Thursday, December 27, 2007

Best and Worst of 2007 (My Top Picks)


Yep. It's the end of the year. You know what that means? Lots and lots of best of and worst of lists for 2007. You can add mine to the heap. I've put together a list of the stand-out services and software I used in 2007. Some of them I loved. Some of them I despised with a fiery, I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter kind of passion. Enjoy.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED IT (2007's top picks)

COLOURlovers (online color tools and community)

I love this site. Did I mention the word love? Because I'm going to do just that, at the very least, about 20 more times. COLOURlovers allows its users to create custom palettes, colors, and patterns and share them. I learned about COLOURlovers earlier this year but never really used the service until recently when I needed to source a palette for a new project. I signed up for an account and I've been hooked ever since. I love creating palettes and blogging them. COLOURlovers has a nifty tool that allows me to link to a picture that inspires me and create a palette based on that image. The instant feedback from other users is great. I love the community and interaction of this site (think: flickr meets color). I also love having an archive of colors that I've used for my blog or for a project right at my fingertips when I need it. If you're a designer and you haven't spent the time to sign up for an account, then do it. Do it now. (Okay, not right now. Finish reading my blog first). This is a great service that is only going to get better. If it were a puppy, I'd buy it and take it home and feed it yummy kibble.

Tumblr (blogging platform)

This is a fun service that simplifies blogging via tumblelogs (think mini-blogs). It's a snap for novice users (or really dumb people) to sign up and start posting content online. I love their layouts, the customization options, and the fact that you can post music. Are there things I would change? Yes. But overall, I have had a great experience with my own tumblelog. I'm excited to see the direction this company takes in 2008.

Flickrriver (photo tool)

This little service does one simple thing and it does it well (letting you view flickr content). Maybe that is the key to success with good companies and services - Keep it simple. Flickrriver lets me grab photos or a photo set from a flickr account (via a username) and create a simple widget (or a cool, infinite scroll-y widget) to embed in my website or blog. I recently showcased Eric Natzke's work on my blog via a flickrriver widget. Check it out.

FontDoc (font software)

A freeware program that lets you preview text (that you type) with the fonts installed on your machine. Nifty when you are quickly trying to select a typeface for a logotype or tagline.

LOOP for Firefox (extension to upload, covert and combine your files to PDF)

You can assemble pdfs in a breeze with this tool. It came in handy for me a couple of times this year when I needed to combine multiple single pdf files together in one file but didn't have the Adobe software to do it.

Blogger (blogging platform)

I have been mostly pleased with the big upgrade that Blogger launched this past year. In some ways it's much easier for me to adjust the look and feel of my blog template. The auto saving when composing a draft is terrific and the platform seems really stable. I haven't experienced much, if any, down time. There are a few things that still need improving. For instance, I absolutely cringe at the way Blogger handles the photos that are uploaded through their interface. The image degradation is terrible. I've discovered that the best solution is to link directly to my flickr images. I would also really, really like it if Blogger made it possible for me to upload music files (like those cool kids at Tumblr). But all in all, Blogger provides me with a nice, customizable blogging solution. And it's free. So I can't complain (although some nifty new layouts would be the definition of sweet).

I DIDN'T LOVE IT (2007's not-so-top picks)

ClassicFTP (ftp software for the mac)

Oh. My. God. This ftp client freezes up every single time I double click a folder. Terrible.

DropSend (online storage...allegedly)

I signed up for a paid account on DropSend even though they were a bit more expensive than other online storage solutions I found. But I didn't mind. I liked the design of their site, the simple interface, and their nifty uploader software. I had a big warm fuzzy for this service. Well, that changed. I missed ONE billing cycle because I lost my debit card. A new one was issued but I didn't get the new card info posted before they tried to bill me for that month. So basically, I forgot to update my account with the new card information (these things happen, right?). When I realized that I needed to update the information I tried to log into my account to update it. Guess what? My account didn't exist and DropSend DELETED everything. My account contained photos and other items that I did not have backed up anywhere else (because I thought they were safe). I lost all of my files. When I contacted the company they were incredibly slow to respond, unsympathetic, and eventually put me in touch with some programmer who told me my stuff was gone and he couldn't get it back. Unbelievable. Seriously, my card could only have been rejected one time. It wasn't like my account had lapsed for months. To make matters worse I never received an email (yes, I've heard Zoto users claim this kind of thing, too). But in my case, it's the truth. I was surprised because at Zoto we keep people's photos around a LONG time (like FOREVER). Dropsend? DELETES your crap ASAP. I didn't have a backup of my dropsend backup which means that every single dime I spent on this service was wasted. I might as well have driven around and thrown money out of my car window. How can I best describe how I feel about this service? Let me put it to you like this. If Dropsend was a run by a group of sweet little old ladies, I wouldn't care, I'd still kick them in the shins (hard) and tell them they suck.

ConceptShare (online design collaboration)

Concept share allows designers to post their design comps online for review and collaboration (perfect for teams who work remotely). The concept is great. But our team tried it and I really wasn't that impressed with V1 of the site. To be fair they've released a V2 of the site I haven't checked out yet. Don't get me wrong. It's not a bad service but I definitely didn't love it and I was not impressed enough with it to keep shelling out $20 bucks a month for it. I did like aspects of the product like the ability to circle and make notes on the comps (for me this was the most useful part of the application). But even that functionality was a bit awkward and fell short of my expectations. I do a lot of interface design work. It can be a bit overwhelming to manage because there are tons of design comps. Even something simple, like a sign up form, can have dozens of comps associated with it, all depicting the different scenarios of user interaction. Those designs have to be reviewed, discussed, modified, resubmitted, and the final (approved designs) have to be uploaded to a place where the programming team can reference the final comps along with notes about functionality. In fact I would estimate that the Zoto 3.0 redesign had virtually hundreds of comps designed for it by the time it was complete. It stands to reason that any project with Zoto's kind of scope and magnitude is going to require a pretty awesome tool. But Conceptshare isn't that tool. Although it would probably be a useful tool for small (baby) projects, it falls short in meeting the needs of large (big boy) project work. As a UI designer I need to batch upload dozens of comps easily and quickly, mark on them, tag them, make notes, and then send them to everyone on the team. I also need a really good way to keep everything organized. I wasn't able to do this easily on Conceptshare. In the end, I went back to the solution we used for developing Zoto - a dedicated wiki. This service does have a lot of potential and I'll definitely keep my eye on it. If they made some enhancements to the UI (a nifty batch organizer like Zoto?) and combined it with an invoicing utility it would be the most rockin' freelancing tool ever.

Digg (popular social news site)

I used to love this site. That's right. You spell that L-O-V-E with a capital L. But not so much lately. The bottom line is that unless you take the time to cultivate a group of friends who are willing to reciprocate diggs (votes), your stories are NEVER going to make it to the front page. That is a fact. As a reader I am also disgusted by the sheer volume of (how can I put this politely?) crap that makes it to the front page. And the most important section of the site (to me at least), the design section, is anorexic of any genuine design-related content (hey kids, CSS is not design - fyi). I still visit the site and try to submit articles from my blog because the site is immensely popular and someday I'd like to have more than 5 regular readers. But when Digg changed its format and opened up the floodgates to mainstream users it killed a really good thing. Sorry, Mr. Rose. But your news site suck balls. Nuff said.

Twitter (post stuff you're doing)

I tried. In earnest. Really. But I still don't get it. I know I'm supposed to like it because everyone else likes it and thinks it's très genius. I do think that the site is pretty (just my 2¢ cents) and I will admit that the popularity of this service has made it fun to find people and "follow" their Twitter posts (daily snippets). I've particularly enjoyed reading about the trials and tribulations of the WGA and I would love, love, love to follow Joss Whedon on Twitter (if he had an account). So KUDOS to Twitter for legitimizing the voyeuristic, stalker-y tendencies of some internet users and simultaneously capitalizing on the narcissistic natures of others. But at the end of the day, it's just people blogging sentences. Plain and simple. What is even worse, is that most of the time it's stuff like, "I had coffee at Starbucks. The hippie girl at the counter had a nose ring". Um, okay. See what I mean?

Notes:
I mentioned Zoto quite a bit in this post. In case you are wondering, Zoto is an online photo hosting and sharing application. I've spent the past 2 years working on their interface and redesigning it. The new design launched in March of 2007.

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