21 essential Web tools: Networking and collaboration

Written by Ian Portsmouth, Jim McElgunn, Kim Shiffman and Kara Aaserud

LinkedIn: Supercharge your Rolodex Before Web-based business networking, there was no timely and simple way to discover who is in your extended network — that is, the friends of your friends — and how they might help you. Now there is. Luckily, LinkedIn is easier to use than to explain how it works. Sign up for free, create a personal profile, use the search engine to find your existing contacts who are also members and ask them to link to you. If they accept, you'll see who they know and, in turn, who those people know — growing your extended network exponentially with each person you add to your immediate circle. And you can scan every profile in your extended network to find, say, finance experts, then ask your immediate contacts to introduce you to those experts, who can even be asked to introduce you to their contacts. Got it? If not, you can become a paid member starting at US$20 a month and contact any of LinkedIn's nine million members directly. Popular alternatives:, Xing (formerly OpenBC) Jigsaw: Buy and trade sales contracts A key to Web 2.0 is sharing stuff: photos, Top 10 lists and — ahem — copyrighted video. Add sales contacts to the mix, thanks to Jigsaw, a repository of contact information on millions of businesspeople, as supplied by its members. (There's basic data on more than 400,000 firms, too.) So, if you want to know the name, phone number and e-mail address of the CFO at BigCo Inc., there's a decent chance you'll find that info at Jigsaw. The site — which some people consider unethical for allegedly violating privacy — awards credits for joining and for each contact you add (you can upload your contact list en masse from Excel or, and deducts them for viewing or downloading a contact file. But searches yield only titles and company names; for all the dirt, you have to surrender credits — and you might not find the person you want. Nor does Jigsaw guarantee the data is correct, though it heals itself by awarding credits to users who fix inaccurate listings. If the whole sharing thing sounds like too much work, you always have the Web 1.0 option of paying US$25 a month for 25 contacts. Popular alternatives: No direct rivals Basecamp: Collaborate hassle-free on projects Projects usually go off the rails because of miscommunication among team members. Basecamp decreases this risk as an admirably uncomplicated tool that keeps a blizzard of project details straight. SMEs will find its US$24- or US$49-per-month business packages more than adequate. The tool's developer, 37signals, also makes Backpack (see page 4) and Ta-da List (included in Basecamp; see page 2). Basecamp users track who's doing what, share files with co-workers or clients, see who's spent how long on each task, and agree on deadlines and who's responsible. And the clean interface, with key information displayed on a dashboard page, shows at a glance what's due in the next 14 days — and who's running late. Popular alternatives: CentralDesktop Skype: Call long distance for little or nothing It doesn't take an accountant to figure out that free beats cheap. Hence, the explosive growth of Skype's long-distance phone service over the Net. The catch is that it costs zip only for PC-to-PC calls to other Skype users. Still, that's more than 130 million people. And once you download the software, you can make free conference calls or video calls through your webcam, and have calls to your Skype number forwarded to your mobile or home phone. Reaching the non-Skype universe is dead cheap: unlimited calls to any phone in North America for US$29.95 per year, and miniscule per-minute rates elsewhere, such as US2.1¢ to the U.K. or France. If you have branch offices, your biggest savings might come from putting your entire staff on Skype, freeing them to yak to each other without the meter running. Popular alternatives: Gizmo Project TinyURL: Rightsize absurdly long URLs If there's beauty in simplicity, then TinyURL is drop-dead gorgeous. It's a free service that performs a singular function: converting those agonizingly long URLs common among websites into short Web addresses that are almost memorable. It will, for example, turn this...,+Ottawa,+Canada&ie=UTF8& z=10&ll=45.639007,-75.632629&spn=0.324539,0.630341&om=1&iwloc=A&iwd=1&cid =45425155,-75694483,4510510152386725947 ...into this: Use it whenever you want to cut, paste and send a long Web address by e-mail without it breaking into unusable segments on the recipient's end, or making your otherwise clean e-mail message look like a brainteaser at a cryptographers' convention. Popular alternatives: Snipurl, Elfurl, Digbig, Doiop ClipClip: Clip and share the best of the Web It's almost too cute to be a serious business tool, but ClipClip will save the day when you want to show part of a Web page to someone (say, your webmaster or a client) who's not sitting at your PC. That's because this easy-to-install browser add-on lets you highlight any portion of a Web page, then e-mail it without altering its appearance, just as if you'd torn a strip out of a newspaper and handed it to someone. (It works with Internet Explorer and Mozilla-based browsers such as Firefox.) Amazingly, the hyperlinks stay intact, allowing your contact to click on any part of the clipping as if they were on the original site. And because every clipping is added to your personal library on the site, it provides a visual alternative to the bookmark lists of traditional browsers. Popular alternatives: Clipmarks, ScrapBook

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