Seven top tech tips - mostly free!

When I wrote recently about providing free content online, it occurred to me that I myself rely on several free online services that have become crucial to my work. Some of them are well known, others less so, but I discovered nearly all of them through recommendations in posts such as this. So to pay it forward, here are the online services I can't do without.

1. Image editing software

Pixlr is a free online image editor that has much of the power of Photoshop. It allows cropping, resizing, level adjustment and rotation as well as many more advanced tricks that I don't know about. I used the online Pixlr to erase buildings (see below) from a photograph for a recent article. They also have a mobile and desktop app, although I prefer to use GIMP on my MacBook. GIMP is another free image editor for offline use, which is more powerful but less intuitive than Pixlr.

2. Beautiful blogging

I love Shorthand Social. It's a free blogging platform, a bit like Medium but with more interesting design features, I think. It embeds images and video using autoplay and fixed background scrolling, and has a really clean, easy to read feel about it. I've published two articles there, most recently the one below, about one of the world's most endangered wines.

3. An essential automator

If This Then That is an ingenious service that offers recipes to automate your online actions. I have two running in the background constantly. One of them emails me whenever a new article is published on The second automatically shares my Instagram photos as native Twitter images: in other words, it embeds the image itself within my followers' Twitter feed, instead of sending an Instagram link that requires people to click out into a browser to view the image. You set it up once and it works forever. Indispensible!

4. All-In-one website solution

This website, and several others that I have built, uses the Squarespace platform. It's the perfect option for me, because it offers an instant, easy to use interface with modern design options as well as taking care of hosting, domain registration and integration with Gmail and other services. There are some restrictions to its functionality, but that can usually be overcome with a bit of minimal coding, which can be found for free via Google. Okay, publishing and hosting a site isn't free on Squarespace - but it isn't expensive either.

5. Tweetdeck

Twitter remains my main social media tool, despite all the signs that it seems to be on the wane. I still find it invaluable to keep abreast of the wine world, and the main advantage of Tweetdeck is having several different feeds open. I use up to ten columns to monitor the #MWStudyfacts hashtag, direct messages and personal mentions, new followers, a feed of tweets from all MWs and whatever else might be topical or pertinent.

6. Taskmastering

If you need to work on a team project remotely, Asana is a great way of managing who's doing what. Up to five users can access a single account for free, and use all the facilities it offers: ticketing, file attachments, group conversations, progress trackers and so on. The interface is fast and easy to use, and there is a useful mobile app too.

7. Other useful services

I also use the following services on a fairly regular basis and they are great at what they do: 

  • TicketTailor is an inexpensive ticketing service which is good for managing simple events, but Eventbrite is better at handling larger, more complex events
  • Stripe is the best payment provider on the market, for any level of commerce. It also integrates seamlessly with Squarespace (although there is a suggestion that it can't be used to sell wine)
  • Google apps are just so useful: Gmail, Docs, Analytics, Calendar and Contacts are all integral to my work
  • MozyHome backs up all my data automatically every day for a very reasonably annual fee and has a straightforward system to access and restore your files online.

I hope that's helpful to people. Let me know below if you there are more I should know about!