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Free, Must-Have Tools for Social Networking

What do the services Pixelpipe.com, Etherpad.com, Tr.im and namechk.com have in common? All four are tools that I can't live without these days and didn't even know existed a few months ago.

That is how fast the Internets are changing. I suggest you give each of the four a quick try out and see if you agree that you can save yourself a lot of time with each of them.

Pixelpipe is a service much like Ping.fm. It allows you to post the same piece of content to multiple sites. Whether it is a status update (which is just what Ping does), a blog entry, a video, or a series of photos, it is a very useful service and handles more than 80 different sites. Look for a review to come soon in Computerworld next month.

The downside is that you have to store your authentication credentials with the service for each site, which may make you nervous if you care. And if you mess up, your typos will be immediately sent out to the world for many of your correspondents to see, because there is no easy way to recall the messages without visiting each site individually.

I like it mainly because I post my blog entries to multiple platforms, part for redundancy's sake, part because I don't trust Wordpress to be the sole repository of my work product.

Next is Etherpad, a service that allows multiple people to concurrently edit a document using just a Web browser. You create an unique URL and then send that to your collaborators via email. Once someone knows the URL, they can make changes to your document, and each author's changes can be tracked with different colored highlights.

I used this today with a client – even though we were sitting around a conference table in the same room, we were able to agree on the edits of a document within a few minutes, it was incredibly productive.

Tr.im is a URL shortening service with a twist: you can post the shortened link directly to your Twitter account. And while that is convenient, wait there is something that I really like. It will track all the people who have clicked on the shortened link and show you which client (browser, Twitter third party app, or service) was used in the process, along with time-series data on the clicks.

You can really see the immediacy of Twitter, but you can also use it to track referrals on other services too.

Namechk is a very simple service that will lookup a particular username on more than 120 different social networking, blog and video sharing sites. It will see if it is taken or available. This is a very useful tool that you can show your clients how tuned in you are to that scene.

Let me know what you think about each of these services, and if you have others that you have recently found that could be useful.

David Strom is an expert on Internet and networking technologies who was the former editor-in-chief at Network Computing, Tom's Hardware.com, and DigitalLanding.com. In addition to Datamation, where this article originally appeared, he currently writes regularly for PC World, Baseline Magazine, and the New York Times and is also a professional speaker, podcaster and blogs at strominator.com and WebInformant.tv.