As with my top gadgets list for 2010, this year's list is personal. It's what I use, and what I found had the most impact for me in 2010, which I found myself using every day. The services themselves are limited to being Web-based, so I am not talking about those which are primarily iOS or Android apps, but if they do have a mobile equivalent it helps. What I've found in the way I use the many Web services and sites that take my time is that I may find things first, and I don't always enjoy those which are most popular, but once I do find real value, I am as loyal as they come.
That said, here are the sites that had significant impact on me and my family in 2010. Your mileage may vary.
2010 saw the arrival of baby #3 in our family. Braden, who joined us in late August, made his potential known at the beginning of the year, and this forced us to start planning a process to move up and out of our condo. With Bay Area housing prices a volatile, yet always expensive, thing, we had to use the best resources available to help navigate the housing search.
Without any hesitation, I can say Redfin saved us. We set the required criteria for potential homes to fit our growing brood, and started getting alerts in the Spring as we set favorites, getting to learn the trends in each sale and seeing the macroeconomics of the market in a microscope. Needless to say, if a home wasn't listed on Redfin.com, we didn't find it, and it's their loss. Even after buying our home in July and moving across town, I frequently use it to follow home sales in the area, and keep sure that we got the best deal for the best place we could afford.
Redfin quite possibly saved us hundreds to a thousand or more a month, or could even have meant another bedroom afforded or a shorter commute. The value is unmistakable.
Planning for both the sale of our condo and purchase of our home simultaneously, while navigating the growth of Paladin and transition to my6sense this year, has required an eagle eye into our finances, seeing how our spending has trended, up and down, and managing money flow. Mint.com has become an essential stop for keeping tabs on our home value, 401k status, bank and credit accounts to show us whether we broke even each month, or if we didn't, what the root causes were.
Planning ahead and our focus on the specifics led to our loan operators' excitement when they found we actually had already paid the 20% down on our new home, and I heavily leveraged Mint.com to balance the process, even as we had to close our purchase before the sale of our condo had closed. Doing it without Mint.com would have been a complete pain.
3) Google Reader
Even with the rise of real-time news, Google Reader's ability to catch all my RSS subscriptions in one place is unmatched. Though I have actively scaled back some of the busier or more redundant sites of late to get more time back, Reader is a cornerstone for my information consumption. It, of course, is also a major player in feeding my6sense. That I had encouraged comments and sharing of content from my Google Reader shares led to an easy transition to Google Buzz when it arrived earlier this year as well.
Thanks to early tech blogger access, I have enjoyed the mainlining of music Spotify has offered for the entirety of 2010, and I've been enjoying Spotify for about 16 months by this point, without the service making US support official. Spotify is practically a music nirvana, with all the best stuff just a search away, on my Mac, our iPads or any of my Android devices. The tie-in with Sonos doubles down on the brilliance as well, delivering all the world's music anywhere in my house. For anybody in love with Last.fm, Pandora, Napster, Rhapsody, Rdio or the rest, Spotify is like getting called up to the big leagues from the minors. Practically the only time I ever visit iTunes now is to download application updates for our iPads.
When I hear new albums from my favorite artists have debuted, I don't go to Amazon.com like I once did, or iTunes. I just go to Spotify, and it seems they are always there. The fact I can call up any song and choose any point in that song and never suffer buffering or sound quality issues is seemingly magic.
Twitter became even more useful in 2010 than in early years after I dramatically scaled back who I followed, set up customized lists, and gained the ability to sort the service's many updates by relevance, or show only those with links, in my6sense. Removing the link-free updates from Twitter practically put the service on the same pedestal as Google Reader RSS. On the desktop, I continue to use Tweetie for Mac, with its integrated multi-account support, tracking Paladin clients and my6sense, including keyword searches, @replies and any other discussions that could flare at any time.
To use Twitter in isolation from the rest of the Web would starve you of oxygen. But at this point, using the rest of the Web and avoiding Twitter could be similarly bad. News breaks on Twitter and your brand and products can win or lose 140 characters at a time.
I am gaga over OneTrueFan, not because of the gamesmanship, or even due to its top news feature just launched, but instead due to the potential for discovery from peers of mine to new sites and sources for news. OneTrueFan helps me find out where established folks who I respect are getting their news, or what services they find critical. OneTrueFan manages to be incredibly useful while also being fun. When on the desktop, I use OneTrueFan's browser bar to share articles to Twitter and Facebook, knowing I'll be rewarded for bringing new readers to the story, and to see just how effective my shares were - much like Bit.ly analytics for the entire Web.
This is the second go-round for this team, who spawned and sold MyBlogLog to Yahoo! years ago, who promptly put it through their "How to Botch an Acquisition 101" course. The band is back together and you should wait for some sweet sweet music as they build a horizontal social network that spans all the sites you visit.
7) Google Buzz
For a long-time FriendFeed devotee, the debut of Google Buzz earlier this year, delivering smart aggregation by a company promising to support it, was like manna from heaven. Pad on linking with Google Reader shares, and you could see serious potential. I wasn't as big a fan of it being locked down into a Gmail experience, but believed in its open standards pedigree and corporate promises for fast innovation. I also was one of the few who heard their caution about not taking Facebook and Twitter head-on, but looking to foster a community within Gmail.
Public bumps stalled the service's potential growth out of the gate, and while I enjoy the community a great deal there, and visit every day, it is not as big as it could be, never having launched a dedicated site, where I would spend much more time, and quietly working on its innovations, not making good news when it was available. Without having any detailed insight, I think it is safe to assume that Buzz and the Buzz experience will play a strong role in whatever Google's future social plans for 2011 will be.
Speaking of amazing services with public privacy bumps that didn't get the press eating out of their hand, Blippy has evolved to play a much bigger role in my online experience than I had first anticipated. Blippy in my mind is the next step after you've first told us you "like" something, and then "checked in" on Foursquare. Blippy shows you what you did when you got there, with your own money. The company is making a real product graph to help connect consumers and bring intelligent reviews to your purchase streams.
Blippy now has pulled in about $100 million in purchases through its site. That's a good chunk of consumer data. Aren't you intrigued by what brands would want to know about these folks? Don't you want to know how Blippy will leverage this gold mine? I do.
The companion piece to Redfin, Zillow helps provide value estimates for homes practically anywhere - even if they are not on the market, with trends showing if the prices are rising, falling or stable, with 1 year and 5 year histories being especially useful. As someone who just bought a home, I get a lot of fun out of keeping Zillow open on my phone as we walk the kids around the neighborhood to get an idea of the homes we are passing, and their history, or simply getting incremental updates to see if the value of our home has increased since we bought it five months ago. (It has)
Yes, Icerocket. Icerocket is the best blog search and Twitter search tool on the planet, period. That you're not using it every day means you haven't figured out why you should. I check IceRocket to watch for mentions of my activity and content in Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Video and Photo sites daily, as well as those for companies I interact with.
Missing the Buzz? Check out http://louisgray.icerocket.com/ to see what IceRocket has on me or http://my6sense.icerocket.com/ for my6sense, for example. Technorati has changed its focus. Google Blog Search seems neglected at best. IceRocket may not have the brand pizazz, but it's the best.
So who didn't I mention? Quora? Quora's cool, and maybe in 2011, it will play a bigger role, but it hasn't yet made a major impact for me in how I use the Web. Foursquare? That's a mobile experience for me. In June, I wrote up 50 startups worth watching, and that included many of these as well as others. So for a broader scope of companies I am seeing, that's not bad (from 6 months ago). Why isn't Facebook here and Twitter is? Good question. I do use Facebook a lot, but that's like telling the world I use e-mail. Duh. I didn't feel a need to tell you I use Blogger either. That's obvious. So where are you spending the most time, and am I crazy to put sites like Blippy, IceRocket and OneTrueFan so high?