Thursday, December 29, 2011

Options for managing content across multiple devices - iPhone/iPad/Desktop

Compared to a couple of years ago where most people had to manage files/information on at most two devices - Home + Work PC, today we have multiple devices. Some of these include
  • Work PC
  • Home PC
  • Laptops
  • Tablet PCs
  • Smartphones
  • Ebook readers
With so many devices to handle, the rise of the cloud is a big boon as it allows us to access services/data no matter what device we are on.

For context, I use a iPhone and an iPad, but don't have any dedicated ebook reader.

Managing files/links/contacts/schedules/tasks/photos etc across multiple devices

This is a biggie and there are dozens if not hundreds of services trying to help you do this. The options are often mindboggling. Some of the ones often mentioned are

1) Google services (Google docs, Gmail,  Google calender etc)

2) Apple family (iCloud services) -

3) Browser syncing functions - Chrome. Firefox (built-in), Xmarks

4) Note taking + All in one services - Evernote , Microsoft's OneNoteSpringpad etc

5) Traditional social bookmarking services - DeliciousDiigo , Pinboard& newer more visual ones like Pinterest

6) Readitlater services - InstapaperReaditlater even the latest iOs device has a "Add to reading list" function.

7) File syncing services - DropboxBoxGoodreaderMinusMicrosoft Skydrive (new ios app)

8) All-in-one services - (bought out by delicious), GreplinPrimadesk

Some of the above mentioned apps on iPhone

Honestly, this is a huge topic, and right now we are still in the infancy stage of things, so services are coming in and then dropping like flies as consolidation occurs.

There are many types of content, one wants to manage, from contacts to emails to photos to documents to links, but in this post I am just going to concentrate mostly on links and a little on files.

Say you are working on your desktop say creating a slidedeck, then leave for a meeting and you want or expect the slides to be available on your iPad as quickly as possible. What are your options?

(The reverse has to occur as well, you are showing something on your iPad, say you sketch something , or take minutes and expect it to be available on your other devices, but let's ignore that for now.)

See a interesting link on Twitter and want to save the link for future reading? Someone send you a link to a file/webpage you want to save and read later? See a page on your desktop computer and want to quickly see how it looks on your mobile phone? What are your options?

Via email

The simplest option in most cases is just email yourself the link. Then access the link via email on your mobile phone. But this solution only works short term. Another solution provided by almost every web2.0 service out there is to email the link or document to a "secret email address" and it will be automatically stored there. The picture below shows that you can setup a special secret email address to send links and it will be saved in delicious. Almost every other service listed above has this as well (though usually you can't choose the email address).

It is usually a good idea to setup a email contact as the email address is usually very long and random so it's hard to remember and even harder to type in on a phone!

Syncing bookmarks

Alternatively one could use Browser syncing functions - Chrome. Firefox (built-in) or cross platform, Xmarks .

Apps like Firefox home are interesting because they not only allow you to quickly access Firefox bookmarks on mobile but you can easy access tabs that are currently open on different PCs. Below shows some of the tabs I have open on other synced firefox.

Some tabs open on my Firefox on my laptop and work pcs

Leaving this option aside, if one is syncing bookmarks, the main problem here is that do you want to mess up all your browser bookmarks with every link you used to intend to read a while ago? Normally I store only the most often used links on my bookmarks. 

In some cases you don't want a permanent bookmark but just want to quickly push a link to view from your desktop to your iPad. Solutions like Site to PhonePasteFire make it easy after a one-time setup.

Go to  PasteFire  webpage and type the text in 

Pastefire link pushed to iPhone 

Site-to-phone chrome addon that will instantly send the page you are on in chrome  (addons for firefox exist also) to your iphone the link

Site-to-phone PasteFire are good options if you want to just temporarily view/transfer links to your mobile phone, but what if you want to store them as well as access them and don't want to fill up your browser bookmarks. Social bookmarking services seem to be the key right?

ReaditLater vs traditional bookmarking services

Besides the obvious functions like a app to quickly access on mobile/ipad and the ability to store links or resources by emailing to a secret email address, from what I can see you there seem to be three additional functions you might want

1) to keep track of documents/links that you intend to read "soon"

2)  to find some link you remember been tweeted, or seen on facebook or someone sent you a while ago via email or otherwise stumbled upon.

3) To create notes, or "clip" some section of a website for later reading, add scanned document/receipts etc..

In theory (1) can be handled by a traditional bookmarking service, but there seems to be a market for handling the two differently with the rise of "read it later" services. (3) I don't quite do, but many people swear by  Evernote and similar services, or are experimenting with curation type services like,  and storify, those the later three are for public display and sharing then for private consumption.

For (1), I have gone between the use of  Instapaper and Readitlater . I have eventually settled on Instapaper because it is better supported than Readitlater on other apps, though the free app of instapaper on iOS5 stores only 10 articles.

Instapaper app on iPhone

The main thing about   Instapaper  and its rivals is that it stores links you feed it, in a offline cache that you can read even without internet access. As a bonus it strips off access unnecessary graphics so all you see is the text and can concentrate on reading.

This article stored on Instapaper

From there, you can feed it to a classic social bookmarking service like  Delicious or Diigo  for longer term storage.

Are such services a necessity? I am not sure but I sure but use it anyway to avoid mixing it up with other links I store on classic bookmarking services which I consult only when I need to find some half remembered link.

The father of all Social bookmarking tools,  Delicious  still exists though Yahoo has recently sold it off after years of neglect. The changes the new owners have made have been even more unpopular and a lot of people I know have migrated their content to  Diigo , Pinboard  (particularly since it was free for librarians for a certain period in early 2011).

Of course since the rise of social bookmarking, mobile started to rise, so by now many of the traditional social bookmarking services like Diigo have apps that you can use or your iPhone or failing that a mobile site. You can search through all the links you saved in Diigo and then download the pages the links are to for offline reading (similar to Instapaper).

Searching via diigo iphone app

As I write now in Dec 2011, there is intense interest in tools like  Pinterest , which have a more visual style (the new delicious is revamping to be similar)

Autofeeding links

But let's go back to (2)

2)  to find some link you remember been tweeted, or seen on facebook or someone sent you a while ago via email or otherwise stumbled upon.

Most of us encounter new links via other services like facebook or Twitter, bookmarklets, "Secret email addresses", add-ons allow us to selectively send such links to social bookmarking services. But what about those of us who want *everything* ie every link you encountered on such services saved?

You can accomplish on a limited scale for pushing links shared on Twitter with delicious or diigo using which allows links you fav, tweet or retweet to be automatically stored on various social bookmarking services, but really such services should be built-in and secondly it only solves the problem of links seen on twitterbut not via say Facebook.

But I think modern social bookmarking tools that autofeed links from various sources will need 1 more additional feature to make sense of the chaos. I feel...

(A) Autofeed links from other sources including Twitter/Facebook/Blogger/Tumbler/Quora/Instapaper as well as other social bookmarking tools such as delicious etc.

comes naturally with

(B) Save a cached copy of the links you feed it, this aids in finding the link you need.

Pinboard (annual payment required) and   are two such services. The idea here is to store every link you have ever come across regardless of the source and allow you to search across it. This help solves the "I vaguely recall this link I saw on the net, but can't find it problem" 

Pinboard   in particular comes closest to this, saving links automatically from

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Blogger
  • Tumbler
  • Posterous
  • WordPress
  • Quora
  • Instapaper
  • Googlereader
  • Delicious
  • Any rss feed

Some sources you can auto-add links from in

Add the traditional way of sharing via bookmarklet and sending to a secret email address,   and similar services gives you a way to build up a database of practically every link you have or will come across in your journeys across the net. 

Tweet a link? It is automatically stored. Share a link on Facebook? Ditto? Post a blog post in blogger? Every link in there is stored.

Once you start adding practically every link you come across on the net, searching to find the link you saw a while ago can become difficult due to the mass, hence services like and Pinboard actually cache a copy of the link with search matching it, so it increases the chance of finding what you bookmarked rather than just rely on matching the link description or tweet.

Unfortunately   has just been acquired by Delicious though this raises the hope that Delicious will start to include similar features. 

Somewhat similar to   but even more ambitious is  Greplin .  Greplin  is even more comprehensive then  since it does not restrict itself to handling just links. It does everything from status updates to document files ,contacts and yes links.

Some sources you can add greplin to

Greplin iPhone app

Greplin search on iPhone shows mails, events, messages & Links (not shown)

It's pretty much the ultimate personal search engine, pulling from almost every digital nook and cranny and storing it in one place, this including pulling from services like  Evernote  which were envisioned as all-in-one places.

It doesn't quite cache webpages behind links so it doesn't fully substitute  in that area. The other thing I noticed is it doesn't quite do photo sharing services like Picasa or flickr yet.

Somewhat similar is  Primadesk , though this focuses on combining cloud services. Have dropbox, boxit, sugarsync, flickr, picasa, googledocs, gmail etc and want to combine them together? Use Primadesk! Another competitor in this area is Backupify

Some accounts you can add to Primadesk

Search primadesk

In many ways these services, in particular reminds me of 2009ish lifestreaming aggregator services like friendfeed, Plaxo that attempted to pull everything into one place though in the case of Friendfeed it was designed more for consumption by others while is designed more for personal use.

Currently I have a fairly complicated system

1) Links I tweet via Flipboard/Zite/ or anything via Twitter in fact are automatically pushed to Pinboard.

2) Occasionally there are links I want to save to read for later but don't tweet , perhaps on desktop, so I use instapaper on it. This is pushed to Pinboard as well.

3) I have setup contacts to send emails to Pinboard etc, bookmarklets for various services so for services that don't officially support what I use, I can open them in Safari on iPhone/iPad then use the bookmarklet or email myself the link. On desktop, I have setup similar bookmarklets as well as browser extensions (e.g Instachrome) if they exist both to quickly send links to services I use, and to quickly view stuff I added on Instapaper/Pinboard etc.

4), Greplin and Primadesk , aggregate everything together. 

If I am just searching for links, I usually search via Pinboard or better yet (I don't pay the annual fee for Pinboard caching). Greplin is pretty good as well , there is a free excellent iOS app for Greplin that one can use if one wants to go beyond links and find emails as well.


As usual I wrote this long geeky post more for myself to hear myself think.

I am still trying to figure things out, with all the bewildering options available and I don't use Evernote class options! Nor have I touched on cloud based services handing docs and files like Dropbox, Goodreader etc, syncing contacts/apps/emails/photos or iPad specific Apps like Fileboard, SlideShark (for showcasing powerpoints with animation). 

What do you guys use?

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