Can Dropbox Get Any Cooler? YES – Printing!

Ever need to print from your mobile phone? I know I have and the workarounds aren’t always so pretty. Air Print is coming in iOS 4.2, but you need special hardware for that. Print apps are available, but they can be buggy and they definitely cost.

There is a free solution that is as simple and as elegant as it gets. Use Dropbox. I love this tip so much that I shared the original post in Google Reader and I have to write about it here too.

If you aren’t already using Dropbox, stop right now and head over here and sign up for the FREE cloud storage service. You can find out more about why Dropbox is so awesome in my post about it here.

This printing solution will work with any mobile phone, not just my iPhone. Simply install Dropbox and download a utility onto the computer that is connected to your printer. This utility monitors your Dropbox folder for any new print jobs. Get the utility here. Once you unzip the file and open eprint.vbs, the utility creates a sub-folder inside your main Dropbox folder called PrintQueue where mobile print jobs queue up and a second sub-folder called logs where completed jobs are archived. Send the print jobs from your mobile phone, either through the dedicated Dropbox application for your device, or use Habilis (link here) which works with Dropbox via email. Once your file hits Dropbox, it gets slotted into the proper folder and the desktop utility takes over and prints your file.

You can turn off the utility by searching wscript.exe on your computer or pulling it up in Windows Task Manager. As long as you have a program associated with a particular file format loaded on the main computer, you can print associated files via this system.

I can’t wait to get home and check this out.

Hat tip to Amit at Digital Inspiration blog.

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Content Creators Wanted!

In the face of ovewhelming growth in web participation flies a recent statistic from Forrester Research showing a decline in the number of content creation / creators on the web. The report (link here), entitled Global Social Technographics (whatever that means), encapsulates two years of data collection on how consumers world wide are engaging with social technologies. Users were slotted into a “ladder” of use categories: inactives; spectators; joiners; collectors; critics; conversationalists; and, creators. The report confirms suspicions that the numbers of people joining the social media circus (via Facebook, primarily) is building at a rapid rate. However, the report also notes that the content creator group, in the U.S. and in many other countries, dropped a percentage point or more.

At a time when more people are online than ever before, the source of the content drawing this attention is dwindling. What to do?

My obvious answer, as a fairly prolific content creator, is of course to create more content. But the message is even more significant for on-line professionals who may have taken the first step as spectators, joiners or even collectors to jump up the ladder into content creation. The audience for your work is growing – the furnace of interest is looking for kindling to consume. If you thought your voice might not be heard amidst the roar, think again.

Some have posited that fewer content creators means fewer ideas. In front of a thirsty, expanding audience, your ideas and your content may shine even brighter.

At any rate, Forrester’s blog post on the subject of the report concludes with this valuable insight:

The story behind the data is pretty clear. The initial wave of consumers using social technologies in the US has halted. Companies will now need to devise strategies to extend social applications past the early adopters. This means that you need to understand how your consumers use social media. Do you know the Social Technographics Profiles of your customers? Is your company preparing for this next phase of social media strategy?

Twitter for Visual Learners

Always fascinated by a catchy graphic, especially one that moves, I could help but investigate the cool, free Twitter visualization tools in the MakeUseOf article by Ryan Dube (link here). These tools offer an different view on the connections, conversations and relationships on Twitter. This is information that is not readily apparent from a glance at the tweet stream, but jumps off the page when you run your request through these third party apps.

The first app I tried is Mentionmap (link here). Simply type in a Twitter username, ANY Twitter username, and get a floating, sprouting, dynamic map of nodes branching out from that username to other users and hashtags the original user frequently links to or mentions. Type a name, navigate to a floating node and a new bunch of nodes will take front and center and spring up from the name. An interesting way to browse through a users stream of influence and interest. Check out my Mentionmap below:

The next app I tried was the Twitter Friends Network Browser (link here). This app allows you to enter aTwitter username and see another node-based map of several of the most recently added friends. Click on one of these friends and the map shifts, showing their friends. Drag the nodes around so that you can keep browsing further and further, investigating the neural net of Twitter connections, node by node.

Very cool way to browse.

To compare my network to someone else’s, I tested TwiAngulate (link here). This app performs some interesting analysis of your network and measures it against another to find mutual followers and friends, big follows, influential follows, obscure friends, and other metrics. If you are interested in keeping a close watch on your sprouting Twitter garden, this app would make a most excellent pruning and cultivating tool.

The last app highlighted was one I found less useful than the ones above. It’s called Twitter Venn (link here) and it creates a Venn diagram of keyword search terms. Not that it isn’t useful, but I found the combinations I chose didn’t necessarily show the overlap I was hoping for. I guess, then, it really was helpful to show that no one was tweeting about iPads, apps and lawyers all in the same 140 characters.

All in all, these are interesting builds on Twitter’s API, filling in some of the informational gaps the Twitter interface lacks. Thanks, Mr. Dube, for providing me with sufficient browsing fodder to get me off my work track for almost an hour.

Sococo – An Always On, Virtual Meeting Place

Typing 140 character updates is all well and good, but sometimes you need the freedom to really jaw about something with the people you need to be jawing with. Chat works o.k., but often lacks the visual elements that a face to face, heart to heart can provide. What if you could simply enter a “room”, find your friends and get down to the business of business online?

You can approach this experience with a new service called Sococo. Sococo describes itself on its site:

Sococo creates always-on virtual spaces where people can meet for business, entertainment, or to just hang out with family and friends. A simple click allows you to enter a shared space where you are instantly connected to others with voice, chat, multi-screen sharing, and a rich set of intuitive visual cues to tell you who’s present, who’s talking, what’s being shared and by whom.

I can hear you now – so what? Web conferencing tools can get you there, right? Not so fast, or rather, Sococo is much faster – there is no need to got through a lengthy process of scheduling a conference or securing access codes and phone connections with the application. Your always on, virtual meeting room is always ready and accessible with a simple click. That click offers you access to other meeting participants via voice, group chat, multi-screen sharing,

Sococo is designed beautifully to meet business need, but it also can work effectively to keep family and friends connected. You can create your own personal space within the Sococo universe for “instant on” access to your personal social circle.

Sococo’s first product is called Team Space – a virtual private office building with individual offices and conference rooms. Sococo believes that, by breaking down barriers to communication (settting meeting times, requiring conference codes), its service can facilitate more effective and spontaneous communication, and more closely resemble the types of office interactions one might find in the real world.

I wonder if there is a virtual water cooler or kitchenette available. One must have the proper space to discuss Dancing With The Stars or Survivor.

Bet you are wondering about cost. I was too. This is what I found on their help forum:

While we’re in Beta, the use of Sococo Team Space is completely free. This includes a private Team Space site with up to 30 offices, 3 conference rooms, and 50 members. 16 members can be in the main conference room at the same time. Beta also includes access to the Sococo Demo Center and the help of the Sococo Smarties. We will give all of our members plenty of notice when we transition to a pay structure for Sococo Team Space. When we begin charging, we’ll continue to support a free level of service.

Not bad at all!

Your Status Has Changed

Little things, like a change in status, can make all the difference. Take, for instance, this innocuous little email that popped into my Gmail inbox today:

Oh, goody! Will keep you posted …

Too Good To Be True

Well, easy come, easy go. Such is the way of web life and reliance on cool, free web tools. I just wrote the other day (link here) about the great third party bookmarking service called Xmarks, successor to Foxmarks, that syncs your bookmarks across browsers, plus offers lots of other goodies and features. Today, I saw this blog post from Xmarks (link here) in the news. I’ll just cut to the chase with the following quote:

By Spring 2010, with money running tight and options fading, we started searching for potential buyers of the company. Over the past three months, we have been remarkably close to striking a deal, only to have the potential buyer get cold feet. We also considered refocusing Xmarks as a freemium sync business, but the prospects there are grim too: with the emergence of competent sync features built in to Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, it’s hard to see users paying for a service that they can now get for free. For four years we have offered the synchronization service for no charge, predicated on the hypothesis that a business model would emerge to support the free service. With that investment thesis thwarted, there is no way to pay expenses, primarily salary and hosting costs. Without the resources to keep the service going, we must shut it down. Our plan is to keep the service running for another 90+ days, after which the plug will be pulled.

Oh well. The loss of a bookmarking service and resulting collection is hard to swallow, as Magnolia users will attest. Sorry to see you go, Xmarks – it was good while it lasted. Hurry up and back up your Xmarks!

Are You In Sync?

A touted benefit of cloud life is open access to your information from multiple access points. Files in DropBox can be had from your desktop, your mobile phone, your laptop, the library’s computer, your work set up.

But, how about syncing your key browser settings? Do you ever find yourself frustrated trying to find one of your favorite links from a different computer / browser? How about visiting a site you rarely access on a computer you don’t frequently use and being forced to wrack your brain to remember your password

for the site? Oftentimes, the inability to find the link or say the magic word at the gate shuts down your elegent plan.

There are two very capable third party services that can assist you in your time of need. Xmarks (link here) will sync your bookmarks across browsers and LastPass (link here) will provide similar service for your passwords.

First, Xmarks, previously Foxmarks, works with Firefox, Chrome, Safari and IE. Install Xmarks on each computer you use, and it seamlessly integrates with your web browser and keeps your bookmarks safely backed up and in sync. It will sync across browsers too, so if you use Safari, Chrome and Firefox on one of your computers (or more than one) like I do, you can still find all your favorite links no matter which browser you find yourself. It has aspects of Delicious and Diigo’s social bookmarking, with the ability to see how other Xmarks users mark and rate the sites that pop up in your search results when you hover over the little Xmarks icon.

It also incorporates aspects of the Firefox extension “Similar Sites” – if you click on your Xmarks button on your browser bar while on a site, it will show you detailed information about the site you are on and other sites similar to it.

All of these features beg the question: why would you use your built-in browser bookmarking function, when you can save once and access your marks on whatever machine you happen to be using?

How about them passwords? I swear they are the bane of my existence. While 1Password does a pretty able job for me, it still requires me to open my phone, my app and type in the information into the site I happen to be visiting on an unfamiliar device. With LastPass, you simply need to remember one password in order to unlock access to all of your passwords.

LastPass offers (for free) one-click access to all of your passwords, automatic form filling, and secure note storage.

Like Xmarks, LastPass can sync across browsers on your same device or over many different devices. Your data is stored on your main PC – LastPass simply gives you access to that data from anywhere.

For a dollar a month, which really is peanuts in the overall scheme of things, you can get LastPass for your mobile operating system of choice, multifactor authentication for USB thumb drives, YubiKey support, and, for those burdened at work with IE and a firewall greater than the Great Wall, IE anywhere access without the need to download software. Premium users also avoid ads and get priority support. But, bear in mind, if the most important feature is mobile, you can still access Lastpass on your mobile phone by going to their mobile site.

Mobile tools like Xmarks and LastPass can make your web life a whole lot easier. Move beyond your browser’s built-in bookmarking and password saving tools and you will wonder how you ever lived without these able, third party sync options.

How Do We Spend Time Online?

Time for another infographic! This one visualizes the breakdown of how web users spend their time online. I am posting this for one simple reason: check out how the bulk of time is spent viewing content. If you have any doubt about why you might want to consider creating and publishing online, this visual should provide you with a boost.

Brought to you by the fine folks at Visual Economics (link here):

Instant Legal Assistance? Just Fill In the Blanks

While the practice of law will always be a professional pursuit, the purchasing of legal services is becoming more of a consumer product, whether or not we lawyers welcome this shift. Take, for example, Legal River (link here), a website devoted to providing lay people with just enough legal assistance to get them going.  It is a web locale designed to faciliate “connection” between lawyers and business people. The free service has been around since 2009. What are they all about? Take a look at their own explanation, from their site:

Legal River brings legal information to the consumer. We at Legal River understand how confusing it can be to run a legitimate business and still not fully understand the law. Legal River was created to solve this problem.

Whether you are a small business owner, an attorney or an individual, there is a place for you on Legal River. As a small business owner or individual, you can find legal information that will save you countless hours later trying to figure out how to fix an issue. Also, you can ask any law question you might have. As an attorney, you can use Legal River to learn about laws in different geographical regions or areas of law. You can also submit guides and answer questions; these will help you win points, unlock badges and reach new clients.

Interesting, huh? On the surface, Legal River looks to be part information repository, part social network and part video game, complete with badges. Underneath, Legal River is a form of referral network, matching attorneys with business owners, although this is expressly disclaimed on their site. Their “referral” page promises to “let the right lawyer find you” as well as a response from five attorneys on legal questions within 24 hours. There are more than 300 law firms connected with the site and it appears their distinction (compared to Findlaw or lawyers.com) is their rapid turn-around on RFPs.  

But, if you aren’t so interested in getting hooked up with fee-based representation, there is a lot of information just laying around the site. The search box on the home page invites users to “find questions, answers, topics, or guides on legal matters.” “Insurance” gave me very general information on workers compensation, licensing agreements, sole proprietorships and C corporations. I was also offered an opportunity to “vote up” an article or comment on it. Or, I could peruse previously-answered questions on various topics, filtering them by recency, month or all-time popularity.

There are tabs for questions, guides, tags, badges (more on that in a minute), open questions, a guide submission form, and a place to ask questions. The badges are interesting, to say the least, ranging from good to super questions or guides submitted to various levels of generalist, researcher, professor, paralegal, law student, law clerk, senior associate, partner, name partner, and LSAT through Bar Exam.

Very, very interesting.

At the top of the page, I noticed two links: terms of service generator; and, privacy policy generator. Apparently, Legal River rolled out this feature within the past year. If you doubt Legal River’s handiwork with respect to terms of service, just take a look at their own very lengthy TOS on the site. To get your “document”, Legal River invites you to simply fill in the blanks – the appropriate document is returned online quickly. The user also ges an HTML code version and an emailed copy.  As can be seen on the header for the page, the tools are a combined effort of Legal River and General Counsel, P.C.

For what it is worth, Legal River is not alone in this endeavor. Other firms have offered similar “fill in the blank” document generation, likely in an effort to win customers with freebies. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C. host a similar Term Sheet Generator. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP launched their version about a year ago. Private investors are interested too – Legal River secured two infusions of seed funding within the first year.

What does it all mean? While it is hard for old school attorneys like me to stomach the implications of “one size fits all” when it comes to legal document crafting or any aspect of lawyering, the new school part of me recognizes that this is where all services are going – law is moving towards commoditization. Lawyers must develop sensitivity to cost concerns in response to the concerns of web-savvy consumers. While some of Legal River’s trappings make me smirk a bit (read, badges and points for intellectual output), the gist of what they are trying to do makes more and more sense as our economy moves on-line. If we are comfortable living and sharing in social networks and virtual worlds, why wouldn’t we feel comfortable shopping for legal information in similar venues?

I will be watching to see where this move leads us. Perhaps down the Legal River, hopefully with paddle firmly in hand.

Favstar.fm – Perusing Favorite Tweets

Do you star tweets? I know I don’t star enough. But there may be a reason to do so, if you want to get more out of your Twitter experience.

Starring your own tweets provides you with your own list of curated content. If you haven’t already noticed, there is a little star to the right on every tweet on Twitter web (and similar options on third party Twitter clients). It looks like this:

If you click that star on a tweet, it will show up in a list made up of your starred tweets. The benefit, of course, is that you can then go back and quickly find the tweets you liked.

If you have the sneaky suspicion that you are not getting at all the good stuff out there, check out Favstar.fm. Favstar.fm is all about the stars. Twitter stars – not stars on Twitter (although more on that later). Favstar.fm (link here) is a third party Twitter application that views Twitter by stars. On their web page, you can see the most starred tweets, the most starred Twitter users, your list of starred items and various permutations of filtering based on your starred tweets and others’ starred tweets.

Assuming that only the good stuff gets starred, this could be an effective way of browsing for the best items out there as reflected in the popular voting process of starring. The leaderboard shows you the most recently starred, most stars of all time, popular people who have received the most stars, and users who favstar.fm bonus (paid) subscribers have boosted.

If you log in with your Twitter account, you can see your own tweets that have been favorited and by whom. If you follow Favstar.fm on Twitter, then it can crawl your stream and get further details on your favorite tweets.  This might be Favstar.fm’s best use at the moment.

A plus for Favstar.fm is that you can curate right from the Favstar.fm home page – to the right of the popular tweets are buttons that allow you to star a tweet, promote a single Tweet of the Day (paid bonus feature) or retweet. The buttons look like this:

But, as you can see, with the exception of the bonus “tweet of the day” feature, these are the same buttons you find right on the Twitter web interface shown above.

Word of caution: people on Twitter appear to be curiously attracted to fluffy tweets. If you only browse the surface of Favstar.fm, you are sure to get to the funny and the profane. If you want to make Favstar.fm work for you in a more, say, professional sense, you need to drill down a bit. For example, if you really want to leverage power curation, check out Robert Scoble’s own favstar.fm Twitter list (link here) to get a list of his most favorited Twitter users. I recommend you browse through the people label and dig down into these lists.

Another problem though is that Favstar.fm only has three categories – Funny, Entertaining and Insightful; Tech and Social Media; and Celebrity. Since I am interested in tech, the second category is pretty much the only useful category for me. If you drill down into this list, you can find some interesting tweets and Twitter uses.

Third problem – you have to pay to get more than the first page of any given label tab. So, scrolling down the leaderboard only gives you the top 20 tweets. Take a look at that list and you will surely find something funny, but maybe not so informative.

For me, Favstar.fm is an interesting, entertaining take on Twitter. However, in its current iteration, it is not the power tool that I would use for Twitter curation, particularly for more precise filtering, such as market segments or professional groupings, like legal. It presumes I am most interested in celebrities and funny men (and women). And too much functionality is left for the paid users. Right now, it doesn’t offer enough beyond Twitter’s own starring functionality – save for finding who has starred your tweets – to really warrant me spending much time there.

If it still piques your interest, check out the video below. Favstar.fm has promise that has yet to be fulfilled, but maybe it will …