Got Privacy Concerns? Get Fridge

Nary a week goes by that the Web isn’t buzzing with some new violation of privacy inflicted upon users of some social hangout. Just yesterday, I was helping a friend delve deep into the Facebook privacy settings to turn off all Places sharing options and to say it was a complicated process would be an understatement. I am of several minds about these privacy concerns, and they mostly range from “you can’t trust the big guys to keep individual interests at the forefront of the user experience” and “where there’s money, there’s deception” to “the sites are free, what do you expect?” and “can’t you simply use some common sense in what you are posting?”

When all is said and done, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to haunt locales that place a greater emphasis on privacy. Like defaulting privacy settings to fully private unless and until voluntarily opened up by the user.

One such site I found this morning, via Jason Kincaid at Techcrunch, is oddly named The Fridge. With a familiar interface bearing similarity to Facebook, but offering the ability to limit your sharing to specific groups of friends, The Fridge seems a nice balance between sharing and keeping.

How does The Fridge accomplish this? Not with hidden, obfuscated, and perhaps deliberately arcane  setting controls buried several layers of button-clicks deep. Instead, The Fridge limits sharing by organizing social circles by groups. In other words, users form private groups, invite like-minded friends to join and then encourage group members to share content and view content created by others within the group. Sounds ideal for an event, a club, or a common purpose.

Form the group by supplying your email, providing a group name and sending a special private link to potential group members. And that’s it. As creator, you can disable that private link or remove members from the group. Otherwise, simply plant your group seed and watch it grow outside the scope of the wider social circle you may belong to on other sites. And even outside the scope of other groups on The Fridge site – all groups are kept completely independent of other groups.

There are member profiles, news feeds and the ability to post text or media. It is most similar to Yahoo Groups and Ning, both sites that allow you to create a version of your own social net. While it may not be for everyone, The Fridge sounds like a great option for segregating a particular networking activity within a more private and protected setting. At the very least, you could head to The Fridge for a midnight snack.

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Wikis. Revisited.

A while back in The Studio, we talked about a do-it-yourself wiki, called Zim Wiki (link here). Wikis have recently flown back across my radar, so I thought I would take a moment to share a few more thoughts.

If you read my article above or if you have a modicum of web-savvy-ness, you already know that a wiki is a user-generated repository of  information, a crowd-based encyclopedia of sorts, containing articles submitted by users. But then there is the why of it. Why would anyone in general, or professionals in particular, want to use a Wiki? You may already be using a wiki via applications that tap your company’s knowledge base within your own organization. Do you have access to a central source for enterprise intellectual capital created or edited by your co-workers and colleagues? Then you have been wiki-fied. Are you familiar with the inefficiencies of “recreating the wheel”? Then a wiki might be the answer to your prayers.

I can think of lots of uses for them. How about a group of attorneys and firms handling a mass of similar types of cases sharing general (not client-specific) information about strategies, new developments or experiences? How about a consortium of lawyers and clients with common interests, such as intellectual property preservation or insurance regulatory matters helping further the  group’s expertise and awareness? How about continuing legal education efforts? How about Bar Association resources? Seriously – we lawyers are definitely entrenched in the information business and any means for streamlining, organizing and making accessible the vast quantities of data out there is a GOOD thing.

So, how do you set one up? Besides using Zim Wiki, there are a few other options out there, whether you intend to host your own or utilize someone else’s server and platform. Remember that a wiki is essentially a massive database with broad read / write access. Different wiki tools offer different features which may or may not meet your end goals. Assess the different options with your desired feature set in mind – hopefully one of the available options comes close.

Another consideration is content licensing. Members are devoting their intellectual capital to populate your wiki, after all. Common licenses include the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons license, but it helps to understand them before deciding how to protect your members’  information.

In a similar vein, you will need to spend some time considering guidelines. Seems that whenever a group of people (or worse, a group of lawyers) get together, there may be friction borne of differing interpretations of the rules and limitations governing interactions. There are community standards and individual article standards that need to be considered. If you are brave, and you already have a community in mind for your wiki, you might even want to get the members involved in this process. Some time spent at the beginning encouraging discourse might prevent later conflicts.

Looking for Wiki tools? Check out some of these links:

  • MediaWiki, a popular wiki engine that is used for Wikimedia and wikiHow. 
  • YourWiki, a wiki host for the non-do-it-your-selfer.
  • Wikia, a free Wiki-hosting project.
  • Intodit, another free hosted Wiki groups tool.
  • PBwiki, an easy to use wiki hosting service with free and premium levels.
  • Springnote, a free wiki-based online notebook. Use if for notes, organization, scheduling, group projects and anything else you can think of.
  • Wikispaces, a free and paid service with a decent WYSIWIG editor, 2GB of storage and features for a single wiki with unlimited users 
  • Wikidot , another free and paid service, this with up to five sites, with up to 300MG of storage on each.
  • Want to compare your options? Visit Wikimatrix, a site that compares wiki packages, with more information than you can shake a wiki-stick at. Sorry for that.

    Hopefully, my musings on wikis might help you think about them and facilitate your quest for creating the next e-powered think tank. I would love to see how people would use wikis in their own professional venues – definitely feel free to share in the comments!

    Dip Into eBook Waters

    Are you curious about ebooks and ereaders, but haven’t yet tried them out? I only recently started consuming books electronically (I know, hard to believe for such a die-hard tech fan), and I have to report that the experience has been mostly favorable. For me, the best feature of ebooks is portability – if you are traveling with limited space, it is much easier to stow 4 or 5 electronic novels than it is to find precious space for the same number of paperbacks. Synced bookmarking across devices, search, instantaneous dictionary look-up and notation features are also useful and unique to the ebook experience.

    But maybe you aren’t sure. There is some cost involved in the purchasing of a Kindle or similar device, as well as in the downloading of electronic copies of your favorite books.

    For the uncertain, there is a decent option – scour out free ebooks and readers to see if screen-reading is for you. For the classics, there is no better source for free ebooks than Project Gutenberg (link here). They were the first and still are the best. You can pull Project Gutenberg books directly into your iDevice using the Stanza iphone or ipad app (link here), which, by the way, is also free. Free books. Free app. And, for what it is worth, reading on the iPhone was surprisingly more manageable than I would have guessed. Project Gutenberg’s books are free in the U.S. because the copyright has expired on them (hence their uniformly “classic” nature), but this may not be true outside of the U.S., so search accordingly.

    Another option is sign-up site Wowio (link here). Wowio is not limited to classics – you can find modern titles. How do they do it? Wowio uses sponsors who will cover the cost of the ebooks in order to earn your business. Wowio has a special bent towards comics, so check out their selections if like pictures with your words.

    Looking for technical ebooks? Check out PDFCHM.net (link here).  Want to step into a virtual public library? Check out World Public Library (link here). With more than 750,000 ebooks in over 100 languages, there should be SOMETHING in there to read. While it is technically not free, the $8.95 annual membership price is paltry compared to what I spend during my average trip to Borders or Barnes & Noble.

    Of course, there is always the controversial Google Books database (link here). While paid and free are mixed in this monumental database, the older the volume, the more likely you will find free material. Or check out the offerings at ManyBooks (link here), where you might find more recent free materials.

    After pulling your books down from the internet onto your desktop, consider loading the free Calibre app (link here), to organize and sort them. You can even convert their formats to different ereader standards, which can be very helpful. Calibre is not the most intuitive software to use, but if you are persistent, you can manage its tricks. If you are all about organizing, take the time to fill in each book’s metadata, such as author, publisher, etc., so that you can later browse your burgeoning collection more effectively.

    One issue you may find frustrating is that there are several different ebook formats (and DRM issues for paid books) that may make using a single reader difficult in the long haul. Calibre does offer book format conversions to a point. The free iPhone / iPad Stanza app works with ePub, eReader, PDF, CBR, and DjVu formats. If you are simply trying out ebooks and have an iDevice, then I recommend downloading Stanza and then browsing free sources like Project Gutenberg from within the Stanza app to download and go from there. If you find yourself loving ebooks, then you may ultimately choose a dedicated reader like the Kindle or Nook, or start using the very slick iBooks (also free) reader and integrated book store on your iDevices. The syncing of books and data across my iPad and iPhone was a pretty cool feature, particularly as my voracious reading wore down the battery of one device.  

    All in all, I have been positive on my own ebooks foray. I definitely look forward to the day when I can combine my technical and leisure reading on a single, feature packed device, with search and download rendered so intuitive I barely need to think about issues such as conversion, metadata, organization and multiple formats. But, for now, the experience still works well enough to justify dedicating a measure of your time to trying it out.

    Become A Mad Email Scientist with Gmail Labs

    Gmail undoubtedly is one of the most popular cloud-based email systems out there. I would hazard a guess that a majority of those spending any reasonable amount of time on the web have a Gmail account. I myself have been moving more of my email activity over to my several Gmail accounts. The basic Gmail interface is excellent, with decent functionality and filtering in its unaltered state.

    But, perhaps you want a little more from your Gmail. If so, then maybe you are adventurous enough to enter Gmail Labs.

    What the heck is Gmail Labs, you ask. It is a subsection of Google Labs, those wacky guys who invent crazy apps (like Wave and Buzz), and set them loose to see what works and what doesn’t. Google is known for permitting (even encouraging) its engineers to spend 20% of their time on innovating and developing their own novel ideas. Everything within Google Labs, and consequently, Gmail Labs, is in a state of testing. That means the results may be buggy or might even be pulled from use at any time. Others may graduate to become regular Gmail features.

    While the loss of a favorite feature may be sad, it does not occur very frequently, and you still are able to use cool new features between Gmail development cycles, which is certainly better than nothing. If a Labs feature breaks during use, Gmail offers an “escape hatch” (link here).

    So, short of attaching the surname Frankenstein to your moniker, how do you gain entry to the Lab? It’s simple – click on Settings on your Gmail page and then click on the Labs tab. You will then be presented with different Labs features. Select any or all of them to start using them on your account. Save changes before exiting this dialog and Gmail should reload with all your new goodies in place. Labs displays as active via a little green beaker along the top of your screen next to Settings.

    There currently are more than 50 different add-ons available in Labs to hot rod your Gmail. Think of them like you would extensions to Google Chrome or Gadgets to the now-defunct Google Wave. They range from creating a Google doc from an email conversation to setting up canned responses to formating options and emoji. You can get photo, Google docs, Google Maps and Yelp previews in your Gmail, set up a Google calendar, docs or voice gadget, enable mail previews, translate an email, select mouse gesture navigation, manipulate your labels and threaded conversations, format for quotes and even enable games.

    The newest Labs feature is really cool: you can broaden your Gmail search to include Google docs and web sites. Click on the box in labs for Apps search, as seen below: 

    Once enabled, you will get a list of search results below your Gmail message search results showing relevant docs and sites. Nice add, Gmail Labs team!

    Check out the Lab for more cool features and you too can customize your Gmail to reflect its best use.

    Dropbox Gets Better

    I have been using Dropbox (link here), the online file storage site, for a few months now and I have to say that I really love it. With 2GB of free storage (and up to 100GB paid), it offers seamless integration between desktop, Web and mobile device (for me, iPhone and iPad), with offline edits synced quickly across your systems. You can load most types of media, including text, audio, video and images. You can share a file with someone else without having to resort to email exchanges. Changes they make to the public documents are synced as well, so that you can easily collaborate on a single file.

    While none of these abilities alone makes Dropbox the standout killer app among the crowd of on-line file storage tools, the combination of features, plus a few relatively recent additions to the service from third party developers, have made Dropbox even more compelling.

    First, a few weeks ago, stellar password manager 1Password (link here) announced the ability to backup your passwords in that app via Dropbox. It used to be that you would have to manually update passwords between your Mac software and your mobile device. Now you can automatically back up all 1Password enabled devices for free via Dropbox and the cloud. Check out 1Password’s user guide on how to do it here.

    Next, web app Airdropper (link here) allows you to send a request to Dropbox and non-Dropbox users to upload a file to your Dropbox. Simply connect to Dropbox, send a request to a colleague for the file via the web interface with a link for upload, wait for your colleague to follow the link and upload and receive the file in the spot you designated in your Dropbox.

    Finally, if you like to dictate, check out Dictamus (link here), a dictating app that connects to Dropbox for cloud access to your transcripts. The app itself includes many professional dictation features, such as rewind, overwrite, insert and edit functions, and voice activation to avoid pauses. But the ability to sync your dictation to the cloud with Dropbox makes it even more compelling for quick entries and sharing. For the record, Dictamus syncs with MobileMe’s iDisk as well.

    It really doesn’t get any simpler than that! I already am loving Dropbox and I applaud their efforts to combine with other developers to offer such great features for free. Can’t wait for the next upgrade to this already great system.

    Unsuck It: The "Lighter Side" of Corporate Speak

    I know you know what I’m talking about. Corporate speak. Ambiguous brethren of legal speak. Enemy of Plain English and universally recognized obfuscator of business-related unpleasantries.

    Ever wondered what those corporate press releases, emails, internal documentation and biz-communications really mean? Yes, there is now an App for that too! Check out Unsuck It (link here) – it’s a web directory masquerading as a search engine that hopes to untangle the tangled web of words flowing out of corporate communications department. Just below the prompt “What Terrible Business Jargon Do You Need Unsucked?” is a search box. Simply enter your “corporate speak” and receive the real world translation in moments. I won’t quote some of the site lingo, particularly Unsuck It’s version of  the “I’m feeling lucky” filter or the link title for emailing the “individual” who used the offending phrase with the plain language alternative – I will just leave it up to you, the intrepid link follower, to learn their particular phrasings. If you simply want to wade in the waters (as opposed to boil the ocean) of such inane phrasings, you can hit the browse tab, which shows phrases in an alphabetical list.

    Fun times, thanks to Lifehacker.

    Sifting Twitter Links with SiftLinks

    When you want the links, the whole links and nothing but the links from your Twitter follows, there is a better way to find them than simply reading your entire 500+ person Twitter stream for every post with a shortened URL. James Constable has created SiftLinks, a stripped-down application that pulls all of the links from your Twitter stream, converts them to RSS, and sends them to your feed reader of choice. Some people do not particularly like reading their “news” via RSS reader, but for those of us who do, SiftLinks is a nifty tool to futher refine your quest for newsworthy material among the flotsam and jetsam (sorry, just wanted to write those words this morning).

    If you fall into the former category and REALLY want to get funky, try feeding the RSS feed full of stripped out links from your reader program back into a dedicated Twitter account. Then load Flipboard onto your iPad, add the Twitter account to your list of sources, and see all of the links displayed magazine style on your 9″ x 7″ screen. Shiny!

    Hat tip on SiftLinks to Jane Hart at Jane’s Pick Of The Day (link here).

    Good Advice – For (M)ad Men & Lawyers

    Persuasive writing. It’s what we do. Whether selling a product or service or an argument to the court or opposing counsel, writers need to choose their words carefully. To make a proper pitch, writers must address the rational and emotional needs of their intended audience.

    Laura Connell over at Bad Language has published some words to use and words to avoid in this regard, identified by veteran ad-man David Ogilvy. According to Oglivy, the twenty most persuasive words that you can use in your writing are:

    1. suddenly
    2. now
    3. announcing
    4. introducing
    5. improvement
    6. amazing
    7. sensational
    8. remarkable
    9. revolutionary
    10. startling
    11. miracle
    12. magic
    13. offer
    14. quick
    15. easy
    16. wanted
    17. challenge
    18. compare
    19. bargain
    20. hurry

    Ogilvy also identifies a few (13) “powerless” words that fail to convey the proper persuasive sentiment, and recommends that they be avoided:

    1. But
    2. Try
    3. Don’t
    4. Should
    5. Need to
    6. Have to
    7. Could
    8. Maybe
    9. Perhaps
    10. Might
    11. Possibly
    12. Potentially
    13. Think

    While working “revolutionary,” “miracle,” and “magic” into your next brief might be a bit of a stretch, consider the tone embodied in these lists – people respond more positively to a positive sentiment, and less positively to an ambivalent or negative sentiment. Rather than cut down the opposite viewpoint, consider emphasizing the positive, and you too might be able to sell like Don Draper.

    One Search, Five Big Social Nets With 48ers

    With apologies to my college logic professor, if time is money, then real time is real money. Shorten your time investment and broaden your real time search capability with new search engine 48ers (link here). The public beta version of this search engine allows you to tap five networks at once: Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, Digg, and Delicious. What more do you need? Results show the source and you can filter to show only entries from a single source. You can’t set up a feed of search results, but you can share your findings with your own social networks, creating an ever-spiraling feedback loop of concentrated information. The main search page shows trending topics as well, with links to supporting posts.

    Of course, I had to try it out, so I searched “jailbreak iphone 4”. After about 5 seconds, this is what popped up:

    As you can see the results were pretty Twitter heavy for the first few pages, which isn’t so surprising giving the volume of tweets compared to the volume of posts on the other featured services.

    So, why the crazy name? From the site:

    What’s in a name ?

    The Californian Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848 at Sutter’s Mill, in Coloma, California.

    Some of the earliest fortune seekers were known as the “49ers”, but the very first pioneers were known as the “48ers”.

    These gold-seekers uncovered nuggets of gold worth thousands of dollars. We named our service after them as our aim is to help you find nuggets of gold from conversations across the web.

    What are you waiting for? There’s gold in them thar hills!

    It's Not Who You Know …

    … it’s who they know and where they share! I followed a link on Lifehacker (via Boing Boing blog) today (link here) that showed me just what Google knows and uses when it provides those search results from your social circle on the bottom of the search results page. I only snipped a section of my page, showing the overall figures for my social circle, but what is really interesting is how Google then breaks down social links under the names of all my contacts. So, if I want to go to Joe Blow’s Slideshare, I can peruse my list and click the link to go directly to that sharing source. I also get a list of contacts showing how I am connected to that particular contact with links directly to the contact venue. When I scrolled down further, I saw the secondary network that is publicly connected to my network – people my contacts are connected to, extending the social circle even further.

    Here is the top portion of my page:

    It is a fascinating collection of information and a touch scary. But, better the devil you know …