Category Archives: Web 2.0

Organising yourself with Evernote

EvernoteEvernote is a nice little app that I have mentioned a couple of times before. It’s a note taking and organising tool, which exists in three main forms: a website, a desktop application for your computer, and an iPhone app.

This approach is becoming increasingly important for any service I use on a regular basis. It needs to be present in a usable form wherever I am and be accessible offline as well as off. It’s one of the reasons that Dropbox has become so invaluable too.

Evernote let you create pages on notes, using text, images, video or audio and to embed documents and even web pages as well. Notes can be collected into notebooks, enabling you to bundle things on similar topics together, and notebooks can even be published publicly, turning Evernote into a simple CMS.

For example, my default notebook, where note are stored if I don’t specificy another one, is simple ‘Stuff to sort’ and notes don’t stay in there for long. I have a notebook for blog posts ideas, one for  reports and documents to read, and another for project ideas.

I’ve recently started using it in another way – which I wouldn’t have really thought of before I found myself doing it! When I am at events, I pick up loads of business cards from people. Before, I would take them home in a big pile, then after a while I would go through them, trying to figure out who people are etc. Now, I photograph them on my iphone as soon as I get them, and send them into Evernote. I can then add notes to them, such as who they are, what they are interested in, where I met them etc all in one place. These all get synced up to a ‘business cards’ notebook so I can find them easily and it acts as a simple CRM.

I’m not the only fan of Evernote at Learning Pool – my good friend John Roughley uses it regularly too – here’s his take:

John RoughleyI found Evernote by chance when looking for a way to collect and organize the sheer amount of technical information I come across on a daily basis. I needed an easy way to collect text, images, and web pages. I looked at various options but found that Evernote offered the flexibility I needed. For me, one of the big advantages was the ability to tag information, making it easy to search for.

So what do I collect? In a word everything! Well, everything that is of use to me in my job at Learning Pool.  This mainly consists of information from moodle.org, capturing text, sometimes long pieces or short posts on the forum. Anything that I think might be useful, it’s much easier than bookmarking every page that might (or might not) be useful in the future.  Plus you only capture what you need. Images are easily captured with a right-click, then tagged in the same way as you would with anything else.

Gathering all this information is great, but is of no use if you can’t share it with anyone. Another cool feature is that you can share the information with anyone, by simply entering their email address. They can then view the information through a web browser.

So there you have it. Evernote is dead handy.

Do you use Evernote in an interesting way you could share? Or do you use a different app? Would be great to know about it if so!

Google goes for Twitter

Google Buzz is the search engine giant’s latest attempt to get social to work within its suite of applications. Strangely, while we use Google’s stuff for all sorts of things, from searching to email to RSS aggregation to document editing, we don’t tend to use their services much for sharing. Instead, we go to Twitter, or maybe Facebook.

Perhaps all that will now change.

Here’s a video explaining Buzz and how it will work:

It may seem crazy to attempt to take Twitter on in its own territory, but Google have a couple of real strengths which mean they end up winning the status update battle.

For a start, Google have been quietly building up a range of services based on your Google account. You may have started this account to access Gmail, or maybe Google Reader.

But did you know you also have a public profile on Google, which you can fill up with all sorts of information about you and the sites and services you use? Here’s mine.

Or how about the way Google has a really cool service that manages all of your contacts?

What about the social circle search, which lets you look for content created by your friends, or friends of friends?

In some ways it’s kinda scary the way Google collects all this information, and the way it puts it all together like this. But it’s also a reason why Buzz might succeed where all other Twitter-killers have failed.

What’s one of the things that puts people off Twitter the first time they use it? The fact that you don’t know anyone, and have nobody to talk to. But the way Buzz will tap into your existing networks, you might not have that problem on Google’s service. The user base already exists, and it is already massive.

There is also masses of potential for organisations using Google Apps, where having Buzz as part of the mix will bring masses of value, and possibly kill off Yammer in the process.

There’s another reason why Buzz might well beat Twitter, and that is the money thing. Google has a business model, and a very successful one. It isn’t hard seeing how Buzz can slot into that model, and make a contribution. At some point, though, Twitter is going to have to start earning money. How it does that, and whether it manages to do so without annoying the hell out of its users – for whom revenue generation will necessitate a change – will determine whether Twitter survives.

Another thing that is in Buzz’s favour is that it sits inside Gmail. In your inbox. Despite the massive growth in social networking over the last few years, email is still the internet’s killer app, and most people spend a hell of a lot of time looking at their inboxes.

As an example of this, I use Google Talk a lot as an instant messaging service, but I use it entirely from within Gmail. I usually can’t be faffed loading up a separate client for IM, but if someone’s name pops up in Gmail saying they’re online, I’ll often grab them for a quick chat.

Having a status update, Twitter-like facility sat there too means that I’m going to use it, to the point where I might stop visiting other locations to do similar stuff. Bye, bye Twitter, maybe.

Of course lots of similar stuff was said about Wave, and while that wasn’t exactly a dud, it did strike me as a solution looking for a problem. A great bit of technology that felt a bit like a square peg. Buzz, though, isn’t looking to revolutionise the way we use the web, just to make an existing activity easier, and nearer – and that might be enough to make it work.

Having written all this, I of course don’t have access to Buzz yet. If you are one of the lucky ones, do please tell us all about it in the comments.

Update: Not sure how I missed it, but there is an API for Buzz, allowing for developers to hook it up to all sorts of other services, whether “Atom, AtomPub, Activity Streams, PubSubHubbub, OAuth, MediaRSS, Salmon, the Social Graph API, PortableContacts, WebFinger, and much, much more” according to the Google Social Web blog.

Elsewhere:

2009’s top tech

Here’s a quick roundup of some things I’ve really started to get some use out of in 2009. Not necessarily services that were new to the last 12 months, but ones which became a vital part of my toolkit.

You’ll notice Google Wave isn’t on the list – for me, it’s still a great bit of tech in search of a problem to solve. The idea posited here, that it’s real value will be in the enterprise, is interesting.

Key things that come out of this list for me are:

  • For me to really love a service or application, it has to run nicely – preferably using a dedicated app – on the iPhone. It also needs to have a web interface, so I can access it using different computers.
  • I also prefer tools which interface nicely with the other things I use – silos for my information and content don’t really interest me.

1. Basecamp

Despite the fact that there are a lot of things about Huddle that I like more than Basecamp, I’ve found myself using the latter more and more in 2009. I think it is partially the email integration I like so much – the fact that people can take part in online discussions without having to leave their email client.

In 2010, though, I suspect that Huddle will break through into the government space, and that I’ll start using it a lot more. One reason for that will be the integration with Microsoft Office, which could be a real game changer.

Both Basecamp (unofficially) and Huddle now have iPhone apps, making them accessible in a usable format on the move.

2. Evernote

I have mentioned Evernote in a few posts before – it’s a very useful and clever little service. You create notebooks which contain note pages within them. All are synced in the cloud, so whether you access them via the desktop app, the iPhone app or the website, you can read and edit them wherever you are.

Great for storing quick notes, links to look up later, or even photos and audio notes. I use it a lot to jot down and develop ideas for blog posts.

3. Posterous and Tumblr

I’m going to cover these two in a dedicated post on ‘easy blogging’ soon. Both make it stupidly quick and easy to record content online. Both work brilliantly on mobile devices with apps (Tumblr) or excellent email integration (Posterous). Both seamlessly interact with other online services, like Flickr, Twitter and Facebook.

4. Mailchimp

If there is one technology that government really ought to be making better use o, then it’s email. Fine, lots of people moan about having too much of it, but given the option between getting an email or having to check a webpage, they’ll go for the addition to their inbox every time.

Email works on mobiles, is accessible and pretty much everyone knows what to do with it. Services like MailChimp – and there are others, like Campaign Monitor – make it easy to collect lists of email addresses and send messages out, tracking what people click on and how many people open the addresses.

I have a bigger post on email in the pipeline.

5. Yammer

Since joining the Learning Pool team, the problem of keeping communications working in a distributed workforce have become really apparent to me. But since we started using Yammer in a serious way across the company, those problems seem to have disappeared.

Yammer, for those that don’t know, is a Twitter-like service that is private for organisations. Authentication is based on your email address, so everyone on the same email domain can access that organisation’s Yammer stream.

It works really well, and the service is used for a true mixture of ‘what I’m doing today’ type updates, office banter, general messages and discussion. Kent County Council are also using Yammer to great effect – anyone else?

6. Skype

I’ve been using Skype for years, but never more than now. Part of that is for the same reason as for the use of Yammer – chatting to the Learning Pool guys, who are all heavy Skype users – but I’m now using it a lot to talk to family as well.

I’d put quite a bit of this down to hardware – all the computers in our house now have webcams built into them, which makes using services like Skype much easier and more effective.

7. Adium

Adium is a great little multi-protocol instant messaging client – which means that within the one application, I can chat to people using Google Talk, MSN, AIM, Yahoo! and Facebook.

Instant messaging is now something I use much more than before, and Adium makes that easy. IM is often seen as being a bit old hat these days, what with it being a fairly closed and usually one to one medium. But sometimes you need the immediacy, and, yes, the one to one-ness. These days more time seems to be spent communicating, which affects every medium.

8. Dropbox

I came to Dropbox late, but it is an awesome tool and probably the best cloud-based file storage solution. It adds a drive to your desktop computer, or your laptop, to which you can save files, which can then be retrieved on other machines via the web interface, or the iPhone app, or indeed the drive application if you have that installed elsewhere too.

Dropbox makes it a doddle for me to be able to access the files I am working on whether I am using my laptop or my desktop.

9. Delicious

I’ve been using it for years, but I’m starting to find more and more value in Delicious. Part of the reason is the huge number of links I now have in there, which I can access and search easily using the Firefox plugin, also the way it interfaces with other services, like the occasional blog post that pops up automatically here, to cross posting links to Twitter.

I’m also finding myself subscribing more and more to individual users’ accounts in Delicious, to see what they are bookmarking. It may seem rather old hat these days, but if you are interested in using the web as a learning tool, then social bookmarking is a vital part of the toolkit.

10. Wikipedia

There probably hasn’t been an hour that went by, when I was awake, during 2009 in which I didn’t refer to Wikipedia at some point. I’d never used it as a single source, or for any serious research (other than to follow up the links it references, perhaps) but to get the lowdown on a topic fast, it’s an astonishingly good resource.

I often mock it for its focus on tech and pop culture when I mention it in talks, but that is probably where I get most of my use out of it. Oracle want to buy Sun? What do Oracle actually do, anyway? Wikipedia make it dead easy to find out.

Google and iRows

From TechCrunch:

Google Takes Out Ajax Spreadsheet iRows

A popular Hebrew blog is reporting that the two founders of Israeli startup iRows have been hired by Google. Along with ZohoSheet and NumSum, iRows is one of a few online Ajax spreadsheets that competes with Google’s own Excel-clone. The blog reports that the founders will retain the intellectual property in iRows, but that the site will be shut down.

If this is accurate, the deal is a mirror of the Google-Gtalkr deal from May 2006, where the founders, brothers Wes and Dudley Carr, joined Google and agreed to close the site down.

This is a shame. iRows was one of the best online spreadsheets out there. Now there are fewer choices for people, and that’s bad.

[tags]irows, google, techcrunch[/tags]

Google Docs, and Zoho

What was Writely is now Google Docs. Sigh. They’ve combined it with the spreadsheet package, so they are available from the same screen – the homepage being effectively a file manager when you log in.

One criticism of Google when they buy things is that they don’t bother to integrate them properly with everything else – think Blogger, and until recently, Picasa. But with Writely, sorry, Google Docs, they have got rid of the nice Writely green and orange look and the end result is just really dull. I suppose it means that Gmail, Calendar and the two productivity apps all now share the same interface.

In other news on the online productivity front, the Zoho suite of online productivity apps now only needs on sign-in per application. Before, if I used Writer, and then needed to go into Sheet, I would have to log in twice. No more. Good stuff.

ajaxTunes

ajaxTunes is the latest in the line of web based desktop replacement services from Michael Robertson.

It claims to be:

…a web-based media player that lets you play, pause, forward and rewind high-quality streaming music straight from the Internet on any computer. Try ajaxTunes immediately, it has been preloaded with a demo account containing more than 25 songs encoded at 192kbps from different albums and a great mix of playlists from select artists. Or, create your own music locker and choose from over 40,000 songs to create your personal playlists. ajaxTunes is a fully interactive application that will allow you to connect to hours of music, FREE.

To be honest, I am still not sure how it works. It says later on you can use something called www.sideload.com to add your own music to your portable library. This seems to be a step on from the other ajaxLaunch stuff which didn’t offer the chance of hosting files – they had to be saved on your PC or USB key – albeit via a third party.

It doesn’t seem to offer the ability to play music saved locally, which is a shame.

[tags]ajaxtunes[/tags]

The Problem with Digg

Is this sort of thing:

If you’ve ever wanted to play any of the Civilization games by Sid Meire, but were not look to shell out the cash for it, check out FreeCiv. This free GNU alternative to the popular series is just as good and just as fun.

This game can be played alone of against anyone over the internet.

Download it today! (for free of course!)

read more | digg story

As well as getting on the front page, this also gets deposited in the RSS feed. I mean, who on earth hasn’t heard of FreeCiv? The issue with having a situation where stories that appear on the front page brings with it some sort of kudos is that people will deliberately post in order to get there – and presumably there is some “you digg my posts, I’ll dig yours” going on too.

This story just isn’t news to anyone.