Communications and networking are the sole properties we look for in web applications. The Internet has improved our communications tenfold and allowed us to share information at a much quicker pace. As such I tend to jump around through many different applications just to get a feeling for their interfaces.
Freelancers can understand this plight in finding the perfect networking solution. There are a lot of tools out there, and depending on your line of work you may not require as much communication as others. But freelancing is a tough job, especially when you’re holding video chats and calling clients all day long. Below are some of my favorite tools to share between freelancers which I hope you enjoy!
Google Talk/Jabber IM
Instant messaging has come a long way from AOL IM. Back in 1999 I can remember all the chatrooms just full of any topic you can imagine. Nowadays the Internet has become much more refined, and there are more direct means of communication – especially compared to AIM.
The open-sourced Jabber protocol fits the bill perfectly. It has been in development for a few years and already supports tens of hundreds of platforms. The most popular is notably Google Talk where you can stream text and video chats directly in-browser. You can sign up for a free Gmail account and this address becomes your GTalk Jabber handle.
But if you don’t want to go through Google there are other XMPP clients which relay chats over Jabber. Adium is one such application which Mac OS X users can’t get enough of! Another universal chat client Pidgin is very popular supporting OS X, Windows, and Linux users. You can’t go wrong with any single app, so if you are in need of a chat client try out a few and see which ones stand out from the herd.
If you perform any type of design work such as websites, graphics, user interfaces, illustrations or otherwise then you’ll love Dribbble. It’s a social networking community launched a few years ago which focuses on design ‘shots’. You can post up small previews of past projects or even future releases.
I have met a lot of awesome freelancers where we have discussed the latest trends in digital design. Dribbble recently added settings where anybody can set their project status to available and share the profile link similar to an online portfolio. Then potential clients have the option of sending you an e-mail for work proposal directly from your Dribbble page! It has revolutionized the design industry in more ways than one.
And as we all know, Twitter has grown dramatically in just a few short years in comparison to Myspace and Facebook. If you have an account Dribbble will include a Twitter-specific link in your profile based on your username(or handle). Tweeting seems a bit pointless to many, but if you have information to share it’s one of the quickest growing networks on the web. Not to mention the rich, innovative communication methods such as direct messaging and @replys.
The biggest problem which most designers encounter is that Dribbble requires an invitation to join. The network is very secluded and you’ll have to contact someone to find an invite for yourself. But other portfolio networks, most notably Carbonmade are totally free and still provide networking opportunities between designers. You also get a chance to show off your work and share these links around to potential clients.
Freedcamp Project Management
So far we have discussed a couple ideas when you start out with solo freelancing. But how about when you and a buddy(or 2 or 3) decide to launch a small studio? Sure everything is great when you’re working together, but communication shouldn’t end just because work hours have finished. Or even consider working long distance with people all around the world.
Freedcamp is a newer startup affixed with the slogan “free project management”. It holds all the tools you would need to share ideas, collaborate on projects, and assign tasks to different people in your group. The signup process is very simple and you can expedite this through OAuth connection with Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts.
Once you are logged in you have the option of choosing which project workspace you need to view. Freedcamp actually lets you create multiple projects which you can manage from a single account. In any project space you have a select number of people saved into the group, and each person is setup with their own public tasks list. It has never been easier to dish out project work between co-workers and even communicate on issues directly from within the app.
The Future of iCloud
This feature is unfortunately reserved for Mac OSX 10.7 Lion users and currently has no port onto Windows or Linux. When you first sign up for an Apple ID you can also setup your iCloud account free of charge. This comes with an online dashboard where you can store contacts, SMS messages, documents, and even e-mail under your own @me.com e-mail address!
It should be noted you have the option of choosing which pieces of data are synced into the cloud. If you are constantly using the calendar to plan appointments this may be more useful than your full contacts list. You can read more about iCloud from the Apple website to see if this is something you would use.
This small collection of networking tools should give newer freelancers a chance to catch up in the market. Starting out as a freelancer in any field can be one of the most stressful decisions. You have no guarantee of a fixed income and you must rely on clients or other institutions for profit. However I also decree freelancing can be the most enjoyable profession if you stick it out for the long haul and enjoy the freedom!