Remember waiting to get a Gmail invite, or thinking carefully about what Twitter handle you wanted? These days, it seems like most of us manage too many different accounts to keep track of. I personally have nearly a dozen active email accounts, from my college and work emails to a personal Google Apps account and a standard Gmail account I mostly use for Google+. Depending on the day, I manage 3 or more Twitter accounts, 2 Facebook fan pages, and a half dozen various WordPress accounts on different sites.
I’m not the only one facing this problem. Even with one job and your personal life, you can easily have multiple accounts. Start doing work for a number of clients, and the accounts you manage can skyrocket quickly.
Some of these aren’t so hard to manage. For example, all of my WordPress accounts are on different domains, so they’re all unique accounts that can be logged in at once. Others, such as Gmail and Twitter accounts, can be much more tricky. Here’s some of the best ways to keep track all of your accounts without spending half of your day logging in and out of various services.
Use Multiple Account Sign-In When Possible
The best new trend for major web apps has proved a real productivity boon to those of us with dozens of accounts: multiple account sign-in. In all Google apps now, you can click your email address in the top right corner, then select to sign into another account. Once you’ve done that, your email link in the top left turns into a menu, and you can quickly switch between accounts, or keep multiple accounts signed in on different tabs at the same time. Using Google Docs from your business account and your personal Gmail at the same time has never been easier. You can’t always forward sensitive or personal email to your other account, and this finally makes dealing with multiple Gmail accounts bearable.
Gmail isn’t the only app with this, either. WordPress.com and Tumblr let you have multiple blogs on the same account, though it’s not always possible to migrate blogs you’ve already created to the same account. But, if you’re creating new accounts going forward, make sure to add them to your existing account to save a ton of headaches with logins down the road. 37signals has also done a great job at multiple account sign-in with their Launchpad. If you’ve got a number of Basecamp, Campfire, or other 37signals apps accounts, make sure to sign in at 37s.me to get a simple way to switch between your apps across accounts. For freelancers working with dozens of teams, this is a real help.
Put Incognito Mode to Use
One of the oddest things that became a must-have feature in browsers over the past couple years is private or incognito mode. Sure it’s useful if you need to hide your tracks when you’re buying a gift or…, well, let’s just say that it seems like an odd feature to promote. At any rate, I for one use it all the time. Not to hide where I’m browsing, but actually to login to other accounts of web apps I’ve already got open in a tab in my browser.
In Chrome, Incognito mode opens a new window, whereas in Firefox and Safari it opens a new browser session which isn’t nearly as useful. Either which way, though, the new private session doesn’t carry over any of your normal browser cookies or sessions, so it’s like browsing on a brand new browser. You can login to any different accounts you’ve got, while staying logged in to your normal accounts in your original browser window.
Quick Tip: Another option would be to use two browsers. Firefox collecting dust in your Applications folder? Give it new use as a second browser for your extra accounts.
Here’s how it works. Say I’ve got Twitter.com logged into my personal @maguay account, and I need to reply to a tweet on our @webappstorm account. Twitter doesn’t let you login to multiple accounts at once, so it’s Incognito mode to the rescue. I’ll open a new private window, login to the @webappstorm account in a couple clicks, and get what I need to do, done. Back in my main Chrome window, I’m still signed into my personal account. Perfect.
Another quick tip: This is also a great way to let others use the internet on your computer without logging out of everything. Open a new private browser window, switch to full-screen mode with F11, and you’re ready to share and still get back to your web apps quickly.
Consolidate Accounts With Apps
Most social networks don’t let you sign into multiple accounts at once, and while Gmail finally added multiple account signup, it can still be annoying to constantly switch between apps. One way around this is to add yet another app to your computing life. That may sound unintuitive, but it’s often the best way to get around shuffling awkward setups of feeling with multiple apps.
Depending on what you need, you may be able to use either native apps or web apps to combine everything. You can add multiple POP3-based email accounts to your Gmail account, and can even send emails directly from your other email addresses. It’s just another reminder that Gmail.com is actually just a web app that happens to be integrated with your Google Mail account. Then, Seesmic Web and many other social networking web apps (other than the networks’ own apps) let you have multiple Twitter, Facebook, and other accounts all combined in one browser tab. Or, if it’d work better for you, you could always use desktop email and social networking programs to consolidate, getting the best of native features and web apps’ connectivity.
Use a Password Manager
No matter how many accounts you manage, using a password manager can be one of the most helpful investments you can make in your computing workflow. There’s a number of great options: LastPass, KeyPass, RoboForm, and my personal favorite, 1Password. All of these are cross-platform and work on major smartphone OSes as well, and essentially do the same job with varying levels of simplicity and features. They all offer free versions or free trials, so if you’re not currently using one, feel free to try them out and find the one that fits your workflow best.
Then, learn to rely on it. Make your main password for the password manager strong yet rememberable, then don’t worry about remembering any other passwords. Start using the password generator in your password manager to make the most secure passwords you can, and don’t worry about remembering them since the password manager is doing all the hard work. If you’re relying on Chrome’s Incognito mode to get into some accounts, then make sure to jump into your extension settings and let your password manager run in Incognito mode.
Finally, set it up on all of your computing devices: computer, tablet, smartphone, or anything else. You’ll never have to worry about losing that important account password again. Even if your at another computer, you can login to LastPass from any browser, or check your 1Password file from your Dropbox account anywhere. This takes away most of the frustration of managing multiple accounts, and frees you to think about more important things.
So, while there’s no groundbreaking strategy that makes keeping up with multiple accounts simpler, these tricks are what helps me keep my sanity while managing so many accounts. Google’s multiple account sign-in and 37signals’ Launchpad have made life so much easier, and I hope Twitter adds a similar option in the near future. For now, though, there’s more options to manage multiple accounts than ever before. There’s still no perfect solution, but over time, it’s getting there.
Do you have any other suggestions for ways to keep up with multiple web app accounts? If so, let us know!