Tech for Grownups: The Blog That Will Make You a Windows Expert

Well, along with Newsome.Org of course. . .

Is Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows.  No, not widows, grandma.  That’s eHarmony.  We’re talking about Windows.  As in tech.  As in that operating system that runs the computer you- and I- wish you knew how to use better.

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I spend a lot of time trying to explain to people, many of whom still view the wheel as a mind-boggling and somewhat dangerous advance in technology, how much easier their lives would be if they learned just a little bit about their computers.  As a result, I spend a fair amount of time looking for other people who can explain that for me.

If I was an alien, well, I’d go straight to Arizona and make all of those xenophobes watch this episode of South Park over and over.  But if I was the sort of alien with a flying saucer, I’d kidnap Paul and my buddy Ed Bott and conduct other-worldly experiments on  them by making them teach all of my relatives how to use their computers.

image No, Gigi, not Bowser – that’s a Mario Kart character.  Browser.  As in to browse.  No Sharon, your identity won’t be stolen the second you click on that little blue e.  That sort of thing.

Then I’d have a lot more free time to play Words With Friends on my game-changing iPad.

Anyway, Paul’s site is a virtual classroom for everything Windows.  In addition to a ton of very informative posts, he answers reader questions once a week.

“Dear Paul,  I went on the internet yesterday and today my throat hurts.  Do I need to update my anti-virus program?  If so, should I use  Google or Duncan Hines?  Love, Aunt Anne.”

Paul focuses a lot on Windows, but his site covers all sorts of tech.  It’s a must read for everyone, especially those who rely on me for tech support.

Tech for Grownups: My Online Toolbox (Part 1)

OK, so you’re a relative grownup, aren’t trolling the internet looking for chicks or dudes (let me say again how thankful I am that I got through school before Al Gore and Mark Zuckerberg invented the internet), but would like to use the vastness of the web to find, manage and organize data.  And maybe have a little fun in the process.  Here are the tools I use to do that, from the baby step of a web browser, to the giant leap of a central online data repository.  I’m going to do this in two parts, and I think I’ll stay inside the box and start with Part 1.

First Things First, the web browser.

You are almost certainly reading this on a Windows based machine, which means you are probably using Internet Explorer as your web browser.  That’s messed up, but it’s easy to fix.  You need to download and install Firefox.  It’s free, easy and quick.  And your efficiency and coolness factor will get a huge boost.  Why? Because of the many add-ons that are available for Firefox.  Basic installs of Windows Explorer and Firefox are a wash (particularly the newest version of Internet Explorer), but Firefox with the right add-ons is still a superior experience.  There are hundreds of people who use other browsers like Opera and Chrome, and there are teens of people who use something called Flock.  Unless you drive a Smart car, make all your own clothes and grow all your own food, you don’t need to worry about those.

And of course, those on Macs and iPhones use Apple’s Safari.  You can and should get Firefox for a Mac, and we’ll deal with Safari on the iPhone later.

Now, let’s improve the Firefox experience with some of those add-ons.

Here are some of the ones I use.

AdBlock Plus, to remove ads.  This one is a little controversial, since lots of people are trying to make money on the internet and unless you actually have something to sell (most of them don’t) the only legal way to make money on the internet is to put ads all over your page and hope someone accidently clicks on one.  We need to help these people get real jobs by blocking the ads.  Trust me, this is positive social activism.  We’re doing them a favor.

BugMeNot, to anonymously log in to free web sites that insist on making you register.  Many of us use fake names anyway (I was Antigone Tellyeaux (get it?) at the Houston Chronicle site for years; I was William Frawley during the glorious Napster years).  This is also positive social activism by demonstrating that you don’t really need my name and email address to let me read your news stories and accidently click on your ads.  BugMeNot does not provide credentials for paid sites, which is good since we’re all law-abiding grownups.

Foxmarks, to synch bookmarks on all your computers.  I keep separate bookmarks on my work computer, but synch them across my home computers and laptops.  One caveat: Foxmarks is changing into something called Xmarks and will start offering suggested sites to visit.  This sounds to me like a social networking hysteria induced attempt to be something I don’t want, so who knows what the future holds.  But until they screw it up, Foxmarks rocks.

TinyURL Creator, to make web links smaller, so we can use them on social networks and whatnot, which we will get to below and in Part 2.  In the meantime, you need to practice using the words “social networks,” “Facebook” and “Twitter” in every sentence to show everyone how hip you are.  “Hey, Junior, if you don’t change your Facebook status to finishing his homework, I am going to come up there, delete all your social network accounts and then talk about it on Twitter.”  See, it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

Photobucket Uploader, to easily upload photos to your Photobucket account.  Photobucket’s interface is a train wreck, but combined with this add-on it makes grabbing and sharing photos very easy.  I don’t use it to share my personal photos- I use Flickr for that, but Photobucket is great for uploading stuff I want to use on my blog or on one of the social networks.

Evernote Web Clipper, so we can easily add content to Evernote, one of our primary tools, that we’ll get to in a moment (I have mad love for Evernote).

These are just a few of the plug-ins I use.  There are thousands more to choose from.  You can browse and search for them here.  Here are the ones “recommended” by the makers of Firefox (at the moment, I don’t use any of the ones at the top of that list) and here are the most popular ones.  The point is that you can tailor Firefox to your needs via the selective installation of add-ons.

Now you need a war chest to buy the cool stuff you find while surfing around on your tricked-out Firefox.

Paypal is the only way to go here, for a couple of reasons.  Lots and lots of places take Paypal; it’s owned by eBay, which is a huge company that has lots of legal and business incentives to make it safe; and most importantly, you can use it to keep your credit card information off the big scary internet.  I just keep money in my Paypal account to use when I need it.  You can use a credit card or your bank account as a back up source of funds, but either way, Paypal can serve as a buffer between you and all those people trying to steal your money on the internet.  I don’t really believe all that but it’s amazing how many of my real world friends are still terrified by the internet.  I have one friend who will clutch her purse to her chest and tremble if she hears the word internet.

One caveat: If you get an email from Paypal, asking for your password, don’t give it to them.  It’s not Paypal.  Delete that one and move on to t
he
one from the brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate of some dead African president who needs a little help moving some money around.

Now we need to find some places to store, organize and access our data.

For my personal photos, I use Flickr, because I like the interface and the iPhone integration via Mobile Fotos.  Plus, you can determine who can see each photo you upload- everyone, people you designate as friends or only you.  There are other options, like Picasa (owned by Google and integrated with other Google applications), SmugMug and, as noted above, Photobucket.  I think Picasa is a decent alternative for very basic photo sharing and SmugMug has a lot of non-geek traction, but most of the others are either feature or interface challenged.  In other words, they are too hard or not as good.

For online file storage (or the Cloud as the cool people call it), I prefer Dropbox.  You get 2 gigabytes of free storage (that’s a lot if you aren’t a hardcore geek), a good web interface, and the ability to direct link to your files, including music files (here’s why that’s important).  The only criticism I have of Dropbox is that it currently lacks an iPhone app.  Box.Net and ZumoDrive are other similar, but not quite as good, alternatives.

The most wonderful, Evernote.

For note taking and general data archival, I use and highly recommend Evernote.  It has a great desktop application, a decent web interface and a very good iPhone app.  You can add, sort, synch and access your saved data from any computer.  Evernote is so important and so hard to explain without pictures, let’s take a look at how I organize my data in Evernote.

evernote1

I have Notebooks (think of them as folders) for various types of information.  The one highlighted above is where I list songs I come across on Blip.fm that I may want to later add to my Blip.fm page.  I also have folders for Web Code I use regularly (so I can copy and paste it), Software Licenses, Home Improvement projects, etc.  With the Evernote plug-in (see above) I can easily add information, web clips, etc.  Let’s look at one more example.  Here’s a clip from my Mobile Tech Tips Notebook on how to connect to ATT hotspots via my iPhone.  Through the Evernote iPhone app, I can access this information whenever and wherever I need it.

evernote2

Evernote makes it easy to accumulate, manage and access all sorts of information.  The premium (e.g., not free) version even allows you to add and synch files and documents.  I don’t use Evernote for that yet, but if it ever catches up to Dropbox, it would present a compelling case for one-stop shopping.

That’s enough to get you started.  We’ll cover the rest of the stuff you need soon in Part 2.

If you have questions or other ideas for the perfect online toolbox, let me know in the Comments and I’ll address them in Part 2.

Tech for Grownups: Your Second Tech Blog

Since you’re reading this, congratulations on picking Newsome.Org as your first!

Harry McCracken, smart and interesting guy and former editor of PC World, writes and edits a blog called Technologizer.  If you are at all interested in computers, software, gadgets or other tech topics, it’s a must read.

Here are just a few of Technologizer’s recent posts to whet your appetite:

A Consumer’s Guide to Apple Rumors
The Pleasures and Perils of Going Digital (by the also highly recommended Ed Bott)
Hey, Let’s Design the Kindle 3!
Sony vs. Microsoft: A History of Trash Talk
Microsoft Bows to Critics, Will Change Windows 7 UAC (thank God)
Report: Apple May Enter TV Business

I also really dig his 5 Words reading list posts.

If this one isn’t in your feed reader, add it now.

Tech for Grownups: What is Twitter and Why You (Might) Need It

I’ve actually heard a few adults I know in the real world mention blogs lately.  This is a good thing, as blogs are not just the nerd-infested web diaries many people (still) think they are.  Rather, blogs are a new, convenient and (at least theoretically) interactive content management platform.  As more and more “old media” sites migrate to a blogging platform, the distinction between blogs and traditional media continues to blur.  The bottom line is that the content determines the usefulness of a web site, not the software used to publish that content.  Producers of good (read accurate, reliable and well written) content will thrive and producers of bad content will not.

dsom Take the Drudge Report, for example.  That web site looks like something some kid tossed up on Geocities back in the nineties (as does all of MySpace, for that matter).  Notwithstanding these aesthetical challenges, the Drudge Report is one of the most popular and useful web sites in the world.  I check it at least once a day for news.  It’s not a blog by any definition, but it is extremely useful.  On the other hand, consider TechCrunch, the once and perhaps future home of nobody’s spittoon, Mike Arrington.  While TechCrunch is a blog by any rational definition, the content published there has the same quality and characteristics of an old media site (except for some of the temper tantrums).  Same with Mashable (sans the tantrums).  These are blogs, and they are also extremely useful.

Again, a blog, like the web in general, is a medium for distribution of content.  It is not the content itself.  As blogging platforms and other methods to publish and manage information make it easier and faster for content producers to deliver content to their readers, everyone benefits.  Much like the internet made the evening news stale and redundant years ago, these new platforms are making traditional “old media” internet formats stale and redundant.

Along with the expansion of the blogging platform, other applications have sprung up to facilitate the efficient (e.g., faster) delivery of watercooler information.  One of the most popular of these is Twitter.  Twitter is a virtual water cooler where people share information and post short, generally one-off messages.  It’s not so much an evolution of the blogging platform as the message board platform.  Now that Google has taken care of the archival requirements for internet information, where information is stored becomes largely irrelevant.  For example, if you search Google for “William Gay Books,” it doesn’t really matter where the information you find is located.  If Google is working as designed, you can zero in on the information you’re looking for, courtesy of Google’s algorithm.  The content can be spread all over the place, as long as Google or some other search engine helps you find it.  While not yet archival, Twitter takes advantage of and helps manage this sort of broadly originating content.  It allows you to consolidate information and communication from various people into a stream of information, at reasonably close to real-time speed.  Just as you can choose what blog content to read via Google Reader, you can also decide whose Twitter posts to read.  You “follow” those whose posts you want to see, and not those whose posts do not interest you.  A good way to find people who share your interests is to search Twitter posts via keywords.

Wikipedia describes Twitter as follows:

Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Like blogging in general, people use Twitter for various reasons.  Some treat is as a popularity contest, trying to amass as many followers as possible.  Others (and I am in this camp) follow less people so the level of interactivity will be higher.  Some people, most notably Robert Scoble (one of the early bloggers who did as much as anyone to bring blogging to the mainstream), have the ability to follow an insanely large number of people, while remaining fairly interactive.  Some use Twitter as an interactive business card.  Others use Twitter as a graffiti board to send random thoughts or notices of new blog posts.  Others, of course, use Twitter to spam or to impersonate famous people.  I was so excited today when I thought the Dalai Lama was following me on Twitter, only to find out it was not the Dalai Lama, despite lots of news reports to the contrary.  On the other hand, some celebrities do blog, including Demi Moore.

For me, Twitter is a quick and easy way to find pointers to events and breaking news stories.  When that airplane crash-landed into the Hudson River last month, Twitter was an early and reasonably accurate source of information.  It’s just another faucet for a quick drink of information.

Twitter is not perfect.  It’s not terribly interactive- like in real life and the blogosphere, most people are much more interested in talking than listening.  There are some users who are looking only for self-promotion opportunities.  And just like every real and virtual schoolyard, there are some who want to create distinctions between those “in the secret club” and those who aren’t.  But even with the warts, Twitter is a free and often interesting tool that gives you access to near real-time information with very little investment.

It’s not for everyone, but maybe it’s for you.  There’s only one way to find out.

If you are (or end up) on Twitter, here’s my Twitter page.

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Tech for Grownups: The Essential iPhone Apps

Unlike just about everything else we in the tech blogosphere love to write about, the iPhone has crossed over into mainstream America in a big, big way.  Over half of the adults in my close circle of friends have iPhones and many of the kids are training for future iPhones with iPod Touches.  Everyone I know who has bought an iPhone and tried even a little to understand its many features and benefits has fallen in love with it.

iphoneheld But just having an iPhone is not enough to fully appreciate it.  You have to locate and install the right apps.

As the neighborhood technophile, I get asked all the time by non-facebooking, often technophobic grownups to tell them what iPhone apps they should install and why.  To save time and to give those who don’t live inside the so called social networks a primer on the beauty of iPhone apps, I am going to list the apps I currently have on my iPhone, describe what they do and tell you how often I actually use them.  Lots of iPhone apps are cool, the trick is to indentify those you will use on a regular basis.

I will also note the ones I consider must-have apps, and designate five of them as the top five essential apps.  I’m not going to address the apps that come pre-installed on your iPhone.  If you don’t know what those do, go explore your iPhone some more.  If you still get stuck, leave a question in the Comments and I’ll help you.  I’m also going to defer for later a discussion on games- which are an integral part of the enlightened iPhone experience.

Links are to the app’s iTunes store page, where you can read reviews by other users and, if you are so inclined, buy and immediately receive the app.  You can also buy and download the app via the App Store button on your iPhone.

A few cautionary notes.  Many apps have both a paid and a free version, with the free version supported by in-app ads.  If you’re like me and put at least some premium on ad-avoidance, be cautious with the free versions.  With one extreme exception, all of these apps are inexpensive.  Consider avoiding the ads and supporting hard working developers by buying the paid version of the app.  On the other hand, many apps are completely free, with little or no ads.  The ones only noted as free below only come in free versions.  You can get them for free, either via iTunes or the App Store button on your iPhone.

So, in no particular order, here we go.

Google Mobile (free):  This must-have app puts Google search and other Google apps (calendar, etc.) in an easy to read and use iPhone format.  It also allows you to search Google via voice.  Given that general web surfing via a browser is not the most effective way to find info via the iPhone, this is a must-have app and one of the top 5 essential apps.  I use it all the time.

Box.Net (free):  I’ve used Box.Net as my online storage space since the private beta before it launched.  I don’t need online space much, but when I do Box.Net is my choice, at least until Google’s rumored G-Drive comes out.  The iPhone app is well done and easy to use.  I use it regularly, but it’s not a must have app unless you need online storage.

Melodis Voice Dialer (free):  This was one of the first apps I installed.  When it works, it lets you dial from your iPhone’s Contacts (e.g., address book) by saying the name of the person you want to call.  I’ve had mixed results with it.  I rarely use it and will probably uninstall it at some point.

Note2Self ($1.99):  Every iPhone needs the ability to record notes while on the go.  This app does that and much, much more.  I can record a note and immediately have a voice file emailed to my secretary for dictation or other action.  It’s very handy, and I use it a couple of times a month.  It’s a must-have app.

Remember the Milk (free, but requires a $25/year premium description at Remember the Milk):  Every iPhone also needs a to-do list, and there are many to choose from.  I have used Remember the Milk since before I got an iPhone.  It’s a great web-based application that allows you to have various tasks and due dates, with notifications for the tasks that are due each day.  But at $25 a year, some may choose other options.  I still use it weekly, but if I can find a consolidated note taking and to-do list application, I would be inclined to switch.  Now that I’ve switched from Google Notebook to Evernote (see below), I hope Evernote comes out with to-do list features.

Evernote (free): Even if you don’t know it, you need a central place to keep notes, web clippings, registration numbers and all sorts of other data that you can access from anywhere.  Evernote is that place.  The iPhone app is elegant.  The web-based access needs a lot of work, but the free desktop application is fabulous.  You probably don’t think you need Evernote, but trust me, you do.  Not only a must-have app, but also one of the top 5 essential apps.  The Premium version ($45/year) allows you to add and store image files, PDF files and other files, all of which are accessible anywhere.

Beejive IM ($15.99):  Yes, that’s a lot by iPhone app standards, but if you use text messaging or, like me, have kids you want to stay connected with that do, this is a must-have app.  It lets you text- and send voice messages and photos- to other cell phones and to people on AIM and other instant messaging services.  Because it uses an instant messaging network to transmit data, it avoids the cell provider’s text messaging charges.  Saving those dollars is only the start.  This excellent app does a lot more, including working with iPod Touches to allow the iPhoners-in-training to send and receive text messages.  Clearly one of the top 5 essential apps.

Pandora (free):  If you like music, you want to start with this app, which is an iPhone optimized front end to the wonderful Pandora music service.  There are tons of radio stations to choose from or you can make your own.  If you like alternative country, I offer Newsome.Org radio.  If you like blues, here’s Kent’s Blues Mix.  And if you like an eclectic mix of classic rock, alternative country and blues, there’s my personal favorite, Rancho Radio.

AOL Radio (free):  My other music favorite.  This app, which is populated by CBS radio, offers tons of radio stations to choose from.  To give you an idea of the depth of choice, one of my favorite stations plays only classic rock cover songs!

CameraBag ($2.99): The camera on the iPhone is pretty good, but it’s still a cell phone camera.  CameraBag enhances your iPhone photos with several effects, such as “1962” (dynamic black and white), “Instant” (Polaroid looking, with those familiar borders), and “Helga” (washed out highlights and old-school vignetting).  I don’t use this one as much as I thought I would.  It’s a neat app, but not a must have.

GothPix (99 cents):  I really wish this was an effect in CameraBag (see the picture here for an example of the effect).  I use this one more than CameraBag, even though it’s a one-trick pony.  Not a must-have app, but close- at least for me.

Juxtaposer ($2.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  If you want to put your mother in law’s head on a monkey or something, this is the app for you.  I think it’s a really cool app, but I don’t use it very much.  It’s one of those “really cool” apps that you may install and rarely use.

Mobile Fotos ($1.99):  If you use Flickr, which is by far the best photo storage and sharing site, you must have this app.  It allows you to flip through your Flickr photos, and to upload additional photos to your Flickr account.  It also supports geotagging.  It is a must-have app, as is a Flickr account if you don’t already have one.

Darkroom (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  This app, which used to be called SteadyCam, makes it easier to take non-blurry photos with your iPhone by waiting until the iPhone is steady to snap the picture, and by increasing the size of your shutter button- no more feeling around for that little shutter button.  It is a must-have app.

Squiggles ($4.99):  A full featured paint and image manipulation program for the iPhone.  It allows you to draw pictures, add cartoon captions to photos and to write or draw onto photos.  I got this one because my kids have it and were constantly playing with it.  It’s a neat little app, but I rarely use it.

Tweetie ($2.99):  I run hot and cold on Twitter, but a lot of people live on there.  Tweetie is the best app for Twitter, and I actually find myself using Twitter more because of Tweetie.  If you use Twitter, it’s a must-have app.  If you use Twitter, follow me and give me a shout.

Byline ($4.99): Now that you’ve followed my advice and set up a Google Reader account, use this must-have app to read your feeds via your iPhone.  It seems awful slow at times, but Byline is still the best way to read your feeds on the go.  It synchs with your Google Reader account and has an offline reading feature.  It’s one of the top 5 essential apps.

TouchType (99 cents, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  TouchType allows you to compose and reply to email in landscape mode, which, along with cute and paste, is one of the main yet-to-be-added native iPhone features.  I thought I would use this app all the time, but I never do.  I will probably uninstall it at some point, but if landscape emailing is important to you, you will find this app handy.

iBlogger (99 cents, at least for the moment):  I looked at a bunch of options before settling on this iPhone blogging application.  If you blog, this is the app to get.  If like the rest of the 99.999999999999999% of the world you don’t, move along to the next app.

Mobile News (free): Now we’re moving into the news and sports apps.  Lot of key apps coming up.  Mobile News is the Associated Press’s iPhone app.  It has news, sports, finance, local news and more.  It’s well designed and easy to use.  A must-have app and clearly one of the top 5 essential apps.

Sportacular (free): This was my first sports app.  It’s great for getting schedules and scores for various sports.  My favorite feature is the ability to set up a favorite teams list and get info about all of the teams you follow from a single page.  It’s not nearly as content-heavy as iSports (see below), but it’s great for quick score checks.  At least one of Sportacular and iSports is a must-have app.

iSports (free): iSports has a lot more content than Sportacular, including daily trivia games and live stats for some events.  If you’re stuck in an airport with some time to kill, iSports is the ticket.  I think iSports and Sportacular do different things, so I use them both regularly.  At least one of Sportacular and iSports is a must-have app.

Bloomberg (free):  For reasons I can’t really explain, I have always avoided the Bloomberg television channel, but the iPhone app is a different story.  It’s the app to get for stock quotes, market and business news.  A must-have app.

American Heritage Dictionary ($29.99):  I can’t believe I paid thirty bucks for a dadgum iPhone dictionary.  Granted, it’s a full featured dictionary, with pronunciations and whatnot, and I keep it by my side during family Scrabble games.  But there are cheaper alternatives out there.  I wouldn’t buy it again.  What was I thinking?  Stupid purchase.

Pocket Aid ($1.99):  A neat little app with first aid guides for insect bites, bruises, burns and other mishaps as well as how-tos for the Heimlich Maneuver, CPR, etc.  I bought it because we go camping a lot, but for a couple of bucks, it would be a good addition to any iPhone.

i.TV (free): I really wanted an app to show me TV and movie listings and to let me manage my Netflix queue.  This app does that and more.  Too much more, in my opinion.  It overwhelms me and I never use it.  I am going to uninstall it, but lots of people love it.

AroundMe (free):  This excellent app uses the iPhone’s build in GPS to locate restaurants, coffee bars, hotels, gas stations and many other points of interest in your immediate vicinity.  I use it frequently- a must-have app.

Urbanspoon (free): Another very popular GPS-based app, Urbanspoon locates restaurants in your vicinity and provides links to menus, editorial reviews and user reviews.  You can filter your results by neighborhood, cuisine or price.  I never (and I mean never) use the “shake for a random restaurant” feature, but I use the “near me” feature frequently.

iTalk Recorder ($4.99, but there is a free version that I haven’t tried):  This was my voice recorder before I discovered Note2Self.  It has a desktop application that will download the audio files to your computer.  It’s a neat app, but I like Note2Self better.

Easy Wi-Fi ($1.99):  One of the many wonderful things about iPhones is that you have free access to ATT wi-fi hotspots.  I have not travelled much since I got my iPhone, but I suspect this app, which automates the sometimes cumbersome process of logging into ATT hotspots, will be a big timesaver.  Based purely on potential a must-have app.

That’s my app list.  I’ll cover games in a subsequent post.

What are your essential iPhone apps?  Add yours to the discussion in the Comments.

If you aren’t already a Newsome.Org feed subscriber, please subscribe.  We have lots more articles like this coming up.

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Tech for Grownups: Why You Need Google Reader

googlereader

As hard as it may be to believe for those of us who live in RSS, both from a content production and content viewing perspective, RSS and the associated feed readers remain vastly under-utilized by most adults.  Over the past weeks I asked many adults if they use RSS or a feed reader to manage their online reading.  Only one person used a feed reader.  Very few even knew what feed reader are.  In fact, I showed one reasonably tech-savvy friend how to use Google Reader.  He told me a day or two later that Google Reader had completely changed the way he approached the internet.  He loved it.

Meanwhile, many of my adult friends continue to consume the internet inefficiently and ineffectively by bouncing around from one website to another, in search of content that could so easily be centralized via Google Reader.  Yes, there are other feed readers, but they are more complicated and, frankly, not as good as Google Reader.

Wikipedia defines a feed reader as follows: “A feed aggregator, also known as a feed reader, news reader or simply aggregator, is client software or a Web application which aggregates syndicated web content such as news headlines, blogs, podcasts, and vlogs in a single location for easy viewing.”  In other words, you can take all that content that you run all over the place trying to find and read, and you can put it in one centralized place.  It puts you, not the various website developers and their advertisers, in charge of how you consume online information.  For those (and you know who you are) who continue to claim that the internet is a dangerous and scary place- Google Reader is perfect for you.  You get the content you’re after right from Google.  And while Google is certainly trying to corner the market on data storage and online advertising, it’s certainly not going to rob you or give you a computer virus.  As an aside, most of the people I know who are scared of the internet already have computer viruses because they are too afraid to find and update an anti-virus program, yet not afraid to open love emails and other obviously bogus missives from people they don’t know.

RSS feeds are not just for blogs.  Just about every newspaper, online news source and other content provider has RSS feeds.  Generally, they have many, broken down in a news, weather, sports, etc. manner.  Here is a list of Yahoo’s feeds.  Here are CNN’s.  And here are the feeds for the New York Times.  If you find all that stuff too boring, here’s mine.

There is one slight drawback to feeds.  Lots of people use full feeds, which means that the entire story appears within the feed reader.  Many news sources, however, are psychologically bound to the dying advertising model that traditionally paid their bills.  So some of them use partial feeds, which show only a headline and sometimes a summary within the feed reader.  You have to click through to the provider’s story (e.g., to its website) to read the whole thing.  This is a pain in the ass, but even so, feed readers are still the best way to organize and access your online content.  As another aside, big media can probably get away with partial feeds for a few more years, but anyone else who uses partial feeds is begging not to be read.  If Mashable and TechCrunch can make full feeds available, then so can you.  And if you don’t, many others with the same or better content will.  As you can tell, I really don’t like partial feeds.

Back to Google Reader and why you need it.

Here’s a video by the folks who developed Google Reader explaining all the great things Google Reader will do for you (link for feeds).

So what are you waiting for?  Go give it a whirl.  It will change your (online) life.

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Why Grown-ups Don’t Care About Social Networking

social networkingIf some alien traveler landed at an intersection in any decent-sized town in America, wandered into any of the four Starbucks there, borrowed the barista’s laptop to tap into the internet and read the first six blogs he came across, he would instantly conclude that social networking is more important to Americans than work, family, religion, sports and all three Elvises combined.

But like the blind fellow who happens to grab the elephant’s tail, he wouldn’t have the whole picture.

Steve Rubel says the portals – AOL (does it even exist anymore), Yahoo, Google and Windows Live (OK, that one’s a stretch) – will win the social networking wars.  I’m not sure what that means, other than they will give away more stuff for free to more non-paying customers, but I digress.  Steve says, correctly, that every site on the net is adding social networking features.  That’s because 99% of the internet is one giant, reactive momentum play, but I digress again.  Clearly, every site in the world is trying to become Facebook Jr., which from a design and usability perspective is like every NFL team trying to become the Dolphins.  But since the entirety of Web 2.0 is ad-based, all that matters is where the herd is grazing at any given moment.  Steve’s point is that we jump frog-like from one social networking site to the next, but rely on the trusty old portals to manage our online experience.  I tend to agree with that, for a couple of reasons.  One, my personal experience.  I use My Yahoo to get my news, weather and sports and my personal portal to manage my web surfing and research.  Two, logic (a concept rarely featured in the Web 2.0 mania).  Everyone who fires up a web browser has to start somewhere, including the billions who have never heard of Bebo.

I think there is an implied assumption in Steve’s post that people want more data, information and interaction, when I believe most working adults want less.  But between whatever social application is plastered all over Mashable and the old, boring, Web 1.0-associated portals, the portals will always have the superior numbers.  Some say that the teens of today will bring the Facebooks of tomorrow to main street and corporate America.  I don’t think so.  When those teens get kicked out of the nest, get a job or two and a family of their own to worry about, keeping up with what some online “friends” they’ve never met had for dinner is going to lose its place in the sphere of concern.  A lot of younger guys I know used to have MySpace and Facebook pages.  Few use them anymore.  My theory, which I can’t footnote with empirical data, is that they used the social networking sites primarily as a means to meet and advertise themselves to girls.  Once they got jobs, wives and joined the rat race, they no longer had a need for the new-personals service those sites provided.

Now comes Stowe Boyd, who’s selling something, although what it is isn’t exactly clear (“As we catapult headlong into a social revolution…”).  Stowe says that Steve is wrong.  He says because the newspapers and magazines didn’t own Web 1.0, it’s wrong to think the dusty old portal sites will own Web 2+.  Maybe, but old media didn’t own Web 1.0 because they threw it in the dumpster, thinking it was of little value.  Now that all of those ad dollars that used to support so many more magazines and newspapers have migrated to the web, you can be sure old media will follow them like cavemen followed wooley mammoths- and likely with the same result.  If there was any doubt of that before yesterday, the crumbling of the Wall dispelled it.

Sure, the distribution of information changes reasonably fast.  Sure, a lot of the social networking slag tossed up by web sites will be poorly thought out and terribly executed.  But the herd that Stowe is tracking is the loud but smallish herd of technophiles and prospectors.  The ever increasing number of substantially similar social networking sites and the chaotic bloat at the hands of unnecessary features will drive the larger herd – those billions of users who don’t care what song you’re listening to – back to places they know.  Places where the idea is to manage your information, not merely to open your online experience to the unfiltered, irrelevant and often adolescent mosh pit.  Adults, both today’s and tomorrow’s, want less data.  Not more.  The assumption that people want more is the biggest fallacy of the Web 2.0 mania.

Ask yourself how many mid and senior management people in corporate America are actively using Facebook or MySpace as their primary online management tool.  For one thing, those sites are blocked at many companies.  For another, there are better alternatives.  More does not always translate to better.  Sure, there are corporate Facebook users.  But compared to the millions of corporate users who click over to Yahoo every morning to read their news or get stock quotes, the number would surely seem miniscule.  Remove the tech industry, the marketing industry, the recruiters and those with skin in the game from the list, and it becomes even shorter.  LinkedIn has some corporate mindshare, but anyone who’s paying attention can tell that, for better or worse, LinkedIn is very different from MySpace.  I suspect it is also much less sticky, which is why its greater utility plays second fiddle to Facebook’s greater page views.  The fact that LinkedIn can’t decide if it wants to be a roadmap or a destination at least gives it the chance to make the correct decision.

Another factor?  Portals make it easy to aggregate your data and your communications.  No need to install a widget to get the weather if it’s already there on your My Yahoo page.

I think Stowe is spot-on about one thing:

The network — the Web — belongs to us, the indigenous people of the Web: the Edglings.

That’s undoubtedly true.  And while there are other issues for the Edglings – such as the conscription of their creation by others for a profit – there is a segment of the population that will never return to AOL.  Just like there is a segment of the population that thinks using Linux is more efficient than using Windows.  But those folks will always be in the minority numbers wise.  And many of them will capitulate to the inevitability of Windows as they get older and busier.  Much like many of them will capitulate to a portal when they want to stem the flow of information they suddenly discover they don’t really need.

That poor alien sitting in Starbucks, reading those blogs and wondering why all those people sitting around talking on their iPhones aren’t at work may conclude that Facebook is the future.  But it’s not.  It’s just the present.  For a loud but mobile herd.

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