The Atlas of Living Australia is a user-friendly visualisation of data related to Australian ecosystems, species and conservation programs. Simple to use and well thought-out, the website exemplifies the massive power of the web in displaying a range of information and making it accessible and understandable. Users can check biodiversity in their own area, browse for species of interest or add their own records. So if you've just spotted the elusive Night Parrot, this is the place to let the world know.
Google seems to have more projects than employees. A crew of hard core geeks at Google Data Arts have been experimenting with new ways to display data in your browser (works for both Chrome and Firefox). This animated globe shows Google searches by language, and a fascinating picture of global language dispersion it presents. English scattered widely over the globe, German confined entirely to Germany, Spanish dominating South America and French surprisingly rare in West Africa. Another animation displays 10,000 books in an ascending column -- a novel way to visually search a large number of works.
File sharing/transfer services are thick on the vine at present. A recent contender (still in beta) is GE.TT. Just click one button, tell it where your files are and who you want to receive them, and it is off and running. Cleverly, the service allows the receiver to begin downloading the file even before it is done sending it from your machine -- potentially a big time saver when sending large files. Of course, DropBox does essentially the same thing, but GE.TT doesn't require you to set aside a designated folder on the sending and receiving ends.
Once a dominant force in small business accounting, MYOB is facing competitive pressure from two online bookkeeping solutions: Saasu and Xero. The advantages of a browser based window into your finances are many, especially in freeing you from one record-keeping location. MYOB is also offering an online solution, but it is lacking some of the features of their desktop product. Saasu allows users to import MYOB data, whereas the MYOB offering ironically lacks much of an import facility.
After conceding much ground to their competitors, especially Google with its cloud-based docs suite, Microsoft is finally coming to the party. It seems that the Office suite software will be available online later this year, which is about a thousand years in cloud development time. As is the new norm, a stripped down version will be available for free, and a fully featured priced model also offered. Whether that will be enough to staunch the bleeding of users to Open Office, Google Docs and other services such as Zoho remains to be seen.
If you spend a lot of your working life managing emails, then a task manager that lives inside Gmail is going to sound attractive. Taskforce have come up with a very functional and minimalist task manager that is right at home within the uber email service. Users can run multiple lists for different users, link emails to tasks, add comments, deadlines and reorder tasks easily. Installation is extremely simple. Taskforce is free at the moment, but will eventually morph into one of the many excellent cloud-based services that (shock, horror) charge a little for their wares.
You choose: this site embodies/showcases all that is good about social media, all that is creepy and intrusive. Intel logs in to your Facebook account, siphons up your name and all of your images and some of your friends' images as well, then displays them in a virtual museum, accompanied by soft, uplifting music. The whole exercise is technically impressive and emotionally manipulative. You are supposed to feel moved as the faces of friends and family float past and memories are triggered and massaged. In privacy terms, this site performs a useful service: reminding you how much of your personal life you have fed into a commercial service, and how much that service knows about you and your preferences.
If you are a cloud power user and you have hit the 100Gb DropBox storage ceiling, then you might be looking elsewhere (such as Rackspace) for online storage/synching options. But wait — DropBox will allow you to break right through that ceiling! Unfortunately, their 350Gb Teams option seems to be oriented more towards small/medium sized businesses than individual users. At $795 per year (5 user license), $2.20 per Gb seems quite steep. Rackspace clocks in at around $1.80 per Gb per year, and their rates are calculated on the amount actually stored, not on the maximum storage amount. That said, DropBox still has the best and simplest synching and interface (and has just passed 100,000,000 users).
Sometimes a client might give you a file saved in an exotic format. You don't have the program required to open it, nor are you inclined to install it for this one instance. Now you don't have to — Zamzar allows you to upload your file and save it as something openable. In my case, I tested the service by uploading a Microsoft Publisher file and saving it as a Word Doc. Seconds later, the converted file was in my inbox. The basic service is currently free, with a paid service allowing online file storage and faster processing. The name of the service derives from the protagonist of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis.