Have you ever tightened a screw in with a key? Or pried a nail out of wood with pliers? Or, perhaps, made a stand for a book or iPad out of a hanger? Chances are, at some time or another, most of us have improvised when we needed a tool but didn’t have one on hand. We’ve emailed files to ourselves before Dropbox, or use the to-do list in Gmail to save quick notes, or pasted text into the search box in a browser to keep it for a few seconds. Just like a monkey stacking boxes to grab a banana, we’re pretty ingenious at getting stuff done with whatever we’ve got at hand.
It’s always interesting to see how others put apps to use. Odds are, each of us use Gmail and Dropbox and other popular tools in slightly different ways. Here’s some of my favorite unique ways to use web apps in ways they weren’t originally designed for. If you’ve got another great way to use a web app in a unique way, we’d love to hear about it in the comments at the end!
YouTube | The World’s Favorite Way to Find Music
Spotify. Grooveshark. Pandora. There’s more music apps and online radio stations than you can think of.
And then there’s YouTube.
YouTube is for sharing videos, but it’s become one of the first places people check for a song. Check it out: chances are, any song you can think of, you’ll find in a YouTube video. Throw in YouTube playlists, and it’s your own customized MTV for as long as you care to watch. Better yet, open it in a background tab, and don’t worry about the bandwidth-hogging video while enjoying your favorite tunes (assuming you don’t have a bandwidth cap). It’s the last place you’d think would become the the de-facto site for finding music, but it is.
While many of the songs are unlicensed, many artists, such as the extremely talented Piano Guys team, are increasingly publishing their own music videos to YouTube. EMI, Sony Music, and Universal Music publish music videos via VEVO’s channels, while others have licensed their songs to YouTube for advertising sharing agreements. And if you’re looking for home performances of favorite songs, chances are you’ll find dozens of renditions of varying quality.
Now, I’m just waiting for web app for sharing 3D video. Maybe it’ll be the best place to view standard films.
WordPress | It’s for Way More Than Just Words
WordPress started out as a fork of b2, a popular blog engine, and was designed to make it easier to publish content on the web. It became so popular that it now powers 14.6% of the top million websites in the world, including the one you’re reading right now. Not bad.
But WordPress hasn’t been relegated to simply serving up blogs. Over time, it’s morphed into a full-fledged content management system, and is one of the simplest ways to start up a simple site or create an advanced infrastructure of blogs. What’s more, developers have taken custom post types and more, and created dozens of unique app themes that turn WordPress into fully new web apps.
SupportPress turns WordPress into a high quality support center, complete with user accounts, private messages, managed teams, and more. P2 turns WordPress into a Twitter-style communications site that can help your team collaborate on projects. Or, without a unique theme or plugin, you can turn WordPress into a private notebook, bookmarking site, or anything else you can imagine.
Google | It’s a Calculator, Too
You know the saying “The best camera is the one you have with you“? Same goes for calculators. When you need to solve a simple (or even complex) math problem, find the number of kilometers in a mile, or figure out how much something costs in a different currency, Google is often the best calculator if you’re already staring at a browser. It’s quick, works with fairly natural syntax, and has up-to-date currency exchange rates. It’s not going to do your homework for you (there’s WolframAlpha for that), but it might keep you from spending too much or getting the wrong size when you’re dealing with different currencies and units than you’re used to.
Google Docs Spreadsheets | Infinitely Versatile
Spreadsheets were the original killer app on PCs, and they’re still rather powerful tools. They’ve earned a bad name for being boring and confusing, but a well organized spreadsheet can still be the best way to organize almost any type of data when there’s not enough to warrant a full-fledged database. Here at Web.AppStorm, we even keep up with our article schedule in a Google Spreadsheet.
You might usually think of a spreadsheet as only being for number crunching, but they can be great for keeping up with all kinds of lists. They work great with dates, can be sorted easily, and you can still tally totals and averages from any number columns you include. And, in Google Docs, anyone on the team can edit and view the file anytime, and we’ve even asked each other a question in a spreadsheet cell before to do a quick on-the-spot brainstorm. Works great.
Simplenote | An Unlikely Collaboration and Productivity Tool
You can’t get much simpler than Simplenote. It’s the most simple notes app out there: just plain text notes with tags, synced. But its proved again the power of plain text, and there are dozens of unique ways you can put a synced plain text note to use. I often keep code snippets and random quotes in Simplenote so I can easily find them anytime. Then, I started keeping up with my own most urgent tasks in a plain text to-do list that’s quick to edit anytime, anywhere, right in Simplenote.
Turning that into a team collaboration suite took only one more step: adding coworkers’ emails as tags to the top. Now, I can share my tasks, complete with my thoughts on them and other info, directly with my whole team right in Simplenote. Sure, there’s better productivity tools, but this takes so little time and works great for me.
Dropbox – The World’s Most Versatile App
Synced text notes are great, but with synced files, the possibilities are truly endless. Dropbox made it simple to sync files to the cloud, and their great web interface made it easy to get them anywhere. Developers have since taken Dropbox’ API and built it into dozens of the most popular apps, and have even started creating all new apps based on Dropbox.
Need to receive files from others? AirDropper built a tool on top of Dropbox that lets you receive files online straight into your Dropbox. Starting a new website? DropPages made a whole new CMS on top of Dropbox. Looking for a way to use Dropbox from other apps that don’t automatically support it? DropDav added webDAV support to Dropbox so you can use it in any webDAV client.
Not to mention, there are dozens of apps you can save to your Dropbox and use them on any computer. Or, some apps like 1Password let you save your data to Dropbox and view it directly from the web app. There’s so many ways to put it to use, chances are, we’ll still be finding new uses for it years from now.
So, if you think an app is limited, think again. Chances are, that single purpose app has way more uses than you’ve ever imagined. People were still productive on computers back in the days of DOS, and we often forget how powerful a plain text editor can be. App are what we make out of them. When you need to accomplish something, the best tool might not always be the best for you, since the very best tool is the one you’ve got right there.
We’re sure you’ve listened to music on YouTube, and have likely used Dropbox for dozens of other interesting things beyond syncing files. But what other unique uses do you have for your favorite apps? We’d love to hear more ideas for how to take popular web apps way beyond their standard uses.
Though we still wouldn’t recommend using Google Docs to schedule your next moon landing.