When people moved from paper to digital files on a computer, it didn't take long to realise that you can get just as burdened by digital stuff as by hard copies. Before long, companies sprang up to sell utility programs to help you find and organise the stuff on your computer.
We're going through a similar cycle right now, with many of us moving our digital assets to servers in the cloud and finding that managing stuff scattered across a myriad of sites belonging to a myriad of companies can be terribly frustrating.
And sure enough, companies sensing a need to tame the chaos of the cloud are popping up with solutions.
Not all of these tools work particularly well, of course. But I've just returned from the DEMO Spring 2011 conference, where more than 50 startups and young companies showed off new and innovative technologies and business models. Here are two fledgling cloud tamers that caught my eye with solutions that will help you bring some order to your fragmented digital life.
Primadesk: Search across many web services
When your data is all on your computer, finding it isn't always simple. But if you've got a good desktop search program it's possible. Move all that stuff to the cloud, however, and where do you even begin a search?
That's a starting point for Primadesk, a free (for now) application that offers a single-sign on for 30 or so popular web services (the number will likely grow). More importantly, Primadesk allows users to search across all of those applications, and drag and drop content from one to another, or down to the hard drive.
Searching really is simple. Enter a search term and you'll get a list of relevant content wherever it exists in Primadesk's universe of partner cloud applications. Although 30 is just a fraction of the world's cloud services, Primadesk works with many of the most popular ones, including Gmail, Google Docs, Flickr and so on.
Other features include backup functions, and the ability to see email across multiple services, which is a real plus when you can't remember which address you've used for this or that person or web service.
Primadesk is still in beta, with a commercial launch expected later in the year. But you can try it now (for no cost) at primadesk.com. Not all of its features are up and running yet. The ability to drag photos across sites including Picasa, Flickr and Facebook is coming soon, says CEO Srinivasa Venkataraman. Also coming is the ability to view messages from social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, in one place.
Manilla: Manage your money
Manilla (yes, that's the right spelling) is a bit like Primadesk in that it consolidates multiple cloud services for you and offers a single sign on. But Manilla specialises in helping to managing financial services.
First and foremost, it offers a single place to go for online bill paying. Banks offer that service, of course, but Manilla goes further. You can manage your frequent flier accounts and Manilla will let you know when your next credit card payment is due, and then let you pay it.
You can pay your wireless bill, of course, but Manilla hopes that as it achieves partnerships with more companies it will be able to do things like send you a notice when you're eligible for an upgrade. Similarly, it will help manage magazine subscriptions, so you'll be able to ignore those endless notices to renew months before it actually runs out.
Manilla creates a filing cabinet for you, making it easier, especially at tax time, to find out how much you've spent on various goods and services. All of your account information is consolidated on an easy to read dashboard.
You can also store things like PDFs of insurance policies in the company's online storage area. And if you don't already have an electronic copy of those documents, Manilla will make one for you.
The service is free. Manilla figures that companies will come out ahead by paying a small fee to it, and spend less on printing and mailing bills to customers. Manilla, which is backed by Hearst, is in beta with a commercial launch expected sometime in the spring. You can try it out at manilla.com.