Need Digital Life Direction?

This article is for anyone who uses really just about anything on the internet, but specifically for those who are increasingly finding it difficult to manage all their resources. Email. multiple social networks, desktops, laptops, phones and other mobile devices, texting, voice-mail, document sharing, web sites, etc. With recent, Web 2.0-type functionality and increasing focus on making things simpler, any given site or service is generally pretty easy to use, but how to use them together? How to tame the tangle of our digital lives?

Photo Credit: Phil's 1stPix

There are two approaches: Best of Breed and Single Ecosystem. Enterprises often make a conscious choice to stick to one of these two approaches when acquiring and using hardware, software, services, etc. For myself, I prefer and recommend the ecosystem approach. Why not Best of breed? This means you go and find the best solution for any given category regardless of if it integrates natively to other solutions you use. Not a bad way to go if you have the resources to do this to achieve having the most top notch of everything. 

For most of us resources are the problem. There's only us! We have family, friends and internet resources to help us find out how to make things work together, but this is time consuming. It is also an ongoing management headache. Getting your web site, social networks and other services working together manually means you have to keep them working when things change. Often functionality may not be working and you won't realize it till something you really needed to work isn't and costs you something valuable like an important message, sales deal, etc.

With the ecosystem approach a host of services and solutions are natively integrated by whoever you choose as your ecosystem provider. It is in their interest to have everything they offer you continue to work so they do so. You focus on using the solutions and not on how they work behind the scenes. Good news is that having selected an ecosystem, you can still use other spot solutions as you need to! Picking an ecosystem as a base doesn't preclude adding in best of breed solutions when called for.

Alright, so if you buy into my above arguments, where do you start? Who are the One-stop Shop providers you should consider? 

That depends on the choices you've already made. Don't you hate answers that strt with "that depends"? Fear not, it will be fairly obvious! 

  • What PC operating system do you use? Windows, Apple, Linux? This is actually the least important of these questions unless you are an Apple Mac "PC" user.
  • What mobile operating system do you use? iOS (Apple), Android (Google), Windows Phone (Microsoft)?
  • What web-based email system do you use? Apple (@icloud, @me, @mac), Google (@gmail), Microsoft (@outlook), other? 

See? The answers to those questions probably make your direction fairly obvious. If you run Apple PCs, you probably have already tended toward iOS hardware for your phones and tablets and you probably already have your ecosystem pretty well mapped out. Even with the huge sales of iPhone and iPad this still leaves this group in the vast minority as Apple Mac users still bounces around 10% of total PC users. You may still find use in the rest of this article, but if you want to bug out now, I'll understand.

OK to the majority of Windows users out there, the questions above may have left you a bit less clear on what ecosystem you should go with. As far as I'm concerned you really only have two choices:

  1. Google
  2. Microsoft

This choice is simplified by what phone you use.

Windows Phone: If you are a WIndows Phone owner then Windows 8 and Windows Phone and an Outlook.com account are the way to go. Unfortunately, this also makes you a minority as Windows Phone and WIndows 8 for tablets has not been widely adopted yet and I'm not betting on it coming to any real prominence in the near future. You may also wish to bug out at this point, but if you're considering moving off Windows Phone, stick around as to why I think that's a pretty good idea. 

iPhone: You may also want to go all Apple and utilize iCloud. Nobody would blame you and if I was an iPhone user, that's what I'd do. Google is still viable for you as well, but Microsoft is really a stretch with a fair amount of extra work if you go that direction. 

Android: Google is the best ecosystem for you. Just like it makes perfect sense for iPhone / iPad users to go with the ecosystem baked into those devices, Android is best tied into the Google ecosystem.

As to the question about email, this isn't so much a determining question as it is the next logical step now that you've identified which ecosystem you're going to go with. If you are going the Apple route and don't have an Apple email, get one. Same for Microsoft (I recommend getting it at Outlook.com) . Obviously, for Google, get a Gmail account. These accounts then become the basis for your ecosystem. These accounts are what you will use to set up your new devices in the most efficient manner. Your email, contacts, calendar, etc. will all flow automagically to your new devices and you can access those data items from any web browser on any operating system. Forward email from your other, existing email accounts to your new ecosystem email account and you won't even need to tell anyone that you've made any changes!

Ecosystems of course are about a lot more than email. As mentioned above, this brings with it contacts, calendaring, mapping, document storage, picture storage, social networking, etc. Just check out the list of items integrated to the Google Ecosystem. There are way too many to tackle in this already long article. Is Google's offering in each of these areas best of breed? Nope. However, that's true of Apple and Microsoft as well. Each has some offerings that are better than the others, but for me, if they work together seamlessly, that is a huge step in the right direction.

For those areas where you absolutely must have the best of something, you are always free to use it on probably any of the platforms. Take for instance list making and tracking. I've been committed to the Google ecosystem for quite some time and yes, they have Tasks function, but it is frankly terrible.  I went with Remember the Milk. I even went with the paid version, it was just that good. Also it provided nice integration to my Google ecosystem such that it showed up in my Gmail window as a simple to use plugin! It wasn't until Google added Keep (info / Android app / Chrome app) that I began to switch over to it. With the latest update to this service, it now does everything I wanted from Remember the Milk, so I completely switched over. Of course, Keep is natively integrated to Google and it doesn't hurt that it is free.

Such examples are nearly endless, but you get the idea of not only the value of an ecosystem, but that the ecosystem will also help you decide what non-ecosystem services to go with based on if / how well they integrate to your ecosystem of choice.  Working from the base of a single ecosystem will go a long way toward bringing sanity to your digital life.

Tomorrow I'll cover the main ecosystem components I think that set Google heads and shoulders above the rest... for now!