Wanna Chat? Check out Pip.io

There are so many places to hang out on the Web. There are the big two: Facebook  and Twitter . There are other larger planets in the solar system, like LinkedIn  and MySpace , as well as countless other satellites that revolve around these two, such as Google Buzz ,  Plaxo , Friendfeed , Plurk , etcetera.

So, you probably aren’t thinking right now: “Gee, where can I spend even more of my on-line time publishing, communication and connecting?”  But maybe you should.

Check out Pip.io (link here). It is a relatively recent social tool that just came out of beta last month. More than a social network, Pip.io  calls itself a “social operating system.” I call it Google Wave  for the masses. Pip.io’s format is very chat-like – you create your profile and then set your “availability” for your connections to see. When you communicate via Pip.io, you can set your parameters narrowly (e.g. a private chat with a single individual) or broadly (a public broadcast to all friends of Facebook and Twitter and YouTube). You can also “target” someone’s stream with a post: not quite private but focused communication intended for a specific user or group. Pip.io gives you tools to be both efficient and private in your web communications at the same time. Sort of like your own dashboard for your social web communication.

Just this weekend, a Twitter friend was telling me that he communicates differently on different platforms, that he holds back more on Facebook because the audience dictates more discretion. With Pip.io, you can set who sees what across platforms by creating groups for certain types of communications, thereby eliminating concern with your degree of sharing.

But that is not all. You can form rooms and invite others to join you to discuss or share on topics. There is also a video chat feature. Pip.io has its own version of a retweet – you can reshare within Pip.io or send the content forth to your own social outposts. “Friending” on Pip.io is like Twitter and Friendfeed, where you can follow anyone without their express agreement or any obligation to follow you back.

I still struggle with Twitter as a communication platform. I agree as well with my Twitter friend that my Facebook population does not promote the same “free” communication I might employ elsewhere. If your desire is to streamline your communication on-line, to implement better channeling and discussion, and break down boundaries to that discussion, Pip.io may well be the best option. At the least, it affords a simple “one stop” locale for managing chat, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity. At the most, it appears to provide a true communication forum for social interaction.

Check it out. I would love to hear what you think.

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The Advocate's First, Official iPad Post

The Studio, a blog closely affiliated with all things shiny and tech-y, has been strangely silent on the impending approach of the allegedly game-changing and eminently touchable new toy from Apple, the iPad.

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Maybe you noticed. Or not. Maybe you wondered why.  Or not.

Sure enough, it is shiny and cool. It comes from the world’s, number one, tech-toy design company, Apple. I am, admittedly, a fairly well-devoted iPhone fan. So why the silence?

Truth is, I have been silent on the iPad because I have been thinking deeply about it. In order for me to shell out money like that for any type of gadgetry, I have to see a legitimate need that will be filled. Call me a frugal Yankee, but I can’t stomach dismissing hundreds of dollars out of my bank account for no viable reason other than to don an early adopter badge. I also have a fairly rigid rule: no purchasing Version 1.0 of anything – wait until Version 2.0, which hopefully has removed most kinks and installed the next wave of cool features.

As I said, I have been thinking. Wondering, in fact, whether the iPad really fills and important niche between laptop and iPhone for me. Fun is good, but there has to be utility for me to buy. I depend quite heavily on my iPhone and its 3G connection to compute while I am out and about. I also have a capable little netbook that can handle larger typing or more traditional computing tasks and isn’t too hard on my back. Finally, I have a big laptop that sits at home and provides me with a full-on desk-bound experience, sports extra screens, a large mic and a cute little Wacom Bamboo tablet for pen input.

Is there room for the iPad in this set-up? It helps to consider what the iPad is intended to offer. It is meant to serve as a souped-up, content consumption device. Like the iPhone, the iPad will let you access and download apps on the fly. Apps will be designed to take advantage of multi-touch and orientation adjustment, tricks that most eReaders and tablet computers may not be able to fully accommodate. Content, such as photos, eBooks, and documents, promise to show better on the iPad. There is no question that the visuals, particularly on the built-in apps, are vastly improved over the iPad’s diminutive cousin.

The iPad is to include iWork, a productivity suite aimed at encouraging more traditional computing tasks than one might voluntarily undertake on a phone. But the iPad is still hampered by that virtual keyboard, unless you shell out for the accessory. And, like the little guy, there is no multi-tasking, if that feature is important to you. Also, no camera. Do you care? I actually don’t, so much.

Bear in mind, the iPad battery is equally as unremovable as the iPhone battery. That has been a personal problem for me in the past. No GPS means no advanced mapping navigation. While I care some on the first point, I don’t really care much on the second.

And then there is this whole Flash thing. Initially considered a deadly failing, more and more companies are looking for ways around this limitation as the drop date approaches. Big players like the New York Times have switched to iPad-friendly HTML5, employing Brightcove’s platforms, which have been supporting HTML5 since 2008. It won’t take long for the majority of developers to employ means to end-run the Flash limitation. Probably less time than it took to get the App Store up, running and profitable.

But, again, why? Well, what if you stored all of your content in the cloud. Your images, your documents, your music, your videos. What if you could easily access that content via wi-fi or 3G at any time, on demand and from an always on machine with ten hours of battery life and a very readable screen? What if you could quickly pull and notate PDFs and send and receive them with ease? What if the machine was smaller and thinner than a legal pad? Sure it won’t fit in your pocket unless you are a kangaroo, but it definitely could fit a backpack or large purse.

Of course, the iPad’s utility will ultimately depends to a great degree on the premium you personally place on touching your content and viewing it up close and personal. The iPhone’s popularity definitely owes much to the tactile relationship between device and user. I imagine the iPad will take that relationship much further.  The iPad promises to be an iPhone +++ relationship.

Perhaps, the iPad will push us all closer to digital content and turbo-boost us further into digital life. Perhaps the iPad is intended to virtually erase the device’s footprint in that equation. Maybe removing the barrier between content and user is what the iPad really is all about.  I cannot comment personally on whether the iPad or some other touchscreen, tablet-like device is the one to push this change. But I can definitely see it coming. As an avid reader of content, a device scaled to dramatically improve my access and consumption can muscle a place in my arsenal.

Guess I answered my own question. As long as I depend upon on-line content for my work and enjoyment, the iPad may well fit a niche worth the price. More thoughts on this are certain to follow in the Studio, so stay tuned.

By the way, in a Twitter discussion yesterday, a few of us thought that perhaps iPad-related discussions should have their own hashtag. So we christened our tag #followtheipad. Feel free to use this tag and join the conversation with thoughts of your own on the supposed-game changer and confirmed news magnet!

Enhancing Your Blog with Apture

I saw Apture a few days ago and I am back here in the Studio today trying it out. What is Apture? For my purposes, Apture is a killer plug-in for my blog that nearly automates linking multi-media rich content into my blog posts. Apture’s sell is that the modern Web should be three-dimension, not flat, and that their plug-in allows for easy implementation of layers and depth in blog posts, encouraging readers to truly browse your content.

Apture is seeking to add context to the Web, to connect disparate elements that share a connection. That connection depends upon the relevance of the subject matter of your reading material. Apture will then open a window to access web-wide content and connect or embed it into your article or post. In essence, Apture allows web publishers to assist the process of semantically or contextually linking information across the airwaves. Plus it makes your blog posts really really cool to read.

How does it work? After downloading the plug-in and following the steps in the set-up wizard within your blog editor, you will see two new upload/insert buttons to the top right:

As you write your post, simply highlight text and click of the Apture link button. A window opens showing options:

As you can see, you can search by keywords (it automatically adds your highlighted text into the search box). You can then filter its recommendations by types. It also pulls your own prior posts for backlinking. You also can upload your own content to enhance the highlighted text. Items that can be added include video, images, reference articles, maps, audio, documents or books, person information, articles or web pages. Apture wants you to abandon the basic link button in your editor in favor of their “super link” button that connects with you a wider array of content within the blog editor itself.

Apture displays the links on the page in its “power browser” – readers explore linked content within a dynamic JavaScript-based windows without leaving the site.

You also can embed Apture links right into the blog post with the embed button to the right of the link button. It will create a similar javascript window that automatically shows within the post without a mouseover or click.

Apture links are preserved in RSS feeds and within RSS readers and are not blocked by pop-up blockers. While Apture does not currently support editing of content sources, you can still upload your own content or manually link to content via URL or embed code.

By now you are probably wondering, “how much for all this linking, multi-media goodness?” Well, guess what? Blogs or sites with less than five million page views per month can use Apture for free! The big players pay so us little guys can play! Apture is now prominently displayed on such media giants as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Lawrence Lessig and Techcrunch France. And now, you can display it too (link here).

Between Zemanta and Apture, I might never have to manually research and link a blog post again! Check out my links above and let me know what you think! I think it is pretty Jetsons.

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Hands On With LawToGo's iPhone Treasury Regulations (Plus Offer)

Way back in July, I reviewed LawToGo’s iPhone app. It provides a searchable database of Internal Revenue Code sections (link here). This week, I am playing around with LawToGo’s new app – Treasury Regulations, iPhone-style (link here). DISCLAIMER: I got a free code to try this out, but don’t worry, you can too – read to the end.

Jade Nile, LLC is the developer. The 13.4 megabyte file holds every Treasury regulation you might ever find yourself needing, but it loads fairly quickly. Brand-spanking new Version 1.0 is up to date with regs as of April 1, 2009. The application is searchable by keyword and simple Boolean connectors “AND” and “OR” and word spread. It is loaded locally, so there is no issue as far as connection when you need to pull a reg.

The layout and functions are quite similar to LTG’s IRC app and this app supports landscape mode. The opening screen quickly flashes by to reveal the search box and a scroll wheel for pulling by section number if you know it.

I tried my hand at keyword searching some regs.  I found that the broader the search, the faster the result. Adding  keywords and connectors added a sizable number of seconds Sometimes, the app showed a tendency to dump out if I added more than two keywords.

The search results are listed serially by number. Keywords are highlighted in yellow, which helps me immensely.

If you click on one result, you can then scroll to nearby sections using the arrows. Hit the plus key to add to bookmarks and send the section by email when you hit the email key. Wait until you are finished searching and reading to hit the email key, though, or add your section by bookmark – reentry into the app always starts at the default search screen without saving your last search.  Note to developer: keep the user’s last search result in the search entry box until manually cleared by the user.

You also can look through the list of regulations by parts as they appear in the volumes. Clicking on a part takes you into subparts and so on. You can always access tips by hitting the help key.

LTG’s Treasury Regs app fills a narrow niche, but definitely serves as a useful, tool for practioners needing this information in a handy form. As Jocelyn from LawToGo explained:

The inspiration came from hauling the Code and Regulations with me to meetings. As is always the case, any time I didn’t carry these weighty books with me would be the one time I needed them the most.  According to Amazon, the shipping weight of the Code and Regulations is 24.8 lbs. Fun if you have Lou Ferrigno helping you out, but not fun when you’re rushing to a meeting with coffee in hand or on vacation and a client calls.

So, here is Law ToGo’s boolean searchable solution. There are a lot of neat tweaks that improve on the Code version, and will be implemented in the next version of the Code app.

The main, or at least most meaningful, tweak is the boolean search functionality. When it works, it certainly helps.

I haven’t confirmed the complete scope of this application – I recommend that you contact LawToGo for more information on that point.

The app is not inexpensive: be prepared to shell out $18.99 for the convenience. But, if you send me an email at my contact page, I will give out two coupon codes, one to each of the first two responders. Thanks, Jocelyn!

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The Power of Media in the Modern Age

Only in the modern age can a fan produce an ode to a product that is better than anything the company has come up with to date (despite the power of a massive ad budget behind it), have it go viral and gain instant, seemingly overnight attention. Such stories smack of the same Horatio Alger myth that powered our rags to riches dreams over a century ago.

Moral here? If you have something to say, say it – chances are, someone will hear you on the Web.

I love Palm, I really do. Hire this guy.

Louis Gray: Writing A Killer Blog Without Killing Yourself

I really don’t need to give any introduction here, other than to urge you to take a moment to read Mr. Gray’s outstanding Slideshare on how to manage your blog and social media interaction. Fantastic advice from a master!

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Do-It-Yourself Wiki

DISCLAIMER: this is NOT a Wikipedia-bashing post. There, now, having gotten the formalities out of the way, it is time in the Studio to examine the benefits of creating your own Wiki and one way to go about doing it. If you are on-line, reading this post, odds are you have visited Wikipedia once or twice. But do you really know what a Wiki is?

I couldn’t help it – I pulled this definition of Wiki off Wikipedia:

A wiki ( /ˈwɪki/ WIK-ee) is a website that allows the easy[1] creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor.[2][3] Wikis are typically powered by wiki software and are often used to create collaborative websites, to power community websites, for personal note taking, in corporate intranets, and in knowledge management systems.

Did you know that the word “wiki” is the Hawaiian word for fast? I didn’t until this morning. The key points to a Wiki are that it is user created and that its pages are heavily interlinked, allowing for a “tree” like structure to the information layers.

I am not going to plumb the benefits or drawbacks to contributing to a public Wiki, such as Wikipedia here. Instead, let’s consider the benefits of building your own personal Wiki. Do you use a “to do” list? Do you maintain a contacts list? Do you bookmark relevant Web information? Do you take notes or grap snips for later consumption? Do you have all of this data in one place, with links between the information?

If not, consider using your own Wiki. One such tool to help you along the way is offered by Zim Wiki (link here), a free, open-source, desktop Wiki application that works in Linux and Windows. I discovered this tool on MakeUseOf (link here). According to MakeUseOf, there are means for getting the tool up and running in OSX, but they are a bit complicated and not for the faint of heart.

What is Zim Wiki? Taken from their website:

Zim aims to bring the concept of a wiki to your desktop. Every page is saved as a text file with wiki markup. Pages can contain links to other pages, and are saved automatically. Creating a new page is as easy as linking to a non-existing page. This tool is intended to keep track of TODO lists or to serve as a personal scratch book. But it will also serve you when writing longer and more complicated documents.

A “desktop wiki” means that we try to capture the idea of a wiki, not as a webpage but as a collection of files on your local file system that can be edited with a GUI application. The main focus is a kind of personal wiki that serves for all kind of notes: todo-lists, addresses, brainstorm ideas etc.

But we want to go further then just a wiki filled with random content. It should also be possible to use you random notes as the basis for more structured data: articles, presentations etc. Zim will not include tools to layout a presentation or something like that, you should use your office suite of choice for that, but it should be a tool that can deliver all the content for a presentation in a form that only needs a template and some layout before usage. Therefore certain features normally not found in wikis will be added.

The first step after installation is setting up your information repository, stored locally. You create a home page and direct Zim where to store documents. Text editing tools are basic – just enough to get the data entry job done. Then, start entering.

The strength in this tool is the layering that you can implement. For a given project, put the different major tasks on one layer, and then link off to subtasks residing on their own, separate pages. If you want access to your Zim Wiki on different computers, consider using Dropbox (MakeUseOf’s suggestion – link here) – you can access your Wiki on the go.

As with any tool, the user will find their own unique uses. I see lots of potential in Zim Wiki, primarily due to its fairly stripped down simplicity. Tools like Microsoft’s OneNote and Evernote are similar in their organizational capabilities but can be confounding to a user looking for the simple answer. Zim seems to fit this latter need fairly nicely and, unlike OneNote, for free.

Any Excuse to Avoid the Inbox

I admit it. I really am beginning to seriously dislike email inboxes. I have been avoiding my desktop Outlook inbox like the plague. I am better about monitoring my Gmail accounts, but even that can get tedious.

Information overload? I already employ filters on my computer and phone to strain the best news, social status updates, tweets and blog posts. Why can’t I have a similar filtering system for my overburdoned inbox?

Well, I know I already can from within the inbox itself. But that requires you to actually go to your inbox and open your folders.  

Check this out. The current version of application AwayFind (ver. 2.0) (link here), allows you to install filters on your email (no biggie) and to designate “urgent” email that will follow you by phone call, instant message,  text message or even tweet (way cool)! Never visit your inbox again!

Apparently, filtering set up is strikingly similar to the tools you probably already are using in your own inbox. Filter by person, by keyword (e.g. “urgent”), subject, receiving email address, etc. Then, here is the genius part, tell AwayFind how to alert you when an email falls into one of your filter categories: all the major IM clients, Twitter, text message or even a phone call. You can also set up an auto-response and exclude specific persons from the auto-response. You can probably figure out where to take this last feature.

If you are a Firefox user, there is a plug-in that lets you manage AwayFind from within your inbox. Apparently a Chrome plug-in is coming soon. Google and IMAP are supported, as are hosted Exchange-based 2003, 2007 and 2010.

Unfortunately for us regular folk, this application is currently in private beta, invite only. Hat tip to ReadWriteWeb – head over there now and see if you can score one of their invitations! (link here)

iPhone As Swiss Army Knife

One of my predictions for 2010 was a rise in dependence on mobile computing. When I say mobile computing, I am not talking about your basic laptop. I am talking smartphones – those pocket-able devices that really shouldn’t be called phones at all (I’m looking at YOU, ATT!)

Smartphones and, in particular, the iPhone have been game changers across the spectrum of users. Applications, much like the little tools that pop out of all corners of a Swiss Army knife, meet any and all needs. Eminently customizable, devices like the iPhone really do serve as high-tech duct tape.

I have become quite dependent upon my iPhone. Initially, it really was more toy to me than anything else. I was dazzled by the big, vibrant display and user-friendly interface – these were new to me, after years of dumb phone and Palm Treo 750 experience. Over time, however, I have stretched its capacity, tested its boundaries and found that it really does have an answer to almost any question.

Take, for example, this past weekend. I went skiing with my family over the kids’ spring vacation. Just before leaving, a Twitter friend asked if he could pass my website on to a friend looking for a lawyer with background in writing and social media. That message first arrived on my iPhone via Boxcar (link here) and I responded there.

On Friday, while wearing my skis and riding on a chairlift, a message popped through on my phone via Google Voice and another message came in through my email from my website’s contact form asking for assistance. Later, I emailed and then phoned the potential client and laid down the groundwork for a proposal.

Over the next couple of days, I received background information via email and conducted research using mobile Safari. I used the built-in Notes app to outline some questions. I used Dragon Dictation (link here) to “write” my initial piece of the proposal while riding in the car and used Documents to Go (link here) to create a Word document and edit the piece to final form. As the client preferred communicating by IM / chat, I downloaded BeeJive (link here) to seamlessly chat on the move.

While I was at it, I checked the weather with Weather Bug (link here), used Navigon’s Mobile Navigator (link here) to get me between destinations and Where (link here), AroundMe (link here) and Siri Personal Assistant (link here) to find decent restaurants and other spots high in the mountains. I passed the time pinning my location in Gowalla (link here) and Foursquare (link here). I videoed the kids on my 3GS iPhone and uploaded the content to Flickr (link here) via the app. I stayed in touch with online friends via Tweetie 2 (link here) and Facebook (link here). When I could get signal, my husband and I stayed in touch on the mountain by SMS.

Although I didn’t personally download it, my husband loaded the iSki app (link here), which provides snow condition reports, your downhill speed, vertical feet, and the location of other members of your party on the mountain by their cell phone numbers and GPS.

Because of its extreme versatility, I was able to use both native programs and download new applications to get the job done. No laptop required.

Although I didn’t use the applications during this particular weekend, I have in the past used Westlaw’s mobile webpage interface and Fastcase (link here) to research and send legal information to clients. From my phone, while moving from one place to another.

Think about this: a phone that can cover pretty much any material need and, if you don’t have a particular ability or tool installed, you can find and download one as the need arises. You can even delete that functionality later and add different features. On the fly.

It really is no wonder that smartphone sales have sky rocketed. Who wants to put a laptop in their pocket while riding a ski lift?

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Sobees: Your Custom Twitter Client

I know what your thinking: not another Twitter interface! If you are into Twitter, you probably have a favorite or a combination of favorites for desktop and mobile that include Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Tweetie or even web and now mobile Brizzly (a personal fav).  So why should you consider another option?

Because you never know when one will combine all of the features you really want to have in one package. Sobees (link here), a Windows-based client, is a relatively unfamiliar option, with strengths in the area of customization.

First of all, Sobees works in XP, Vista and 7, covering a wide span of Windows-based machines. It also incorporates Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace along with Twitter. Next – Sobees gives the user a great deal of latitude in setting up their little “window on the world” with 16 different layouts and a drag and drop your social network interface. You also can choose whether to view your groups in columns or tabs – a nice feature.  There is support for lists and the ability to update all social networks with one, unified status entry – timesaver! Filtering and tweak options are plentiful and easy to set.

Image Taken from MakeUseOf

Sobees seems a pretty complete package. Whether you choose the desktop client or web interface (link here), I can’t imagine you could go wrong with the broad feature set.

Hat tip to MakeUseOf.

UPDATE: I should add here that, if customize-ability is of high important to you, you may want to check out a future version of Seesmic built on a plug-in architecture powered by Microsoft Silverlight. This means that you will be able to choose from third party developer applications to “plug into” your Seesmic Twitter interface and gain all sorts of added functionality. Consider a bookmarking plug-in for links or a mapping app for geolocation built right into Seesmic. Very, very cool. No foreseeable release date yet, but keep checking the wires (and the Studio).  Hat tip to The Next Web.