August 12, 2009

Coolest power tools of some top geeks

The Geeks

JD LasicaDuring the Traveling Geeks’ trip to the United Kingdom last month, I spent some time polling the Geeks about the productivity and must-have tools that they use during the course of a typical workday.

I did the same thing during the first Geeks trip to Israel last year and came away with a wealth of apps, some of which I incorporated into my daily routine: See Tools the alpha geeks use. Back then, the list included Qik, TweetScan, FriendFeed, Skype, Bloglines, Pandora, Foxytunes, NetVibes, Socialthing, Seesmic, Adium — and it serves as an interesting snapshot in time of what tools some of the top Bay Area bloggers and technologists were using in spring 2008.

This time around there was more emphasis on social media services like Twitter as well as multimedia apps. Among the tools in the Geeks’ arsenal: Zemanta, Tweetdeck, HootSuite, PeopleBrowsr, Mindjet, Shopstyle and Friendfeed (Twitter and Facebook are givens). Remember, this is a partial, on-the-fly list of useful tools — intended to introduce readers to some apps they might not be using — and not a comprehensive list, and it also doesn’t take into consideration any of the startup apps’ we were introduced to in the UK.

Also, whether you’re a geek or not, please add your favorite tools in the comments so we can all learn what works for you!

Here’s our rundown:

JD Lasica

JD & MeghanFirefox, with occasional forays into Flock and Safari; Firebug and Zemanta plug-ins

WordPress, the open-source platform for my Socialmedia.biz and Socialbrite.org blogs

• I just started using HootSuite 2.0, a Web-based, Ajax-smart Twitter application that I find superior (so far) to the downloadable Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop apps. (I’m @jdlasica on Twitter.)

Zoho Writer and Zoho Sheets, which are superior to Google Docs (though I use the latter when forced)

Fetch tied to BBEdit, to manage files on my blogs’ servers

Snapz Pro X, to capture images and movies from any Mac computer screen

Flickr Uploadr, to batch-upload photos to my Flickr photostream

Paparazzi, a wonderful tool for Mac users to capture entire Web pages — even the portions that appear below the fold

zohoFinal Cut Express for almost all my video editing

Gmail for email and to store files in the cloud

Google Talk and Skype for most of my chats

Delicious for social bookmarking in the cloud

Google Reader to keep track of blogs and share stories to Socialbrite

Vimeo and Blip.tv for video sharing

VLC, the open source media player, to watch videos in almost any format

• Still alternating between iTunes and Pandora for my music jones

• Still trying to learn QuickSilver (so far unsuccessfully) for keyboard shortcuts. Considering LaunchBar.

Google calendar to manage my events, though I need to get back to using Upcoming more.

Facebook for wasting time

iPhone apps: Google maps (for location), Stanza and eReader (for reading), experimenting with Twitterfon, Tweetdeck, Twittelator and Simply Tweet for Twitter, Evernote (for keeping notes online), Loopt and Google Latitude for geo-awareness, Yelp for restaurants, Rocket Taxi, iTalk and QuickVoice (for interviews and recording random thoughts)

Robert Scoble

Robert ScobleRobert — the former famed Microsoft blogger — has gone to an all-Mac household (“I like the OS better,” he says), though he runs Windows 7 using Parallels Desktop on his MacBook Pro laptop.

Robert generally chooses his apps to run in the cloud rather than buying OEM packaged software. “I’m trying to move my life completely to the browser. Ido everything on the Internet. The only thing I do locally is video editing,” for which he uses iMovie for his personal videos.

Some of his choice apps:

peoplebrowsrFriendfeed (“Friendfeed is my chat application.”)

PeopleBrowsr, for social media search

Mindjet, for mindmapping presentations

Tweetdeck, to manage Twitter

Seesmic, to post video and manage Twitter

Google Docs and Spreadsheets for free office applications

iPhone 3GS, SimplyTweet and whole bunch of other apps

iMovie

Howard Rheingold

Howard RheingoldFirefox

CopyPaste Pro: “If I had to recommend only one tool for Mac users, this would be it. It remembers the last 200 objects of any media type that I cut or copied to the clipboard.”

Skype for voice over IP

Google Talk for chat

Social Media Classroom (of course)

Diigo, a research and knowledge-sharing tool

socialmediaclassroomFinal Cut Express

GraphicConverter

Seesmic Desktop

Powerpoint

WordPress

iPhone GS for video and Mobypicture and Pixelpipe apps

“Sky” Schuyler

Sky Schuyler, CTO of the Dalai Lama Foundation, served as the tech lead on our trip and time and again generously shared information about his tech habits. Some of his favorite tools:

WordPress to power a long list of blogs

• Sky uses a Flip Mino recorder and occasionally its internal software to do rudimentary video editing.

FeedWordPress: Sky configured this plug-in to suck our individual blog feeds into the TravelingGeeks.com WordPress blog.

YARPP (Yet Another Related Posts Plug-in), a Firefox plug-in for Firefox that finds related posts within my blog and I have configured it with a special CSS so it also displays little thumbnails next to the suggested posts.

PGP to encrypt email and confidential data on his computer.

Google Docs, chiefly for sharing word docs in the cloud.

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August 5, 2009

Final reflections on the Traveling Geeks trip

Craig & Karyn

JD LasicaIt has been one month since the Traveling Geeks kicked off our trip to London and Cambridge with a Tweetup at JuJu in Chelsea. (I was the chief organizer of trip.) From this distance and vantage point, here are a few random impressions:

• I think too much can be made of the differences between entrepreneurship in the UK and in the United States. While it’s true that Silicon Valley nurtures a spirit of innovation marked by the mantra “Fail often, but fail fast” — an axiom that permits experimentation without demanding an immediate return to investors — it’s even more true that the businessmen and entrepreneurs I met along the way have the same fire in the belly — a burning desire to build something of great value.

SeedCamp was a high point of the trip to many of us, and apart from the well-done, compact presentations, it was fascinating to watch tomorrow’s young business leaders mingle with each other and exchange ideas and contact information. Cross-pollination at its best. Spotify, Huddle, Skimlinks, Zemanta — these are names that may grow into notable consumer brands in the coming years, and Moo arguably already has. (Here’s my writeup; and here’s my video interview with Skimlinks founder Alicia Navarro.)

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July 18, 2009

Skimlinks: Make money from your blog

Skimlinks: Revenue through recommendations from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaDuring the Traveling Geeks‘ visit to Seedcamp in London last week, I sat down for a short interview with Alicia Navarro, founder and CEO of Skimlinks, an affiliate marketing service aimed at publishers that want to make money from their shopping recommendations. It’s an alternative to traditional affiliate marketing from sites like Amazon, where you get paid a commission for referrals but need to jump through a number of hoops when working with multiple sites.

With Skimlinks you add one line of code to your site and it takes care of updating your site with marketing links automatically. Sites where products and services are discussed — particularly those covering fashion, technology, gadgets, parenting, autos and home and lifestyle — are the ones that stand to benefit most from Skimlinks.

Some large sites are already pulling in $10,000 per month “without having to do anything — that’s the beauty of it,” Alicia says.

Naturally, inserting commercial links in the middle of your editorial content raises all kinds of issues, so Skimlinks has developed best practices and guidelines. “We believe very passionately in the importance of maintaining editorial integry,” Alicia says. Editors can stay completely focused on creating high-quality content without having to deal with integrating affiliate marketing links into their sites. “Skimlinks monetizes it after the fact, so editors can be agnostic and completely unaware of what is monetized and what isn’t.”

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July 15, 2009

Seedcamp winners meet the Geeks

Zemanta

JD LasicaOne of the real highlights of the Traveling Geeks trip to the United Kingdom last week came when we were treated to “speed dating” session with the top start-ups of Seedcamp.

seedcampThis, after all, is one of the chief goals of the Traveling Geeks: to suss out young or little-known start-ups hear their stories, and throw a spotlight on the ones that resonate with us.

So we were thrilled when Sherry Coutu and Reshma Sohoni of London-based Seedcamp (Twitter: @seedcamp) arranged for us to meet their top start-ups, both collectively and one on one. Every one had a compelling consumer-facing service. Here are the ones that particularly struck a chord:

Huddle.net

Twitter: @huddle
Email: [email protected]
Site: huddle.net

huddleHuddle.net offers a collaboration, sharing and project tools platform for getting stuff done. Specifically, Huddle provides secure online workspaces where users can share files, collaborate on ideas, manage projects and organize virtual meetings. P&G, Toshiba, Panasonic, Nokia and Unicef are among the customers using Huddle.

In February, Huddle partnered with InterCall, the world’s largest conferencing provider, to provide services to their 1 million-plus customers. And last month BusinessWeek named Huddle one of their “50 most promising startups” around the globe.

Heady stuff for founders Andy McLoughlin and Alistair Mitchell, who gave me a five-minute rundown of the site’s services. While I’ve been impressed by Basecamp‘s recent improvements, I saw enough in my session with Andy and Alistair that persuaded me to try out Huddle in an upcoming project with one of my clients or co-conspirators.

Zemanta

Twitter: @zemanta
Email: [email protected]
Site: zemanta.com

zemantaAndraz Tori (pictured at top), CTO of Slovenia-based Zemanta, sat down and gave the company’s six-word pitch: “Zemanta is an author’s best friend.” Turns out that it’s not just a marketing pitch.

zemanta siderI just started using Zemanta today and can see why it’s so addictive. As a blogger on WordPress who uses the Firefox browser, I’m perfectly suited for Zemanta’s services. I had previously come across Zemanta only on other bloggers’ posts and didn’t pay much attention to the link at the bottom of blog posts that would summon up related posts.

But Zemanta offers a slick and convenient way to spruce up your blog posts.It looks over your shoulder while you’re crafting a post (or even an email) and suggests images, related articles, links and tags to use. A simple click and the image or link now becomes part of your post. Zemanta draws from a large pool of available images, many of them carrying Creative Commons licenses. That’s one of the coolest features — mouse over the image and you’ll see its terms of use (generally free).

“I just love Zemanta,” said fellow Geek Meghan Asha. “It’s just cool to be able to have those images right there, all free and legal to use.”

Well put. I’m a believer now .

Spotify

Twitter: @spotify
Email: [email protected]
Site: spotify.com

spotifyIn my book “Darknet” I wrote about the ongoing clash between the music companies and music fans who just want easy access to digital music. Spotify is one of the first companies to come along with an answer.

Through its simple-to-use interface and licensing deals with the major music labels, Spotify offers music fans instant access to their favorite music. The service enables on-demand streaming of tons of audio content through a free, ad-supported model and a premium paid model. London-based Lastfm and US-based Pandora are two similar music listening services, and SoundCloud is a great way to share music and audio files (see Robert Scoble’s video interview with One of Europe’s brightest startups: SoundCloud).

Scoble has been a big fan of Spotify, and I can see why.

Moo

Twitter: @overheardatmoo
Email: [email protected]
Site: moo.com

mooI’ve been a fan of Moo cards for years — they’re a staple at Silicon Valley events — but didn’t realize, until founder-CEO Richard Moross laid it out for me, just how many kinds of business cards and stickers Moo offers.

A lot: the company prints of cards a month for customers in 180 countries. Their customer base consists of 40 percent North Americans, 30 percent from the UK and 30 percent from the rest of the world, chiefly Europe. The best part: The cards are completely personalized. In the past, I’ve uploaded 50 different images for a stack of 100 business cards at a cost of about $20. Crazy-cheap.

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July 14, 2009

The future of television: Social TV

JP Rangaswami
JP Rangaswami

JD LasicaBehind closed doors in offices from the media centers of New York to the entertainment capital of Hollywood, content programmers and code jockeys are no doubt trying to figure out how to marry traditional television with social networking.

Does the lean-forward experience, interactivity and backchannel chatter of social networks have a place in the tightly controlled, lean-back world of television? I’m among those who believe the two will wed in a satisfying way, though we’re likely five to 10 years from that happening. I blogged about Intel and Yahoo’s experiments with the Cinematic Internet (or Widget Channel TV) last year, and I’ve written over the years about the largely discredited experiments with “interactive television.”

But a week ago today, in the corporate offices of BT in London, the Traveling Geeks were treated to a 10-minute presentation by Tanya Goldhaber, a graduate student at MIT just finishing up an eight-week internship at BT, about “Social TV.” We were so intrigued that we kept tossing questions to her well after her allotted time.

Peer-influenced viewership

As audiences continue to fragment, as more of us multitask with laptops on our laps while we’re watching TV, as the major social networks continue to amass millions of more members each week, and as the Internet finally comes to our living rooms with a new generation of devices like Boxee, it’s only a matter of time before television becomes social.

Goldhaber showed some screenshots of what a prototype social TV screen might look like. (Prototypes I’ve seen at the Intel Developers Network and at LinkTV a few months ago take it in similar if somewhat different directions.)

I suspect most of us don’t want to see a CNN-like crawl of our friends’ comments at the bottom of our prime-time programming. But I certainly would like to know if my friends were enthralled by a one-time PBS special, or if DirecTV was televising the ninth inning of a no-hit game, or if one of my friends was interviewed by a news crew.

Goldhaber noted that today’s Electronic Program Guides are all but impossible to navigate, and she cited studies that people would rather get viewing recommendations from a friend than from a computer. In survey of TV viewers, 37% of respondents said they started watching their favorite TV show because of a friend’s recommendation or word of mouth.

I asked Goldhaber if, a few years out, social networks might lead to “swarming behavior” among TV viewers, causing quick spikes in viewership for little-known niche programs based on social influencers’ actions. Certainly possible, she said.

I’d be intrigued by a system that automatically feeds me information about what my friends are collectively watching, instead of having to wait for them to tell me through a kind of tweet burst. And I’d also be interested by a peer, or friend of friends, recommendation system that elevates obscure but high-quality independent Web programs.

Social TV could reshape the television landscape — which is why you’ll never see the major networks lead this transformation. Like Napster and Apple in the music industry, the innovation will come from the bottom up, well outside of the media and entertainment industries.

BT and open source

I’ll be honest: Before I visited the UK, I assumed that BT was Britain’s version of AT&T: monolithic, imposing, not terribly open to innovation. An evening of conversations and an afternoon of presentations at BT has disabused me of that notion.

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