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Time is our most important commodity. None of us are getting any younger, and every passing day it seems like there’s more and more things we’ve got to do. No worries, though: with smartphones and web apps with reminders, surely we won’t forget any of those important days that seem to sneak up on us, right?

Not so quick. It’s easier than ever to remember perfect strangers’ birthdays thanks to Facebook, but it seems like we’re as likely as ever to forget our Mother’s birthday or that meeting at 2PM this afternoon. Why? Because we’ve learned to rely on our digital calendars. If you forget to add something to the calendar, chances are you’ll forget it.

That’s where iCalendar files are supposed to come in. They give you a way to subscribe to public or shared calendars so holidays, meetings, and even perhaps family birthdays will be automatically added to your calendar. They work with Apple’s iCal app, but also with most other calendars including Google Calendars and other popular calendar web apps.

It used to seem like you’d see holiday and event calendars on tons of sites across the ‘net. Today, though, it seems like it’s less common to see iCal files with up-to-date events and holidays. That got us curious: do you use iCal files? Or do you just manually add your own events? Perhaps iCal files, like RSS and other more geeky file formats, are too much trouble to hunt down. Could you survive without shared iCalendars? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Back in the day, you had to have a native email app to send and receive emails. Most of us kept growing offline archives of our emails, and if you ever lost a backup or hard drive, chances are you’d lose all of your emails for good. Syncing was mostly unheard of, and POP3 was state-of-the-art.

When Gmail first came out, its offer of 1Gb of online storage seemed too good to be true. Suddenly, you wouldn’t have to store all of your emails offline to keep from losing them. Plus, with its efficient interface, you could actually be productive in an email web app.

Mobile devices have brought us back to the start. Sure, you can use Gmail or your favorite email service in your mobile browser, but with spotty and slow cell connections, it usually works better to use a native email app. With Exchange ActiveSync and IMAP, you can keep all of your messages synced, so it really doesn’t matter how you access your mail.

That’s why we’re curious how you usually access your account. I personally use a mix of in iOS and OS X, and in Chrome. I appreciate the convenience of being able to get the same mail in any app, but if I had to choose just one, I’d stick with Gmail over any one particular app. How about you? Is your email a cloud-powered native app, or do you email with a web app directly?

It’s that time of year again. Facebook dumped a bunch of changes on us unsuspecting users, then proceded to pre-announce even greater changes coming soon. Facebook has changed so much over the years, it’s almost hard to recognize the original site as the same service.

It seems lately that most major web apps have been bitten by the update fever bug. Gmail and the whole slew of Google Apps have recently gotten a massive redesign, Twitter looks more like a full app by the day, and even Microsoft keeps tweaking its aging internet properties. But Facebook is the one app that keeps firing on all cylinders, and it seems that you can hardly keep up with all the changes they throw at us.

It’s not all bad. I personally like the new style chat, and the live updates can be rather interesting. So what do you think? Are you excited to see more changes in the world’s most popular social network, or would you rather them leave it the same? Have you still not gotten used to the last changes by the time they updated it?

Then, of course, there is this:

It often seems that there’s a major divide of opinion over what makes an app look nice, what makes it look too plain or basic, and what’s over the top. The ’90’s and traditionally slow internet connections have conditioned us to automatically assume graphical apps will be slow and frustrating to use online. However, with broadband today, we’re seeing more and more advanced apps like Flow, LucidChart, and the new iCloud Web Apps that look as nice or even nicer than standard desktop apps.

On the other end of the spectrum, many web apps cling to a simpler, typography centric design. Google’s apps have so far stayed on the simple side, and even though Google+ threw more color and animations into the mix, the latest Google theme across apps has been for a more simplistic, text-centric look. Pinboard is my personal favorite bookmarking service, but when I was looking over my original review of it, I noticed that several people commented that the app looked old or outdated.

Then, there’s Flash powered websites. These monsters are slow to load even on modern broadband connections, and your computer’s fans are sure to kick in as it starts playing back the “site”. Most of us don’t want to be bombarded with sound, videos, and moving images when we just want to find a realtor’s phone number. Sites like this, if anything, make you want to run to the safety of Google and Pinboard’s text only designs.

So where do you stand? Are you excited to see more rich, native-styled web apps, or would you rather see text-centric designs stay popular? Should web apps look like they belong on the desktop, or should they stay different in their basic design?

About a month ago, the very first superstore came to my small town of Tak, Thailand. Everyone was excited to have the extra shopping destinations, restaurants, ice cream and donut shops, and even an Apple Store of all incredible things. But the thing that struck me most about our new superstore was how many signs and advertisements there have social networking links.

Sure, it’s been easy to see the change Facebook has brought to communications here. Only a few years ago, internet shops were filled with children chatting on MSN and checking Hotmail email. Today, every computer is filled with kids checking Facebook, and you’re more likely to be asked your Facebook name than your phone number.

I’ve logged out of social networking for the past week for some personal reasons, and it’s been an interesting break. While I’ve missed communicating with friends, I’ve also found that I’ve been less bombarded with random stuff I didn’t want to hear about. We get so used to fanning every business and interest we have, that it’s easy for social networking to become overwhelming. I’m looking forward to using it again, but almost think I’d be better served by a Facebook with only a couple dozen of my closest friends and family.

Have you ever tried taking a break from social networking? Did you find it beneficial, and did you change your networking habits as a result? I’d love to see if anyone else, for personal reasons or just for the sake of the experiment, has ever tried taking a fast from social networking, and what your thoughts on it were.

Back in the day, we were doing good to share text on the internet. Early chat and email strained networks, and even sharing a full eBook seemed like an audacious plan back when Project Gutenberg was first founded. Fast forward to today, however, most of us share pictures and videos online all the time. In fact, we get frustrated if it takes too long to upload our 14 megapixel images in RAW format.

In fact, we’ve got a selection of ways to share video. You can upload videos to the venerable YouTube, which has so many videos right now you can find almost any video (or music) you want on it. Or, you could choose the more artsy Vimeo, which has become my personal choice for sharing videos or finding an inspiring, creative work. Another great option, if your video is very short, is to just drag and drop it to your icon, and upload it directly with one click. It’s not as social, but sure gets the job done quicker than YouTube.

Truth is, though, you’re likely to want to share videos where the people you care about will actually see them. That’s why Facebook Videos have gotten more popular since they were added to Facebook. You can just upload a video right inside your social network, and all of your friends (or frenemies) will automatically see it without you having to share anything else.

So, what’s your favorite way to upload and share videos? What’s the main thing you’d look for in a video sharing site?

Formatted text. It’s either the best thing to ever happen to the world of computing, or the worst, depending on who you ask. Plain text is the simplest; you can read it on any computer or app, and it looks the exact same. Throw in some markup, whether something simple like Markdown or more complex like HTML or XML, and it’s a bit harder to write and a lot harder to read, but still, very useful if you’re any bit techie.

Rich text is somewhat of a mess, though. As we all know, one of the biggest problems with switching to web apps for Office files is that Microsoft Office formatting doesn’t always carry over correctly. Even basic rich formatting in comment boxes and simpler apps like Evernote often doesn’t copy/paste between apps very nicely.

I’m a plain text fan myself, and that’s one of the big reasons I’ve switched to Simplenote for all of my notes needs. Whenever I need a bit more formatting, I’ll throw in Markdown formatting, convert it HTML for publishing online, and I’m ready to go. I find it very nice to have all of my notes in an accessible format that works everywhere, and can be useful even if Simplenote disappeared tomorrow.

So, we’d like to know: what’s your favorite way to write text? Do you prefer to just write in plain text, or do you want to add a bit of extra style with Markdown or Textile? Or would you rather have a full featured rich text editor? Why? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

When the iPad came out, many people worried that it would only be used for consuming content, and if people shifted to using tablets as their only computers, the internet would turn into little more than a glorified TV. Turns out, iPads are great for reading and watching videos, but they’re also great for formatting documents, creating short videos, writing notes and outlines, and even drumming out a new beat in Garage Band.

Web apps aren’t much different. For many people, using the internet is playing by default. In Thai, for example, the very word for using the internet, “เล่นเน็ต”, literally means “playing on the internet”. But as we all know, with Google Docs, WordPress, Lucidchart, the Aviary Apps, millions of project managers, and more, the internet can be a very productive place. Most of my work day is spent in a browser, writing or editing in WordPress, corresponding with readers and developers in Gmail, or helping out people with support tickets in Assistly. I’ve even done most of my college work directly in a browser, and when it’s time to quit for the day, chances are I’ll be chatting with friends in Facebook or reading in Instapaper. Of all that, only a little is consuming content, and for the most part, the internet is a productive place to create for me.

How about you? Is the browser your most productive tool, or is it primarily a place to goof off and relax for a bit? Do you ever have trouble with people thinking you’re playing if you tell them you work online?

crayola paint brush pen” image via monocat on Flickr

Social Networks. Like them (pun not intended) or hate them, they’ve changed the way we communicate. Email’s the underpinning of online communications, and IRC is perhaps the pinnacle of geeky online communications. Social network is everything in the middle, from the business-trying-to-be-cool network LinkedIn to text message style Twitter to everything-in-one Facebook. And then Google had to complicate things by coming out with yet. another. social. network.

It’s a mess out there, and thanks to the fact that everyone doesn’t use the same social network, you’re almost required to use all of them. But you’re not required to use them all the time. So the question is, which network keeps you coming back?

I’m personally a Twitter fan, and love the way it lets you interact with anyone. Plus, it’s the simplest social network. I use it mainly to keep up with tech colleagues and share tech-related stuff. But even though I don’t care for Facebook’s interface and find it’s mirage of settings irritating, I love how it lets me keep in touch with friends around the globe. In fact, Facebook Chat has become the main way I talk with friends in other cities. It’s my personal network, and I share things my closer friends and family would enjoy. However, I really couldn’t find a place for Google+ to fit in, and check it only rarely now.

How about you? What network do you check by default when you’re bored, and where’s the first place you share stuff you find online?

This morning (or last night, depending on where you live), Amazon had severe network issues with their EC2 service, taking a good portion of popular web apps offline. I discovered something was wrong when I tried to upload a screenshot with Cloud App, and found that the service was down. A quick check on Twitter, which incidentally wasn’t down, showed that people were complaining that Reddit, Geckoboard, Instagram, Quora, and more were offline thanks to Amazon EC2’s outage. Then, on the other side of the globe in the US of A, I discovered my Facebook friends were complaining that Netflix was offline, robbing them of their evening entertainment.

While the whole population of the internet seemed in an uproar over EC2, I was personally more frustrated over my home internet going out last night, just as I was uploading the images needed to finish off an article. Internet access has become almost more crucial than electricity now; after all, if the power goes out, you can still work from your laptop or tablet with a cell internet connection. In fact, without internet access, I wouldn’t even have the jobs I have right now!

So what do you do when the internet or your favorite web service goes offline? Do you rely on the web enough for your work that it makes you lose billable hours, or can you keep working offline? Or is the internet being off in the evening when you’re ready to relax more of a problem? We’d love to see what you think!

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