Put your money where your cloud is.

Cloud. Cloud. Cloud. Everything is about the “cloud” these days. Though for as long as there has been the Internet, there’s always been a cloud – it’s just a matter of how it was being used. And when it comes to the Internet, it’s a lot about what one can get for free and what is worth paying for.

First off, I’m a heavy user of Google services. Gmail is my starting point for email management and I’ve been pretty happy with the feature set and the service. Plus I love not having to rely on a specific client or specific machine to send mail and can access it from any computer and my phone. I’m not a big fan of Google Docs, but Google Voice is pretty cool too – and all of Google’s services are free, assuming you don’t mind targeted advertising. Plus the BlackBerry application works pretty well.

And let’s face it, there would be no WWW with web hosting services. There are several fine companies that offer free hosting for small sites if you use them for domain registration and don’t need any of the more involved features, like PHP or dedicated servers. I’ve been happy with DotEasy so far. It does what I need for several small sites I have to keep up and running on the cheap.

For file backup and document access, I use SugarSync. This service is free for the first 2 GB of data, but I’m willing to pay for the 30 GB level. Files are accessible via the web portal and there is an option to email documents to yourself that will then be synced to your registered computers automatically. If you want to check it out, use me as a reference and we’ll all get extra space!

Another cool online tool is Remember The Milk, a task management portal. The web service is free, but the tools to sync to mobile devices requires an annual fee. It’s a bit pricey when compared to what I spend on other services, but there is a two week trial period before needing to commit. The “pro” service also gets you priority email support.

Another cloud related application that I use daily is UberTwitter. This BlackBerry application is my connection to my favorite social media portal and is worth every penny of it’s nominal fee. Sure, Facebook has a free application for the Blackberry, but I find I’m happier the less time I spend there.

Finally, I’d miss the ability to download content onto my Kindle wirelessly over the Internet. Amazon’s service allows me to catch up on the newspaper daily and purchase books without the hassle of having to make extra space in my bag.

It’s easy to get lulled into the idea that everything on the Internet should be free, but I’m willing to put my cash behind web services, features and related applications when they meet my needs. What about you?

Twitter – Silence is not Golden

Twitter went silent on me for a while last Sunday due to a problem at Twitter.com. I could tweet and look at the pages of people I follow, so I know they were tweeting. But my stream wasn’t updating, thus I saw no feedback from my tweets and I wasn’t able to participate in anyone else’s live stream.

It suddenly felt very strange to be tweeting into what felt like “nothing” – and there lies the whole value of Twitter and many other social media tools. It’s all about being able to interact with people in the “now” or at least within a timeframe that’s considered current.

When someone says that they don’t “get” Twitter, that’s the part they aren’t getting. If you sign up and don’t look for people to follow and interact with, or at least don’t look for people or organizations who tweeted information you find valuable, then Twitter becomes this quiet, dead place. No wonder people who don’t get it think it’s useless.

If you are getting pressure to tweet or have already signed up and haven’t seen any value, take a moment to do these things:

1) Think about the organizations and businesses you frequent on the web or in person. See if they have a twitter presence and follow them. SFGate has several Twitter accounts for breaking news, etc, with links to the articles. CNN also has a breaking news feed that is usually decent. Local businesses often tweet about specials and updates.

2) Upload a profile picture and fill out the bio line. You don’t have to go crazy, but you are starting to follow people you are less likely to get blocked outright if your account looks like it belongs to a “real” person who put forth some effort in joining. Personally, I’m pretty picky about who I let stay on my followers list – a picture and a bio go a long way.

3) Be a little picky about who is on your followers list. If I’m checking out your twitter feed, I’ll probably look at your followers too. If all I see is spambots following you, I’m going to assume you aren’t paying much attention to your account or you want a big number of useless followers.

4) Find your real life friends. Not only do I use Twitter as a resources for news and links about technology that interest me, I use it to stay connected to people I know in real life.

5) Feel free to unfollow tweeters that annoy you. When a tweeter’s information is no longer relevant to you, just let them go. No need to makes a whole service seem annoying when it’s really just a few irrelevant tweeters that bug you. I also unfollow people that tweet too many times during the day, especially if it’s only to forward link after link after link. I follow people because I value their opinion on things, so if it looks like you aren’t thinking before you are tweeting, it’s no longer worth it.

Those are my 5 tips for getting started on Twitter. Happy tweeting!