Internet 101: Understanding Browser Data

Internet 101: Understanding Browser Data

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes as you surf the web. You might have heard about things like “cookies,” but do you know what they do or what else your browser is storing?

Whenever you use your browser, the sites you visit and actions you perform result in information being saved. This data is typically used to make navigating the web easier for you in the future.

Many different pieces of information are being stored while you’re online. Cookies are just one part of the equation. There’s also your browser’s cache, history, autofill information, saved passwords, and even more little bits of data.

Why does it matter?

You might be asking why you need to know about your browser data. Depending on the situation, you might want to change certain browser settings or learn how to clear your data. Understanding your browser data can do the following:

  • Avoid privacy or security issues
  • Help you make the right decisions with your settings
  • Underline the importance of clearing your data
  • Help you decide what data to clear
  • Show you how some websites work
  • Make it easier to troubleshoot problems

Also, many people use a browser on their computer, phone, or tablet every day. That’s a lot of data. It’s important to stay informed and know what’s being saved.

What data is being stored?

A lot of different kinds of information get stored while you’re using the web. In this article, let’s talk about some of the biggest types of data being saved, including how they work and what to watch out for.

Internet cookies

You’ve almost certainly heard about cookies over the years. You also may have noticed that some websites alert their visitors to let them know they use cookies. But what are they?

A cookie is made up of data. Whenever you visit a website that uses cookies, a cookie is sent to a file in your browser. Then when you revisit that site, the cookie is sent back to it. Essentially, cookies are a way for a website to remember you or certain information it was given.

What’s typically being communicated is information about what you’re doing on the site. Cookies help keep track of visits to a certain website, certain pieces of information, and things like what’s in your cart at an online shop. For instance, when you go back to a website and see your login information has been saved, it’s likely that cookies were used to do this.

There are two main types of cookies you should know—session cookies and persistent cookies. Session cookies are stored temporarily. Once a “session” is over, the session cookie is gone. This means you simply need to close out of your browser to lose the cookie. Persistent cookies, though, stick around. These are the kinds of cookies that help do things like save login information or preferences you’ve indicated on a website.

Though cookies are very helpful, it is possible for unwanted cookies to collect data about your visits and then be used in ways that aren’t helpful to you. For instance, some cookies can be used to keep track of your interests and show you ads based on those interests. This practice is concerning to some people. One way to try to combat this is to see if your browser allows you to block third-party cookies. These cookies are sent to your browser from a source other than the website you’re on—often from an ad on the page.

However, for the most part, it’s typically recommended to allow your browser to accept cookies. If you’re visiting safe websites, you’re probably not encountering unwanted cookies. They make visiting sites a much easier and enjoyable experience, as well.

History

Your browser history is pretty straightforward: it displays the sites you’ve visited in the past. Your history is a recording of the sites you’ve gone to, including the name of the page and when you visited. Depending on your browser, your history might go back to pages you visited months ago. This can be really helpful to you, because if you forget to bookmark a site, you can always go back and find it in your history.

Cache

If you’ve ever been told to “clear the cache,” you might have done so while wondering what you were even deleting. The browser cache is a way to save certain things on websites in order to load things more quickly and efficiently in the future. Pages or pictures on a website might be saved to the cache. This means that if you visit a site and certain images are saved to the cache, then the next time you try to load another page on the site with those images on it, they won’t have to be accessed from the website all over again—they’ll just be displayed from the browser cache.

This can be really helpful if you’re clicking through multiple pages on a website and there’s, say, an image at the top of each page being used as a banner. You won’t have to load it from the website every single time you click on a new page. Not only does this mean that things load more quickly for you, it also means it takes a bit of stress off the website’s server.

Autofill

Autofill data is typically form information that’s saved for later. Think about all the times you’ve entered your address in a form. Storing autofill data means that next time you need to enter your address, you might not have to type it all back in again. This works with all kinds of information. Different areas (or “fields”) of a form often have names assigned to them. Autofill can use these names to identify which field to enter each piece of information into, so it won’t accidentally put your city in the field asking for your phone number.

Saved passwords

Some browsers can also save your passwords for you. If you’re using different passwords for each different account you have (which you should—take a look at my article about managing your passwords!), then those passwords can be difficult to keep track of. You often have the option to let your browser remember the password for you. This password data is typically saved to just that certain browser on that specific computer.

Though it’s likely tempting to take this option, be careful! If you’re using a shared computer, others will have access to your accounts. Keep this in mind, and make sure you never save your password to the browser if strangers will have access to it.

What you can do with your browser data

Now that you know about some of the data your browser is storing, you can make some informed decisions. Data takes up some space on your devices, and some of the stored data may be totally useless to you (or even completely unwanted), depending on how you typically use your browser. The good news is, you do have some choices when it comes to your browser data.

Change your settings

Most browsers allow you to change your settings to fit your needs. For instance, you can choose to block third-party cookies, or, if you want, even block all internet cookies. You might also want to turn autofill on or off. Depending on your browser, you can likely edit your autofill information, as well. If you have a new address, you can update your old autofill information. If you saved some information on accident, you can delete it. You can also turn saved passwords off and on, as well as delete passwords. Most of this data can be managed in some way.

In Chrome, you can find these kinds of options in your Settings under the Advanced section. In Firefox, these options can be found in the Options under Privacy & Security. Similar settings can be found in most popular browsers.

Clear some or all of your data

You can clear your browser data as often as suits you. Unless you’re having issues with your browser, you probably don’t really need to clear your data. On the typical PC, browser data doesn’t usually take up that much space. Of course, phones and tablets can be a completely different story. If you don’t have much space left on your phone, clearing your browser history actually can make a notable difference.

Also, you can clear data if you have any privacy concerns. If you share your device, you might want to clear your history. (You can also bypass this altogether by using something like Chrome’s incognito mode, which prevents browser data from being saved while in use.)

You can typically choose which data to delete and how far back you’d like to go. For instance, you might only want to delete your history so you keep your cache and cookies for easier browsing. You could delete just some of your recent history, or you could delete it all. Take a look in your browser’s settings to see which options you can choose from!

Internet 101: Customizing Your Browser

Internet 101: Customizing Your Browser

There may be more ways to customize your browser than you think. If you’ve never really looked into what your browser can do, you might not even know what options you have. Fortunately, most popular browsers can have really cool capabilities once you personalize them. If you find some aspect of your browser inconvenient, it’s possible there’s a way to get rid of those irritations. Even if you think your browser is fine the way it is, you could be missing out on some cool little tricks that change the browsing experience.

In this week’s Internet 101, let’s talk about how customization works and what you might want to add to your browser!

Why you might customize your browser

You might feel like your browser does everything you need it to do—and of course, that’s possible. But browsers are able to be customized for a reason, and one size doesn’t always fit all with browsers.

Your browser’s default settings can really just be a starting point. Depending on what you like, what annoys you, or what you really need, you can likely tweak your browser to make things simpler and more fun.

Here are just a few reasons you might customize your browser:

  • Accessibility needs
  • Aesthetics
  • Privacy concerns
  • Website annoyances
  • Convenience

How do you customize your browser?

Customization works differently depending on which browser you’re using. Since we’re keeping it simple, I’ll just mention that some more experienced tech-minded people might customize their browser by hacking it or by essentially building their own. But for the purposes of this article, let’s stick to the much easier options.

Options, preferences, or settings

Every browser will have preferences or settings of some kind. These options are built-in to the browser. You don’t have to download anything new or go searching for specific tools that you need to add.

Depending on which browser you have, these options might be fairly basic or surprisingly complex. If there are a lot of options, don’t get overwhelmed—just scan through for words or terms you recognize, and try to avoid changing any options that you don’t really understand. Otherwise it could be a hassle to go back and figure out what has been changed!

Extensions or add-ons

Extensions or add-ons are a different way to customize your browser. If your browser has these available (and it very likely does), you can install them to open up even more options. They’re not pre-installed, so you will typically have to search or browse through all the offerings to find what you want.

What can you customize?

There are many different ways to customize most browsers. Of course, some browsers are much more able to be customized than others. And don’t forget, this is just a brief overview of some popular or particularly interesting things to consider. You can do many more things than listed here—browse through your browser’s settings to see if there’s more that interests you! Also, if you use Opera Browser, don’t forget you can use Install Chrome Extensions, and if you use Vivaldi, you can install Chrome extensions by following Vivaldi’s instructions.

(Note: As of writing this article, Safari’s extensions gallery was not accessible. Once it’s able to be viewed, this article may be edited to include Safari options.)

Look through built-in accessibility options

Most browsers will have these options built in to their settings or preferences. You can find change things like font size, use of color, and more.

Make images easier to see

You might want an extension that works with images. To make it easier to zoom in on images, check out Hover Zoom for Chrome or Zoom Image for Firefox.

Work with language tools

There are a lot of things you can do with language extensions. There are a few extensions you should definitely consider adding.

To quickly translate while on the web, take a look at ImTranslator for Chrome, Mate Translate for Firefox, Mate Translate for Microsoft Edge, or Mate Translate for Opera.

To look up a word or check your grammar, try out Google Dictionary for Chrome, Grammar Checker for Firefox, or Grammarly for Microsoft Edge.

Save things for later

Sure, you can bookmark things for later, but some tools are even better than bookmarks. Take a look at some extensions that make it easier to save content for later.

If you want to save things for access from multiple devices, look at Google Keep for Chrome, Save to Google Drive for Chrome, OneNote Web Clipper for Firefox, Evernote Web Clipper for Microsoft Edge, Save to Pocket for Microsoft Edge, or Pocket for Opera.

Cut back on space and time

Some extensions will help use less data, which can save time, or change how your browser works so your browser just moves more quickly. Here are a few ways you can speed your browser up and save space while you’re at it.

To save space by optimizing or compressing the webpages you visit, check out Data Saver for Chrome or Data saver proxy for Firefox.

To speed your browser up by blocking websites from using trackers, try Ghostery for Microsoft Edge.

Get rid of annoyances

There are many, many things about browsing websites that can be unbelievably irritating. There are two offenders that are perhaps worse than the others.

To block ads in your browser, look into Adblock Plus for Chrome, AdBlocker Ultimate for Firefox, Adguard AdBlocker for Microsoft Edge, or Opera Ad Blocker for Opera.

To stop some videos from playing automatically (but, unfortunately, not all of them), consider adding HTML5 Video Autoplay Blocker for Chrome or Disable HTML5 Autoplay for Firefox.

Change the visuals

Your experience with your browser could completely change just by changing the browser’s appearance. It can be lovely to make a browser look more like your own style, and it’s helpful to set things up in a way that makes sense to you. Here are just a few ways to do that.

To change the colors or images displayed on your browser, look to see if the browser supports themes. You can browse themes or wallpapers for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Vivaldi. If you don’t use these browsers, yours might still have themes available. You can often find out by looking in your browser’s settings or preferences.

To rearrange your tabs, take a look at OneTab for Chrome or Tile Tabs for Firefox.

To make your browser’s tabs pretty, check out Dream Afar New Tab for Chrome or ColorfulTabs for Firefox.

Have some fun

There are, of course, quite a few extensions or add-ons you can use to do fun, random, or just very specific things. Below are some popular ways you might use your browser extensions for fun.

To capture (or possibly record) your screen, try out Screencastify for Chrome, Nimbus Screen Capture for Firefox, or Nimbus Screen Capture for Opera.

To easily use GIFs, GIPHY is the way to go—find their extension on Chrome, Firefox, or Opera.

To get a little more creative, take a look at Sumo Paint for Chrome, SketchPad for Chrome, or Web Paint for Firefox.

Finally (and very importantly), to add emojis (or even Bitmojis!) to your messages and posts, check out Bitmoji for Chrome, Emoji Keyboard for Chrome, Emoji Keyboard for Firefox, or Emoji Keyboard for Opera.

Internet 101: Following the News Online

Internet 101: Following the News Online

Keeping up with the news online can seem tricky at times. There are a lot of news sources out there, and not everyone gets enough out of simply checking a couple news websites every day.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to keep track of the news online. Here are just some of the ways you can keep up with the news from your computer or smartphone:

Use social media

Facebook
Facebook is an increasingly popular way to keep up with the news. There are a lot of benefits to doing this, but there are definitely downsides to keep in mind. Some of the benefits are below:

  • Friends often share articles with similar interests to yours
  • You can follow most news sites on their Facebook pages
  • You can get notifications when the page posts
  • You can create a separate feed with just news pages in it
  • Everything is combined in one place instead of scattered among different sites

Some of the downsides are below:

  • If you don’t create a separate feed for news, you will see a lot of non-credible sources with misinformation
  • Facebook feeds aren’t typically in chronological order
  • Some pages don’t show up in your feed as often as others
  • It’s difficult to personalize the notifications you get
  • You have to hide sources you don’t want to see

Overall, if you’re careful, you might enjoy using Facebook for online news. But it’s not particularly advised to only use Facebook for news, especially if you don’t create a separate news feed for it.

Twitter
Twitter is another popular social media option for news. Like with Facebook, there’s always a chance for false news and the spread of misinformation. However, there are some great aspects of Twitter when it comes to getting your news online. For instance, you can choose to follow most news organizations on Twitter. You can also look at what’s trending very easily. Also, news typically breaks more quickly on Twitter than on Facebook. Sometimes news breaks on Twitter before it even makes it onto most news websites.

Try an RSS app (or other aggregator app)

RSS feeds are a tried-and-true source for news. RSS stands for “rich site summary,” or sometimes “really simple syndication.” RSS feeds are available on many websites (though its popularity may have waned somewhat). It compiles the new information or updates from a website. For instance, RSS feeds for a news website will update each time a news article is posted. These updates show the news post in a stripped-down and basic format.

With access to a website’s RSS feed (which is still often linked to on many websites), a news aggregator can be created. An aggregator can compile all the updates from numerous different feeds. This means a custom news aggregator could show all the updates for the news sites you choose. There are also aggregators that don’t rely on RSS, using their own methods to compile news from different sources.

There are ways to create custom feeds on both a desktop and through an app. Apps are a highly popular way to access news aggregators. They allow access to the news everywhere you go with your phone. Here are just some of the RSS apps you might try, plus one aggregator that isn’t RSS:

Feedly
Feedly is available in the App Store and on Google Play. You can choose what’s included in your feed. Not only can it include blogs and news sites with RSS feeds, it can even include YouTube channels that you follow. You can also browse for other sources that might interest you.

Flipboard
Flipboard is a hugely popular aggregator available in the App Store and on Google Play. It doesn’t typically work like most other RSS apps. You choose interests and topics, and then Flipboard creates a personalized e-magazine of sorts for you. It tends to bring you content that you might not have found otherwise. However, you now have the option to add other RSS feeds to your magazine. If you know the URL to your favorite news website’s RSS feed, you can direct your Flipboard magazine to it.

Flym
Flym is another more typical RSS aggregator app and is available on Google Play. It allows you to add all your RSS feeds to one place. You can even read content offline. You can search through articles and create filters for your feed. Flym is a straightforward option for news aggregating.

Inoreader
Inoreader is available in the App Store and on Google Play. It offers different topics you can choose from to see in your feed. You can also choose from different news sources, and you can use a link to an RSS feed to add a different source to your feed if it’s not readily available in the app. It allows offline reading, and it also tracks what you’ve read so it only shows you unread articles when you open the app. Inoreader is another straightforward option for compiling your news in one app.

Nuzzel
Nuzzel is the non-RSS app in this list. It’s available in the App Store and on Google Play. With Nuzzel, you simply build a custom feed by choosing between feeds on different topics and in different areas. Feeds can also center around certain types of people, like people in a specific profession. You can open the app to scroll through your customized feed, and you can get custom newsletters sent to you. If you don’t necessarily want or need to mess with finding specific news sites to add to your app, Nuzzel is a good option.

Use an RSS aggregator website

As mentioned above, you can combine numerous RSS feeds into one place. This doesn’t necessarily have to be done through an app. If you prefer to read your news on a desktop, here are some websites you might use:

Digg
Digg is majorly popular in the RSS feed world. You can explore top stories and other categories. You can also add different RSS feeds to your personal feed. This is a great website for building a customized feed and also discovering new feeds you might want to add to your own.

Feedly
Feedly has already been mentioned—its app is listed above. But you can also use Feedly’s website instead of an app. It essentially works the same way as through the app. You get the same features, but you don’t have to download another app to your phone. Their website doesn’t work great from, say, a smartphone, so you’ll certainly want the app if you’re on a mobile device of some sort. But if you’re on your computer, Feedly’s website works well.

Create Google News alerts

If you want to keep really up-to-date with specific topics, Google News alerts are the way to go. It’s different from scrolling through the news, of course—you just get alerts for news stories you’ve chosen. But this can be great if you mostly follow the news casually and have a few specific things you want to be really on top of.

It’s easy to set up an alert. From the Google News alerts page, just enter what you want alerts for. Then you can look at more settings and decide how often you want to receive alerts, what kind of sources they should come from (blogs, videos, etc.), and even what region the content is coming from. It will even show you a preview of the kind of content you’ll receive. Check out Google News alerts if there are specific subjects you want to follow closely.

Subscribe to emails from news websites

This one seems obvious, mostly because it’s a fairly old-school way to keep up with the news. It’s still really useful for a lot of people, so give it a try. Most news websites will give you the option to sign up for newsletters or get things like daily digests on certain types of news.

But of course, if you’re interested in multiple websites, you can accumulate a lot of emails. Also, you might not want to have news mixed in with your personal emails. And it can sometimes be hard to personalize it.

If you only have one or two websites you’re interested in and you’re not worried about too much customization, go to your favorite websites and look for email signups. You can often find this at the bottom of the website.

Use a smart speaker

You can also get your news online in a different way—through audio. If you have a smart speaker, like an Amazon Echo, you can set your device up to give you news updates. For instance, in your Alexa Skills, you can enable skills like CNN Flash Briefing, NPR Hourly News Summary, and even local news stations. These are added to your Flash Briefing ability, and you can then ask Alexa to play your Flash Briefing. You can reorder how the news reports play, and you can enable and disable them whenever you want. If you want to listen to your news updates, take a look at your smart device and see what options are available.

(Featured image: all-free-download.com)

Internet 101: Childproofing Your Devices

Internet 101: Childproofing Your Devices

The internet can be a wonderful place, but for people with children, it can also be a cause for concern. It’s pretty common these days for children to have regular access to the internet. Whether it’s a family computer, a parent’s tablet or smartphone, or even the child’s own device, many kids are able to get online every day.

For some, letting children use smartphones, tablets, or computers at all is troubling. At least one study has showed that children getting too much screen time can be bad for their mental health. And of course, some people believe that using the internet and playing video games just isn’t a worthwhile way for a child to spend their time. Some argue that there are better things kids could be doing in their off time.

While these ideas are obviously worth considering, many parents weigh the pros and cons and decide they want their children to have access to the internet through some kind of device. Depending on how old their children are, parents will likely find it extremely difficult to keep kids off the internet anyway. And though there are some serious downsides to consider, there are certainly positives when it comes to letting children have access to apps and certain websites. It’s hard to argue with the idea that there are a lot of different educational apps, games, and websites available for kids. Plus, it seems as though it’s most important to just limit screen time and keep watch on a child’s activity. A little screen time, then, can be fun.

When someone wants to let their child have access to a computer or smart device, there are a lot of things to consider. Specifically, how can adults keep their children as safe as possible, and how can they protect their devices, too? Childproofing can seem complicated, but depending on what you want to do, it might be easier than you think.

Before we get started…

It’s important to note that if you’re looking into childproofing your devices, you should also talk to your kids about how to be safe on the internet. Communication is key when it comes to letting your children use computers and smart devices. If kids don’t know what to watch out for, they could still get themselves into bad situations. And if children know they can talk to an adult about what’s been going on in an app or on a website, it’ll be easier to stop negative experiences before they can escalate. Whatever action you take to childproof a device, make sure you first talk to your kid(s) about why it’s necessary in the first place. The Federal Trade Commission has a page dedicated to talking to your kids about online communication.

Childproofing your computer

There are a number of options for childproofing a computer. Here are a few options you can consider:

Use your computer’s settings

If you have a Windows computer, then there’s a pretty straightforward way to monitor and childproof your child’s time on the device. In your settings, there is an option to set up and customize a child’s account. You can find instructions online about how to set up a restricted account on different Windows versions. For Windows 10, you’ll need to open your settings, go to “Accounts,” select “Family & other users,” and choose “Add a child.” Then you’ll fill in the necessary information to complete a new account.

When you go to manage the child’s settings, you can choose from a number of different options. You can have the child’s activity tracked so it can be sent to you. You can block or allow specific websites, or you can click a button to block websites inappropriate for children, and you can also restrict apps. You can even set certain times that the child is allowed to use the computer. Microsoft’s childproofing option can be extremely helpful.

If you have a Mac, you have just as many options for childproofing. If you go to System Preferences and choose “Parental Controls,” you can create a new account and set it up for a child to use. With Mac’s childproofing, you can restrict or allow certain websites and apps, set up time limits for use, restrict other kinds of content, view a log of visited websites, and even make the desktop easier to use by enabling “Simple Finder.”

Manage your browser’s settings

You can also set up a browser to be more child-friendly. For instance, Google Chrome allows users to create a supervised profile that blocks websites, lets you see what’s been visited, block new installations, enable SafeSearch, and more. Also, Firefox offers some extensions for parental controls.

However, browser settings can only do so much if your computer isn’t safeguarded as well. Also, changing your browser settings or adding an extension won’t do much at all to stop an older child from figuring out how to sidestep the parental controls. Browser settings should really be considered an additional layer of safety, not the primary source.

Block content through your router

You can use a service to block certain content on any device connected to your internet. One popular service is OpenDNS. They have some free and some paid services. Their free Family Shield service allows you to block adult content on the devices using your internet. Circle is another service that pairs with a router and lets you customize what devices are allowed to access when connected to your internet.

Childproofing your tablet

Tablets are popular devices for children. Here are just some ways you can childproof a tablet:

Create a restricted profile

If you have an Android tablet, you can create a restricted profile specifically for your child to use. In your tablet’s settings, find something similar to “Users” or “Profiles.” Then choose a “Restricted profile” or “child profile.” From there you can create a new profile and manage its settings. For instance, on the Kindle Fire you can enable certain books to be available, let the child use certain apps, and enable a kid-friendly browser. As long as you have a lock set for your own profile (like a PIN), when switching back to your profile you’ll encounter a lock screen.

These settings can change from tablet to tablet, so take a look at your tablet and scroll through the options. Most devices do their best to make restricted profile settings as clear and straightforward as possible.

iPads also offer Restrictions for childproofing. In your iPad’s settings, you can create a passcode for your restricted settings and customize your settings. You can restrict certain apps, music, and websites, and you can disable Siri, location services, volume controls, and more.

Lock the app store

To stop children from downloading certain apps, you can lock up a device’s app store. If your device uses Google Play, you can enable parental controls. You can create a PIN and restrict app, TV, and movie downloads to a certain rating range, restrict “sexually explicit” books for download, and restrict explicit music.

As mentioned before, iPads can also be customized for children. You can restrict app downloads in your iPad’s restrictions.

Use screen pinning or guided access

If you have an Android tablet with a later version of Android installed, you can use screen pinning when you’re letting a child use a shared device. Some tablets won’t have this feature, but some do. To check it out, try going to your Settings and tapping on your Security settings. Look for some mention of screen pinning. Screen pinning will let you open a specific app and pin it to the screen so a child can’t navigate away from it. It can be extremely useful if you want to know exactly which app your child is using at the time.

On an iPad, guided access can do the same thing. In your iPad’s settings, go to “General,” then “Accessibility” and find “Guided Access.” You can turn Guided Access off or on, set up a PIN, and learn how to restrict the device to show a certain app on the screen so a child can’t switch to a different app.

Download additional apps

You can also download some other apps to help you childproof your device. You can download an app like AppLock to restrict access to certain things. You can do the same with McAfee’s Safe Family. You can also download some child-specific versions of popular apps. Specifically, YouTube Kids lets you give a child access to some YouTube content without having to worry about the child wandering off into inappropriate content.

Childproofing your smartphone

Childproofing a smartphone is extremely similar to the techniques listed for tablets. In fact, all of the above is applicable to smartphones except for one key difference: restricted profiles do not seem to be available yet for Android phones.

Other than this, you can follow the same steps for smartphones as you would for tablets. iPads and iPhones have the same parental control features that let you restrict content or use guided access, and Android phones (as long they have a later version of Android installed) can enable screen pinning.

Internet 101: Which Messaging App is Right for You?

Internet 101: Which Messaging App is Right for You?

Communication has certainly changed dramatically over the years. When email entered our lives, it changed the way we could communicate. When SMS (‘Short Message Service’) texting, the form of texting we all know and love, became more accessible and cost-friendly, its popularity exploded. Since then, we’ve used many different ways to communicate. Email may not be the most popular way to communicate these days, though it’s of course common in the business world. Texting is obviously still popular, but there are far more options. Over the years, more and more messaging options have come onto the scene. Since there are so many different apps to choose from, it might seem difficult to decide which one you actually want to stick with. If you’re not sure which one you want to use, or if you’re not sure what people are talking about when they say ‘kik,’ this article might just help you figure out which app you’ll enjoy the most—or if you even want to use a messaging app.

What are the pros?

There are a lot of reasons to download a messaging app. Here are just a few reasons to consider:

  • Messaging apps can have special features that are better than typical SMS text platforms
  • Many messaging apps also include video chat and calling, which can streamline your communication
  • Most apps have fun things like extra (or different) emojis and stickers
  • You don’t have to exchange phone numbers with someone to keep in contact
  • You can feel freer to casually message people, because you know they chose to connect with you

What are the cons?

Here are a few reasons you might not want to go with an app:

  • Downloading another app takes up more space on your device
  • Your contacts might all be using different apps, because there are so many apps to choose from
  • Apps might glitch or start crashing, while the typical SMS text platform is generally fairly steady
  • Messaging apps use some of your data, while standard SMS texts don’t (as long as you have SMS texting in your phone plan)

What should you consider?

If you weigh the pros and cons and want to use a messaging app, or if you have one now but aren’t sure if it’s the right one for you, here are a few questions you could ask:

What purpose do you have?

Do you want a messaging app for business? School? Family? Friends? Some mix of these groups? Your purpose might change which app you go with. If you want a messaging app to keep up with co-workers and communicate in the workplace, you might need less bells and whistles, and it might need to be more practical (unless you have a really cool workplace). If you’re looking for an app so you can work with your classmates, you’ll probably need an app that lets you clearly define groups. If you just want a messaging app for your friends and family, you’ll likely want more of the fun features that can keep you all entertained and is pretty informal.

Is it easy to use?

When you’re choosing a messaging app, you should definitely look for one that you can easily use. Depending on your experience with smartphones, different apps, and messaging in general, you might need something different from everyone else. You’ll want to make sure it’s intuitive (you don’t have to go searching all over the place to find basic features). You can also consider whether it’s similar to other things you’ve used in the past.

What kind of messages do you want to be able to send?

If you want to just send text-based messages, most of the following apps will work great for that. If you want to focus on communicating through photos, other apps will do the job better. If you want video capabilities, many apps offer this option, but some are better than others. Make sure to see whether your app offers all the kinds of messaging you want to use.

Is the app safe and secure?

Most of the chat apps you’ve heard about are considered safe, but be careful not to add a random app that just looks cool without looking into it first. Scam apps could steal your data or do worse. Also, some apps are built entirely on the premise of being more secure than SMS texting and other apps out there. One app, called Signal, is based entirely on this idea. It’s slightly different from other messaging apps, though, in that you still send texts to peoples’ phone numbers. If you want to be extra careful with your messages, keep in mind that some apps offer more protection than others, though they might not work the same way as the typical messaging app.

Is it convenient?

Some messaging apps might be more convenient for you than others. If space is an issue, some take up less space, so take that into consideration. Also, some apps are connected with other social media platforms you might already be on, so that can be an added layer of convenience.

What are your options?

Here are just 7 of the messaging apps you might want to choose from. There are many, many more out there, so consider asking around to learn what your friends and family prefer. These are just some of the apps that are widely discussed and used!

Facebook Messenger
Offers texts, photos, videos (including video calling), and voice calling
Facebook Messenger is, obviously, Facebook’s connected messaging app. Messenger is separate from the Facebook app, so you do have to download another additional app to use it. Messenger has a lot of different options, like making group messages with fun group names, sending photos with face filters and other decorations, and using Facebook’s stickers. Facebook Messenger is interesting because there are so many things you can do with it. One thing people may not be as aware of is the ability to play games through the app, like Word Streak with Friends. There are other games, too, built into the Messenger app. It seems like you can do just about everything with the app, even send money and share your location. You and most of your connections are probably on Facebook already, so you’ll know you can contact just about everyone here. If you want to send just about any kind of message and you have Facebook, try this app out. Facebook Messenger is free to download—check out their website to get started!

GroupMe
Offers texts, photos, and videos
GroupMe lets you connect with groups of people to keep in touch for whatever purpose. It’s certainly popular in the college world and in the workplace. You can create as many different groups as you want. It has its own set of emojis, which are pretty cute and keep things a little interesting. GroupMe has a nice gallery view, so if you’re in a group that sends a lot of media, it’s easy to flip through what’s been sent. It also easily lets you send your location, quickly inviting group members to join you where you are. GroupMe really relies on its usefulness in communicating with groups, particularly if you don’t want to share your number (though users without the app can still receive GroupMe messages, which is convenient). If you want to be able to message groups easily (like for a group project or work event), this is a great app for it. GroupMe is free to download—check out their website to get started!

Instagram Direct
Offers texts, photos, and videos
Instagram Direct is Instagram’s answer to a messaging service. Instead of just posting your Instas and liking your friends’ photos, you can also message people directly through the app. Like Snapchat, your photos and videos will automatically disappear after a while (though not all of your messages disappear—just your photos and videos). You can send all sorts of media through Instagram Direct. Also similar to Snapchat, you can add face filters to your photos, and you can add cool effects to your videos. Boomerang is an especially popular video feature; you can make a short video clip loop back and forth. If you already have Instagram, you already have Instagram Direct, which makes it more convenient than some other messaging apps might seem. Of course, if you want to connect with people who aren’t on Instagram, this isn’t the app for you. If most of your friends and family are connected with you on Insta, though, this app might be just perfect. Instagram is free to download—check out their website to get started!

Kik
Offers texts, photos, and videos (including video calling)
Kik is a pretty popular messaging app that people often use if they don’t yet feel comfortable giving their phone number to someone (though this isn’t its only use, of course). You can’t make regular voice calls, but you can do pretty much everything else, so it’s a good option no matter what kind of messages you’d like to send. You can send all sorts of GIFs and stickers, and you can create group chats. Kik also has a pretty nice, clean interface, so it’s not really confusing. Kik also has some interesting special features. For one thing, you can interact with Kik bots to kill time if you’re not sure who to talk to. Also, you have a Kik code that others can scan in order to connect with you, which is convenient. Quite a few people are on Kik, so it might be a good option for you. Kik is free to download—check out their website to get started!

Snapchat
Offers texts, photos, and videos
Snapchat is the popular photo- and video-sharing app that makes your messages impermanent. Messages disappear after a short amount of time, and even the photos and videos in your personal story disappear after a short while. Snapchat centers specifically around photos and videos, though you can, of course, send text-based messages. You can use Snapchat filters to do things like weirdly distort your face and voice, give yourself cat ears, or put someone else’s face on your own. You can take short videos with these filters, too, and you can do other cool effects. You can also easily add text on top of your photos, communicating through your photos. If you want to message primarily through photos and videos, this is the app for you. Snapchat is free to download—check out their website to get started!

WeChat
Offers texts, photos, videos (including video calling), and voice calling
WeChat is a messaging app that offers all the kinds of things you might expect. It lets you message in all kinds of different ways, but WeChat also has an interesting feel to it. The main page is very basic, sort of like your typical SMS chat setup, but once you’re in a chat, it can get as complicated as you’d like it to, with voice messages, the ability to match your step count with your friends (if you each have it enabled), group chats, and interestingly, broadcasted messages that go to numerous people but don’t share who all the people are. WeChat is also a nice choice if you have friends in China (as I’ve recently learned from experience). Some messaging apps are blocked in China, but WeChat is still available there. It also has a very strange bunch of animated stickers you can download, which keeps it very interesting. If you’re looking for an app that is slightly different from the rest, this one will do the trick. WeChat is free to download—check out their website to get started!

WhatsApp
Offers texts, photos, videos (including video calling), and voice calling
WhatsApp is a hugely popular messaging app that has a lot of great features. You can send all different types of messages, you can create groups, and you can easily access it everywhere, including on your computer. It also has its own cute versions of the emojis you’re used to. The app is pretty clear and easy to use; it’s not really bulky or confusing at all. Honestly, it’s really a simple and straightforward way to message people. WhatsApp is an alluring choice, partly because it has so many nice features and partly because so many other people are already on it. It’s also nice because it’s easy to send files through the app. You can do pretty much all the things you’d expect with it. If you want a messaging app that a lot of people are on and that does all of the basics, this app might be your best option. WhatsApp is free to download—check out their website to get started!

Internet 101: Selling Online

Internet 101: Selling Online

Online selling has changed a lot over the years. Back in the earlier days of the internet, online selling options were much fewer, and it was fairly straightforward. Now when it comes to selling online, your options are not just limited to one major website. There are plenty of options, which might seem intimidating to those who haven’t sold online much (or at all). You can sell just about everything online (within reason), so you might be interested in using the internet to clear out some of your unwanted items. If you are confused about what to look out for and where to go, here is a look at today’s world of online sales.

What can you sell online?

The short answer is “just about anything.” With so many people able to get online, there are plenty of people out there willing to buy a wide variety of items. You might think what you have to sell is not worth someone else’s money, but there will most likely be someone out there willing to purchase what you have. The obvious things you can sell online are clothing, games, electronics, toys, furniture, household appliances, dishes, and other typical household items. You can also sell your old bike or your lawn tools. But you can sell more than just this. You can sell your own creations online, like your crafts. If you enjoy knitting scarves or carving wood, you can sell your stuff online. And you might be able to get some other interesting things off of your hands by selling online. People will buy your rocks and gems, spare parts, old trading cards, and more. If you do not want it anymore, give it a shot and try selling it online.

Keep in mind, though, that there are some limits to what can be sold online. Clearly you shouldn’t sell anything online if it would be illegal to sell in any other way. For instance, you shouldn’t attempt to sell any kinds of drugs or dangerous items on the web. Then there are some items that are illegal to sell online only in certain states. When it comes to guns, the laws vary state-to-state, so be sure to check whether it is illegal before you put it online for purchase. The same goes for certain animals—some states don’t allow specific animals to be sold online (or at all). Check out your state’s laws on this before selling.

Aside from some items being illegal, it is important to know that while you might be able to sell just about anything online, there are some things that are just less likely to sell. It is important to maintain your expectations when selling things that people do not typically like to buy online, especially if you will be shipping the item. People like to see and touch some items before agreeing to buy them. If you are selling a pillow, it will be difficult for people to know whether the pillow is soft, or whether it will be big enough for what they need it for, or whether it is good quality. If you are selling food, some people might not trust you as a seller, but they also might want to be able to see the food and actually look it over before giving you money. Simply keep in mind that even though you can place most things online for sale, and it doesn’t hurt to try, some items just might not be as popular for purchasing.

What are the benefits of selling online?

There are a number of great reasons to choose to sell online. Here are just a few reasons:

  • You can find wider range of people who might be interested in your item
  • You can put items online and wait for a response instead of sitting outside at a yard sale
  • You can set up auctions on some websites
  • You can join in where more and more people are now selling
  • You can more easily learn about and compete with other sellers’ prices

What are the drawbacks of selling online?

There are some things you might consider before deciding to sell online. Here are a few things to think about:

  • You have to be careful of thieves and scammers
  • You have to consider shipping costs in some cases
  • You will miss out on selling to the people who still typically avoid online purchases

What should you watch out for?

If you decide to sell online, it’s important to know what to keep an eye on. Always keep watch for suspicious behavior, and if something seems wrong, trust your gut instinct. Keep a lookout for the following:

  • Scammers just trying to get your information
  • Buyers trying to use untrustworthy forms of payment
  • Potential buyers offering unfair trades
  • Buyers attempting to meet in unsafe places (choose your meetup spot carefully—some cities even have dedicated online purchase parking spots at police stations)

Where can you sell?

Many sales sites have been around a long time, but there are some new (or at least newer) avenues for selling online. You may be familiar with some (or all) of these options. Keep in mind that there are a lot of different ways you can sell online, and you should certainly choose whichever website or app that you are most comfortable using and that will work best for what you are trying to sell. Some of these options require shipping your items, while others allow you to meet up with buyers and avoid shipping fees. Don’t forget this important aspect of selling when you’re making up your mind where you want to sell from.

eBay

eBay is probably the most well-known personal online sales website that there is. eBay may not be talked about as often as it used to, but it is still a perfectly reasonable option for selling your unwanted stuff. With eBay, you will have to ship your items, so take that in consideration. To sell on eBay, you will have to have an eBay account. In order for your items to sell, it can be helpful to have a profile that is in good standing. You might consider buying some items on eBay and making some positive transactions so that your profile looks good when potential buyers visit it. With eBay, it is a good idea to check out which items are prohibited for sale—their list might be different from what your state allows. On eBay, you can set up an auction, set a firm price, or set a price but allow for a best offer. If you decide to use eBay, do a search for the item you want to sell and get a feel for what price it typically sells for. You want your price to be competitive. When it comes to pictures, always make sure they are clear and show the product honestly, and you might want to make them look extra nice to catch peoples’ eyes.

Craigslist

Craigslist is another very well-known choice when considering online sales. Craigslist has been around for years, and it can be very useful for buying, selling, finding job listings, and more. Craigslist is pretty different from eBay, especially when it comes to product delivery. With Craigslist, you will be meeting with someone to sell your item to them, instead of shipping the item by mail. Each different location has its own separate Craigslist. When selling items on Craigslist, it’s a good idea to be careful with your information. Most people like to have their email address and phone number hidden instead of openly posting them for all to see. Like eBay, Craigslist has a page detailing prohibited items, so make sure your item doesn’t fall into any of these categories. Craigslist is a great choice for selling as long as you are comfortable selling your stuff in person. A lot of people use Craigslist, and anyone can scan through the pages and pages of items for sale, so if you sell there, you will have a pretty wide audience. Just make sure you’re careful about where you meet buyers.

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook added Facebook Marketplace just last year. Before its introduction, plenty of Facebook users were using the social media platform to sell their stuff. Facebook’s addition of its own area for sales helped create a widely-accessible, easily formatted and searched area of for-sale items. If you have a Facebook account, you can sell on Marketplace. It’s very easy to sell something through Marketplace. You only have to fill out a few text boxes on a small square screen that pops up. You add categories to your postings, so buyers can browse the categories and find what they want. Facebook Marketplace is a pretty useful area of the website. If you want your items to reach people all across Facebook, it may be what you want to use. Keep in mind that you still want to watch out for scammers—just because someone has a Facebook account doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Also, take a look at the items you are not allowed to sell on Facebook.

Garage Sale Facebook Groups

Before Marketplace, there were garage sale groups for individual areas. These groups are still thriving, at least in many areas, and they are still a good option for sales. These groups often require that members be approved, so fake accounts and accounts associated with past scams are typically kept out of the groups. They also usually have rules that limit what people can sell, and most importantly, rules that make sales run more smoothly. For instance, they might have rules about whether you can raise prices and how to choose the person you’ll sell to out of several interested people. These rules help give online sales some structure instead of it being a bit of a free-for-all. I often prefer using these groups for that very reason. You do have to learn how to stay firm in your selling decisions in these groups—people are prone to haggling here, and if you don’t set firm rules about where you’ll meet or whether you’ll hold items for people, you can get a bad deal. But as long as you know what you want and make it clear, it’s typically easy to sell in these groups. To find one near you, try searching Facebook for your city’s name and words like “garage sale” or “yard sale.”

Apps

Aside from websites, there are some special apps just for selling your stuff. For an app with a wide variety of categories, there’s letgo. letgo lets you sell all sorts of things. It’s a pretty popular way to sell online—on Google Play, there have been over ten million downloads, and it has 4.5 out of 5 stars. OfferUp is a very similar app, so you might consider trying them both to see which you like best. OfferUp also has over ten million downloads on Google Play, and it has 4.6 out of 5 stars. Then there are more specific apps, like Poshmark and Vinted. Both apps specialize in selling clothing, particularly women’s. If you have a lot of clothing to sell and you want to sell it to more than just local people, you might consider one of these apps. Both services take a cut of your profit, though, with their fees—Vinted takes 19% (up to $5) and Poshmark takes $2.95 for items under $15 or 20% for items above. Despite the fees, these apps might be worth your time if you do have a lot of clothing, because you will reach a large number of people through these popular apps.

Internet 101: Choosing a Browser

Internet 101: Choosing a Browser

You might already know this, but not all browsers are created equal. Many people buy a new computer and simply use whichever browser is already installed, never switching or looking into other options. Others may download and use whichever browser they’ve always used, or whichever one seems to be the most popular. But there’s more than one option.

What should you consider?

There are a number of things to consider when looking at the different browsers being offered. One thing that makes some browsers different from each other is that they might have different rendering engines. A rendering engine is what reads certain information (like HTML, typically used to create websites) and then displays it. All that really means is that different browsers might have different programs that they use to show you content (like websites). Because of this, some browsers might display certain things differently or even be unable to correctly load certain bits of content. When it comes to this aspect of choosing a browser, your best bet is just to try out the browser of your choice and keep an eye out to see if any of your usual websites look odd or won’t let you see certain content. If this happens, try another browser and see whether the problem goes away.

It’s also important to consider safety when choosing a browser. Because the different browsers are made differently, some are typically considered safer than others. One safety concern is whether a browser can easily be hacked. Earlier this year, Digital Trends reported on the Pwn2Own hacking event that tests how safe and secure browsers really are. The hackers found that Google Chrome was the most secure, as it was unable to be hacked over the course of the event, and that Microsoft Edge was the least secure, hacked five times. (Firefox came in second place, while Safari came in third.) Of course, this is only one consideration when it comes to safety, but it is still worth noting that, as the Tom’s Hardware website mentions, Google Chrome is typically the most secure browser among the major browsers being tested.

What many people find most important is that their browser is easy to use and has helpful features. For instance, some browsers may have bookmarks that are really easily organized, access to additional extensions (like extensions that let users block ads or put slideshow articles on one page), and ways to customize what the browser looks like. Some browsers have special features, so it’s important to consider which features are really the most important to you and which you might want to do without in order to have a faster or potentially safer browser.

What are your options?

Despite how it seems, there isn’t really just a handful of browsers out there. Because there’s not enough room in this article, I’ll be talking about five browsers that are among the most well-known, but they’re definitely not all you have to choose from. Other browsers sometimes branch off of these bigger browsers and create something new. Keep in mind that if you choose a lesser-known browser, you should research it first to verify that it’s safe and has the features you need.

For this article, let’s take a look at some of the more well-known browser options. Scroll through the list to learn a bit about each one.

Google Chrome

Google Chrome is an extremely popular browser. Chrome was first released less than ten years ago, and since then, it has become many peoples’ default browser. It’s available on several operating systems, including Windows and Android, and it is available on Apple’s mobile iOS, though it isn’t as well-supported on Apple products. As mentioned earlier, Chrome often leads the popular web browsers when it comes to safety. Google Chrome works well whether you have an account or not, but if you do have a Google account, it becomes even more convenient. For instance, if you use Chrome on your computer and on your phone, and you’re logged into your Google account on both, your bookmarks are saved to your account and you can access them wherever you go. Chrome is typically considered one of the more quick-moving browsers. It has typical features most people will want, like easy-to-use bookmarks, themes that can change the browser’s appearance, an optional home button, and plenty of useful extensions to make the browser even better. Many people particularly enjoy Chrome because of the wide variety of extensions available and its incognito mode that prevents the browser from keeping history or cookie information while turned on.
Visit the Google Chrome website

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge is Microsoft’s newest offering meant to replace the much-scorned Internet Explorer (IE). Though Edge has not gained a huge following yet, there are some who might prefer it over other browsers. It was initially released a couple of years ago, but it got its major release earlier this year when it became the default browser on many computers instead of IE. It’s used on Windows 10 and Xbox One. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, in some cases Edge has been found to be less secure than the other major browsers in certain scenarios. Since the browser is still fairly new, there will certainly be more changes and improvements over the coming years. Edge can also be used on Windows 10 Mobile, so it can be used on some Windows phones. It has a pretty cool way of using tabs—like other browsers, you have tabs at the top of your browser for each page, but it also has a display that lets you preview your tabs and easily click on the page you want to navigate back to. It also has Cortana, its “personal assistant,” built in to the browser, which you can use to ask questions with your voice and possibly find information more quickly. And if you want to share personalized content with others, it lets you draw on pages and share them with others. Like Chrome, it does of course have basic features like bookmarks, and though there are fewer available extensions, you can still do things like block ads.
Visit the Microsoft Edge website

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox is another extremely popular browser—it’s typically considered the second most popular (behind Chrome). Its release was in 2004, and during the time since then, it has occasionally found itself at the top of the list in popularity. It’s available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and both Android and iOS, meaning it can be used on a wide variety of devices. Firefox works to keep up to date on current standards; this means that there is an emphasis on making sure content is displayed as well as it can be. As mentioned before, it recently came in second place during one security testing event, though it is worthwhile to note that in the past, Firefox was typically considered less safe. By all accounts it has become much more secure over the years, making it a very reasonable choice. Firefox has some cool features available, like the ability to customize your toolbar, access to your bookmarks and other info from anywhere when you use your Firefox account, themes, and private browsing. They also have a nice collection of add-ons that do really useful things, like block ads or do a reverse image search (search using an image instead of text). And of course, like the other browsers, it has bookmarks and all of the other typical features you would expect in a browser.
Visit the Mozilla Firefox website

Opera

Opera is a browser that has been around for a pretty long time. Its original release was in 1996, making it over 20 years old. Opera is sometimes credited as helping lead the way in some popular features that browsers would later pick up and incorporate, which is not much of a surprise considering its longevity. Opera is available on many devices—it’s free for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as Android and iOS. There’s even a version you can download onto a flash drive and take with you anywhere. Over the past few years, Opera has undergone some changes that have not always gone over well, but in general it’s seen its share of downloads and has been pretty popular. One of Opera’s biggest selling points is how fast it moves. Opera uses a technique that helps load pages extremely quickly, so if you have a somewhat slow connection, or even one that’s just average, Opera is a great choice. It has some very nice features, including the ability to block ads without adding a special extension, visual bookmarks that give you previews of pages, the ability to access your info anywhere with an Opera account, and, quite different from the other browsers, a built-in VPN feature. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way to connect to the internet and stay even more secure, and many people use them. Opera was the first browser to have a VPN built in. Opera also has a lot of add-ons available, like reverse image searches and extensions meant to improve social media navigation. It also has what you would expect, like bookmarks and themes.
Visit the Opera website

Safari

Safari is the browser you’re probably using if you’re reading this article on an Apple device. Safari is the default browser on Apple products, and it’s been around since the early 2000s. Though the browser had a bit of a short-lived run on Windows, it’s no longer supported on Windows, instead being offered on Mac and iOS. You might remember that Safari came in third place in a recent security test—but of course, this was just one test. Safari is typically considered a secure browser. It offers the ability to browse privately, and it also tries to prevent advertisers from targeting you based on your browsing. A big selling point for Safari is that it’s the pre-installed browser for Apple products and ties into other Apple offerings, like the iCloud. It’s also promoted as being the fastest and most energy-conserving browser on Apple devices. Some of its particularly good features include stopping auto-play videos, a Smart Search that gives intuitive suggestions, and, yes, plenty of add-ons. It also has the basic features you want, like bookmarks and some customization.
Visit the Safari website

Vivaldi

Vivaldi may be the browser you’re least likely to have heard of. Vivaldi is not one of the most widely used browsers, but it does have a good following. Vivaldi is very new—it was created after some people were less than impressed with changes made to the Opera browser, and it was just released last year. Vivaldi is meant to bring back some features people missed from Opera and to create what they hope will be a better browser. Since it’s so new, there’s not a lot to note about its security yet, though most view it as a safe choice. Vivaldi is designed to be minimalist—there’s not a lot of distracting stuff going on. However, it can be quite heavily customized, allowing you to reposition where things are, change colors, and much more. It also lets you do some cool and different things with tabs, like group certain tabs together. It has bookmarks, of course, and a browser history. Its history is cool, though; it can display your browsing habits as visual data, giving you an interesting look into your own browsing history. These are just a few of the nice features on Vivaldi. Plus, since it’s based on the same browser engine as Chrome, many Chrome extensions can be installed in Vivaldi. It’s still a pretty new option, but it certainly has a lot of features you might want to give a try.
Visit the Vivaldi website

Internet 101: Choosing a Cloud

Internet 101: Choosing a Cloud

Choosing a cloud can be difficult. While cloud storage has been widely used for some time now, many people may not know its uses or really know what their options are. Cloud storage is one of the more popular types of storage these days, and if you’re concerned with keeping your files safe and secure, understanding the cloud is pretty important.

What is cloud storage?

The cloud is a service accessed through the internet, allowing users to upload their files to servers and later access them for viewing or downloading. With cloud storage, your files may not be on your actual device at all, instead uploaded on the internet through whichever service you choose to use. Cloud storage can be used through a browser or through a service’s app.

What are some pros and cons?

There are numerous pros and cons to consider when choosing cloud storage. Cloud storage might not be for everyone. It’s also very important to note that everyone should be safe about keeping their files backed up. Instead of simply relying on your files to stay safe in the cloud, you should consider also placing your files somewhere else, like on a USB drive (flash drive), before permanently deleting the files from your computer, phone, or tablet.

Pros

  • You can back up your photos and other files in an additional location in case your USB drive, computer, or other device loses the data
  • You can store your files on the cloud instead of taking up the space on your phone’s or computer’s internal storage
  • You can access your files from anywhere that you have an internet connection, even from different devices
  • You can often use your cloud service to share files with others
  • You can organize your files easily

Cons

  • Despite the major services implementing strict safety precautions, it’s possible your files could be compromised by hackers
  • If you lose access to the internet, you won’t be able to load your files
  • If the server has issues, your photos may be inaccessible for a short while

What options are available?

There are quite a few options when it comes to cloud storage. Some people buy new phones that have cloud storage apps pre-installed and are happy to stick to that app instead of looking into others. Many of the cloud services are very similar, so it’s no surprise that a person might want to stick to what they have. However, it’s always a good idea to know which options are available to you. Here are just five of the more popular cloud storage services you can choose from:

Amazon Drive

Amazon Drive is a service that has free and paid options. Amazon members can get 5GB of free storage. Amazon Prime members, on the other hand, get unlimited storage space for their photos and 5GB of other file storage, all for free with their membership. It can store all of your files and is a very straightforward cloud storage service. Amazon Drive can be accessed through a browser or through their app, and it is available through a computer, an iPhone, or an Android device. You can enable certain files or folders to be shared, creating a link to the specified file(s) and making them available to others. Amazon Drive has clear folder organization and makes it easy to organize your files and place photos in albums. You can even invite other Prime members into a shared “Family Vault” of photos.

Cost: 5GB of space is free; 5GB of space + unlimited photo storage is free for Prime members; other plans are available from $11.99 a year and up.
Go to the Amazon Drive website for more information or to sign up.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a storage service that has free and paid storage options available. With a free Dropbox Basic account, users get 2GB of space. (You can also earn more storage space by completing certain tasks.) It can store all your files, and depending on which plan you get, there are quite a few good features. With Dropbox Basic, you can make your files public for others to access, and you can create shared folders in order to work on files together. You can also let others upload files to your Dropbox even if they don’t have an account. You can star files for easier access, and there’s a search bar available. You can access Dropbox from a computer or from an app. On your computer, Dropbox creates a special Dropbox folder for you to drag and drop files you want to upload to the cloud. With other paid plans, there are extra features like more space and access to Dropbox Paper for working on documents with other people.

Cost: 2GB of space is free; other monthly plans range from $9.99 to $25.
Go to the Dropbox website for more information or to sign up.

Google Drive

Google Drive is a cloud storage service that offers free and paid storage. Google Drive users can get 15GB of storage completely for free. It will store any files you have, so that includes things like photos, music, documents, videos, etc. You can access the service through your browser or through an app. In addition to being able to access your photos anywhere, it also offers a way to share your files with other people. Your files are automatically private, but you can decide to invite other people to access your file and even make edits to the file with you. You can open up individual files or whole folders to people you want to have access. The service has a nice search feature (unsurprising, since it’s Google), and it can even search within images if it recognizes a certain object and search for words within scanned documents. Google Drive also works well with other Google services, like Gmail and Google Docs.

Cost: 15GB of space is free; other monthly plans range from $1.99 to $99.99; if you’re feeling crazy and need 30TB for some reason, they even have a monthly plan for $299.99.
Go to the Google Drive website for more information or to sign up.

iCloud

iCloud is Apple’s cloud storage offering. If you have an Apple device, this may be the storage plan that will work best for you. iCloud users can get 5GB of storage for free. It can store all of your files, including the usual photos, videos, documents, and any other files you have. iCloud can be accessed through the iCloud program on your Mac, through an app on your Apple device, or from any browser. This enables users to access their files wherever they have an internet connection. They can also let other people view, save, and edit certain files. iCloud also has family plans, so you and other family members can go in on a plan together and have a shared photo album in the cloud. (Don’t worry, you get to decide what’s shared to the family cloud.) iCloud will also back up your device every night so you can restore your data if a problem occurs. And the service works well with other Apple offerings, like your mail, contacts, and reminders.

Cost: 5GB of space is free; other monthly plans range from $.99 to $9.99, including family plans.
Go to the iCloud website for more information or to sign up.

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft OneDrive is cloud storage that offers free and paid plans. A free account gives users 5GB of storage space. You can store all of your files privately, or open some up for other people to access. You can access it through a browser or an app. With a free account, you’re able to search through your files easily. You’re also able to edit and make notes on your files that you’ve uploaded, even using a mobile device. There are easily navigated folders and even a Recent tab for finding things you’ve recently interacted with. OneDrive also notes that it’s encrypted, emphasizing its security and the safety of your files. With paid plans, you can do extra things like set your links to expire after a certain length of time, access files offline, scan documents, or even get Microsoft Office programs like Word and PowerPoint included in the service.

Cost: 5GB of space is free; other monthly plans range from $1.99 to $9.99, and there are yearly plans, as well.
Go to the Microsoft OneDrive website for more information or to sign up.

Internet 101: The Internet of Things

Internet 101: The Internet of Things

By now you may have heard someone talking about the Internet of Things (or IoT). This term has been popping up more and more in recent years, becoming part of many peoples’ everyday vocabulary. But for many people, the name has appeared so suddenly that it’s caused some puzzled looks. What is the IoT, and how can you start taking part in the phenomena…or are you already?

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things refers to the smart products that connect to the internet or to each other. You bring the Internet of Things into your home when you buy certain smart products. For instance, your version of the IoT might come from your smart fridge and your Amazon Echo. These smart products use the internet to complete their services. Because of the internet connectivity, smart products that are part of the Internet of Things are able to offer more highly technological solutions to older, less advanced household items.

What are the privacy concerns?

There is an ongoing and lively debate about the Internet of Things, and it mostly centers on privacy. Many people feel perfectly safe using smart products that connect to the internet, stating that the manufacturers can’t use these products to gather or use their data in unwanted ways. Others argue that, terms or service or not, the internet of things can be used to compile data on individuals and be used in negative ways. Some also worry about government reach and whether their data or recordings could be compiled by government agencies. There are some cases of the government attempting to seize data in instances of criminal cases, like when Amazon was pressured to turn over recordings captured by a murder suspect’s Echo device. (After Amazon held out, the suspect eventually allowed Amazon to turn over the data.) But opinions still differ on how big of a concern privacy is with internet-connected devices. How private and protected your data will be is difficult to fully know, though the Terms of Service (TOS) for each device you connect might give you a better idea of what to expect. Whatever you decide, just be sure to read the TOS carefully for each product, making sure your data won’t be passed on or stored by anyone who could misuse it.

What are the pros and cons?

Privacy isn’t the only discussion to be had about the Internet of Things. Here are some other things to consider when deciding whether to jump on board with the IoT:

Pros

  • You have access to new and exciting tech
    Smart devices are everywhere, and there are new and interesting items being added to the Internet of Things on a regular basis. So many different products are becoming part of the IoT that it’s often hard to even keep track of what’s available.
  • You’re given the ability to perform tasks more quickly
    After setting up a device, having internet-connected devices often makes it easier to complete tasks. You can shut off an appliance that’s in the other room while you’re running out the door, for instance, instead of taking the time to go back and flip a switch.
  • You can use hands-free abilities
    Many devices are voice-controlled, like certain remotes and Amazon products, meaning you can often get something done just by using your voice. If you’re a multi-tasker (who isn’t these days?), you could be checking an email with one hand, pouring your coffee with the other, and adding an event to your calendar just with your voice.
  • It’s possible to create a hub for numerous items
    With the Internet of Things, more and more of your home products can be connected with each other, and in some cases, they can even be accessed through the same app. One way you might do this is by having several different light bulbs all able to be controlled in the same app, which makes it possible to turn all your lights off or on at the same time.
  • There’s a growing base of apps and abilities
    Some devices, like the Amazon Echo, include different skills that can be enabled, and these skills are consistently being improved and added to. Other smart products are regularly updated to work more smoothly and add more convenient features. Knowing that people get tired of the same old same old, most companies are working to make their products better and more convenient.

Cons

  • You become dependent on an internet connection
    Devices that are part of the Internet of Things rely on, well, the internet, so capabilities are reduced (or even entirely shut down) during internet outages. It’s already frustrating enough when you’re not able to watch Netflix on your computer during internet down time, so losing the ability to talk to your Echo is like salt in the wound. (Speaking of internet reliability, don’t forget about Easy Internet Now’s reliable, no-contract service!)
  • The price can be a problem
    Some smart devices can be expensive during initial release, which means you may have to wait until prices drop. For instance, some smart appliances can cost over a thousand dollars, when its internet-less counterpart might be only a couple hundred dollars. There are exceptions to this, of course, but price is still a major consideration.
  • The lifespan may not be desirable
    Some smart products may become obsolete more quickly than older products, as the technology continues growing. Like smartphones, devices that are part of the Internet of Things are getting better and better, and some companies will obviously choose to release brand new products that make their former versions less usable over time. Typically (though not always), older devices are updated less often, making the newer (and often more expensive) products more enjoyable to use.
  • Smart products are still in development
    Some items may have fewer options and capabilities at first, since many devices are so new and somewhat experimental. If you opt to purchase smart devices when they’re still brand new, you run the risk of purchasing a product that might end up being less useful than you expected.

What can you get?

Many more products are becoming part of the IoT as the months pass. Here are some types of products you can find, along with one or two products available now (or soon!) in each category:

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list, but you can see that there’s a wide range of products that can connect to the internet and expand the Internet of Things. Now that you know what the IoT is, it might be easier to keep an eye on the next new smart device.