In the past year, my web habits have changed more than in any year in recent memory. Whereas just a few years ago my web surfing consisted of visiting certain sites of interest at certain times of the day, I now have several tabs open all day in Firefox in which information is being constantly refreshed (either through the browser refresh button or AJAX). I think this has a lot to do with the web's move toward the functional utility and away from mere content.
When I look at what's so compelling about these particular sites and applications that makes me want to keep them in front of me all day, I notice they fall pretty neatly into three categories:
- Business applications
- Niche content
Some of them straddle lines, but mostly they're pretty clear cut. Let's look at what I keep open in my browser tabs all day:
- Wordpress Dashboard at Hespos.com (social) - This is the main command center for my blog at Hespos.com. If I want to type out a quick missive, or if a comment comes in from a reader, this is where it all happens.
- Message Boards (social) - I actually have two tabs open that keep track of two message boards I'm active on. One is private, and it gives me access to a group of friends I've engaged in casual discussions with for several years. Another is public, The Straight Dope Message Boards. If I run into a problem, I can ask a question in the General Questions forum and hundreds of exceptionally smart people, many of them experts on whatever topic I'm asking about, will stumble over one another to answer it. It's like answers.com but faster.
- Social News Sites (social, niche content) - I keep three tabs open on social news sites. My sites of choice are TotalFark, Digg and Reddit. Why? Because the links posted here show up in the mainstream press anywhere from a day to a week later. They're like incubators for the news stories that will eventually become part of the mainstream news consciousness. And you get bonus snarky headlines to boot. I have these tailored to pick up on stories that will interest me, like any percolating news about digital marketing, the economy or brand advertising.
- Facebook (social) - Some of my colleagues ask me why I put effort into Facebook at all. Two big reasons and a lot of little ones. The first is that if you're going to talk social to clients, you need to live social. The second is that I'm getting business out of it.
- LinkedIn (social) - Not nearly as cool as Facebook, but I'm still connecting with prospects and friends there. LinkedIn seems to be the social networking choice for brand marketers that would be potential clients for Underscore.
- Twitter (social) - I initially didn't think Twitter was important. Now I have a couple hundred people following me. Sometimes, your Twitter followers can help you solve problems that need immediate solutions. Like "I need a great intellectual property lawyer, like yesterday." or "Anyone know how to configure a RAID 0 array on a NAS device?"
- 14dayz (business application) - Web based timesheeting system. We just started using this, and it's great. Pick whatever you're working on from a list of projects and enter your time online. Or, just click a little icon next to a job and the system starts a timer. Click again and the timer stops and the time you just spent gets attributed to the job you specified. And it integrates well with other systems we're using.
- Sage RSS reader (niche content) - Okay, this is more of a Firefox extension than anything else, but it places all your RSS feeds in one place and you can use a browser tab to visit all the content headlines that you want to read. I have search feeds set up from blog search engines that will show up in Sage any time an indexed blog mentions our brand terms, so any time someone mentions "Hespos" or "Underscore Marketing" out there, I usually know about it withinin a couple minutes. We have similar search feeds set up for client brand terms. Sage also helps me follow what's going on with the various trade pubs.
- Various ad server reporting engines (business application) - Technically, I have to keep these open in Internet Explorer rather than Firefox (damn ActiveX controls...), but I can jump into campaigns at a moment's notice and see how they're serving out.
- comScore (business application) - Good for running a quick crosstab to see which sites have the lock on certain demographics or user groups.
- Netvibes (social, niche content) - Another web aggregator. I use it to aggregate content on a particular outdoor sport. This helps feed stories on a social network we're launching for the sport.
- FriendFeed (social) - Keeps track of many of the activities I engage in on the aforementioned social sites, lets my friends and associates know what I'm doing there, and gives me visibility into what they're doing socially.
I think it's interesting that over time, it's less about one-off visitation with these sites and applications. Their utility is constantly needed and/or constantly changing, so it's important to stay on top of them by checking in a few times a day.
No doubt a lot of people might find this particular arrangement of sites and applications to be dizzyingly confusing, but hey - it's different strokes for different folks. All of the things in these tabs support doing business smartly, quickly and efficiently.