September 23, 2008
A Potpourri of 2.0 Tools
By Notess, Greg R
"I'll take a look at a potpourri of recent tools and technologies that can be useful on the job. From kwout to A.nnotate to docstoc, peruse the selections to see what can be integrated into your workflow. Keeping current with new technology these days requires extensive browsing, both online and off. While reading about new software and online tools, many are worth only a single visit. Even those that do something new with graphics, offer a fresh method for information delivery, or boast a fancy Ajax user interface may not offer much that is directly helpful to information professionals.Yet once in awhile, one of the new tools, resources, or software programs shows some unique potential and offers new approaches to information management. With the technological sophistication of Web 2.0 spurring new ideas nearly every day, at least a few such tools should provide something useful for the information professional. So this month, I'll take a look at a potpourri of recent tools and technologies that can be useful on the job. From kwout to A.nnotate to docstoc, peruse the selections to see what can be integrated into your workflow.
Many desktop programs are available to take, edit, and share screen shots. From using the Print Screen key and Windows Paint to the sophisticated capabilities of TechSmith's Snaglt, screen shot choices abound. For many tasks-explanatory email messages, tutorial webpages, blogs, and social networks-screen shots can help explain how to use databases and other online sources.
The web-based kwout is another entry in this somewhat crowded market, yet it possesses several stand-out features, especially for use in blogs or other webpages. It is free, no download is needed, and it can create an image of a webpage with live links.
kwout (www.kwout.com) is less than a year old and continues to add new features and to change existing ones. For example, enter a URL at kwout, and then select the relevant portion ofthat screen. Click the "Cut Out" button to go to the kwout options screen. The options include saving the screen capture to kwout's site ("Post this to your web site"), saving it to your Flickr account, or sending it via email. You can change the size, add a border (along with rounded corners and/ or shadowing), and change the background color. If the screen shot includes any links that you want included as links within the image, be sure to choose the "Post this to your web site" option and "Quote with an image map."
Still young, kwout has several difficulties. The first and most annoying is that it will not work on all pages. I thought it would be great to capture search engine results, but results at Google, Yahoo!, Live Search, and Ask all give an "Error-this page is forbidden to capture Screenshot" message. In addition, kwout limits images to no larger than 600x600 pixels. That means that users cannot grab an entire webpage.
Beyond use from the kwout site, alternate ways to use kwout help a bit with some of the problems. For frequent kwout users, bookmarklets are available at the bottom of the homepage. For Firefox users, a special kwout add-on is available that, once installed, does manage to take shots of search engine results and take larger shots than 600 pixels. However, anything larger is reduced to 600 pixels with corresponding readability loss.
SIMPLE FORM FILLS
Several online spreadsheet programs exist, and I have used Zoho Sheet more than most. However, Google Spreadsheets recently introduced one feature that helped simplify several of my recent information-gathering tasks. Forms on the web are not new, but creating a form that accepts information and then stores it in an easily viewable and manipulatable format has not always been easy to do. With Google's introduction of a simple form creator that dumps the collected data into a spreadsheet, such a tool is now available.
I have already used it to gather contact information from students in a bibliographic instructions session, to create a preworkshop survey for attendees, and to solicit suggested questions for an interview form. Once you figure out a few nonintuitive tricks, Google makes it easy to create and share a form-the results just get added to the spreadsheet. The form requesting input can be available at a Google Docs URL, distributed via email, or embedded on a non-Google webpage.
So in the interest of helping others to get around the nonintuitive parts, here are the steps necessary to create such a form:
1. Create a new spreadsheet.
2. Leave the first column and header rows empty.
3. Share. 4. Select "to fill out a form."
5. Click "Start editing your form."
6. Create the survey form. Each question title will become a column heading.
7. Save. Click "choose recipients" even if you do not want to email the form.
8. Share via email, link on right, or use embed code.
Want to see this in use? Try out a simple form at www.snipr.com/ formfill to see how it works.
Many of the new social websites require users to create an account. Trying to collaborate on a project using online tools may be stymied by the reluctance of others to sign up for yet another account. Tools that only require the organizer to create an account, or that require no account creation at all, are more likely to get buy-in from a wider group.
drop.io (and yes, its URL is www.drop.io, although it is probably not actually located in the British Indian Ocean Territory) requires no account and can be used to easily share files, large and small. Beyond just a simple file-sharing service, drop.io lets users add a variety of file types, links, and text notes, up to 100MB per drop. It is a free service, with options to purchase more storage, time, and shorter domain names.
Security is available even without accounts, since all drops are kept private and should not be found online unless someone guesses the URL or links directly to it. Even greater security is available by choosing a password for the drop. Others need to enter that password to view the content, but no user name is necessary.
drop.io gives many unexpected options for contributing to and sharing a drop. In addition to uploading files online, you can send files via a specific email, leave voice mail messages that are saved as audio files, use a conference call phone number to collaborate (although these calls are not recorded), and even fax paper documents to be included.
For group collaboration, the drop originator can give other users permission to just view the drop, to view and add to the drop, or to view, add, and delete items. Take a look at a sample www.drop.io/ potpourri to see one with view-only permission.
Remember the days of routing a paper document that acquires comments along its sojourn in the form of sticky notes at various parts of the document? Now the same approach to annotating can be done online with Annotate. like other 2.0 tools, Annotate is designed to do one particular function well. Upload a document, share the location with others in a work group, and let everyone annotate it with online sticky notes.
Once a document has been uploaded, click the Send button to share a secret URL with the work group. When others click on that emailed link, they enter their email addresses to get an account. Once set up, they can start adding comments to the document. Each sticky note has Edit, Reply, and Delete options, although only the document administrator can delete every note. Others can only delete their own.
Annotate takes an interesting approach to the free introduction with commercial opportunities for expanded access. A free account starts with 250 credits and gets 150 credits per month. Credits are used up at about five credits per page of a document uploaded or 10 credits per webpage.
For those behind restrictive firewalls that would prohibit the use of a service like this, A.nnotate also sells dedicated servers and in-house installation to an organization so that the same technology could be used completely within a firewalled, secure environment.
A year ago, in my September 2007 "The Incredible, Embeddable Web" column, I wrote about the Scribd collection of embeddable documents. Scribd is still a fascinating online location to see what documents people upload, but at times it seems to be top-heavy with image- filled presentations, video game guides, and rather blatant copyright violations. While Scribd is getting better at removing copyrighted works (like the 800 page, full-text, $160 handbook that was up last month but has since been removed), the number still available there gives it the aura of being on the shady side of the web.
docstoc is a more recent, professional, uptown alternative, docstoc's tag lines boast that it is the site to "find and share professional documents" and offers "free legal forms and business templates." It features categories for legal, business, financial, technology, educational, and creative documents. Popular documents at docstoc have titles such as "Project Proposal Evaluation Plan Template" and "PR Tips for Startups."
docstoc accepts uploads of a variety of formats, including Word, PDF, Excel, PowerPoint, and plain text. Users can keep documents private by checking the "Private" box when uploading or after uploading by clicking the "Private" after the document in the profile listing. It is easy to share private documents by using either the "Email this Doc" link or just copying and sharing the URL of the document. Like many 2.0 online tools, docstoc provides usage statistics for documents. These include Views, Downloads, Ratings, Reviews, Posting Date, and Language. These statistics are viewable by all users. The owner of the document also gets to see a Document Activity Log, which shows the date, time, and username of people who have viewed the document. If a user who is not logged in views it, the log just reports the viewer as anonymous.
If a document is made public, users can rate, review, download, embed, email, or bookmark it. The "flag this doc" option asks registered users to choose a reason for flagging from Miscategorized, Mis-categorized Language, Mis-tagged, Inappropriate Content, or Other. To see the range of options, check out any of the public documents, or see the Search Strategy Worksheet at www.docstoc.com/docs/204552/Library-InstructionWorksheets for a library example.
Over the past several months, several sites have offered up free screencasting software and hosting. None have all the abilities of TechSmith's Camtasia Studio, but they have the basics and the price is right. Most of these require Windows XP or above. Among the Windows downloads are uTIPu's TipCam, Webinaria, and FreeScreencast's Screencast Recorder. TechSmith offers Jing for both Mac and Windows, and Screencast-O-Matic is an online, Java-based screen recorder.
The uTIPu site offers free hosting. Its TipCam records audio and screen motion, but it has no editing abilities. Webinaria also offers free hosting and audio and screen recording. Its one editing option is to add text callouts. FreeScreencast has hosting, and the recorder has both audio and video abilities. It does require the extra step of installing the Windows Media Encoder.
The Jing Project has recently updated Jing, which can be used for screen shots and screencasts. Hosting is provided at www.screencast.com and a limited, free account is available to Jing users, but it limits bandwidth and file sizes. For those who want to keep all their software online, Screencast-O-Matic records audio and screen movement without the need to download any software. It also offers its own free hosting.
With all this free hosting comes a variety of services frequently seen at similar community sharing sites such as YouTube or SlideShare. Links to URLs, embed code, ratings, comments, and viewing stats are common at many.
Much ink (online and off) has been spilled over Web 2.0's successor and where the future of the web will lead. In the meantime, new 2.0 tools continue to appear at a rapid rate. Try some of the ones listed here or other newer ones that will inevitably show up. Keep an eye out for those that can help expedite your workflow or help those in your organization.
LINKS FOR FEATURED SITES
Google Spreadsheets www.google.com/docs
Jing Project www.jingproject.com
by Greg R. Notess
Montana State University
Greg R. Notess ([email protected]; www.notess.com) is reference team leader at Montana State University and founder of SearchEngineShowdown.com.
Copyright Information Today, Inc. Sep/Oct 2008
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