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Simplify your life with free web services

Internet and BroadbandMore and more web-based services offer compelling tools that allow you to keep track of stories of interest or subjects that matter to you.

Among some of the most impressive we've recently tried are Google Alerts, Songkick and Trackle.  Songkick, for instance, tracks your favourite bands and lets you know when they're in town.

All of them will help you simplify your hectic life.

Trackle tailors web information automatically

Trackle delivers customised news and information. It combs the internet for just about any topic you can imagine, from crime reports for your neighbourhood and low airfares for specific destinations to your own blog contributions and any resulting discussions.

Just sign up for an account and choose the things you want to track. Trackle offers a few dozen categories, starting with About Me: You on the Web, you in blogs, you in local news, and so on. Others include Finance, Health, Jobs and Sports.

For each 'Tracklet' you set up, you simply supply a few extra bits of information to customise the results: names, keywords, locations and so on. But this is effortless, and when you're done you can monitor the results in the Your inbox tab.

Trackle can also send you an email or text message when there's a new alert, either one at a time or as part of a daily digest. There's even an option that cleverly suspends notifications while you're on holiday.

This superb service is much more versatile than Google Alerts, and the prefab Tracklets make it easy to get all kinds of useful information. Definitely worth a look.

Note that at present Trackle is only for US use, but it's been generating quite a buzz and we're hopeful it will eventually come to the UK too (though Trackle have yet to confirm as much to us).

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Songkick band tracker

About a year ago I missed seeing The Swell Season by a matter of days, simply because I didn't know they were playing in my town. Never again.

Songkick is a free service that tracks your favourite bands and artists, lets you know when they're touring near you and even sends email recommendations for other concerts you might like.

It can also hook you up with tickets (from resellers as well as the likes of Ticketdisaster... er, Ticketmaster), show you concert-related blog posts and add your personal comments to the artist's profile page.

After signing up, just head to the Tour Tracker and enter the name of an artist. Songkick adds that artist to your list and suggests similar ones you might want to track. Very nice.

You can also download the Songkicker plug-in, which scans your music library (iTunes, Winamp, or Windows Media Player) and automatically adds your artists to the Tour Tracker. It'll even update the Tracker when you add new music to your library.

I had a little trouble getting this to work with iTunes, but only because I used the installer to create my Songkick account. When I created it on the site and then plugged my username and password into the installer, it worked fine.

One of my all-time favorite artists, Brendan Benson, has a new album coming out this summer, and hopefully he'll be touring to promote it. Now that I'm following him in Songkick, I don't have to worry about missing out.

Ping.fm updates social networks simultaneously

Want to tell the world you just scored tickets to Coldplay? If you subscribe to more than a couple of social networks, it might take you longer to post all your updates than it did to buy the tickets. Ping.fm aims to make updates a unified affair: just send your message to the service and it'll post it to all your networks.

Ping.fm currently supports more than 40 of them, ranging from mainstream networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to lesser-known outlets such as Bebo, Brightkite and Rejaw.

After signing up for an account (Ping.fm is currently in beta), you'll be able to post your updates via email, SMS, instant message, your phone's browser, Skype and even an iGoogle gadget.

On the Dashboard page (which I found a little overwhelming at first, in part because of all the clutter), just click the posting method you want to use to get the instructions you need, such as your unique Ping.fm email address or the iPhone-friendly browser URL.

Ping.fm can automatically take care of tasks such as URL shortening (handy for the likes of Twitter and Rejaw), and it lets you set up posting groups in case you want to hit some, but not all, your networks.

In short, it's a handy little service that can definitely save you some time.

PC World

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