Gotta Be An Easier Way

Using technology to make your life easier!

Archive for June, 2009

A Revamped Communication Tool: Digsby

A few months back I wrote an article on 3 of my picks for best Instant Messengers (IM) aggregators ( that collect multiple IM accounts into one place/application. Well I have now had to revamp that list and add one more to the mix, Digsby.

Now that is not to say the others are obsolete but Digsby does have a huge advantage at the moment because it offers the added benefit of aggregating your email and social networking accounts as well. To me this is definitely a game changer as I only have 2 IM accounts but I have many more email accounts and am signed into several social networking sites that I can now aggregate from one application without having to switch back and forth. Digsby has been around for awhile but it wasn’t until recently that they upgraded the speed of their application making it far more usable.

Digsby also allows a task manager that alerts you when things need to get done, a handy feature for the absent minded like myself.

So sounds too good to be true right? Actually that is right, there are a few things that don’t make this the best choice for all people. First it is a down loadable application, which isn’t a bad thing but I really like having these kind of applications online and run in a browser (like Meebo) that way I have access to it wherever I go without being tethered to one computer. a temporary deficiency is that it is Windows only, they are developing other versions but they are not out yet and I am impatient (subscribe to my RSS feed to find out when it becomes available for Mac and Linux).

Now something that is despicable for all of them, their mobile presence or lack thereof. I really don’t know why these companies haven’t got a presence on the iPhone or Blackberry. Everything is moving this way and they really need to have a presence that does a better job of the built in IM’s.

All in all Digsby has a huge amount of potential and may be good enough for most people to use but alas I must wait until a Mac version comes out. You can download the PDF of this comparison chart here or click on the image to view it in a browser.


How can this be used for education?

I will refer to a previous article I posted on IM’s for ways it can be used in education.

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  • Filed under: Email/Communications, Instant Messaging (IM)
  • I know everyone probably has some sort of Google account and if you don’t you have probably have heard about it. But I wanted to make sure that I wrote something about it because it is one of those fundamental online tools that you must tap into and I didn’t want to take it for granted, that and there are so many tools that people haven’t tapped into that add so much to the experience.

    Google pretty much owns my life and there is a good reason for that. It’s easy, free, integrated and unified. On top of it I can gather all the Google tools that I use onto one page, my Google Homepage . This is where I have my Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Reader, and many other tools that aren’t even Google tools like the weather, or alternative search engines.

    So how do you get a google Homepage? If you have a Gmail account then you already have access to the Google Homepage and ALL of the tools I have listed here and MORE you simply need to login with your Gmail account to access it and it is all FREE!

    Let me elaborate on some of the tools that Google offers:

    • Google Docs: Word Processing, Spreadsheet creation, online forms/surveys, presentation/slideshow creation. All of which can be fully private or fully collaborative with several people working on the same document at the same time from the same room or thousands of miles away.
    • Gmail: Email that offers over 5 GB of storage space (It’s space is ever growing as well depending how long you have had it for, I’m up to nearly 8GB), to-do lists, contact lists, Instant messaging, video chat, and many plugins that increase it’s functionality like GTD inbox, Boxbe, and Google Calendar. And because it is all integrated you send some emails right to your calendar like Entourage and Outlook.
    • Google Calendar: Create multiple calendars that you can share with family, friends collegues, co-workers or the entire world if you want. Tap into co-workers (if they are sharing) calendars to help you schedule meetings or events. Break it down into months days or hours. Reminders help you keep track of your life as well.
    • Picasa: An online photo storage site like Flickr. Easily organize, find, and share your photos. (Stay tuned for a more in depth look at Picasa and Flickr coming very soon)
    • Google Reader: A RSS feed reader that allows for sharing and works really good.
    • Blogger: A easy to use blog that integrates into all your other tools, grab photos from Picasa, documents from Docs and populate your blog so others can keep up to date with what you are doing.
    • Google Sites: A no code required web builder that utilizes drag and drop modular design. Easily have a website up and running in minutes.
    • Youtube: yup your Google account automatically gives you a youtube account.
    • Google Maps: A map of everywhere. Get directions and save them to your account so you always have them for accessibility. And check out street view which lets you go down to street level in most major cities in the world and look around as if you are in a car.
    • Google Translate: Translate from language to language. Very Handy. 43 languages supported and counting.
    • iGoogle: Your personalized Homepage of widgets/nuggets/gadgets. Can house most of the Google tools along with thousands of other tools that enhance productivity or just supply fun.
    • and many more like Finance, Scholar, Books, News etc. And they are constantly adding more.

    The best part of it all is that it all exists online (but you can have it run off your desktop too if you want) and is accessible from any computer in the world that have computer access.

    How can I use this for education?

    • Increase productivity.
    • Almost everything you do can be online and is sharable.
    • Reduce desktop clutter with fewer applications.
    • Give students a free alternative to pricey desktop applications.
    • Most of your tools can be accessible on one web page. It’s your desktop online.
    • It lives online so you have access everywhere and are not tethered to one computer.
    • Collaborate synchronously or a-synchronously online whenever or wherever with students, course co-writers, colleagues or whoever.
    • Set students up to collaborate online, this works especially good with distance courses.
    • View Microsoft Office documents without Microsoft Office.
    • and there is so much more but so little space

    So what do /would you use the Google products for?

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  • Filed under: Calendar/PIM, Collaborative, Conferencing, Editors, File Viewers, Office, RSS Readers, Search, Social Networking, Tools
  • RSS: Keeping Track of the Web Your way

    I know that most everyone that is reading this has heard of RSS feeds. What I also know is that so many people either under use an RSS reader or don’t use it at all.

    There are a ton of RSS tools out there, some are extensions of like Sage for Firefox, Google Reader, and there are stand alone readers like Filterbox , Toluu, Hordit, Social Median, and Mac mail even has an integrated RSS feed reader. Many of these tools are also integrated into a much larger social community to help filter out the noise and make your experience even more rich. So why is RSS such an underused tool?

    First off we need to address who would benefit from using an RSS tool and to do this I am going to steal a schtick from Jeff Foxworthy:

    • If you spend any more than 30 min a day on the internet, ya might need RSS.
    • If you look at the same website more than 4 times a month, ya might need RSS.
    • If you feel like you miss world news, ya might need RSS
    • If you like to maintain currency with anything, ya might need RSS
    • If you ever feel bogged down going on the internet, ya might need RSS.

    In my opinion the reason RSS feeds are so underused is a lack of understanding and technical jargon. That coupled with the thought that they can be hard to setup and difficult to use. In 2 minutes you can have an RSS reader setup and be using it, when youfind a website you want to add you only have to click one or 2 buttons to have it added. It’s that easy.

    So what is RSS?

    Essentially RSS brings the web to your door and allows you to quickly scan the articles that you already find interesting and either fully read them or determine if you would rather not.

    I personally use Google Reader and I subscribe to 59 websites and get on average 200-250 new articles everyday, Now if I were to go to every website and look through those articles I would easily take up my entire workday but because of RSS I am able to scan all those articles, read the ones that I find most interesting and bookmark them if need be all in 45 min spread out the day. Essentially this increases my productivity by over 800 percent.

    Not only is my productivity up but I pair this up with other social networking tools such as twitter and even the built in sharing tools that most RSS feeds have now and I am able to share articles that my co-workers and colleagues find useful which keeps them current and up to date.

    If you are like me though there are tools that you can use to further filter a website that you have subscribed to. Pipes by Yahoo! will filter based on nearly whatever criteria you wish. I use it primarily for a website called Gizmodo which has nearly a hundred posts a day but I have it filtered to give me only 20-30 articles per day of things that I know I am going to be interested in instead of all the other articles that I know I won’t read.

    How can I use this for education?

    • Increase productivity
    • Stay up to date with current trends in education, technology or whatever
    • You won’t miss important articles
    • Waste less time on the internet
    • archive articles you like
    • develop relationships with colleagues and share important articles

    As usual I am open to know how you think it can be used in education and look forward to my RSS setup article coming soon. Also I will be posting my thoughts on the different RSS tools that I listed above.

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  • Filed under: Uncategorized
  • A Showcase of SingleFunction

    In the past few years there has been a trend towards very simple, single function websites like Google search. These pages do one thing and are very simplistic in design but offer great functionality. Here is a website that showcases some of these great single function tools and in a strange turn of events for web 2.0 tools the name actually describes its purpose, SingleFunction.

    How can this be used in education?

    SingleFunction is a great place to find tools that are the easiest to use because they only do one thing. It may take some searching and research and there may be some duds but there is gold to be found. Of course I will likely post some highlights from SingleFunction here in the future so stay tuned.

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  • Filed under: Uncategorized
  • Mind Mapping on Steroids

    The folks at Webdesigner Depot have posted 50 Great Examples of Data Visualization. These tools enable one to view large amounts of data in a visual spacial fashion that helps to reveal patters, trends and groups that are not easily observed in the traditional format. Unfortunately, this site lists 50 tools and while I have used several, but not all, I cannot make a recommendation on which tools is the best. Furthermore, the tool you choose or will need will also depend on the type of data that you need to view.

    Educational Application:

    Being able to present data in a visual spacial format will help most, if not all, learners get better grasp of what the data can reveal.

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  • Filed under: Graphics, Learning, Mind Mapping, Presentation, Research, Tools
  • Stamping Plagiarism out with Plagium

    Plagiarism can be a big problem in academic institutions and confirming something has been plagiarized can be just as difficult. Plaguim is a tool that seeks to help expedite that search process.
    Paste some text suspected of plagiarism into Plagiums text field and it spits out a nice timeline graph of all instances that it has been used along with a percentage which shows how accurate the two content chunks are to one another.

    How can Plagium be used in education?

    I think it is fairly obvious that the main purpose of Plagium is to see if any students are plagiarizing content. As an extension you could use it to check to see if your own works have been plagiarized when and by how much.

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  • Filed under: Research