Greplin: Search Your Own Personal Cloud

If you have an iPhone, you are familiar with Spotlight Search. If you have a presence in the cloud, then the cloud-counterpart to Spotlight might be Greplin (link here). Akin to Spotlight’s ability to search  your entire hard-wired iDevice memory and across applications for the keyword you specify, Greplin let’s you search through all of your public and private content across the cloud-based services you hook up to your Greplin account.

News of Greplin first broke back in March, 2010. Now Greplin is available in private beta. Submit your registration at the link above and select the on-line haunts you wish to connect: Facebook; Gmail; Twitter; DropBox; LinkedIn; Google Calendar; and Google Docs. A pro account, for the measly sum of $45 per year, allows you to also connect to Salesforce, Evernote, Box, Basecamp, and Google Voice transcripts. How totally awesome is that?

If you have been working at all in the cloud, participating in the soc nets, and curating and sharing content, how can Greplin NOT be a winner? I repeatedly find myself searching within the various sites I use for old links or content that I had forgotten to star or favorite or otherwise file in an easy to find place. Not all sites archive. Not all search functions are up to my standards. No more – now all I will need to do is remember that the information had something to do with semantic search or the conference I am supposed to attend in six months and, with Greplin, I’m off to the races.

This is yet another piece in the puzzle-theme I am pressing here in the Studio today: you have to streamline and organize your on-line life. With Priority Inbox, you can take control of the important Gmail tasks first. With relevance filters, you can cut right to the newest information on the Web about your preferred topics. And now, with Greplin, you can quickly put your finger on the fruits of your on-line research and networking efforts – giving you that much power over the most treasured commodity of our time – relevant data.

Tech Addiction & Information Overload

I was compelled to open and read an article in my Google Reader from Lifehacker’s Adam Dachis entitled Why Technology is So Addictive and How You Can Avoid It (link here). I know, I know. To the casual observer, I probably fall squarely within the dopamine-addled masses who reach for their smartphone or iPad whenever there is a break in the level of external, non-tech stimulation. But I have grappled with this concept over the past several months. Not so much because I fear addiction, but more because I really don’t want to spend any more time on technology than I really must to reach the end I want to achieve.

O.k., English please. What I am saying is that technology, like your average hammer or pencil, is simply a tool. A means to an end. That end differs for different users (and I really don’t mean users in the druggie sense). Technology affords a compelling precision implement, a surgical scalpel, that can lessen the weight of otherwise heavy tasks. Such as staying on top of your area of expertise. Or staying in meaningful contact with people who are important to you, whether for business or personal reasons, and sharing relevant information.

Because of technology, we can now send greater quantity of higher quality communications and information to a larger audience. In turn, we (arguably) can absorb a greater quantity of higher quality and more timely information that might help us make important decisions across the spectrum of our needs. That is why the tech explosion of late has pulled along so many mainstream users – look, Auntie M, I can now get my daily updates on Cousin Lulu without having to pick up a phone, or even write an email.

I am not going to touch Mr. Dachis’ points on tech-etiquette here. I would like to assume that Studio Readers already know how to prioritize human interaction and tech interaction. But I do wish to point out Mr. Dachis’ cause for such addiction and overload issues and suggested remedy.:

One effective way of dealing with information overload is actually organizing information. This may be an obvious one, but most of us think more about organization than actually doing it. You’re going to get organized at some point, so you might as well start now (if you haven’t, that is). Email is one of the toughest things to get under control and there are more solutions out there than you could ever really try. Google’s new Priority Inbox is a great new way to focus on the important messages in your inbox. A Chrome and Firefox extension called Boomerang lets you schedule when you send and receive emails. Communicating through speed appropriate channels rather than funneling everything through email can help, too. You can even offload distractions to an iPad, or another device you have, so you can focus on specific things on specific devices. However you organize your information, just be sure to evolve your system to fit changes in the way your information flows.

Really, so much of the handling of our technology depends on implementing efficiencies so that the tech is a helpful passenger rather than the driver of the vehicle. For example, just last night, I spent about a half hour reorganizing my iPad feed readers. I have determined from the past few months that I can cut through my feeds faster if I can read them in an uncluttered, visual format on the iPad. So, I now have two text-based and two magazine-layout-based readers on my iPad, with different feeds in each app. Why? Because I can blow right through the most important feeds on the visual readers in record time. If I have additional time, I can always go to the text-based readers to hit more detail.

The future of the web is relevancy. To me, it is far more important to be relevant than it is to be fast. Along with my post this morning about Google’s new Priority Inbox that will automatically sort your email for you, the list of applications that cater to relevancy while improving delivery speed are growing. Filters like Google Reader’s “magic” setting and apps like Feedly, my6sense, Zite and Lazyfeed are making it easer to spend less time researching and more time creating. My admonition to lawyers, professionals or, really, anyone on the Web is to get to know these filtering systems and use them to avoid overload and the addiction necessary to stay on top of the overload. At first it will require spending more time getting up to speed and implementing your chosen method. But ultimately, you might even end up with enough time to start a new hobby. Like stamp collecting. Or gardening.

Get Ready for More Organized Gmail

Google’s at it again. This time, the object of its affections is Gmail. Today, Google will be rolling out Priority Inbox (link here). In a nutshell, application of this feature will automatically sift to the top of your email pile the messages deemed of greatest importance to you. When enabled, all of your messages will be sorted into three groups – “important and unread”, “starred” and “everything else” – and will be slotted in your inbox accordingly.

Look for the “New! Priority Inbox” message on the top right of your screen (it should be there within the next week or so). Then, simply set it up in your account and click yes when it asks you whether you want to enable the system. There are a few set-up options, such as manual selection of priority contacts and order of inboxes, but most of the magic comes from Google’s ability to read how you read your email. Google looks at how the mail is addressed (whether just you or to a group), which emails you open and respond to (and how frequently you do so) with respect to a particular sender and keywords in the emails you most frequently read. As you use the filter, you can instruct Google when it makes a mistake, such as starring messages that Google thought were unimportant and demoting those Google wrongly pushed to the top. Over time, it will learn your preferences.

Reports from people who have been using this service before the public roll-out indicate that the service is very good, but not perfect. But perhaps they haven’t spent enough time yet teaching the algorithm the ropes.

Obviously, from the email sender point of view, it will be important to consider how to phrase your message so that someone else’s Priority Inbox doesn’t demote your missive to the bottom of the heap. In other words, consider when and how to use group email addressing and what keywords to include in your message to ensure it will rise to the top. Sort of like search engine optimization for email.

Looking forward to trying this out – I get a lot of dreck along with the diamonds in my Gmail inboxes – interested in seeing just how effective Priority Inbox can be.

On a humorous note, I learned that Google considers email that is a cut above “spam” but lower on the priority totem pole to be “bologna” or “bacn“, the latter being email that a person has subscribed to, but isn’t regularly read or responded to. I thought people on the internet thought bacon was a good thing. There I go, learning something new every day again.

Google Voice. Free. And Freely Available

If you have been on the Web the past couple of days, you might have heard about Google’s rollout of this cool new feature: make Google Voice calls straight from your Gmail / GChat interface. Google Voice is a fantastic application that gives you the ability to monitor and manage calling with voice messaging, text transcripts, fine-grained call routing and tele-spam control. I previously have covered it in the Studio (link here).

Prior to the new add, using Google Voice to make calls was a little bit of a process, requiring you to institute a call from within Google Voice and then employ the designated phone to actually make the call, or to use third party application Gizmo and set up a gadget within Gmail to do so. The latter option was still a bit of a process and never really worked well for me.

Now, if you have a Google Voice account (which presumes a Google Gmail account) and a computer outfitted with a speaker and microphone, you are good to go. All you need to do is download the Google voice and video plug-in utility onto your desired computer, sign into your Gmail / GChat account and look at the top of the Chat window. There you will see a little phone icon and “Call Phone” link:

Click on that button and you will then see a little phone keypad pop up in the lower right hand corner of your screen:

Type your number in and hit call. It’s that easy. Of course, calls made through this interface show up in your Google Voice dashboard and will show up in someone’s caller ID as your Google Voice number.

All U.S. calls are free and international calls are extremely cheap. Hit the money link shown above the keypad to access an international rate menu and see for yourself. Combine the easy-to-use new Google Voice on your desktop via Gmail with Google Voice on your cellphone and, PRESTO – instant, free, agile telephony solution for your personal or business needs! You can’t lose.

Want more about GVoice and Gmail? Check out Google’s own video below:

Grammar On The iPad

Grammar. It’s cool. And now it’s high tech, with a new iPad app. Terminology for iPad offers that “special something” for your writing just in time for the start of the school year. The app contains a searchable dictionary and thesaurus. They can be used off-line, in case you can’t hook into the ‘net for your word fix. But, if you do have Web access, you can find additional information on your desired word or phrase via Wikipedia and Wiktionary. Mark your favorite words for fast future searching. Best of all, the interface is simple and clean, making your lexicographically-inclined pursuits that much easier. Tighten up your next brief, business report, email or term paper, or simply pull out a killer word out for Scrabble or Words with Friends with Terminology.

Beyond Spell Check: Phras.In

Let’s face it. Even the most editorially-inclined among us has come to rely on the spellchecker as a second set of eyes to minimize spelling gaffs and basic punctuation issues. But maybe your writing issues are deeper than spelling and spacing. For you, there is Phras.In (link here). This web-based, beta tool will take alternative versions of a phrase, run them both through a Google search and compare the results. The phrasing that yields the most hits wins.

Phras.In is built on the assumption that the crowd rules the day. This, of course, is not necessarily true when it comes to proper English grammar and usage. However, it is certainly true of colloqial phrasings or commonly-accepted wordings. Thus, as indicated on the site, Phras.In’s best use might be for someone who speaks English as a second language and who wants to adopt a more natural, native tone.

So, how does it work? You are given two boxes in which to type your alternative phrasings. As you type them, the number of Google hits for the phrases are displayed to the right. The phrase “the cow jumped over the moon” received 48,300 hits, while the phrase “the moon was jumped over by the cow” got a whopping 27 hits, primarily from sites explaining the perils of the passive voice. I knew this because I hit the “contextualize” button, which reveals a few lines from the website surrounding the desired phrase.

Phras.In worked fast and well for general purpose comparison. If nothing else, it saves you the time and effort of crafting your own Google search and reviewing all of the page results. Well done, Francesco!

Granular Social Networking Stats

Maybe I should have said tabular, but still, this free report from Experian Simmons, entitled the 2010 Social Networking Report contains lots of data on recent increases in social media usage, confirming suspicions that social media networking is indeed on the steep rise. The entire report can be downloaded after filling out some basic information or you can view it online (link here). I thought it worthwhile to quote the follownig two paragraphs from the introduction to give a flavor for the findings:

The 2010 Social Networking Report provides the hard data behind this consumer revolution, including the fact that fully 66% of online Americans use social networking sites today, up from just 20% in 2007. Social networking is an increasingly addictive activity, with nearly half of those who access such sites (43%) reporting that they visit them multiple times per day. While users of social networking sites may have initially signed up to better keep in touch with friends, a growing number say they now use sites like Facebook to connect with family members. An astounding 70% of social networkers keep in touch with family via their various online networks, up from 61% a year ago.

Fully two-thirds of all online adults today have visited a social networking site in the last 30 days, up from 53% in 2008 and 20% in 2007. Social networks have most thoroughly penetrated the young adult market, as nearly 9-in-10 online 18-to 34-year-olds visit such sites today. But even older Americans are tapping into social networks, with 41% of online adults age 50 and older making monthly visits to sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Lots of Legal Interest Apps, All In One Place

I can’t say all, because there are a few legal research apps I know that aren’t included on the lists. Nonetheless, this is STILL a pretty cool tabbed table of (mostly) iPhone apps to help you lawyer on the run. The list (link here) was compiled by Vicki Steiner at the UCLA School of Law. There are 23 listed for legal research and news, ranging from free to very much paid (here’s looking at you West), some strictly legal and some merely informative. There are 7 listed for law school and bar exam study. There are 22 listed for productivity, many among my favorites, including Dragon Dictation and DropBox. There are 23 apps for fun, including one I hadn’t heard of, called WestlawNext Gavel (link here), which lets you bring the virtual hammer down on your own personal judgments. Special texted download via code from those wacky guys at West. Go figure.

I also really appreciate that Vicki includes links on the overview tab to various app stores and collections, including Android Market, Android Zoom, Apple Web Apps, Blackberry App World, Evernote Trunk, Facebook App Store, Ovi Store, Palm Apps, uQuery, and USA.gov Mobile Apps. If you can’t find it here, don’t bother.

Thanks for the hard work, Vicki!

Want New On-Line Friends? Try Miio

Soc Net Day in the Studio. While my prior post trumpeted the simple privacy control of The Fridge, this post extols the virtues of making new connections on a whisper of common interest via Miio.

Miio is a social service that mirrors the old chat rooms of days gone by, where you could find new people to converse with based on some common interest – like my iVillage group formed of moms giving birth to babies in April, 2002. Once connected by this thin similarity, friendships bloomed and died, while drama and camaraderie ruled the day. These chat rooms presented a vastly different experience than today’s Facebook, where users usually cement prior real life connections with subsequent “friending” on line or Twitter, where there is little to no connection between follows and followers.

Miio appears to be a cross between the old-school chat room concept (you are suggested friends based on your stated interests and NOT your connections in other social networks) and modern social network design – with status boxes, media uploads, filtering, search by interest or location, and groups. Unlike Twitter, you get up to 2,000 characters of text to play with. It just recently underwent a fairly substantial redesign and the new layout is slick and makes sense, for the most part.

I joined Miio last night, curious about the buzz I had been hearing. Studio readers know that I am more than willing to hop on a new social networking bandwagon, recently joining other fringe services Cliqset, Pip.io, and Amplify. I am still an active Friendfeed user, and visit the big social sites regularly. Once I joined, selected a group of people to follow based solely on the interests listed in my profile and posted my “Hello World” message, I was immediately inundated with welcomes, offers of help with the site, follow notifications and even a group invitation. In viewing the public timeline, I was struck with the readiness of Miio’s residents to bring new people into the conversation, as well as the conversational tone on the site – a tone familiar to me from my iVillage days. Without a doubt, Miio was the nicest first-time user experience I have ever had.

With so many places to hang out these days, it is hard for a new site to distinguish itself. While Miio certainly has room to grow, I think it has done an excellent job of building a framework for conversation among web-dwellers that feels different from most other sites. I look forward to exploring Miio and, hopefully, watching it grow.

UPDATE: I wanted to share this video demo of Miio to give readers more of the nuts and bolts of the site. While Miio has recently gone through some changes, this will definitely provide a decent overview of how things work. Hope to see you over there, I’m at http://miio.com/marthasperry#description