Best of 2010
From the cleverest blog to the best use for an iPad, here are the five things that became habits for me this year
Best Productivity Tool
My sister just got an iPad for Christmas and immediately asked me to recommend a great all-around productivity app — for contacts, calendar, to-do’s, etc. I was useless. Such apps are available in abundance, I just can’t recommend any of them. I’ve tried a range of Web-based tools over the years, and once dropped 50 bucks for a piece of fancy software and another 10 for the companion iPhone app, only to find that none of it worked for me — or, at least, not better than my old homegrown, David Allen-inspired index card system. Then along came TeuxDeux.com, from the very popular Web designer and blogger Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka Swiss Miss. It’s always the simple stuff that sticks for me, and this is a model of simplicity. Launched in December of 2009, it’s just a row of days, with a text input box and a row of dotted lines beneath each day. Type your to-do into the given day, then come back and click on it to cross it off when it’s done. You can drag things between days, and anything you haven’t completed at the end of the day will be automatically copied over to the next day. Eisenberg and her partner, Cameron Koczon, recently released an iPhone app, but I haven’t felt any pressing need for it. TeuxDeux is on the Web, so I can already get to it from wherever, whenever.
4. Nerd Boyfriend
Best High-Concept Blog
Few things wow me like a really brilliant blog concept, but the blogs themselves tend not to be very sticky. (Take Unhappy Hipsters, for instance, which launched in January 2010. I laughed my fool head off the first time I saw it, but once I’d gotten the joke I didn’t need to go back for more.) The one I became aware of this year that I can’t get enough of is Roxana Altamirano’s Nerd Boyfriend. I’m not sure how it escaped my attention until recently — it’s been around since January 2009 — but the concept is genius: Take an old photo of a star wearing a look so dated it feels (almost) hip again and pair it with images and links to the individual pieces of the outfit, for anyone who might want to re-create the look. It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but you can’t help but marvel at the chosen images — from Woody Allen to James Earl Jones (above) to Charlie Brown — and at the initiative in finding the matching clothes and accessories. It’s really a work of art.
Best Old-School Blog
I have so far resisted the pull of Tumblr, but what I like about it from afar is that it seems to be so often used for old-school weblogs — people offering constant links to things from around the Web that interest them, for the benefit of those following along. I get it: It’s like Twitter with pictures and no character limitation. I am tempted. Meanwhile, the Tumblr blog that I find myself visiting routinely (thanks to links on Twitter) is #theSmithian, from Danyel Smith. Smith is a longtime online acquaintance of mine, who goes by the name danamo in various online haunts. She’s eminently interesting: raised in Oakland, now living in Brooklyn; a novelist and the former editor of Vibe magazine; a woman of diverse interests (from politics to fashion) and magnificent taste. And all of that is what makes her blog so phenomenal. This is idiosyncratic curation at its best.
Best Social Shopping Tool
I once said to myself, what if the question Twitter asked was “What are you reading?” rather than “What are you doing?” The input would lead to a shared record of everything you’d read and what you’d thought of it, with others able to follow along. And then I built that, with Ben Scofield, who now runs it as Noting:books. It’s a co-curation approach I’m very fond of. So naturally I was thrilled when I saw Svpply (pronounced “supply”), which takes a similar approach to shopping. There have been versions of social shopping for as long as the Web has been around, from the mundane reader recommendations to “people who bought this also bought” algorithms to elaborate services like Polyvore and Google’s new Boutiques. But Svpply is, again, simple and genuinely useful, and thus I am hooked. It’s the brainchild of Ben Pieratt and Eric Jacobsen — the talents behind such gems as Lookwork and The Book Cover Archive. (Which, full disclosure, maintains links to a former project of mine, Most Coveted Covers; I am very slightly acquainted with Pieratt online.) Think of it as a visual universal wish list whereby, thanks to a simple bookmarklet you drag to your browser’s bookmark bar, you can record anything you encounter on the Web that you might want to buy. (It’s the “Buy later” corollary to the invaluable “Read later” bookmarklet from Instapaper.) Like Twitter, you can find and follow people whose taste appeals to you, and they may or may not follow you back. Which means, like Twitter, it’s only as good as whom you follow. Fortunately, the place is stocked with people who have really great taste, and whose discoveries lead you to other magical places like, say, Totokaelo and Kaufmann Mercantile. And if you’re simply looking for the perfect trench coat or bar stool, searching Svpply will get you nicely curated results. I like to use it for fantasy shopping. Sometimes clicking a button is enough to scratch the consumer itch, and if that button adds an item to my svpply instead of an actual shopping cart, so much the better.
Best Use for the iPad
It’s been about two and half years since I essentially gave up paper books in favor of reading on my iPhone, which is my primary use of the device. For reasons I won’t go into, this is the year I switched from the eReader app to the Kindle app, but I find I rarely read books on my iPad. It’s overkill. If I want to read a book, I still reach for my phone. But what the iPad is great for — and I would argue best for — is looking at magazines. That big, beautiful, backlit screen makes everything look amazing.
I know, I know, the magazine apps are terrible! They’re bloated, they’re expensive, they’re hard to keep organized. But what you’re overlooking, if you’re thinking all of that, is Zinio, the long-standing digital magazine stand. I scoffed at Zinio for roughly eight years, wondering why anyone would ever want to look at a magazine on a computer screen. And I still don’t ever want to do that. But Zinio editions on the iPad are terrific. The problem with all the stand-alone mag apps is that publishers are trying to improve on the old model of simply turning pages, and failing miserably. There’s just no need to reinvent the wheel. Between the Zinio app and website, you can buy single issues or subscriptions (comparable to print subscription prices). You get an alert when a new issue is available. You download it to your device — or devices! — of choice, and voil
Gold Standards and Future Favorites
iOS Safari: I’m a big believer in the Web. Yes, some apps do things that can’t (so far) be done on the Web, and thus the benefits of being self-contained outweigh the loss of openness and interconnectivity that comes from being accessed via ye olde Web. But for most things, I’d rather be in the browser — where I can cut, paste, resize, share, etc. — than siloed off in an app. So my go-to app on both iPhone and iPad is Safari.
New Twitter: Curation really is king, and that’s why Twitter continues to be, for me, the ultimate Web portal. If I’ve heard about anything, I heard it from the smart people and feeds I follow on Twitter. Earlier this year, when Twitter changed the way third-party apps authenticate users, Tweetdeck stopped recognizing my perfectly valid password. This was around the time New Twitter rolled out, and so I decided to embrace Twitter in the browser again. I like New Twitter conceptually, I just wish it worked better. (It’s also forced me to be much choosier about who I follow.) So Twitter is now one of my default browser tabs, but I can’t say I’m in love with it — yet. Consider it a near miss.
Flipboard: Apple’s pick for iPad App of the Year is great-looking and truly innovative, and they’ve given the whole industry a lot to think about. But it doesn’t fit into the very purpose-driven way I use Twitter — in fact, it gets in the way of that — so it hasn’t become a habit for me. I gave up on RSS feeds a couple of years ago (replaced by Twitter) but Flipboard’s recent RSS integration led me to set up a very short list of casual, fun feeds and I now browse those via Flipboard on occasion, just for the sake of interacting with this lovely product. I know they’re continuing to refine and evolve, and it could easily become a favorite in 2011.
Evernote: One thing not listed in the Top 5, but mentioned in the previous slide, is a product that transcends any best-of list. Evernote is for me the absolute most useful and necessary digital product of all time, short of the Web itself (without which it would be meaningless). As noted, I am a magpie, and Evernote makes it insanely simple to grab and save every article, recipe, pretty picture, inspiring design, and so on, and find it again whenever I want. I clip Web pages, forward confirmation e-mails, archive videos and snapshots, keep meeting notes, you name it, and I can access them from any device or browser, any time. I would be utterly lost without it.