Apr 9

Digg Digg

Many blogs I visit these days seem to be using the Digg Digg social sharing plugin. Having read a good recommendation for Digg Digg on WPMU.org, one of my favourite WordPress sites, I decided to give it a try on my site. Which brings me to my first point. WPMU blogged about it and actually use the plugin. There’s been many occasions where I’ve read a blog post recommending a WordPress plugin, but they don’t actually use that plugin on their site! I can’t take those recommendations seriously.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know it’s not really about jumping on tech news and reblogging it but more about passing on tips and tricks using your PC, useful websites I’ve come across, and browser extensions and WordPress plugins I can recommend because I use them. I always try and use software, apps, browser extensions and WordPress plugins before I blog about them and I try and pass on tips that I’ve learned when using them.  I’ve also received really useful feedback in some blog comments about certain features I’ve missed or misunderstood so that’s a bonus.

Anyway, back to Digg Digg. As you can see on the left, I’ve set it up as a floating bar rather than the normal display at the top or bottom of the post. In the settings for the Floating Display, you can rearrange the buttons on the bar by changing the weight – higher numbers bring buttons to the top, lower numbers to the bottom. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the Facebook Like and Facebook Share buttons to work so I’ve dropped them. Maybe I’ll get them working with time. But there is a working Facebook Share button in the Socialize bar at the bottom of the post if you want to use that.

So please use the plugin to share this post or others, and tell me what you think in the comments. Is it distracting when you’re reading the post? Are there too many sharing choices? Is there any option you’d like to see which I hadn’t set up initially?

And if you’re reading this post in the future and I’ve moved on to another sharing plugin, my apologies. I promise, Digg Digg was here but is either no longer available or I’m using a better option! I’ll try and update this post if that happens.


Oct 25

silhouette

So you’ve uploaded all your photos to a social network and they’ve been tagged. Your profile picture is on Facebook, Twitter and now Google+ and your picture avatar follows you everywhere online from forums to blog comments. That’s okay isn’t it? There’s nothing to worry about, everyone else is doing it so it must be fine… I’d rather this than a cartoon or clip art for my avatar.

And it may well be okay, but there have been recent developments which may just start the alarm bells ringing. But first, can I take you back to a time before Facebook and social networking. In the early days online it was fine to have a cool username and cartoon avatar as part of your online persona. I came across this post on identity management in cyberspace (written in 2002 – pre-social networking) which brought that home nicely. It wasn’t necessary to bring your real personal identity online in those days. In fact there are even a bunch of terms used to describe your online persona: handle, alias, nickname, moniker, alter ego. But with the rise and rise of Facebook, Twitter  and now Google+, they want real names, with profile pictures encouraging real identity aggregated between online services. It seems now it’s time to be real online – real names and real tagged photos to identify us. But as I’ve said before on several occasions, we’re still breaking new ground with online social networking. We’re only about 5 years into this fledgling phenomenon. It’s not been done before and it remains to be seen whether being so open with our real names and photos will have a scary downside in say 10 to 15 years time when so much information has been released by us and gathered by… who knows who? So I’ve always been a little reluctant to put too much personal information out there. But not so for my business – online directories with real names and business details is surely okay. But hear me out, particularly on online photos of yourself.

Facial recognition

It’s not very hard to imagine that in the next few years our mobile devices will feature facial recognition technology – software to put names to faces in photos. Trial facial recognition software, PittPatt,  developed at Carnegie Mellon University can take a photo of a stranger and, using information from the cloud (Facebook, etc), can track down their real identity in minutes. It’s only a short hop from there to search and dig out other information like address, email and mobile phone numbers linked to the photo and identity and we surely have the scary possibility of some stranger snapping you with their mobile phone and fairly quickly getting hold of a lot of useful personal information about you.

Pseudonymity

But then I could be totally wrong, and judging by the millions  of people quite happy to put so much information online, I probably am. But at least spare a thought for those of us who continue to operate under pseudonyms and don’t want to put up photos of ourselves. It’s not because we want to hide behind a front and dish out stuff without fear of recrimination. There may just be a good reason now for trying to preserve our anonymity.

Have you every googled your name and been surprised at how much detail comes up? Even though some of it is out of date and quite misleading, it’s all virtually impossible to remove once it’s out there. But people are making judgements of you based on what they find. You could also try googling your phone number + city/town and see if that brings up other aspects of your identity for all to see.

You don’t have to go the real name route online. After a lot of pressure, Google has finally backtracked on the real name requirement for Google+ and soon you will be able to sign up under a pseudonym. So perhaps it’s time to think again about online photos and online identity before it’s too late. Or am I just being way too paranoid? Drop a comment below.


Aug 29

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across two really pretty useful Twitter tools, the first for scheduling your own tweets more effectively and the second to manage tweets from your followers which contain links, so you don’t miss them.

Buffer: Manage your tweet schedule

Buffer

I know the time that you tweet can be important for your followers – not much point in tweeting if everyone’s in bed! I’ve posted my thoughts on the best time to tweet a couple of years ago. I live in Scotland and I used to tweet mainly in the evening which obviously gets folk in Europe in the evening and North America during the day. I don’t bother to retweet the best links anymore as suggested in that earlier post. Twitter lists have come out since that post and if people really want to see your links they can get them by adding people to lists – or by trying the tool mentioned in the following section.

Anyway, Buffer allows you to schedule tweets by setting times to send them out rather than throwing them all out at once and perhaps annoying followers. You can also send the tweet straight away if you wish. As it’s a browser extension, it adds a button to your toolbar so it’s also handy for those sites which don’t have a retweet button. When you click the button, it automatically writes the tweet, shortens the URL and schedules it for publication based on the times you’ve set for tweeting. When you visit the Buffer website, you can view your pending tweets, change the times (and days) that tweets will be sent out, change the URL shortener used for links and view analytics for tweets you’ve sent through Buffer – including number of retweets, number of clicks, number of people reached. You can also browse through all the tweets you’ve sent through Buffer. The free plan allows you to have up to 10 tweets in your buffer.

KnowAbout It: Don’t miss great links in tweets

KnowAboutIt

KnowAbout.It tries to cut through the Twitter noise and bring you the links you want to see. It does take a little while to index your Twitter stream but once that’s done, you’ll get a stream of useful stuff in categories. Popular – the most popular links currently in your social streams and Hidden Gems – links from people who don’t share a lot of links. So if you feel a lot of good stuff is passing you by in Twitter and you can’t keep up, give this one a try. They’ve recently added subscribe buttons so you can also send the tweets straight to your RSS reader and browse through them there. I’ve deliberately kept this review short as there’s a great write-up on Web.AppStorm.


Jul 12

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on online identity and privacy giving some reasons for using an alias on this blog. I registered the domain under a proxy to preserve my anonymity and have since continued to be techandlife here. As far as I’m aware, no-one reading this blog (except for close family, and Google of course) knows my real identity. So in terms of blogging, it seems you can still preserve your anonymity online, if that’s what you want.

But things have moved on quite a lot in 2 years. With the explosion of ‘social’, seen particularly in the growth of Twitter and Facebook and now it seems Google+, it’s now pretty clear that you can’t be social and hide behind an alias. To be social you have to give a real photo of yourself and a real name, and judging by the popularity of Facebook for example, most people don’t seem to have a problem with that. In fact, it’s very clear that I’m really very much in the minority holding back on revealing my identity.

I would still argue that ‘online social’ is still in its infancy. We just don’t really know what the long term effects of our online presence will be. But there’s no question it’s hard to fight against it. Apart from Twitter and Facebook, here are a further three areas where anonymity is being shoved aside.

Quora

Quora is a pretty recent and very popular questions and answers site. I tried signing up under an alias but they would have none of it. I was blocked because the name associated with my account did not conform to Quora’s naming policy. Real names please.

Facebook photo tagging

Yes I know, if you’re registered with Facebook (under your real name), you can remove your name tag from photos where you’ve been tagged, if you want. But did you know that your photos can still be tagged even if you aren’t on Facebook. I know because it’s happened to me. Yes, I know the tag won’t link back to your page, because you don’t have one, but still anyone on Facebook can insert your name in any photo there. So how many people have been tagged in Facebook without even realising it – because they’re not on Facebook. And you can only remove the tags by signing up, then removing them.

Google+

To register for Google+, the latest social network, you have to have a Google profile, and that can’t be private any more. You have to reveal at least your name and gender.

So all roads seem to be  pointing to zero anonymity now if you want to go fully ‘social’. And that seems to be right – social and anonymous just don’t fit together. People want to talk to real people. So that’s it. I’m going to embrace ‘social’ and start putting up my real name when required. What changed my mind? Well, just the seeming futility of continually pushing against it when everyone else seems happy with it… and also the arrival of Google+. I think I have to be there. Looks like it’s going to be a serious rival for Facebook and that’s got to be a good thing. We just have to blindly trust Google with our personal information and that’s okay… isn’t it?

But I’ll go cautiously. I think I know enough about online to be careful what I say and what I reveal.

Any thoughts on anonymity and social?


May 4

Tech tweets

I recently published my list of great tech bloggers. Now here’s a list of folk to follow on Twitter who consistently tweet great tech links. I follow many tech bloggers on Twitter but so that I don’t get overwhelmed with tweets, I send everything through SiftLinks to Google Reader. SiftLinks checks your Twitter stream every 30 minutes and stores the last 50 links that it finds. That way I get a nice feed of tweets with links. Over time, you get a feel for the people whose links you are clicking, retweeting and bookmarking the most and here they are:

@BlogPowerTool

@mrpaladin

@sujith_web

@WebTechWise

@dollars5

@Flipbooks

@TechZader

@Jankovitch

@2cre8

@kovshenin

@ruhanirabin

They’re all in my Twitter Tech List so you can follow that list if you like. And please add @techandlife too. I try and regularly tweet the best of what I see around the web – web apps and services, Windows, Linux, Photoshop, WordPress and blogging tips.

Do you follow anyone who tweets great tech links? Drop a comment below.


Apr 26

pdf annotation1

At some point, you may be required to annotate a PDF with comments, notes or suggested changes and share it, or return it to someone – certainly as a proofreader working with digital media, you’ll have to do this. If you and your colleagues all use Adobe Acrobat Reader you’ll have no problem. But not everyone likes Acrobat Reader as it’s slow, blotted and is known to suffer from malware vulnerabilities. So what happens if you or you colleagues want to share an annotated PDF and you use one of the other popular free PDF viewers like Foxit Reader, Nitro PDF Reader or PDF-XChange Viewer. Can you view annotations or notes created in another PDF reader and importantly can you move those notes if necessary to read the underlying text which can often become obscured by the annotation boxes? Can you assume that your annotations will be viewable, movable and indeed editable in another reader? I had a look at these four PDF readers: I created annotations in each of the four PDF viewers, then tried opening the PDF and viewing, moving and editing that annotation in the others.

What I found was that Acrobat Reader (Sticky Note tool), Foxit (Note Tool) and Nitro (Sticky Note tool) are all compatible. Any note created in one reader could be dragged, minimised, viewed on mouse-over or edited in the others. Interestingly, Foxit Reader also had a selection of other annotation tools (underline, replace, insert, strikeout, etc) all of which were compatible in the other readers and these annotation boxes could be moved easily and edited in them all.

PDF-XChange Viewer is a little different with other annotation options. It’s my PDF viewer of choice and I’ve blogged about it before. With it, you can annotate with the Callout Tool and Text Box Tool as well as the Sticky Note Tool. Examples are shown below.

pdf annotation2

Sticky notes were no problem and could be dragged, minimised, viewed on mouse-over or edited in the other PDF viewers but the Callout boxes and Text Boxes (shown above in red) could only be moved or edited by someone else using PDF-XChange Viewer and so will obscure underlying text when opened in another viewer. I was using the latest version of PDF-XChange Viewer (version 2.5.194). When I used Acrobat Reader to open a PDF annotated by PDF-XChange Viewer, clicking on the Callout boxes or Text boxes would highlight the box handles but I could not move the boxes and so they obscured the underlying text. I did find that Foxit Reader would move the Text box created in PDF-XChange Viewer but if I resized it or moved the Callout box, the text fill would blank out.

So to summarise, if you have to share, send or return an annotated PDF, it looks like the Sticky Note/Note Tool is compatible in all four viewers including Acrobat Reader. Any note can be dragged, minimised, viewed on mouse-over or edited in the other readers. And Foxit Reader has a nice selection of compatible annotation tools. But if you’re using PDF-XChange Viewer, unless you know the other party has PDF-XChange Viewer, it’s best not to use the Callout boxes or Text box tools as the underlying text will be obscured and may be unreadable by the other party if they’re using another viewer.

Incidentally, the PDF used here for illustration is How to Use Jump-Leads. Follow the link for more information.

How do you annotate PDFs? Have you run into problems sharing them? Drop a comment below.


Jan 26

Search Computer

How do you search for information online? Do you go straight to Google or do you go back to your archived bookmarks which you’ve carefully tagged for future reference? It’s the usefulness of this bookmark archive as a go-to source I want to look at here.

Bookmarking is just a form of content curation based on human indexing. I have all my bookmarks in the free version of Diigo (with copies sent to Delicious). A point to bear in mind is that usually bookmarking sites don’t archive full web pages, just the title and any tags you attach to the bookmark. Caching or archiving full web pages is usually a premium paid feature, not surprisingly. Delicious doesn’t support page caching. The free version of Diigo only allows caching of up to 5 web pages per month while the basic package allowing unlimited caching costs $20/year.  You can compare all the features of the free and paid versions of Diigo here. Another bookmarking service is Pinboard.in, but they have a sign up fee and then charge $25/year if you want archived copies of bookmarks with full text search.

Advantages of bookmark archive

I’ll need this page again: Bookmarking and caching a web page can be really worthwhile if you’re afraid that at some point in the future it may no longer be present online or it may get ‘buried’ with time and you won’t easily be able to retrieve it again. So it’s used for safekeeping. With a Google search, findability is often not repeatable for specific pieces of content over time, ultimately resulting in more time to retrieve stuff previously found. The paid packages at Diigo and Pinboard allow caching of web pages so that, even when the original page is not available or no longer online, you can still see what the original looked like.

Combine bookmarks with Google search: You can set up Diigo so that from the Diigo search bar, a Google search will show any relevant Diigo bookmarks.  But you’ll really only see the real benefit with the paid web page caching bookmarking service when Google can search your archived pages and not just the titles.

Disadvantages of bookmark archive

Free service is limited in terms of search: Searching the bookmark archive will generally only cover the tag name and the article title, unless you’ve cached or archived the whole page. And of course if you haven’t cached the page your archive search may lead you to a bookmark of a page which is no longer online. On the other hand, a Google search is free and will reach the page contents, not just the page titles.

Can you remember the tag you used? If you’ve forgotten the name of the tag or tag phrase you used to archive the webpage it can be hard to track it down again. For example, I use the tag ‘humorous’ for anything funny I archive. I have to remember this is the tag. If in future I forget I used that tag and start to look for tags ‘comedy’ or ‘funny’ in my archive I won’t find the article. Similarly, if I start to tag new items with the ‘comedy’ or ‘funny’ tag, I’ll end up with my humorous stuff spread over three tags.

I try to use two-word tag phrases. For me, tagging everything say WordPress related under the single-word tag ‘Wordpress’ would be inefficient and it would be really hard to track stuff down in there. But even a web page with a two-word tag can be difficult to track down. For example, I’m thinking of changing the theme for this website and I remember that a couple of years ago, I bookmarked a post on a WordPress plugin which allows you to try out new themes on your site privately but still leaves the original theme in place for visitors. I couldn’t decide if I’d tagged the page as ‘Wordpress-tips’ or ‘Wordpress-themes’.  In fact, I’d used ‘Wordpress-themes’ but I only found the post by trawling back through the posts with this tag and I eventually found it – Theme Test Drive. So it’s still difficult to search for posts in a bookmark archive unless you’ve cached the pages.

Here’s another problem related to two-word tags – tag inversion. For example, did I use ‘wordpress-backup‘ or ‘backup-wordpress’ when tagging a page last time? So I end up with stuff spread over two different tag phrases. The important part is identifying a tagging system that allows me to put things into categories where I can find them again quickly and that’s not easy. One way to partly get round this problem is to adopt a convention for two-word phrases by using the sequence verb-noun (or in this case ‘backup-wordpress’). That way you can be consistent with tagging and hopefully find articles in your archive more quickly.

Archiving of content ‘just to have it’: I’ve taken this as a disadvantage as it’s all too easy to archive stuff you think you might need at some point but never actually get round to using again. In fact it’s just cluttering your archive of more important useful stuff.

Limited choice: Bookmarking can only cover a very small portion of web pages on a subject. You hope you’ve bookmarked a useful representative page from many available, but you might not have and given time, the information on your bookmarked page may be superseded by up-to-date info on newer pages which you would find with Google search.

So is archiving worth it?

This post Has Search Replaced Bookmarking on Six Pixels of Separation comes down in favour of Google search together with asking friends on Facebook and Twitter. However,  a read through the comments on that post suggests that, for many people, bookmarking still has an important part to play in archiving and sharing content.

All in all, when looking for content, you may be better just to stick to a Google search or ask on Twitter or Facebook. Having said that, I think the utility of the bookmark archive is not in searching it, particularly where the pages aren’t cached, rather having a set of definitive useful posts with no clutter and carefully tagged for future reference.

How do you retrieve online information? Do you use a bookmark archive and if so do you have any tips on quickly retrieving information there? Drop a comment below.


Dec 1

Headline2

It doesn’t matter whether your article title is being seen on an RSS reader, on Twitter, Facebook or Delicious,  those few words in your headline are vitally important. They’re the difference between attracting a potential reader to click and find out more or pass over to another article. So you have to get it right first time.

I work in list view in Google Reader so when I’m browsing new posts, all I see is the article title and perhaps part of the first sentence so I know how important the first impression of the title is. Here’s some points to consider when composing your title.
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Oct 27

Filter arrow

What’s uninteresting content? Well that’s obviously pretty subjective. One thing’s for sure – we’re constantly being bombarded with too much online information, whether on Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, etc. and we just can’t cope with it all. One way to ease the information firehose and stay more productive is to filter out content which we’re really just not interested in based on the appearance of certain ‘switch-off’ keywords in blog titles, tweets and stuff posted on Facebook. This can be done relatively easily with userscripts – these are just small bits of JavaScript which customize how a webpage displays. Thousands are already available at  Userscripts.org but don’t panic, these can be easily installed in your browser. I’ll be looking at Firefox and Chrome here as these are the two browsers I work with but they may also work with other browsers.
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Oct 5

tweeting links

Since I signed up with Twitter about two years ago, I’ve been using it mostly to share the best tech links I’ve come across during the day, and I also see some of the tech news stories tweeted by people I’m following. But Twitter isn’t my number 1 source for finding news stories – no, it’s still Google Reader. And for me, Twitter may not be the best place to share links any more as we’ll see below.
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