Kickstarter.com – Some of my favorites

If you’ve never heard of Kickstarter, please allow me to make an introduction. Kickstarter.com is a website where inventors, artists, entrepreneurs, etc. can post their project ideas and solicit funds while offering various incentives for those who participate. What is revolutionary about Kickstarter is how well it combines the web’s ubiquity and easy payment options into a “viral funding” opportunity. It has allowed people with ideas to market their ideas directly to the people who are most interested in them. Some of the more successful projects have raised tens of thousands of dollars in just a few days. The term “Kickstart” is quickly becoming a verb used to describe crowd-sourced fundraising. [Read more...]

Spotify: Oh, now I “get it”

Amid a wave of publicity, online music service Spotify launched in the US nearly one year ago. Since that time, if you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen ads for the service and status updates from your friends which show what they’ve been listening to. The service is a fantastic concept: it combines user-uploaded music into an ad or fee supported service which makes the record companies happy and let’s you find and play virtually any song instantly. For many music lovers, this is the perfect Internet jukebox; however, as I’d merely consider myself a burgeoning audiophile, I hadn’t been so quick to adopt the service until I found my personal best “use case” and started making the service work for me. As there are probably others out there like me, I thought I’d share how I discovered the magic of Spotify. [Read more...]

Rediscovering Twitter

My use of Twitter has vacillated between moderate to non-existent during the three and a half years I’ve used the service. During my first year or so of tweeting, I was amazed by how it constantly facilitated real world connections. Then as I reached a relational saturation point, it became more noise in my digital world. However, despite its ability to distract, Twitter keeps drawing me back with its unique mix of entertainment, education and community. I’ve found the key to using it has been mastering Twitter lists and using my favorite Twitter app, Tweetdeck.

Filter Out the Noise with Lists
Once you start following a large number of people who tweet regularly, your Twitter stream serves more as a overwhelming river of distraction. All the tweets with links, photos and quips will either serve to prevent you from getting any work done, or you’ll feel hopelessly lost amidst all the conversation.

At this point, you need to learn how to use Twitter’s list feature to start filtering out valuable topics and conversations. Twitter Lists let you create subsets of people to follow. You can add people you follow or even someone you’re not following. As an example, here are the lists I currently maintain with my account:

From reading my list titles and descriptions you can probably get the gist of what they’re about. The only thing I’ll add is that the little padlock next to a list means that it’s private, only I can see it. The others are publicly available for other people to follow. You can follow lists on Twitter in a fashion similar to following an individual user on Twitter.

If you’re interested in using lists with your Twitter account, the best place to start is the Twitter Help Center article How To Use Twitter Lists.

Tweetdeck – Tweet Like a Power User
While you’re getting a handle on Twitter lists, you should also get a handle on Tweetdeck. My favorite feature is how it lets you display multiple columns of tweets. These columns can be made up of your main stream, replies, mentions and DMs; however, my favorite use for columns are to display the Twitter lists I mentioned above. The following screenshot shows my Tweetdeck (click the image to see it full-size):

I use Tweetdeck to display my various Twitter lists.

At first blush, I’m sure it looks distracting and overwhelming. However, once you get used to how the information is organized, you can quickly and efficiently scan the interface to find the information you’re looking for.

As you can see in the screenshot, I have my columns setup for All Friends, Mentions and three lists:

  • My Conversationalists list is what makes Twitter fun. These are folks whom I either know personally, have met via Twitter or both. Throughout the day I’ll check that list to see what my friends are talking about. These are the folks that I joke with, share links with and converse with on a regular basis.
  • The WordPress list is comprised of people who work with WordPress, the software I use to develop websites. This list keeps me up-to-date on the latest industry news and helps to supplement my professional development.
  • Finally, my Clients list keeps me apprised of what the people I work for are talking about on the web.
Reaping the Benefits
With the help of Twitter Lists and Tweetdeck, Twitter has become vastly more useful and beneficial to me lately. Here are a handful of benefits I’ve gained from Twitter in the past two weeks:
  • Nextdoor.com – A Social Network for Neighborhoods – Via a tweet from my friend Scott Adcox (@sadcox), I learned about Nextdoor. It’s an easy-to-use social network optimized for use by neighborhoods. To join a Nextdoor network, you must verify that you actually live in the neighborhood whose network you’re trying to join. I learned about this service at the same time I was trying to solve some communication problems for the HOA in my neighborhood.
  • jAVERDE Coffee is Open for Business – Ever since their first location closed this past March, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the grand re-opening of jAVERDE Coffee in their new West Town Mall Location. By following the owner’s tweets on Twitter, I learned of their “soft-opening”, and I was able to drop by for coffee on their first day open.
  • Email Subscriptions Now Available in WordPress Jetpack – I use the WordPress Jetpack plugin on many of the websites I develop for my clients. Yesterday, a tweet by @lloydbudd alerted me to the fact that the plugin’s new email subscriptions feature would solve a problem one of my clients was having.
  • Reconnecting with Old Friends – If you haven’t used Twitter to tweet with people you actually know, you may smirk at my suggestion. But, when you tweet with people you know in the real-world, it actually forms meaningful connections. Now that I’m up on many of my friend’s online conversations, the next time we see each other we’ll already have a small sense of what we’ve been up to. Our shared tweets help to bridge the gap that happens after you haven’t seen one another for a while.
In sharing how I use Twitter and how I benefit from it, I hope it helps you see one great way to use the service. It doesn’t have to be about self-promotion, inane chatter, celebrity gossip, mindless distraction or any other use that comes to mind. Rather, with the right technique and tools, Twitter can be a very valuable part of your online presence.

Evernote + Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanner = Crack for Obsessive Compulsives

I believe I’ve discovered crack cocaine for obsessive compulsives and anal retentives. This week I’ve started using Evernote along with my new Fujitsu SnapScan Scanner to clear out my three ring binders full of old bank and brokerage statements. In other words, this process lets me scan, file and backup all of my documents, thereby letting me shred and recycle the paper versions. It’s neat freak nirvana, de-clutter dynamite and cleanup karma all rolled into one beautiful combination of high technology, and I can’t wait to tell you how it all works. But, before I do, if you’ll pardon me one moment…

As you can see, the whole process starts by pushing the ScanSnap’s blue scan button. The particular model I’m using is an S1500M. It scans 20, double-sided pages per minute in color or black and white. Once scanned, the included software quickly converts your document into a searchable PDF. That alone is pretty magical; however, the intensity gets cranked to eleven when you combine this process with Evernote.

Evernote is an online service for storing things you want to remember. Got a webpage you want to save? Clip it to Evernote. Need to save a receipt? Take a picture with your smartphone, tag it “reimbursed expenses” and you’ll have it next time you’re writing an expense report. Have an idea for a book or a blog post? Save it as a note in Evernote. Basically, Evernote is a place to store any information you want to remember. Its search and note-tagging features make it a breeze to organize things in a way that you can find them later.

Getting back to that ScanSnap scanner I mentioned earlier, when you combine it with Evernote, creating and managing your digital documents becomes an extremely easy, efficient, quick and addictive process. The beauty of this whole thing lies in the configurability of that little blue button on the ScanSnap. Via the settings on your Mac or PC, you can make that button scan directly into Evernote. This means that once your scan is finished and processed it is added directly to Evernote. All that’s left for you to do is give it a title and tag it. As for the hardcopy, it’s time to shred and recycle.

Meanwhile, Evernote is backing up your copy “in the cloud”. This means you’ll be able to access it anywhere with a web-connected device be it a computer, smartphone, iPad or the like. I’m only beginning to realize the possibilities of this process. In addition to clearing out clutter, now I’ll actually be able to find an old document when I need it.

If you’re interested in joining me on this revolutionary approach to “going paperless,” here’s what I recommend:

  1. Signup for a free Evernote account – Their free account will give you a feel for the service. Upgrading to Premium for $45/yr will allow you to upload more documents each month and conduct text searches on your PDFs.
  2. Get a document scanner that can “Scan to Evernote”Evernote’s recommended hardware page features a listing of scanners which work well with Evernote. Being able to scan directly into Evernote is what makes this process so quick.
  3. Start Scanning and Install the Evernote App on your Devices – Once you’ve scanned some documents, you’ll want to be able to access them on all your devices. Evernote has apps for Android, iPhone’s and more.

One final note: If you decide to go for the scanner I mention above (the Fujitsu ScanSnap), the links I provide are Amazon Affiliate links. So, if you click on one of them and buy the scanner, I’ll receive an affiliate fee. Thanks in advance if you decide to do that!

Programming, WordPress, Graphic Design and Writing – Elance’s Top Skills in Demand

Elance - Top 10 Skills in Demand

According to Elance’s Online Employment Report, if you want a job freelancing, the top skills to have are programming, WordPress, graphic design and writing. As a WordPress designer/developer the top ten skills in the Elance list are also the skills I need each day to do my job. What follows is my breakdown of the Elance Top Ten Skills and how I use them:

  1. PHP – PHP stands for Hypertext Pre-Processor. It is the server-side programming language that WordPress is written in. Knowing PHP allows me to easily modify WordPress themes and write WordPress plugins.
  2. WordPress – Having started out as blogging software, WordPress is quickly becoming the most popular Content Management System (CMS) in the world. Several years back, I choose WordPress as my exclusive development platform because of its vibrant open-source development community and its intuitive administrative interface.
  3. Article Writing – Back in 1998, I graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English and a concentration in Technical Communications and Creative Writing. It has served as an excellent foundation for web development as I’m able to help my clients write and edit their content.
  4. HTML – Hyper-Text Markup Language is the basic display language for most content on the web. Whenever you “View the Source…” for any web page, you are probably looking at a combination of HTML, JavaScript and CSS.
  5. Graphic Design – After graduating from UT, I got a degree in Digital Media at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL. There I received training in the foundations of graphic design. Having a good background in graphic design allows me to decide what something should look like before I start working on how to make it.
  6. MySQL – WordPress is built on top of a MySQL database backend. In addition, PHP works nicely with MySQL. So, as I’ve learned PHP and WordPress through the years, I’ve gained a moderate proficiency in database design and querying.
  7. Content Writing – See my answer for #3.
  8. CSS - Cascading Style Sheets control the styling for web pages. They allow you to set things like your fonts and colors in one place and have those styles “cascade” throughout your entire website.
  9. Photoshop – Among the many software tools we trained in, Photoshop was one of the primary tools I used while at Full Sail University. Now, hardly a day goes by when I don’t fire up Photoshop to do some graphic design or editing.
  10. Web Content – See my answer for #3.

If the idea of a career in freelance web development and design interests you, one path I can recommend is the one I took:

  1. BA in English with a Tech Communication Concentration – Learning how to write well has been a foundational skill that I’ve used throughout my career. Whether I’m writing web content or simply showing my clients how to use a website I’ve built for them, my “tech comm” skills are always a major asset.
  2. Specialized Degree in Digital Media or Web Development – One of the things I appreciated most about my Full Sail University Digital Media degree was the wide range of topics we covered. My degree prepared me as a graphic designer, programmer, project manager and more. I’d say that I rely on foundational skills I gained from my degree in 80 to 90% of what I do each day.
  3. Continuing Education – I’m always striving to learn more about web development. Since school, I’ve taught myself PHP, gained expert proficiency in using WordPress, and learned moderate proficiency in Apache server administration. The rule-of-thumb here is that a web developer should always be learning and acquiring new skills.

FindMeByIP.com – Get your client’s browser details quickly and easily

Get your client's browser details via findmebyIP.com

Whenever I’m troubleshooting a problem on the web, nine times out of ten, it’s vitally important that I know what web browser the end user is using. However, getting this information can often be like pulling teeth. A lot of web users don’t know what web browser they use much less their browser version. That’s why it didn’t take long to sell me on findmebyIP.com.

After you signup for your free account, you’ll be given a URL that you can send to your clients. All they have to do is click on the link, and findmebyIP.com will generate a report that features information on their:

  • Browser
  • support for CSS3, HTML5, Forms 2.0 and CSS3 Selectors
  • and IP Address & Geolocation

Check out the service yourself and get more details at http://findmebyIP.com.

Hate reading long posts online? Use Instapaper.com with your Kindle

When I’m reading on my computer, I tend to avoid blog posts or news articles more than five-hundred words. No matter how good the content, all the scrolling and eye-strain limits my attention span. On the other hand, I love reading on my Kindle. The Kindle’s E Ink® display is like reading on paper. Now, imagine combining your favorite online content with your favorite electronic reader. This is what Instapaper.com lets you do.

Instapaper Lets You “Read Later”
Signing up for an account at Instapaper lets you add a “Read Later” bookmarklet to your browser. Now, any time you come across something you want to read later, simply click “Read Later” in your browser bookmarks, and the article is added to your queue at Instapaper. You can choose to have Instapaper send your unread articles to your Kindle daily or weekly.

Some of My Favorite Instapaper Reads
As an example of some of the content that reads great on a Kindle, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite recent reads on Instapaper (In addition to queuing articles I come across, I also recommend checking out the Instapaper homepage as I found many of these links there):

  • The Essential ManEsquire – “It has been nearly four years since Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw and his ability to speak. Now television’s most famous movie critic is rarely seen and never heard, but his words have never stopped.”
  • How a New Jobless Era Will Transform AmericaThe Atlantic Online – “The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults.”
  • The Comedy Circuit: When Your Brain Gets the JokeNew Scientist – The neuroscience behind humor.
  • The InterpreterThe New Yorker – “Dan Everett believes that Pirahã undermines Noam Chomsky’s idea of a universal grammar.”
  • One Woman’s AbortionThe Atlantic Online – “Each year for hundreds of thousands of American women there is a wide gulf between what the law forbids and what they feel they must do. The author of this article, whose credentials are trusted by the Atlantic, is a college graduate in her forty-sixth year, the mother of three children, living with her husband and family in one of the many commuter communities in the East”

Stop the World: Interesting Times : The New Yorker

The New Yorker’s George Packer ruminates on Twitter:

Who doesn’t want to be taken out of the boredom or sameness or pain of the present at any given moment? That’s what drugs are for, and that’s why people become addicted to them. Carr himself was once a crack addict (he wrote about it in “The Night of the Gun”). Twitter is crack for media addicts. It scares me, not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it. I’m afraid I’d end up letting my son go hungry.

See the full piece for more. (HT Justin Taylor)

via Stop the World: Interesting Times : The New Yorker.

Google No Longer Supporting IE6 – Yea!

I just received this email from Google as I administer several Google Apps accounts. In it, Google relates their reasons for discontinuing support for IE6. As a web developer, this is music to my ears because IE6 is a notoriously irritating browser to design for, often requiring custom code in order to make it render sites that work in most typical browsers.

Dear Google Apps admin,​

In order to continue to improve our products and deliver more sophisticated features and performance, we are harnessing some of the latest improvements in web browser technology.  This includes faster JavaScript processing and new standards like HTML5.  As a result, over the course of 2010, we will be phasing out support for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 as well as other older browsers that are not supported by their own manufacturers.

We plan to begin phasing out support of these older browsers on the Google Docs suite and the Google Sites editor on March 1, 2010.  After that point, certain functionality within these applications may have higher latency and may not work correctly in these older browsers. Later in 2010, we will start to phase out support for these browsers for Google Mail and Google Calendar. [Read more...]