2009: Products I Can't Live Without

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At the beginning of each year I traditionally publish a list of my favorite startups and products. This is the fourth year I’ve done this – previous lists: 2006, 2007, 2008. You guys get to pick the winners of the Crunchies – this list is all mine.

This is a list of the products I tend to use daily. Some are for work (WordPress, Delicious, Zoho, etc.), some are for fun (MySpace Music, Hulu, 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). Just three products have been favorites all four years: TechMeme, Skype, WordPress. TechMeme continues to be the news aggregator I check multiple times per day to keep up on tech news. Skype is the instant messaging and VoIP platform that I use most often, and WordPress software powers all of our blogs.

I’ve added nine new products, including one gadget (which I’ve left off in the past): Animoto, Friendfeed, Hulu, iPhone 3G, MySpace Music, Pandora (which was on in previous years) Docstoc/Scribd and Yammer.

I’ve removed six products from last year’s list: Amazon Music, Amie Street, Firefox, Flickr, Netvibes, Technorati.

I still use the products I’ve removed, just not as much as in previous years. I find I’m just using Netvibes and Technorati less this year (Netvibes because Google Reader is so excellent, Technorati has fallen in favor of Google Blog Search mostly because it’s too slow and has too many internal links). I tend to upload photos to Facebook now because of the people tagging feature and since it flows well with the rest of my news feed (I use Posterous for mobile uploads); Flickr is becoming less important for me. I have moved most of my music consumption to MySpace Music, and download DRM-free MP3s from iTunes when I want to buy. Amie Street is still a great place to discover new music though, and I think their business model, which is variable pricing for music based on its popularity, is sound. Firefox is off the list as I experiment with Chrome, but I haven’t made a decision one way or the other. When Chrome launches for the Mac, I’m likely to switch.

As in past years, there are a gaggle of other great products that I use regularly but didn’t add to the list in order to keep it manageable. I also haven’t added individual iPhone apps that I use daily, even though they are nearly as important to productivity and fun as the products that did make the list. Next year I expect more than a few will be added.

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 first made the list in 2007 and it isn’t leaving any time soon. Use it to make free directory assistance calls and avoid per call charges of up to $3.50 that cell phone carriers charge. The company has taken more than 6% of the market for directory service calls in the U.S. 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.

Animoto

Animoto, which joins the list for the first time this year, does one thing, and well: it creates slide shows from photos. Unlike all the other services on the list, I don’t use it daily. But their new iPhone application put it over the edge this year. I really like this service.

Delicious

Social bookmarking site Delicious has been on the list for three of the four years (I took a brief detour in 2007 to a competing service called Blue Dot, then switched back). Delicious 2.0 is finally stable and the Firefox add-on is the reason I keep using it. Also, they long ago switched away from the annoying del.icio.us domain name, so I don’t have to look up where the dots go every time I visit the site.

Digg

Digg has been on the list the last three years. The site remains a fun place to hang out when I have some spare time to review the news, and Digg is one of our top ten sources of traffic. Hacker News is another Digg-like news site that focuses on tech that I visit daily as well.

Facebook

I visit Facebook daily to keep up with what my 5,000 closest friends are up to. I’m not a big fan of most of the applications that have launched on Facebook, but I do use it for photos and events. Unlike last year, though, I also now use MySpace as well regularly to reach people. These are the two social networks you have to be on to keep in touch with everyone.

Friendfeed

Friendfeed, a microblogging and activity aggregating service, only officially launched in February 2008. I use the service daily, although I’m not nearly as addicted as some bloggers are to the service. But like Twitter, Friendfeed is a good place to find breaking news on a variety of topics, and it’s become a must have service.

Gmail

I’ve never been a fan of the way Gmail groups message threads, and things like tagging of messages could be improved, but the service is far and away superior to any other web mail service in terms of features (Yahoo Mail has the best user interface in my opinion). I continue to rely on Gmail as my main personal email provider. Once Gears is integrated for offline use, I may stop accessing it via IMAP.

Google Reader

Three years ago I was using Bloglines to read feeds. Then I tried NetNewsWire for a while. But Google Reader, which first launched in October 2005 as a seriously flawed product, continues to evolve and is by far the best feed reader on the market today.

Hulu

Hulu isn’t about work, it’s about watching TV and films after the work is done. I openly mocked the service for nearly a year as they fumbled around, but now here it is, on a list of sites I visit constantly. I spend more time watching Hulu than I do normal cable television.

iPhone 3G

The first gadget I’ve included over the years – the iPhone 3G, which was announced on June 9, 2008, is simply the best device I’ve ever used. Sure, it doesn’t have a physical keyboard. But I can actually browse the web with this thing, and that more than makes up for a slower typing speed. This is a beautiful thing.

MySpace Music

MySpace Music is just a couple of months old and is still very buggy, but it changed the way users think about music on a big scale. MySpace combined its millions of band/artist pages with legal and free streaming music from the labels and creating a very compelling music product. Services like LaLa have a better user experience, but they still charge for streaming. Free is the future of music.

Pandora

Pandora, an Internet radio service that creates stations based on music you like, was on the list the first two years. I still listen to it all the time, and their new iPhone application put it over the top again to get on this year’s list. Pandora was one of the first startups we covered on TechCrunch, and they recently passed 20 million registered users.

Scribd & Docstoc

We use both Docstoc and Scribd here at TechCrunch regularly. Both services let you upload office type documents (PDFs, Word docs, Powerpoint presentations, etc.) and then embed them on other sites. When there’s a lawsuit complaint or interesting PDF, we add it to one of the services and embed it in our post.

Skype

Skype Skype has been on my list every year and I expect it will stay there. It’s the most important productivity tool that I have – I’d give up email before I gave up Skype.

TechMeme

TechMeme is another four-year favorite. It is the blogosphere’s daily newspaper, and one of the sites we use most often in seeing how stories develop. I’m amazed that founder Gabe Rivera hasn’t accepted any of the many buyout offers I’ve heard he’s been floated. In December 2008 TechMeme gave up on fully automated news, which I believe changes the site for the worse.

TripIt

If you travel a lot, you are going to love TripIt, which returns to the list this year. 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

Last year a lot of people still hadn’t heard about microblogging service Twitter. Now, Britney is on it and the company is turning down half-billion dollar buyout offers. I mostly access Twitter through a desktop client called Twhirl, and I check it multiple times per day.

WordPress

We continue to use WordPress open source software to power all of our blogs, and it has been on the list all four 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.

Yammer

Yammer, a spin off of a startup called Geni, is a newcomer this year. They launched at TechCrunch50 in the Fall and took the top prize. The service acts as a Twitter for businesses, letting employees send messages back and forth to subscribers. It’s way more effective than email at group communications, and we absolutely rely on it here at TechCrunch.

YouTube

YouTube has been on the list the last three years. I continue to burn time watching random videos on the site, and we use it to upload our own videos as well. Sure they sent us a Cease & Desist letter a while back, but I still love em.

Zoho

Zoho, as well as its competitor Google Docs, continues to replace Microsoft Office for most of my word processing and spreadsheet needs. The feature list is still light compared to the heavy, expensive Microsoft version, but its free and I can collaborate with others on documents. This is the future of office productivity.

Update: I’m seeing other bloggers put together their own lists. Let me know in the comments if you do one and I’ll link to it. Here’s one by Tony Bain. More: Guilmain, NewsCred, Honkin (Chinese blogger), Ghost Hack Beauty, Mario Bruggemann

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