21 Tools of the Trade: The Slow Accretion of Useful Services

by Kurt

It all started with GoDaddy, Dreamhost and WordPress – one domain reservation, one hosting company, one content management system installation, and two friends who graciously humored my desire to do something with them.

From there, it is remarkable how many things I have signed up for – Digg followed shortly after, and played a significant role, followed by other social sites including StumbleUpon and Reddit and eventually Twitter and Facebook. Then: Twitterfeed to automate posting.

MediaTemple was a breakthrough discovery – their low-cost grid service proved more reliable than virtual shared or even some dedicated server options, enabling things to stay up and running out of the red. Later came MaxCDN for bandwidth (mainly images) and LayeredTech.

As more readers show up, the need to feed them increases, necessitating tools like Feedburner for RSS and email subscribers, and StreamSend for more periodic, newsletter-style updates.

Speaking of Google: communications remain mainly by Gmail, with a bit of GTalk followed ultimately by Skype for its simple more-than-two-person-chat feature.

And of course, as things evolve (or: once you find yourself with a month-old website backup, scraping Google’s cache for more recent copies of articles) backups become essential, hence VaultPress, a much-needed and surprisingly long-time-coming service.

But beyond the nuts and bolts came organization (thanks, Mike!), which you do not really realize you are missing until you get a taste of it. Unfuddle for development work, BackPackIt for organizing author schedules and content ideas, and a bit of DropBox for sharing, too.

Reviews? Realizations? Responses?

In some cases, I would recommend what I use without reservation, but with most services there are ups and downs, and life cycles – social sites grow old and die (see: Digg), while even the most dynamic load-handling host can become too small for anything but side projects (sorry, MediaTemple!). Unfuddle may not be the best of its kind, or beautifully designed, but I still love it. WordPress has flaws, gets hacked, requires plugins, but it is the basis for almost everything I do – hard to stay mad at it, even when it misbehaves.

What does amaze me, though, is how many moving parts there are to running a business – any business, even a digital one – and how much things just naturally expand over time, almost organically and without thought. The collective cost of these services is not insignificant, and one could argue that any one of them is not essential, but together they make life easier and help authors and readers as well. They have, as it were, woven themselves into the fabric of this publishing organization (or rather: pair thereof).

I recently assembled a Master List of accounts, which prompted this meandering post. It is bigger than I ever expected it could be, and probably still incomplete. For professional reasons, I have a whopping 22 accounts between just 4 services, for example, just between Gmail, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. I (and my businesses) have 15 accounts at 8 different financial institutions. Ad network logins, currently active, are 22 or more strong – with dozens if not hundreds abandoned along the way. Boggles the mind.

As an segue (or perhaps epilogue), I am on a mission to declutter my life. Perhaps most notably: Webist Publishing and Misnamed Media have each sold one of their websites recently, cutting the networks from four to two publications (one each). On a personal level, I recently rid myself of over 3/4 of my clothing, and am now tackling both physical and digital files. I am not aiming for the Steve Jobs level of same-suit minimalism, but each step of the process clears my mind just as it does my workload, space or computer.