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This article was published on August 26, 2012

12 simple ways you can use the web to improve your life for free

12 simple ways you can use the web to improve your life for free
Allie Hastings
Story by

Allie Hastings

Allie Hastings is a law student, e-commerce lover, data geek, and xoogler. You can find her on Twitter and G+, among other places, when she' Allie Hastings is a law student, e-commerce lover, data geek, and xoogler. You can find her on Twitter and G+, among other places, when she's not outside.

There are so many ways to make your life a little bit easier using the Internet, without paying for it and with minimal effort. Those ways are countless, so we’ve narrowed a few down. Technology should make living life simpler: read on for 12 ways that it does.

1. Don’t miss your shot at the perfect apartment

On the housing hunt? We know it can be brutal to constantly scour Craigslist and even worse to miss the perfect-sounding post that disappears in a few short hours. Use If This Then That (IFTTT) to stop the vicious cycle. Refine your perfect search, copy the URL into your If, and choose to be alerted by email or text message when posts match your query.

2. Be the most thoughtful friend: remember every birthday

First, export all of your Facebook friends’ birthdays from the Events page of the app (look for the option under the gear icon on the web interface) into Google Calendar. Then, use Calendar’s email reminder function to give yourself a heads up the week before the event, and you’ll have more than enough time to find the perfect present. Set a second reminder for the actual date for friends across the country, and you’ll be sure to call and sing them happy birthday on their celebratory day. You’re officially everyone’s most conscientious friend.

3. Make managing your health care bills a piece of cake

Keeping track of your deductibles can be a mess. Monitoring multiple health care plans for a family, even worse. That’s where CakeHealth comes in. Select your provider, connect your account, and all of that mess becomes a thing of the past. The site has a simple UI where you can check the status of claims, see a summary of benefits, see when you’ve spent your deductible, and tally up your out-of-pocket expenses.

4. Check the weather, simply

Stop wading through messy, ad-filled weather websites to find out whether the coming days will be full of showers or sunshine. Install the Currently extension on Chrome. Each time you open a new tab, you’ll be greeted by a gorgeous reminder of both the time and a five day forecast.

5. Translate menus in any language on the fly

Take the guesswork out of ordering off menus in foreign languages for good. No more Googling specific words or attempting to ask questions from a harried server: Google Goggles can now translate any text you can capture, which means all you need to do to translate confusing menus is snap a photo and let the OCR technology do the work.

6. Be able to talk to locals on your next trip abroad

If you’re paying for language classes, go ahead and consider stopping. Duolingo will help you work on your comprehension of written and spoken Spanish, French, or German (or English, if you’re a Spanish speaker). The site will help you learn vocabulary and practice conjugation, plus help you to translate the web as you practice. It’s a win-win.

7. Catch up on news without reading a word

Stop nearly crashing into people and fire hydrants as you walk around trying to read the NYTimes app on your smart phone. How? Convert all of your must-reads to audio with Soundgecko, a text-to-voice service that lets you create podcasts or send individual articles to your Google Drive or Dropbox account. Sure, the voice on Soundgecko is a little robotic, but it’s a drone you can get used to when it frees you to pay attention to the world around you and brush up on the news.

8. Make sound, data-driven decisions

We’re not all statisticians, but now you can do sound analysis without the complexity of learning SPSS or STATA. Statwing lets you copy and paste data, upload files, or import SurveyMonkey results, then look for correlation between your variables. No need to think about confidence intervals: the app will tell you whether the difference between, say, Democrats and Republicans who prefer cats vs. dogs is a valid one or not.

9. Avoid potholes, construction, and overpriced gas

Start navigating the world with Waze and you’ll benefit from all of the community-reported data points. Save money by looking for the lowest gas prices and save your car from wear and tear by avoiding streets with reported potholes, construction, or other less than desirable conditions. Users can also report where red light cameras are located, giving you a heads up where you should be extra cautious to avoid tickets.

10. Play the perfect music, always

Having a dinner party or a dance party? Stop stressing out about the perfect playlist and start using Songza. Songza lets you drill down to the ideal music based on any impromptu occasion. Friday night and need to unwind? The app will give you a soundtrack created by music experts designed for your relaxation, whether your tastes tend toward indie music or R&B.

11. Toss paint chips, recycle your appliance manuals, and keep your house in order

Brightnest wants to help you take care of your home. You can keep track of your appliances (with a number of user manuals in their system) and the paint colors used in every room of your home, so you’re never left guessing when you need to touch up a wall. The app pushes tips for maintenance and lets you create a house to-do list, with items you can schedule and assign to other household members.

12. Use better fonts

Tired of Arial and Times New Roman? We are, too. Check out the 521 font families free for use, courtesy of Google, and make the Internet a more varied font world. You can use them on any site be adding a snippet to your style sheet. We’d like to see more blogs branching out with Quicksand, Poiret One, or Rokkitt.

Image Credit: Storm Crypt