/) and Bundle. These apps let you divide your monthly expenses according to categories such as household, groceries, travel, etc., to accommodate the piggy bank you want to create for your dream holiday or house. Think of them as your robotic finance advisers.
How it works: After you install a money app, it divides your income or budget according to your convenience. After you share your income and aspirational saving, these apps even advise you on what investments to make to reach your long-term financial goals. All through the month, you feed in all your expenses. On demand, the app sends you alerts via email or text messages on over-budget expenses. It also warns you in advance about when your routine bills are due. These apps analyse your data quarterly too and make use of fancy graphics to compare it with other people’s data in your geographic region. So you know how you are faring against others with similar earnings. Be warned though, these services are mostly US-centric and may not work as seamlessly in India.
What you pay: Both apps are free. Bundle works across iPhone, Android, PCs and Macs.
Cut the Internet clutter
Why you should: It can be very time-consuming to wade through the vast sea of information available on the Net. Be it in services, news, information, podcasts, videos or books, you desperately need an editor who can understand your need and tell you what you should spend your time reading. Sites such as StumbleUpon have already been filtering information, articles, blogs and photographs available online on computers according to your preferences. This year is all about apps doing the same to your smartphones and tablets. So, bid farewell to RSS and say hello to context-aware apps.
How it works: These apps, once you set your preferences, will serve you information which is relevant to you, on a platter. Flipboard, for example, is an iPad app that grabs updates, photos and links from your friends, adds feeds from your favourite blogs and websites and reformats it all into a browse-able, magazine-like format. Its rival Pulse (www.alphonsolabs.com), which is available for both Android and iPhones, is a touch-based, visual RSS feeder where you can flick through your feeds rather than clicking on text. My6Sense (www.my6sense.com), which again works on both iPhone and Android, is a fresh take on the traditional RSS reader. It brings you the kind of content you want to read. From what you read, it automatically graphs you with what the app calls its “digital intuition" to bring you more relevant stuff from the online world.
What you pay: All the three apps—Flipboard, My6Sense and Pulse—are free.
Go beyond Facebook
Why you should: It’s time to move on from social networks that don’t do more than “liking" or updating status messages. With the advent of new niche social networks, you can choose to have online communities which further your cause, hobbies or interests, or are regional in nature. The Web has become more individualized and niche communities are the new social must-have experiences.
How it works: There are many online communities you can join depending on your area of interest. Path, which was launched last year, allows you to have only 50 friends. The idea is that a smaller network leads to a more meaningful and personal interaction(www.path.com). Jumo (www.jumo.com), a networking site for non-profits which was also launched last year and is still in the beta stage, aims at creating and connecting communities that want to make a difference in the world. iJanaagraha (www.ijanaagraha.org), an initiative by an NGO based in Bangalore, is another space to connect with people who follow the same passions in driving social and urban change. SocialGo (www.socialgo.com) gives you the option of floating your own social network for a specific passion you might be harbouring. The site also designs your social network space for you.
What you pay: Path, Jumo and iJanaagraha are free. The premium membership for creating your own social network with SocialGo is Rs1,250 a month.