Tools of the Trade: Paid Web Services

Earlier this month, I wrote about some of the free Web services I use in my professional role as a school psychologist.  I am grateful for services like Dropbox, Google Apps,, and countless others that provide services free of charge.  I also, however, bear in mind that one gets what one pays for, and in this era of “free” services, any of them could disappear overnight, with no obligation to any of their users.

Many Web startups operate under the freemium business model: provide basic services or functionality for free, then charge for more advanced features.  Dropbox, for example, provides the basic 2GB of storage & syncing for free (plus extra space granted via their referral program), but charges a monthly fee for users who require significantly more space (50GB or 100GB).

I’ve always been the frugal sort, so when I can take advantage of a service for free, I do.  There are instances, however, when I’ve decided that the value a service provides is worth paying for upgraded features or functionality.  Two such services I use are Evernote and Remember The Milk.


I’ve mentioned my love for Evernote enough times on various social media outlets (including this blog) that I’m sure I come off as a shill.  I won’t retread that ground here (see the previous link for my writeup on how I use Evernote as a school psychologist), except to say that it is the single most valuable technology tool I use in my job.

If you compare their free vs. premium features, you’ll see that Evernote offers quite a bit at the free level – 60MB monthly upload cap, SSL encryption, optical character recognition, Android/iOS apps).  The two key factors that convinced me to pay up ($5/month or $45/year; I pay by the year) are these:

  • File type synchronization: This was the number one consideration.  If I was just using Evernote for plain text notes and the occasional PDF, I could probably get by on the free plan.  In a given week, I’ll spend much of my computer time working in most of your standard office suite filetypes.  The free model only supports syncing of PDFs, audio, ink, and images, in addition to the standard Evernote plain text notes.
  • Offline access: I’m accessing Evernote from my Android phone and tablet more frequently, and having offline access to certain key notebooks is vital, both personally and professionally.  I can’t always guarantee I’ll have a strong cell signal or Wi-Fi access, but as long as I have one of those devices, I’ll have access to information.
As much of a capacity junkie as I am, I have found that I really don’t come anywhere close to hitting the 1GB monthly upload limit granted to premium users.  In fact, I never come anywhere near the 60MB mark, either.  Still, it’s nice to know I have that additional elbow room on my upload activity should I ever need it.

Remember The Milk

According to my records, I’ve been using Remember The Milk as an online to-do list longer than I’ve been blogging, longer than I’ve been on Twitter or Facebook, and certainly longer than I’ve been a school psychologist.  I’ve moved away and used other, similar services for short periods of time, but I always keep coming back to RTM, primarily due to the ease with which I can manage multiple lists and arrange items by due date or priority.  The layout on the screen is clean and white (I’m a big fan of that style, if you couldn’t tell from looking at my blog), and I can save searches for specific task types to “Smart Lists” (e.g., “Due Today”, “Due This Week”, “Urgent”).  These functionalities, however, are all available to all users, for free.

After several years as a non-paying customer, I decided last fall to pony up $25 for a year-long RTM Pro subscription.  I suppose the fact that the RTM Android app is only available to Pro customers was a factor in my decision, but as much as I like it, it’s not nearly as essential to my day-to-day functioning as Evernote.

At the risk of sounding sentimental, I like paying for these services because of the value they represent to me.  I feel like the benefit I gain from their use is worth paying $X per year, whether I have to or not.  Beyond that, though, my subscription fees are an investment in improving the services I use daily, and Evernote in particular has made major, major improvements and upgrades to both layout and functionality with just about every release in the last year or so – in other words, I see more of a tangible benefit in these releases than just bug fixes (not that those aren’t important, but they’re not terribly fun for end users).

I doubt I could afford to pay for every single free/freemium Web service I use, should they all decide to start charging.  At that point I’d have some serious decisions to make, but I can say that Evernote and RTM would still make the cut.  Whereas I would likely be able to find comparable free alternatives to some of the other services I use, I have yet to find competing services to top these two, free or paid.


  • I still haven’t made the jump to Evernote Premium, but I use the freebie version all the time. Tasks are about the only thing I don’t do electronically; I still carry around a little Franklin planner for that stuff. Google has had their tasks app out for awhile, but I don’t know how the two compare.

  • Hi Rick! Google Tasks is a perfectly functional little app – it allows you to maintain multiple lists and archives your completed tasks. I actually left RTM for GTasks for a few months. RTM, however, is just a much more robust app – more powerful search capabilities (e.g., saved searches), repeating tasks, subscribe to lists via RSS, you can send tasks to RTM via email (I think Twitter, too). You can also geotag to-do items so that they repeat when you are in a certain location (I think that’s right, anyway; I never got that far into it, but I’m sure that’s an essential feature for some folks).

    I just access RTM via the Android app on my phone (though since it’s the summertime, my need for that has been mercifully reduced!).

  • […] Dropbox*, and Google Apps are my holy trinity.  I have made no secret of how much I love Evernote, for its organizational power as well as its ubiquity of access – I can get to […]

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