Just another UMW Blogs weblog

Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, ImgShack.

What they offer is essentially an online photo album.  Sort of.  You get X amount of space for free, you can set privacy settings on picture/albums/folders, and some of the sites are very “social” — allowing you to do things such as comment, tag, share, etc.  Web 2.0 is about the user, and users like pictures.

It’s really easy to search, upload, and share photos and images on the web.  Flickr offers a pretty nice search, with some advanced functions for licensing restrictions, and Google has its own services to offer for image searches as well.  If sharing is a little below your pay-grade, you can check out iStockPhoto, “the internet’s original member-generated image and design community”, where you can sell your stock photos to those who may be interested.  Google offers cool ways to search for similar images, or searching for images by color, or size.  On the Android mobile OS, Google offers a pretty cool program called Google Goggles, which lets you search the internet not via text but via images taken with your cell phone camera.  It can’t be used for everything, and it’s not 100% reliable, but you can use it to search for many products (it can even show you where to buy them nearby), and you take pictures of words and search the web that way (maybe words on an ad or something you wrote down).  I’ve used it, and it’s quite the novelty. I’m anxious to see where it goes in the future, but as of now it’s still pretty cool.

Images are definitely a part of the web, and they are there to stay.  Just about every social network I know of has some sort of photo hosting capabilities, and then there are the countless image sharing networks, and of course the search engines designed to search with images or for images.  I leave you with a slightly confusing picture of a skeleton that I found in “The Commons” on Flickr, an abundance of images with no licensing restrictions.

From "The Commons" at Flickr

image credit: http://www.blogperfume.com/new-27-circular-social-media-icons-in-3-sizes/ & http://www.flickr.com/photos/powerhouse_museum/2980051095/

Let’s face it, there are a lot of websites out there on the internet.  There are also a lot of news sites.  There are traditional news sites like CNN, ABC, NBC, and MSNBC.  Then there are the millions of blogs out there, which can be personal blogs authored by one person, or blogs run by some sort of company or group of individuals.  All this adds up to a lot of possibly newsworthy content out there on the web.

So, maybe you have an RSS reader.  That could help, right?  The problem with RSS feeds is that you are only kept up to date with the feeds that you’ve subscribed to.  If your feeds never mention something, you never hear about it.  That’s where sites like Google News or Digg come into play.

Google News puts a whole slew of news stories right at your fingertips.  Using a combination of Google’s web crawling (probably) and some sort of top-secret news sorting algorithm, it displays the most recent stories, and can be viewed by categories.  Digg presents the news in a very different manner.  Digg users submit links to news stories, and these stories are then voted up via “diggs”.  The more diggs a story has, the more popular it is.  Tools like these can expose people (in a good way) to a wide array of news stories, possibly outside of their regular reading habits.

Outside of Digg and Google News, there are all sorts of avenues for news more relevant to your interests (Though Digg & Google News have categories you can use to help find more relevant interests).  I’m not up to date on every site out there, but I’m familiar with Slashdot, it’s a site i check every once in a while when I want to see what’s going on in computers/technology/the Internet.  News sites are out there, but relying on one website to get all of your news is not the best modus operandi.  Awareness tools are your friend, and they’re out there waiting for you to use them.

I’ve used forums before, and I’m pretty familiar with how they work.  phpBB, vBulletin, it’s all fairly simple.  Log in, find a thread, read, reply.  There are forums out there for any and every subject you could think of.  With a quick Google search I was able to find a forum directory–Forum Finder–that seems to work well.  Forums are a nice way for people with common interests to share information (i.e. talk about cars, music, television, life), or for people to share media (there are a lot of not-so-legal music boards out there), and also for people to work together on various projects.  Forums are a great place for Q&A styled discussions, as its easy for people to post questions and anyone (depending on how the forum works) can reply and help that person out.  The forum’s I’ve used before include TSS, a music form, and androidForums, a forum with a lot of information about the Android mobile OS.

Google Groups

Google Groups is a service hosted by Google, providing users with a rich way to discuss anything online or through email.  Within a group, you can have multiple discussions, create your own customizable web pages, and share files.  It’s also fairly easy to drill down through topics to find new discussion groups, or to use the search feature and find groups based on what you’re interested in.  I’ve never really used Google Groups as a web board, for the sake of using that board, but I have wound up on Google Groups on more than one occasion.  There’s a lot of useful information that can be found on Google Groups (and it’s not a coincidence that there is also a lot of groups), so it’s easy to find myself on there when I am looking for information or trying to solve a problem. So, while forums & web boards aren’t as exciting or dynamic as some of the “Things” we’ve covered, they definitely have potential to be great sources of information and discussion, and they can be useful to anyone.  There are a great number of forums and discussion groups out there, so if you’re looking to contribute information, help solve a problem, or get a problem solved, you should be able to find a group that can help you out.

It’s Really Simple

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.  It’s a way for websites like blogs to offer their content in a syndicated fashion for anyone to use as they wish.  Generally, the purpose of an RSS feed (the RSS output from a site) is used in some sort of aggregator or “reader” program/website.  The reader keeps track of multiple RSS feeds, it may keep an unread count, provide categorical functions or search options, and it could also offer up new interests to the user.

RSS is based on open standards (and they’re actually more than one flavor of RSS), so it’s very easy for sites to offer feeds in the format.  News sites, blogs, twitter feeds, and almost any sort of content website that offers information in a periodical manner on the Internet also offers an RSS feed.  There’s usually a little icon somewhere, probably easy to miss, unless of course you’re looking for it.  WordPress generates all of that stuff automatically, so all of us here at umwblogs have a feed as soon as we start a blog.

RSS feeds are useful if you like to follow the events or updates to particular websites, especially when using a functional reader program like Google Reader. (Interesting fact, Google Reader can also keep track of updates to pages without RSS feeds — Google spends all day looking at websites, it’s their job.)  I don’t use any RSS feeds, but occasionally I venture over to a very popular RSS aggregator that does all the aggregation for you.  It’s called Google News, and it has all sorts of categories with relevant articles in each.  Of course, since it’s Google, you also get the added googleness of being able to search through all sorts of news (everything that ever happened?).

So, RSS Feeds – pretty nice if you like to keep up with a website that is (or websites that are) periodically updated.  RSS readers or aggregators help with the process, making everything pretty and functional at the same time.  It’s not too complicated.

image credit: www.iconspedia.com/icon/newspaper-rss-feed-1430.html

Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking is a pretty interesting idea.  Share your common thoughts, interests, fascinations, and discoveries — not through discussion, but through bookmarks.  Tag your bookmarks with appropriate terms, search for bookmarks other people have found interesting enough to add to their collections.  Through services like Delicious it’s really easy to both share and find bookmarks.  Instead of googling the entire internet, you can search through specific terms for sites that people have already approved (to some extent).  Some of these “things” I doubt I’ll ever take part in, but this is one that would not be too much of stretch; I don’t think it would cause me to lose any sleep at night (see: Twitter).

Tagging

Tagging has really spread throughout various aspects of the internet.  It’s useful in blogging, micro-blogging, and it’s even useful for bookmarking.  You can never really guess what a bookmark’s title will be, but if you tag it right, you can easily search through your own bookmarks (for some bookmark you just can’t quite remember the title of) or through others, to find new resources or relevant experiences on the web.  It’s sort of like a self-indexing feature that’s not exactly required — but if you’re bookmarking, you’re probably tagging.

I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to join the social bookmarking escapade.  I use Google Chrome, and it has a nice built-in feature to sync my bookmarks (and store them in my Google Documents), it gives me a nice backup feature without the need for extensions and without making bookmarking any more trouble than it should be.  A good bit of my bookmarks are just favicons (the little website icons), no text, just a symbol that has some relevance to the website (i.e. Gmail, my bank, that sort of thing).  These are bookmarks I don’t even use much anymore, as Chrome has a really nice toolbar, I don’t have to type much to go to the right website.  Off to the side i have a folder with a few different categories, How-To’s, maybe categories for current classes, and a few different categories for computer science.  Now that I think about it, I might benefit from something like Delicious, as when I work on a project I often build up 10+ bookmarks for a single subject.  It would be nice to not feel like I need to “clean out” my bookmarks when it bulks up, as they can’t really bulk up when they’re easily tagged, sorted, and searchable, all online.  What happens when I regret deleting that important site?  What if I never have to find out?

Side note — Delicious is a pretty cool name for a website, and for a website based on a simple premise (sharing bookmarks), it has a pretty nice design and functionality. I like it.

YouTube

It would be hard to imagine the Internet without it.  Its crazy to think that ten years ago a website that does two things — accept user videos, and let anyone watch them, would be an outlandish idea.  Bandwidth is the key, really, and luckily we’re not on dial up anymore.

YouTube just turned five.

Five.

Cinco.

5.

V.

It’s not even in the first grade.  From the YouTube fact sheet:

Traffic and Stats

People are watching 2 billion videos a day on YouTube and uploading hundreds of thousands of videos daily. In fact, every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.

That is an amazing amount of content, constantly on the wire.  Nowadays there are quite a few different websites like YouTube.  Some are for music videos, some for education, and some are also general purpose like YouTube.  If it’s popular and found on the Internet, there is bound to be a Google search engine designed for it. ABC, FOX, NBC, MSNBC, CNN — all let you watch videos of their television content online.  Sometimes it’s online-only content.  Too hot for TV?  Probably not, but that’s not the point.

Now, different distributors are pushing high definition content. YouTube can stream in 720p (depending on the original content).  That’s pretty substantial for a streaming service, especially one that serves 2 billion videos a day.  Most people don’t even get that sort of quality through their television cable/satellite provider.  That’s saying something.

Today, Videos & the Internet go hand in hand.  I’ve still got some youth left in me, but if I were to talk to my little cousin and tell him that watching videos used to not be a function of the Internet, he might not believe me.

Anyways, I’m going to go watch some cats. Bye.

podcast iconDefinition of podcast on the Web:

Podcasts are an interesting phenomena; imagine a boy on a bicycle throwing one onto your front step in the early morning hours, but it’s not a newspaper — it’s audio (or even video).  You can listen to them at your leisure, subscribe to as many as you want, and most of these things are free.  There are all sorts of easy ways to aggregate your subscribed podcasts, search for new podcasts, and it’s even very simple to make your own.

I’ve had a limited experience with podcasts and podcasting; I’ve been a part of one, and listened to a handful of them.  The podcast I created was a group effort for CPSC 315, and it was a staged and scripted faux radio broadcast.  We were to cover some sort of scandal involving information systems, we chose to cover a breach of security in Heartland Payment (they processed 100 million payment card transactions per month at the time); the podcast is actually here on umwblogs somewhere.  As far as consuming goes, I’ve listened to a few for classes, but that is about it.  The podcasts I listened to included an informative discussion on MongoDB, and a similarly informative podcast covering CouchDB, whose location I can’t quite remember.

I could probably incorporate listening to podcasts as I drive; otherwise, podcasts are not the most convenient way for me to subscribe to a particular content.  I like controlling what music I listen to, and listening to something education would limit what else I could do at the same time.  It feels weird to want to listen to something informative, and to then not pay attention; it also feels weird to just listen to something and do nothing else (reminiscent of huddling around the radio in ye days of old).  While video podcasts exist outside that realm, I have yet to stumble upon any that were interesting or genuinely felt the need to look.

To sum podcasts up:

image credit:  Modified Podcast Logo with My Headphones Photoshopped On, from flickr

Virtual Worlds. Ooohhhh, ahhhhh!

I understand the fascination.  Doing whatever you want, with whoever you want, as you act however you want, and effectively “become” whoever you want.  Everyone needs an escape, thats pretty reasonable to me.  I guess I just underestimate peoples’ imaginations.

Second Life is a cool idea, at heart.  You get to walk around (and also fly, for some reason), mingle with other users, play dress up, play house, all sorts of (admittedly mundane) activities.  You can buy things, with real money, that you earn in the real world (or dive into your allowance), and spend it on virtual land or virtual items.  Conversely, you can also sell things in Second Life.  Supposedly there are millionaire entrepreneurs who have cashed in on this enterprise.  Congrats, really.

I used Second Life briefly for this class as part of the “Hands-on” exercises, but this was not my first experience in this virtual world.  A few years ago I had a similar class assignment, and had to visit a few places in Second Life and then write a review, on both Second Life and the company “island” i was to visit.  I’ll be honest, between the giant polygons, dull atmosphere, and overall empty areas I was confronted with; my view of Second Life was just about set in stone.

At one point there was a lot of hype for this platform, with multiple corporations owning land, and using it for commercial reasons (marketing, advertisement, Dell actually let you customize and buy PCs through their property) and for inter-business communication/coordination.  Apparently most corporations have stopped using it for advertising or other commercial reasons, but some still use it for virtual trade shows, and long distance learning.

Second Life is an interesting idea, but I don’t think the application/technology or the world is quite ready for the idea.  One day, maybe.  Until then though, I’m going to keep trying to fathom how its possible for people to become millionaires on Second Life.  I hope I never understand it.

Email is not the only solution

After the internet was created, and systems like email came to be, it was a logical step for the internet to be used for collaboration.  Groups of people working on the same document (or documents, files, etc) would keep some sort of email chain going, attempting to make sure everyone was up to date.  This gets out of hand easily, and soon people are left with different files altogether.  This way of collaboration may work for small or highly organized projects, but there is definitely room for improvement.

The Alternatives

There are many different ways for people to collaborate over the Internet, but instead of talking about forums or wikis, I have chosen to talk about two different approaches to collaboration that many people are unfamiliar with.

GitHub

GitHub is a web-based hosting service for projects that use the Git revision control system, according to Wikipedia. Now, that may not mean much to you, but I will attempt to explain what this means and what GitHub does.

A revision control system manages the different changes to a particular project, keeping track of updates and deletions, and allows for the forking or branching of a project, along with the merging of branches (i.e. someone takes your project, makes some changes that are only in his version, and then wants to add it back to the original at a later date and time).  Systems like Git also keep track of changes, making it possible to see who changed what (and what exactly they changed in a file), and they allow you to roll back to previous versions.

The first thing you need to do in order to start working is to start a repository.  After a repository is working, you initialize a repository on your computer, and then start to work on your project.  As you make changes, and want to update the master repository, you enter a few lines of code and now other people can download your changes.  When multiple people work on the same repository, you need to occasionally check and make sure you are up to date.  When pushing a change or many changes, conflicts are handled (i.e. two people edited the same files, or your files are not of the most recent version) by the revision control system.

This sounds pretty technical, and in some ways it is.  Using GitHub takes care of most of the technical aspects by itself and makes the process of using a revision control system a lot easier, and after using it over the spring semester, I’m not sure I could have survived without it.  Over the spring, I worked with five other people over the course of the whole semester. Over that time, we collaborated together on one very large project that took almost all of the semester, and on one other project that also ended up being quite large — with only two weeks for us to work on it.  At first, using a revision control system seemed very foreign, and it was unclear as to why we would need to use something like GitHub.  After being introduced to the software and learning how to use Git, we soon became aware of why we just might need it.  Our task was to create a fully-functional social network for bands.  While it’s not a professionally deployed website, we put a lot of work in to it.  Git helped us spread out who was working on what (often on the same files), and yet it still allowed for us to keep up to date with each other’s changes.  Using email for such a large project would have been horrible, and probably would have forced us to work in a less efficient manner.  There were many occasions where one of us would find an error in one page, or make a small change to one line, and because of that small change we would then have to make corresponding changes elsewhere (sometimes in all of our files).  That’s not particularly hard, but would you want to email each file? I wouldn’t.  With emails flying left and right, there would be a good chance that the most recent email with the technically most recent changes could be the most out of date file.

Google Wave

Google Wave is designed as a new platform to communication over the Internet. Designed for real-time communication and collaboration, it merges email, instant messaging, wikis, and social networking all into one. The definition of a wave, Right from the Google Wave about page:

What is a wave?

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.

A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

As with many of their products, Google has used this program extensively.  Last year, Lifehacker put out a list of Google Wave’s Best Use Cases, which highlights many other ways that the service has been used.

Demonstrations

And no longer were children forced to follow Dewey’s ways

Gone are the days of needing to use the card catalog to find that last source for the upcoming term paper.  It happens, sure, and while books are still useful in certain situations for research, the internet has brought forth a whole new way in which one may research any topic.  The internet has given everyone with internet-access the ability to learn or research any topic.

College students, through services their university and university libraries provide, may have access to a multitude of scholarly publications, news articles, books, and or resources through the internet.  Through the resources my university provides, I was able to find quite a few articles that were relevant to my upcoming paper.  I was able to find a directory by subject (Computer Science, Economics, etc.), but I chose to use LexisNexis Academic, an article database I am familiar with.  Just by entering in a few search terms, I was presented with a wide array of meaningful results.

Google Scholar is a search engine that indexes the full text of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines, according to Wikipedia.  Using Google Scholar is as simple as using Google, the search engine everyone and their mother knows how to use.  After inputting your query, Google Scholar presents a list of results.  These results include a title, a brief description, a link to where this article resides, and if the article is freely available Google with display a direct download link right within the results.

The internet has allowed for the access of a seemingly infinite amount of information available to most anyone at almost any location.  With the onset of scholarly databases, and other outlets for the storing and searching of documents and other articles, it is now possible for someone to search through thousands or more sources with just a few keystrokes.

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