Top 10 Underhyped Webapps, 2009 Edition [Lifehacker Top 10]

As with rock music, video games, and other awesome pursuits, great web applications often don’t get enough credit for what they do well. We’re revisiting and updating our favorite underhyped webapps to give a new crop of contenders their due.

Photo by thievingjoker.

10. Freckle

Like previous underhyped champ Remember the Milk, Freckle doesn’t require you to learn a new set of rules or input methods to track how you spend your time working for clients. If you type “Writing copy for Benderson Corp. 1h45m,” it assigns a 1-hour-and-45-minute billing for Benderson. Want to make something non-billable, but still tracked? Add an asterisk after it. Freckle offers visually appealing reports about how you’re spending time for clients, but also how you’re spending your own time, giving you the chance to assess how you’re spending your time. A plan with one account and one project is free, and any of Freckle’s other plans can be tried for 30 days free, so if you don’t find yourself addicted to its charts and graphs, you can return to your spreadsheet. (Original post)

9. TinyChat

Setting up a live video, audio, and screen-sharing chatroom for up to 12 people at once seems like something that might require a dozen software installations and point-by-point walkthroughs. If you aren’t pitching a client so much as just trying to get folks talking, TinyChat handles the task admirably, and nobody has to do a thing but follow a link and turn on a mic or webcam. The rooms aren’t password-protected unless the chat owner has a paid account, but you can require chatters to sign in with a Twitter handle to verify identity, and control just who gets to jump in with their video or audio feeds. Pretty impressive stuff for a free web service. (Original post)

8. ScreenToaster

Your boss asks you to demonstrate exactly how “that thing you do with that program works,” but you’re at work without screen recording software installed. Fire up ScreenToaster’s site, load its Java-based applet, and you can record surprisingly decent quality screencasts and demonstrations, with audio voice-overs, at the push of a single button. When you’re done recording part of your desktop or the whole thing, you can have ScreenToaster upload the finished product to YouTube or ScreenToaster’s own site, download your screencast as a QuickTime or Flash file, and re-record audio if you didn’t hit it the first time. Here’s our own quick ScreenToaster test. Tell your viewers to hit the full-screen button for your screencasts and it’s like you’re hovering right over their shoulder, semi-patiently showing them just how it’s done. (Original post)

7. Lovely Charts

Sure, it’s a pretty presumptuous name, but Lovely Charts succeeds at what it promises. The Flash-based webapp produces very clean-looking charts for all kinds of purposes, be it a flowchart to describe a process, a diagram describing a network setup, conference seating, or whatever you might want to sketch out on the back of a napkin. You only get to save one chart at a time to edit later with a free account, but you can export any number of charts to JPG or PNG as often as you’d like. (Original post)

6. Instapaper & Read It Later

It's a really cool article or blog post you just stumbled across, but at the moment—right this second—you don't have time to read it. If you had a bookmarklet or browser plug-in for either the Instapaper or Read It Later service, you'd be able to quickly send that web page to your account for bookmarking. Once there, it can be stripped of all but essential text for reading, saved for offline reading in your iPhone, marked as read when you're done with it, shared with others—you get the idea. Read It Later offers a Firefox extension for offline reading, easy saving, and a lot more functionality in general, but Instapaper keeps it clean and simple on purpose. Both are great services that quietly do similar, and extremely useful, things. (Original posts: Read It Later & Instapaper)

5. YouMail

Not everybody can swing a smartphone, many smartphones don’t offer visual voicemail, and very few people (at the moment) get to play with Google Voice and its transcribed voicemails. For those feeling like their phones are under-powered, there’s YouMail. Sign up, follow YouMail’s instructions on setting up your phone to hand over your phone’s voicemail duties to its service, and you’ll be able to listen to or download voicemails from its web site or smartphone apps. With the limited free or paid unlimited transcription plans, the halfway decent speech-to-text versions of your messages are emailed or sent by SMS right away. If you want different voicemail greetings for different contacts, YouMail can do that, too. Whether you’re rocking the cheapest phone they had at the store or an iPhone, YouMail’s a great add-on. (Original post)

4. PDF to Word

If you need to grab elements from a PDF, edit part of its text, or cut down its size, you might try converting it to a Microsoft Word file. For doing that task, PDF to Word is more than just adequate—it's darned impressive. We were kind of amazed at how well even the most complex of PDFs we had access to (an invitation to a snooty art installation opening) were flipped into almost exact facsimiles in Word format. Simply upload a PDF, provide an email address, and your document is on its way to you. Maker NitroPDF has other free PDF tools worth checking out, and paid software to entice you with, but PDF to Word is a webapp that does exactly what it says, no catches or gimmicks. (Original post)

3. drop.io

It’s hard to say that drop.io doesn’t have a fairly persistent marketing push behind it, but for all the helpful functions it offers, the service doesn’t get enough notice. Besides giving anyone 100MB of temporary file-sharing space without any sign-up required, drop.io can handle the rare faxing job, record voice memos by telephone, set up quick multimedia presentations, and more as developers hack on the open API. Having recently been assigned as Yahoo Mail’s default large attachment handler should bring drop.io out of semi-obscurity, though its deeper functionality still deserves a bit more attention.

2. Fonolo

If calling a company’s customer service line and dealing with automated answering systems fills you with a certain kind of dread, you need a Fonolo account. The free service has diagrammed the customer service phone trees of more than 500 major firms, letting you click the point in the call you want to be at (“Press 4 to cancel an account …”), then taking care of the tedious number-punching up to that point, calling you to connect exactly where you want to come in. With its latest update, Fonolo can even record your call, giving you the power to get better customer service with detailed records. (Original post)

1. The Aviary suite

Aviary is a webapp maker that specializes in fully-featured Flash apps, and they’re seemingly engaged in a dare to see how much users can get done entirely in a browser. Jackson West called Phoenix the best online image editor, and our readers agree. They’ve got a lighter, faster version dubbed Falcon, and if you want to annotate an image that’s already on someone’s server, you can paste its URL after aviary.com and it’ll quickly import the image for your editing pleasure. Most recently, and most impressively, they’ve launched a full-featured audio editor that we totally geeked out over. If you can remember their name, you can benefit from Aviary’s host of impressive in-a-pinch tools.


What underrated webapps are making life easier for you? Which smaller-scale sites do their jobs better than the big guys? Trade your tips in the comments.




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