Here are five network services that I use, consume, promote and on which I rely heavily. My affiliations with them are purely tangential (I’m on the board of the MIX, which does indirect business with kiva.org; and a friend works for Evernote) and this isn’t paid or promotional; I just felt like vamping on where I invest my modicum of work time, free time and money.
Kiva Kiva is a microfinance funding service that aggregates small-scale lenders to provider sub-funding for microloans around the world. Kiva works with a variety of field partners who do the face-to-face work of finding borrowers, collecting payments, handling currency, default and delinquincy issues, and aggregating small sums into the $800-$8,000 dollar range that’s impactful. It’s not charity – you get paid back, and can repeat the loan cycle just as a bank would, but with your intellectual capital replacing fees and interest charges. For as little as $25 you can support a loan in places like Rwanda, Tajikistan, or Cambodia. I started with about $300 in funds, and have just made loan #64 – essentially I’ve reloaned the same funds nearly five times over, and along the way helped start a taxi business, retail stores, a bar and restaurant, and financed the construction of houses. There’s a new free trial offer available: sign up and you get your first $25 loan paid for by an anonymous donor. Where else will someone give you $25 to change the fortunes of a person halfway around the world? Click and loan.
Kickstarter Kickstarter is the Small Business Administration and Facebook rolled into one – it’s the future of funding small businesses, the way America grew and innovated during the 20th century. If you’re looking for the next Hewlett and Packard garage, it’s likely being discussed, funded and promoted on Kickstarter. In the last year, I’ve funded a two print and electronic book editions of my favorite comics, the newest Renaissance CD, an independent movie about a mitzvah project, and my newest favorite, Devi Ever’s Console guitar effect box. The brilliance of Kickstarter is tying the crowdsourcing aspect of a Kiva with the notion of “early access” and rewards – if you back a project, you’re typically offered some extra swag with it; it’s the premium you receive for providing seed funding. So far I’m batting about 0.800 on projects that reached critical mass, and every funded project has delivered on the premium gifts (a nice baseball from the mitzvah movie and a signed poster from a King Tut City Gardens rockumentary). You may pay a premium for the swag, but you can say that you were there at the beginning.
Yelp After our favorite restaurant in the Miami area (Chef Allen’s) closed, we needed to expand our culinary horizons during a recent short vacation. Yelp to the rescue: crowdsourced commentary on everything from car repair shops to charcuterie. You need to discount a bit and check the timeliness of some comments, but for a first order approximation to a real time dining guide, it’s hard to beat. I found my new favorite Indian buffet in Sunnyvale via Yelp – ‘nuf said.
Dropbox. I work on at least two different computers a day, and when I’m editing a slide deck or book chapters, I frequently need to update my collaborators with the latest version of a file. Dropbox provides a free (for limited capacity) service that lets you sync folders between multiple machines, and share folders with multiple users. Whether it’s creating a family photo folder or a workflow for our book editing process, I use Dropbox at least a dozen times a week.
Evernote. Evernote is the single service I use more than anything else excepting email. Think Dropbox for notes, except the notes can be organized into notebooks (folders), and contain text, images, links, or other media. See something you want to research later? Take a picture of it and stick it in a note. Suddenly remember something to add to the “to do” list while in a parking lot? Add it to the tally via the Evernote app for your phone. I use it for everything from meeting action items to lists of research ideas to upcoming events or future “to do” lists, with about 50 notes in flight at any time.