Microblogging and Learning

I love blogs.  They are a great way to keep on top of news and events that are happening in the lives of members of my professional network.  Unfortunately, some of my friends are prolific writers, and keeping up with all of their blog postings can take more time than I have (no offense to anyone).  Microblogging allows me to stay up to speed by receiving shorter professional or personal updates from my network in real-time.  There are 3 tools that I have found to be particularly useful for microblogging:

Twitter
This is the most popular microblogging tool with many apps for accessing twitter feeds on iPhones and other mobile devices.  Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters.  For a excellent directory of learning leaders who use twitter, check out http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/socialmedia/edutwitter.html

Edmodo
This is a twitter-like tool, but it is optimized for use in educational settings and includes other features like upcoming events and activities.  Go to www.edmodo.com for more info.

Yammer
This is a corporate version of EdModo.  It links microbloggers from the same company or organization and focuses on posting about job-related topics.  Go to www.yammer.com for more info.

For a quick video on how microblogging works, visit http://www.innovativelearning.com/instructional_technology/microblogging.html

My favorite free software apps…

Some of the best software that I use on a regular basis are free open source or web 2.0 aps. In addition to being free, they rival and even surpass the 800 pound gorillas of the commercial software world. If you haven’t tried these out, you really need to take a couple of minutes to follow the links…

Web Editing
Kompozer – A great open source tool for web design that supports templates (compare with Adobe Dreamweaver).

Word Processing
Google Docs – An online word processor with collaborative writing features – I’m writing a book right now using only Google Docs (compare with Microsoft Word)

Financial Planning
Mint – An easy way to track personal finances and budgets with some great visualizations and notification options (compare with Intuit Quicken).

Web Browsing
Firefox – ok, this one isn’t new to anyone – but if I’m making a list of my favorite free software I have to include Firefox (compare with Microsoft Internet Explorer).

Media Conversion
You Convert It – A great web-based media conversion tool – even converts videos without installing anything on your computer (compare with Sorenson Squeeze and a whole bunch of other file conversion aps).

Audio Editing
Audacity – The easiest tool for doing audio recording and editing (compare with Sound Studio).

Page Layout
Scribus – A powerful, open source, page layout tool (compare with Adobe InDesign)

Google Docs

If you haven’t become converted to Google Docs yet, take a minute to create an account and play around. Google Docs is more than just a word processor, it is a tool that has the ability to change the way we interact with others. Google Docs was built from the ground up as a collaborative tool. Here are two examples of how Google Docs can enhance collaboration.

1. Think of how many times you’ve written a document and attached it to an e-mail to send to a friend for feedback. If you’ve ever co-authored a paper you’ve probably done it 100 times. Even if you are using Track Changes in Word, you can only really collaborate with one person at a time before the versions get out of sync (and you can’t work on the document yourself until the feedback has come back). With Google Docs you can simply drop in the e-mail address of someone you want to work with and they will have access to view or edit your documents.

2. Once you’ve written something, the next step is to share it. By using the “Publish” feature in you can also publish any doc you’ve written to the web. Google Docs connects directly to just about any blog so you can actually post to your blog right out of Google Docs (in fact that’s how this post ended up on my blog).

For more information, visit Google Docs.

Google Analytics

Watch out Omniture, Google Analytics now offers extremely detailed web analytics for free! All you have to do to sign up is go to Google’s Analytics site (www.google.com/analytics).

One important note to using Google Analytics is that their current terms and agreements says that it is “available for your personal, non-commercial use only. You may not use the Google Services to sell a product or service, or to increase traffic to your Web site for commercial reasons, such as advertising sales.”

However, on their features page it says “Learn how visitors interact with your website and identify the navigational bottlenecks that keep them from completing your conversion goals. Find out how profitable your keywords are across search engines and campaigns. Pinpoint where your best customers come from and which markets are most profitable to you.”

I asked Google about this apparent contradiction and received the following response…

Thank you for your email.

Please be assured that you may use Google Analytics on your commercial
sites. We are working to clarify this language in our Terms of Service and
appreciate your bringing this to our attention.

For additional questions, please visit the Analytics Help Center at
http://www.google.com/support/analytics. If you’re unable to find an
answer to your question on our site, please feel free to reply to this
email.

Sincerely,

Christine
Analytics Support

So it’s really true, Google has done it again with free web anylitics for all.

Google PageRank for Mac

If you search for PageRank indicator for Macintosh, or just PageRank for Mac on Google, you will find a whole bunch of sites telling you that such a tool doesn’t exist and that Google doesn’t support PageRank for the Mac. However, this is NOT true! Any Mac user who wants to have the Google Tooblar or the PageRank (PR) indicator need only go to the www.prgooglebar.org and download it. It works as well as the PR toolbar that you can download from Google for Windows.
Continue reading Google PageRank for Mac

Google X Search

I have very few complaints with Google. However in their attempt to not look like a portal, it is hard to actually find Google’s tools. Clean and simple sometimes gets in the way of functionality. If you don’t know the URL of your favorite Google tool, it takes several clicks to get there. Is there a solution? I think I just found one on googlex.jayssite.com. By using this site, not only can you see all of your favorite Google tools, but you can click “more” and customize your Google search. You can also remove Google tools that you don’t use like on the Macintosh OSX dock. Worth checking out!

Google Maps

Watch out MapQuest, Google has done it again! Google maps provides driving directions and maps, just like MapQuest does, however there are some great advantages. For example, the maps are easier to read and scrolling around a map is MUCH easier (the page doesn’t have to reload with each movement like it does on MapQuest). There are still a couple of little usability issues (like quickly being able to return to the US map, but these are things that I’m sure they will take care of. To try Google Maps, just go to maps.google.com and be glad you bought stock in Google!

Convergence and iTunes Phones

In theory, the idea of convergence is great – take several similar tools and combine them into one tool with multiple functions. However in reality, almost every time this happens, it is not very successful. Here are some familiar examples…

* Converge shoes and rollerblades and you get a crummy pair of shoes and a crummy pair of rollerblades.

* Converge a printer, scanner, and fax, and you get a device that doesn’t do any of the above very well (even though HP is trying to fix that).

Yet in the midst of all of these bad examples, I am always hopeful that some of the products that I use will converge – because I hate carrying around so much stuff. Currently, there is an item on the horizon that I think will actually be a successful example of convergence: the Motorola iTunes Phone. Motorola really knows how to make good phones (although some GUI experts may disagree with me on that one), and iTunes is quickly becoming the standard music library application. In addition, both your phone and your music library are things that you want to have with you at all times, so why not make them work together. And since Apple is involved I can assume they will make sure it is compatible with my Mac! Anyway, keep your eyes open for the new generation of iTunes phones. If you want more information, take a look at Gizmodo

Why Alexa Stinks…

When I first found Alexa.com I though “oh boy, what a great way to see how much traffic is coming to my sites!” Unfortunately, as I’ve used it I’ve found that it is not very reliable. For example on one of my sites, www.OrtizPots.com, I have been working on adding new content. As I have done that, I have seen a steady increase in traffic. However, Alexa shows that it is steadly decreasing. In all fairness, Alexa is probably working – HOWEVER it is important to remember what Alexa does:
* it gives you the amount of traffic of people who have downloaded the Alexa toolbar (which is not everyone)
* it only tells you the PC users who have visited your site (Alexa does not count Mac users)
So, if you do use Alexa, just be wary of the results and check everything against the stats on your webserver.

Page Rank without the Toolbar

One of my frustrations with Google has been their lack of support for browsers other than Internet Explorer for Windows. For example, Mac users who want to know their Google Page Rank have had to go find a PC (which is ironic because so much web design is done on a Mac). Even PC users who prefer to use Firefox (or other browsers) are out of luck. However, the other day I found a site that allows you to get your Page Rank without using the Google toolbar. You can also get Page Ranks for multiple sites at a time, which is very useful if you host several sites.

Check it out at www.top25web.com.