2008: Web 2.0 Companies I Couldn't Live Without

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This will be the third annual post on “Web 2.0 Companies I Couldn’t Live Without.” The first post, for 2006, is here. The 2007 post, written a year ago, is here.

This is a list of the products I tend to use daily. Some are for work (WordPress, Delicious, Google Docs, etc.), some are for fun (Amazon Music, Amie Street, etc), and some are useful for both (Digg, Skype, YouTube, etc.). But I use most of them every day, or nearly every day, and I would not be as productive or happy without all of them.

The list changes a bit from year to year, and is also getting longer (see chart). Five products have been favorites all three years (Flickr, Netvibes, TechMeme, Skype, WordPress). Five more were favorites last year and this year, but not in 2006 (1-800-Free-411, Amie Street, Digg, Gmail, YouTube). Two were off the list last year but are back now (Delicious, Technorati). And there are seven new products on the list (Amazon MP3 Store, Facebook, Firefox, Google Reader, TripIt, Twitter, Zoho). Some of my picks might be surprising, like Firefox just being added to the list this year (I used Flock previously and was unhappy with Firefox on the Mac, but the 3.0 beta is performing very well). Some of these are close calls (I love Pageflakes, but just not enough to fully switch from Netvibes, for example). And there are a bunch of startups that didn’t make the list to keep it short. I’ve put a few “almosts” at the end to round out the list, as well as a couple of favorite gadgets.

Here’s the current list, in alphabetical order, of products I use every day and couldn’t live without:

800-Free-411

800-Free-411 was first added to the list last year. Use it to make free directory assistance calls and avoid per call charges of up to $3.50 that cell phone carriers charge. They have taken more than 6% of the market for directory service calls in the U.S. over the last two years. Google, Microsoft, AT&T and others have entered the market, but Jingle Networks, the company offering the product, has a patent on the idea of pairing advertising with free directory service. Here’s a tip: add “FREE411USA” as a Skype contact and do lookups that way, too.

Amazon MP3 Store

Amazon’s new music store is just about perfect. With the addition of Warner Music they’ve got 3 million DRM-free songs at prices lower than Apple’s iTunes store (which has only 2 million DRM-free songs). It’s not as cheap as AllOfMP3 was, but at least it’s guilt-free and legal. Plus, it will hopefully drive Apple to improve iTunes (offering no-DRM only search would be a good start).

Amie Street

I have been a huge fan of Amie Street since it launched in mid 2006. They sell songs from unknown artists at variable prices. Every song starts at free, and as more downloads occur the price rises, up to a cap of $.99. Amazon likes the model, too. They invested in Amie Street in August.

Delicious

Delicious was on my list in 2006, but last year I switched to Blue Dot for bookmarking and tagging web pages because it had a semi-private feature that allowed sharing just with friends. This year I’m back with Delicious. They finally got Firefox integration just right, and the new user interface, previewed in September, is a big improvement.

Digg

Digg. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. But it’s an important source of traffic for us, and a great place to find interesting stories. I added it to the list last year, and it stay’s for another year. Competitor Reddit is another favorite source of news, though, and newcomer Mixx is coming on strong too.

Facebook

Just over a year ago I joined Facebook, and it is now a part of my daily routine to check up on what friends are up to, test a couple of new Facebook applications, and just generally be a part of the community. A year ago they were a hot startup, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how much they were to grow (in size and mindshare) in 2007. They constantly push the boundaries – and no one can say they’re boring. Facebook is the only pure social network I actually use regularly.

Firefox

The Firefox browser is being added to my list for 2008. If it seems like I’m a little late to the party, realize that Firefox on a Mac was essentially unusable until Firefox 3 came out (still in beta). Until recently Flock was my Browser of choice. Now, it’s Firefox.

Flickr

Flickr has been on the list all three years. It’s still the place I put all of my photos online. Someday perhaps Facebook could become the repository for my pictures. But since all my photos are already at Flickr, inertia keeps me there. Hopefully someday the two services will talk to each other more effectively. There should just be one place in the cloud for photos, and all my social networks should access them there.

Gmail

At the end of 2006 I already thought Gmail was close to perfect. This year they added IMAP support, which was the final piece of the puzzle. I still don’t like the way Gmail groups email threads, and tagging could be improved. But it’s an excellent service and just barely edges out Yahoo Mail as my favorite mail application.

Google Reader

Two years ago I was using Bloglines to read feeds. Last year I switched to NetNewsWire. But Google Reader is just too good to ignore any longer. It’s quite simply the most elegant and useful feed reader available today. The product actually first launched in October 2005 but had serious flaws. But it got steadily better over time. Recent privacy hiccups aside, Google Reader is a beautiful web application and an amazing way to digest tons of information effectively.

Netvibes

Netvibes, Pageflakes, iGoogle and My Yahoo are all excellent ways to organize lots of important data sources into a single home page. I’ve been using Netvibes since 2005 and I’ve stuck with it out of inertia more than anything else. Any of these products are perfect for your home page. If you aren’t using one yet, try them out. My Yahoo doesn’t work with Firefox 3 for some reason, though. Hopefully they’ll fix that asap.

Skype

Skype Skype has been on my list for three years running, and I expect it will stay there for the near future. It’s the most important productivity tool that I have – I’d give up email before I gave up Skype. It would be very nice if they opened up the API and allowed other applications to use the back end Skype service for IM and calls without opening up the Skype client though. MySpace seems to be the first to crack the nut. Hopefully others will follow, or else Gizmo will someday take their spot.

Techmeme

TechMeme is another three-year favorite. It is the blogosphere’s daily newspaper, and one of the sites we use most often in seeing how stories develop. I probably generate more daily page views at TechMeme than any other website. It’s amazing that this is still a one man (Gabe Rivera), bootstrapped startup.

Technorati

Technorati was on my list in 2006, and off last year because, frankly, it was just too slow to be useful. But over the last year they’ve refocused and made improvements to the core service, and I’ve started using it again for basic blog search. It’s back on my list of top apps.

TripIt

If you travel a lot, you are going to love TripIt. It keeps you organized, it’s incredibly easy to use and it’s just a perfect, simple service. Read our post on TripIt to get an idea for how it works. You forward confirmation emails from flights, hotels, etc. to the service and it creates an itinerary automatically. You can then access it via a mobile device.

Twitter

I don’t know exactly how to describe Twitter. For people like me it’s a microblogging platform that allows me to push small bits of information – opinions, links, updates – to people who are interested. It’s become a part of my everyday life, and a great way to stay up to date on what friends are up to.

WordPress

It would be hard to underestimate how much WordPress makes my life easier. It is the blogging platform that runs all of the TechCrunch network sites, and has been on the list all three years. Their Akismet spam comment blocking service is a godsend – without it we would quite simply be overrun with spam. It catches 15,000 or more spam comments per day and auto-deletes them.

YouTube

YouTube was also on the list last year, and it’s grown exponentially since then. I use it for entertainment (nothing good on TV? There’s always something good on YouTube) and work (we post most of our videos there and embed them here on TechCrunch). Sure they sent us a Cease & Desist letter a while back, but I still love em.

Zoho

Zoho, particularly the spreadsheet application, has become an important productivity tool for us here at TechCrunch. We used it extensively to organize and discuss the hundreds of startups that applied to launch at TechCrunch40 last Fall. Whenever I open Office on my desktop to edit a spreadsheet, I feel the lack of collaborative features keenly. Frankly, Google Docs is just as useful, although Zoho was quicker to launch offline functionality, which gave them the edge on my list. Either product suite is a huge improvement on basic desktop office software.

Almost on the List

Even though I expanded the list this year from fifteen to nineteen companies, there are a bunch of products that could still be added. In the time wasting category there is Duels and KDice. Skreemr is a great music search engine. We also use Docstoc and Scribd all the time to embed documents into posts. I look up traffic stats for startups on Compete daily. And even though I dropped them from the list this year, I still listen to music on Pandora all the time. I have an idea that 23andMe will be on the list next year, after I’ve gotten back the initial DNA results. Finally, Seesmic would almost certainly be on the list, but I left them off because I’m an investor.

And I haven’t even brought up the gadgets that I use every day. The iPhone, the Philips MP3 alarm clock, my Jawbone bluetooth headset. Maybe next year I’ll break out a separate list for gadgets.

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