20 best web apps you've never heard of
29th Jul 2010 | 09:32
We've trawled the web to uncover these hidden gems
20 brilliant web apps you've never heard of
Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr - a few giants so dominate the web app world that it's hard for anyone else to make an impression.
We've spent some time looking beyond the leading sites, though, and discovered a host of interesting tech startups.
Some take existing web app ideas and add a new spin of their own. Others are more innovative, using fresh concepts to deliver powerful new ways of using the web. But they're all worthy of your attention - and here are 20 of the best.
Big business has long understood the value of powerful and efficient collaboration tools - and now TeamLab is making them available to everyone. Project management with tasks and milestones; instant messaging via a built-in web client; blogs, forums, news, polls, photo albums, a wiki and more, are all yours for free.
The service is perfect for small businesses, clubs, or any group of people who need to work together online. And the platform is open source, too, so you can alternatively host TeamLab yourself or extend it in any way that suits your needs.
Roc is a free online music creator that's entirely browser-based, point and click - no musical ability required. It looks like most other loop creators, in that you choose from a decent selection of instruments (there are 10 drum types alone), assign them to tracks and then click to create notes.
Editing options are unsurprisingly on the basic side, but Roc is a lot of fun to use, offers plenty of scope for creativity and lets you save the results as an MP3 file when you're done. (The instruments are all Creative Commons-licenced, too, so whatever you create can be used in any way you like, no royalty restrictions to worry about.)
Time. There's really never quite enough, is there? But maybe BuzzVoice can help. This clever app grabs news from your choice of more than 1,600 top blogs and news sources, and converts them into audio files in real time. You can then stream the audio directly to your PC, listen to it on the go via the BuzzVoice iPhone or iPod touch app, or save it to your MP3 player for playback any time.
The free version of buzzVoice has ads and some limitations - you're allowed a maximum of 10 web sources in your personal playlist, for instance - but it worked for us. And if you need more, then the commercial BuzzVoice Pro can be yours for $3.99 monthly.
Music, videos, pictures, work documents - your PC is packed with important files. And now, with HomePipe, you can access them from anywhere. Securely share the folders you need, then access your content via an iPhone or iPod Touch, Android mobiles or other PCs. The system is currently a little basic, but it's easy to set up, and allows you to, say, stream all the music on your PC to your phone.
Resnooze is a well-designed reminder application that makes it easy to be prompted for recurring tasks (daily, weekly, monthly and so on). Just enter a line of text about whatever it is you need to do, choose the task frequency, optionally share the alert on Facebook, and that's it: you'll now be sent regular reminders by email, so you'll be able to access them from anywhere.
Organising a group of people to work on a project can be complex, difficult, time-consuming - or you can just use Scrumy. There's no registration involved, just enter a project name and you're off.
Next, enter some "stories", high-level goals that you'd like to achieve. Then create a few to-do lists that will help you get there, and assign individual tasks to your friends and colleagues. They can then log on to see what's required, change the status of various tasks - set the first to "In Progress", say - and keep an eye on what's going on.
Scrumy is basic, but also simple to use and very effective. You have to be careful about what you put on your page, though - it's public and can be viewed by anyone who enters your URL. If that's a problem, check out Scrumy Pro, which adds password protection and a number of other useful extras for $7 a month.
7. Good Noows
Good Noows is a stylish feed reader that collects the news from your choice of topics and sources, then assembles it into an eye-catching newspaper-type layout. The app is particularly strong on visual styles - every topic can have its own look, if you like. And if you spot a story of particular interest then you can share it on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and more in a couple of clicks.
If your website is complex, then it's important to give your visitors the guidance they'll need - and Touration makes this very simple. The site allows you to build guided tours for your site, with multiple callouts explaining everything the viewer needs to know. This is all done within a simple WYSIWYG editor, so no need to write code or worry about scripting issues.
You will have to embed a simple script into your web page to make this work, but the Touration site has plenty of guidance on how to do this so it shouldn't get in your way.
When you need to send a huge file to a friend then there are plenty of services that will host it for you. But what if it's something confidential, private, a file that you'd really rather not leave on some distant server? Then iSendr could be a better choice.
Point the program at the file on your PC, give your friend the private link, and they'll be able to download it - but directly from your system. The connection is encrypted and the link can even be password-protected for additional security.
10. Online Converter
There are plenty of sites around that perform some useful file conversion, such as transforming HTML code into a PDF document. Online Converter goes a little further, though, by providing tools to transform audio, video and image files, documents and eBooks from one format into another.
There's excellent format support, so for instance the site can handle 11 image file types, and 9 eBook variants. And the Video module is able to output movies targeted at particular devices, including the iPhone, iPod, Nintendo DS, PS3, PSP, Wii, and XBOX360.
10 more essential web apps
Regular text-based bookmarks are compact, but don't tell you very much. Which is why, if you scroll through your collection, there are probably many bookmarks where you've absolutely no idea what they represent.
Wozaik takes a different approach, allowing you to crop content from your favourite websites, and save them on the same page. Your grabs then become dynamic bookmarks, and work just as they did on the original site: links are clickable, video and audio can be played, and when the site is updated then your view of the content will change accordingly.
More than just another to-do app, 101in365 aims to inspire and get your life moving by persuading you to list 101 things that you plan to do in the next 365 days. Your first challenge comes in thinking of 101 goals, but as the site points out, these don't have to be huge: "learn how to boil an egg" is just fine, as is anything else that will personally make a difference to you.
Once you've created the list, lock it, and go to work, marking items as in progress or completed as the year goes by. You can optionally make your list public, too, so friends and family can check on your progress and make sure you're on schedule.
MugTug offers an attractive suite of tools to help you work with graphics online.
Darkroom is an easy-to-use image processor for tweaking an image's brightness, contrast, exposure, contrast and saturation, as well as applying a few special effects.
Sketchpad is an interesting paint and drawing tool, with all the usual options, and some surprising extras: a spirograph drawing tool, customisable gradient and pattern options, a range of swatches, and more.
And once you join the site's online community then you're able to share your creations (and any of your other favourite photos) and view those of other members, add a comment to anything that catches your attention, and share ideas on how to improve your work.
Tweetaboogle is an interesting mashup of Google and Twitter in a Facebook-like interface. Just carry out a regular web, news, video or image search, and the Google results are given context by any related tweets that the site has uncovered.
You could then click your preferred Google link; maybe you'll be inspired by the tweets to carry out another search; or you might even add a tweet of your own (anonymously, if you like) - it's your call.
You don't have to go trawling multiple websites to discover which videos are grabbing the world's attention right now - ZOCIAL.tv displays the top trending videos on Twitter and Facebook on one, simple page. Just choose your preferred category, hover your mouse cursor over a thumbnail to see the video title, and click to view it: easy.
If the main online mapping apps don't deliver the results you need, then DearMap may be able to help. This handy web service takes a base Google Maps view of your location, then allows you to customise it with lines, shapes, captions, icons and descriptions.
A URL allows you to share the results directly with anyone who might be interested, or you can use an embed code to add the map to your website or blog. Either way, any visitors can then post comments, and if you've produced something really special then they're even able to share the map on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and other social media sites.
You bookmarked a great article a couple of months ago, and now you need to find it again - but which one was it? If you're not the type who bothers with tags or descriptions then it may take some time to find out. But that's where Historio.us comes in.
This lightweight and simple tool bookmarks a page using its bookmarklet (no bulky extensions here), and then allows full text searching of your bookmark collection, any time you like.
Envolve provides a very simple way to add Facebook-style chat to your website or blog. Just copy and paste a couple of lines of code and your site will gain a chat room at the bottom of the screen (collapsible, so it'll take the minimum amount of space). And not just any chat room, either. You're able to have multiple tabs for separate conversations; chats that stay with you as you move from page to page; even real-time translation for chats with visitors from around the world. And each chat gets its own short URL, so memorable conversations can easily be reviewed or shared with others.
Calling Publisha a blogging service really doesn't do it justice. Sure, there's a simple WYSIWYG editor that you can use to create articles, but the idea is that you'll these to create "issues", custom digital magazines.
You can publish these at publisha.com, on your own domain, via iPhone and iPad apps, or view them on the Kindle and other e-readers; a Facebook app adds a searchable archive of articles to your Facebook page; and if your content is really good then you can even make money from your work with the built-in ad platform.
While there's plenty of great videos on YouTube, separating them from the dross can take a little work, so if you prefer an easy life then ShortForm.tv may appeal. This new site scans an array of online video sources, identifying the latest viral hits on your behalf. And all you have to do is visit ShortForm.tv, choose a channel - "Facebook Hits", "HaHa Funny", "Animated Shorts" and so on - then sit back and watch a continuous stream of video content - no more manual searching required.
If that sounds a little too passive then there are ways to get more involved, though. You can skip a clip you don't link, or give it a thumbs down if it doesn't appeal; share clips via Facebook or Twitter; even create your own custom channel with all your favourite clips.
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