Virtual Assistants To The Rescue!

Yesterday’s news feeds brought me two new applications that can ably serve as assistants in your process of getting things done. The first is FellowUp, a tool that helps you make the most of your various social web connections. The second is Flow, a beautiful group task management app that puts your to do list front and center in a very dynamic way.

First, FellowUp. This CRM tool tackles a problem made almost monumental in the digital, social sharing age: how do you maintain relationships across social networks, relationships that might actually yield positive experiences and networking fruit? You connect your social networks to the application, which then mines your networks for “insights”, such as important events, happenings, job changes, etc. From FellowUp’s dashboard, you can then comment or connect over the “insight”, making a positive impression on your friend or colleague and, in essence, “following up” with them. Get quick note of important life events and even common interests, which you can then act on if you wish. Of course, like any good CRM, FellowUp affords a useful mechanism for saving and storing contact information across networks in one place for easy access. Mobile access too, with a companion iPhone application. FellowUp has a more personal feel than competitors such as Salesforce, Xobni or LinkedIn, and a more effective interface for acting on events. Another cool feature: use it as a personal “to do” application by creating a new contact for yourself and adding notes, reminders, tasks or anything else you need to bring to your frontal lobe. FollowUp currently connects with Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Outlook. The site indicates that the team is working to add iCal, Yahoo, Twitter, hotmail-live, Salesforce, MySpace and more. A plug-in for Gmail and Outlook is in the works. FellowUp is in private beta right now, but even at this early stage, it promises to be an interesting way to deal with burgeoning online communities of friends, colleagues and acquaintances,  helping us make more meaningful connections in a rapidly disconnecting world.

Next in line, Flow. Flow is all about managing and delegating tasks to your team. In their sample vid, the “team” is a group of kids (I know, aging myself here) setting about to have a party. But your aspirations with this gorgeous app can certainly rise higher. The problem Flow is attempting to solve is similar to FollowMe – how to pull together disparate tasks and to-dos scattered across various applications and platforms and localize them in one place for easy management. Use Flow from your browser or a companion Mac desktop application. Use if for personal and work related tasks, by entering a name, a due date, contacts you’d like to include in the task-completion process, and relevant tags. You can group tasks into projects. Collaborators can add content to tasks, including real-time comments, which is a huge boon on a short deadline. You can add tasks and can delegate by email and all team members get access to a single dashboard. And, of course, there is the ubiquitous companion iPhone application.

To say the interface is pretty would be an understatement. But, at $9.99 per month, it should be. Still, let it be known that $99 per year for a virtual assistant is not a bad deal, particularly if it helps you get your work done and done effectively and efficiently.

Check out these very cool new apps. And be watching for more – clearly developers are plagued with the same professional problems as us little folk and keep coming up with creative ways to solve them.

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Advanced Social Media Presentation Materials

Doug Cornelius (Compliance Building) and I had a most excellent time presenting our lunch seminar on Beyond LinkedIn: Advanced Social Media for Lawyers yesterday at the Boston Bar Association. If you were unable to attend, you can still check out our presentation materials. Here are our presentation slides:

You also can view our handout collecting web tools and resources (link here).

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CompareMyDocs, Please?

CompareMyDocsWhat attorney hasn’t longed for a simple means of comparing, merging and incorporating changes into documents? It’s what we do!

For the hefty price of FREE, CompareMyDocs offers a web-based service that compares and marks up to seven documents. Differences are displayed in a neat interface. Changes are color-coded and you can hover over text to accept or reject a particular change. After you are done with CompareMyDocs, simply download the final to your own word processor for the finishing touches.

CompareMyDocs works for Rich Text Format and Word formatted documents. The site cautions that it works best for text only documents, as tables and other graphics are not displayed.  It is currently in Beta.

CompareMyDocs is a close cousin of the desktop application TextFlow. TextFlow is not yet widely available and remains closed while tweaking is done. CompareMyDocs, however, is available – it launched today.

Now before you go pegging me with assertions that a web-based document comparison app is no place for client-sensitive information, consider how difficult it is to even edit or compare versions of your firm’s newsletter! I still get agita using the comparable functions in Word 2007. Consider it for what it is worth: a handy free app that offers a simpler view of the life and times of your documents.

Hat Tip to ReadWriteWeb

Add-ons and Extensions for Wave? There’s An App Store For That

WaveMoving right along here, people, at warp speed, Google Wave is destined to get its own app store. Zee at The Next Web reports on the scuttlebut from the recent Google Technology User Group conference in London. App stores are all the rage these days, with Apple’s iPhone / iPod Touch store leading the charge. Now we are seeing similar venues for web-based applications, such as oneforty for Twitter. Sounds exciting? Consider a Wave marketplace that stocks applications for use within Wave as well as applications that run on the desktop, in the browser or across hardware platforms. Developers encouraged to use Wave’s API with the promise of a return via an app store are more likely to devote their best efforts towards creatively employing tech to Wave’s ends.

 Applications and tools are beginning to look more and more like Erector sets of old: if you are bored with the same old, just buy the add-on to re-ignite and personlize your experience to your specific need.

Add-ons and Extensions for Wave? There's An App Store For That

WaveMoving right along here, people, at warp speed, Google Wave is destined to get its own app store. Zee at The Next Web reports on the scuttlebut from the recent Google Technology User Group conference in London. App stores are all the rage these days, with Apple’s iPhone / iPod Touch store leading the charge. Now we are seeing similar venues for web-based applications, such as oneforty for Twitter. Sounds exciting? Consider a Wave marketplace that stocks applications for use within Wave as well as applications that run on the desktop, in the browser or across hardware platforms. Developers encouraged to use Wave’s API with the promise of a return via an app store are more likely to devote their best efforts towards creatively employing tech to Wave’s ends.

 Applications and tools are beginning to look more and more like Erector sets of old: if you are bored with the same old, just buy the add-on to re-ignite and personlize your experience to your specific need.

Go Postal, And Mobile, At the Same Time

Now you know the modern web movement has achieved stranglehold status when the venerable U.S. Post Office goes on-line and mobile. Many of the same services available on the usps.com website are now accessible via mobile devices. Features include track and confirm, post office locator and zip code lookup. Right now, the features come in the form of a mobile web version but keep on the lookout for more specific applications for smartphones that take advantage of the phone’s GPS functionality.

Hat tip to Resource Shelf.

Google Wave – Initiated Version

For the last week or so, I have been playing on Google Wave. I can now provide at least an introduction to a hands-on account of it for Studio readers. (Thanks Carlos!) My initial impression is that it is an engaging mash-up of email, chat, wiki and collaborative tool. While it has aspects of each, Google Wave is most definitely its own animal.

The main screen approximates an email inbox, but that is pretty much where the similarity ends. If all boxes are open, you can see an inbox-like organization at the top left, called Navigation, with familiar categories, such as inbox and trash. You can see all of your inbox or only waves started by you. Bottom left shows contacts. Middle window shows the waves in which you are participating and far right shows the individual wave you select to view. If you commence a wave, it also shows in the far right column.

Wave Screen

As you can see from the screenshot, the inbox can look a bit overwhelming. But there are many ways to manipulate it and focus on the content you are interested in. Green-backed numbers show waves with unread information. Clicking on that wave brings you into the portion where the new information is located. Waves are not time/linear in aspect, but instead appear like conversational branches – responses to individual comments attach at the comment. There can be more recent entries showing at any point in a wave.

You can minimize any of these boxes, and bring them back up when you so desire.

For me, the single coolest feature of Wave is the ability to “extensify” your wave experience. Much like adding gadgets to the Firefox browser to customize your browsing experience, you can add gadgets, robots and extensions to the waves to modify the wave experience. The list of gadgets is growing. I have used the map gadget and I recently signed up with 6rounds so that I can use their video chat gadget (will report back on that one as well – the 6rounds site is a pleasure to play around with).

The downside is that gadget implementation is not as seamlessly easy as found in other venues or on other sites. You must add gadget URLs and/or include the robot as a wave participant from your inbox in each wave you create or edit.

I know many have complained about Wave’s complexity. It is, in fact, complex compared to other on-line applications. However, I am convinced the complexity can be overcome with experience (if I can figure it out, anyone can). I also see loads of potential here: it is a great means of targeting a group of contacts and collaborating on a plan, document, or strategy. I also think it could change the way we communicate on-line, if enough people are willing to invest the time and energy to learn the ins and outs of it.

It helps to bear in mind that it is in closed beta right now for a reason. There are bugs and glitches to be expected and it is fair to anticipate Google will improve it during this process. I found that downloading a developers version of Chrome and adding Google Gears helped with some of the bugginess.

I also imagine that Google and third party developers will look for ways to address the many concerns raised by users over the last few weeks and, maybe, even simplify the Wave experience for the masses before public launch.

Overall, I am impressed with what I have seen and I have not yet been put off by the bugginess. I recommend that anyone able to secure entry into the Wave beta give it a try. At the very least, you could get involved in  the process of helping Google craft a promising communications platform that might actually make our jobs that much easier to perform in the long run.

Looking To The Crowd For App Advice

LauraKGibbs on Flickr

LauraKGibbs on Flickr

If you are reading this blog, chances are you are somewhat familiar with the social aspects of the web. We look on-line for all sorts of reasons – community building, promotion, news, research – the list goes on and on. I think my listed reasons are pretty compelling in varying degrees for most people.

How do you feel about the possibility of combining these purposes when searching out applications to assist you in negotiating the Web? I am not talking about the “hunt and peck” method required for sussing out information on Twitter or the other more general purpose social sites and aggregators or running searches in your favorite engines. I am talking about “one stop shopping” sites that combine social community with reviews and recommendations on specific tools.

The Web is moving towards specialization and some sites are taking full advantage of that trend. There are two I will highlight here, and one I will briefly mention as it is unfortunately down for revamping at the moment.

First, consider oneforty, a recent invite-only site dedicated to providing a forum for twitter applications. There are hundreds of applications that touch on or fully incorporate Twitter. Oneforty seeks to organize, highlight, provide ratings for and promote these applications through the input of the community of members on the site. Calling it a directory is too simplistic, as it offers community feedback and even “App Store”-like tendencies. Users can search for, rate and purchase applications (if they have  cost associated with them – many are free). Your Twitter persona is your oneforty persona. Ultimately, oneforty may well become a forum between developers and users, which should enhance user’s ability to find the right apps and affect their future development. While it is in private beta, you can request an invitation at the site here. Follow oneforty on Twitter here.

Next, check out Appolicious, a similar venue for iPhone applications. Ever try finding apps through the App Store interface? By joining the site and loading up your applications, Appolicious will make recommendations for you. Appolicious will also make general recommendations based on its own app preferences. You also can load your friends into Appolicious and receive recommendations from them. You can also turn to the Appolicious community user base for their recommendations. Searching a specific application will bring you to reviews. You can view the day’s top stories about apps, and a real time stream of users comments about apps. While it may sound a bit overwhelming, it would be difficult not to get all the info on a particular app on Appolicious from trusted sources. Follow Appolicious on Twitter here.

Another site, Unwrapp, combined similar elements but encompassed all sorts of applications and tools. Unfortunately, a trip to their site showed that it is being worked on – hopefully it will return soon.

Like oneforty, Appolicious combines social activity with information gathering on the specific topic of iPhone (or Twitter) applications. Who better to turn to than a community of experts or friends? I am impressed with this trend of community-based information sharing, and can only see this model growing in popularity on the social Web.

Personal Twitter Interface(s), i.e. "Twitter'action"

Following the introduction (and controversy) regarding iPhone Twitter client Tweetie 2 over the past several days, I thought I might share my own personal thoughts, feelings and preferences regarding my Twitter-interaction (contraction: twitter’action).

For, to best experience Twitter, especially when one has a large number of follows, one must consider using different tools for different jobs.

Louis Gray, whose own post on the subject inspired my post here, outlines why different clients work best for different uses.

First, consider the problems. Twitter, on its own, is a massive flood of sound-bites, bereft of organization, management or discipline. Twitter as a service is only now considering embedding some of the features that users have organically adopted and third party apps have made their mark with. First: how do you locate and attend to the information of interest? Next: how do you interact with that information, from following links to media to resharing it, from responding in the public time-line to engaging in one-on-one communications? Then: how do you take that information with you and access it on-the-go? Without even considering directories, analytics, fancy search functionality, bookmarklets, and other high-level applications, there are many options for managing Twitter and making it work for you.

Ultimately, your own preferences will dictate the services to which you regularly gravitate. Let me share the ones I use for Twitter’action. I am not including in this post the ways that I share into Twitter from outside of it. These are the apps I use for reading and interacting inside Twitter itself.

As a matter of background, I have tried most of the services available on my computer and several of the services available on iPhone, so please bear that in mind. Historically, I have tended to try services and then, after a while, gravitate back to the Twitter web because I value simplicity in my social web interactions.

BrizzlyRight now, though, I find that I am consistently using Brizzly for my web-based interaction with Twitter. Brizzly is a new service, still in beta, that incorporates many of the features users would like to see: multiple accounts; groups; autocomplete of contact names; an IM-like direct message box; a mute button(!); in-line media, including pictures and videos; a URL expander; a list of trending topics with explanations as to why (and some are pretty darn funny); saved searches; and, an endless page. Brizzly auto-refreshes the page without manual updates too.

Why are these features great? I love being able to switch with a single button between my Twitter accounts. I love being able to see pictures and videos in the line of tweets, without having to actually click on a link to get to them. I love being able to group my favorite twitter follows and quickly hone in on their information. I like to see my DM conversations in a stream. I like to be able to see the trends (without having to actually search and find them) and learn why they are trends without having to read the stream. And I like the auto-refresh – no more reloading every few minutes! While I haven’t used the “mute” feature (removes tweets from a particular user from the stream), I can imagine doing so.

I have become disenchanted with desktop clients – they tend to bog down my computer with extra processes and require me to manage multiple windows. For my time and money (free!), Brizzly is my hands-down favorite Twitter interface on my desktop and laptop. Brizzly is in closed beta, but I have a few invites left. If you would like one, please leave your email in the comments or send your email to me (check my contact page) and I will send one along.

The other piece of the puzzle for me is mobile Twitter. I find that I spend more time gazing at the stream during moments of down time while I am out and about. I use an iPhone, so my experience is limited to iPhone Twitter applications. I have used several of them, and I have now paired them down to two, with one add-on for push notification.

Tweetie 2My main Twitter app has been Tweetie, and is now Tweetie 2 ($2.99 in the App Store). Yes, I paid for both versions. Yes, I think it is worth it and have no qualms about sending a little more money to this developer. Tweetie offers a great many features – it returns you to the same place in the stream where you left off; it offers messaging and reply indicators; it has a clever reloading mechanism (simply scroll up to trigger a reload); it incorporates third-party applications Follow Cost, Tweet Blocker and Favstar.fm; it provides live search with filtering; it has added tweeting options (when you hit the character count indicator); it includes a draft manager for saving and tweeting later; it has added new options revealed when you swipe tweets to the right (a feature from Tweetie 1); it allows controls over SMS notifications; it syncs saved searches from the Twitter web; it is able to create iPhone contacts from Twitter profiles; it works in landscape mode; and, it shows conversations in threaded format.

Why do I like these features? Returning me to my place helps me to ensure I haven’t missed a beat. Scroll/reload speeds up my Twitter reading. The added applications, particularly Favstar.fm, allow me to manage how people view my own Twitter contributions from right within the Tweetie application. More tweet features makes it easier for me to share media through Tweetie, taking full advantage of the iPhone still and video camera, and facilitates link sharing. Landscape mode, a necessity for my worsening eyesight, makes tweets easier to read. Threaded conversations are a must if you are engage in a lengthy one-on-one conversation (yes, they DO happen occasionally on Twitter).BoxcarTweetdeck

But there are two features missing from Tweetie that require me to turn to two other applications: groups and push notifications. When I want to focus on a particular group of Twitter follows, I use Tweetdeck for iPhone (free). Group reading is pretty much the only reason I would use Tweetdeck rather than Tweetie, but it remains a compelling one. For push notifications of retweets, mentions and direct messages, I use Boxcar ($2.99 for one service, .99 cents for each additional service). My one service is Twitter, but you can use Boxcar to push your Facebook updates and email as well. It works very well – I can get push notifications from Boxcar in places where I have insufficient signal to get a phone call or text message.

As Louis Gray points out in his post, no single service is available on all platforms: desktop, Web and iPhone. So, if you are interested in having full-featured access to Twitter, you really have to consider employing more than one application. The endorsements of Brizzly, Tweetie 2, Tweetdeck, and Boxcar in this post are based entirely on my own experiences. I encourage you to check them out and see if they fit your purposes and meet your needs. Also, please feel free to post your own favorites (and why they are) in the comments below.

Personal Twitter Interface(s), i.e. “Twitter’action”

Following the introduction (and controversy) regarding iPhone Twitter client Tweetie 2 over the past several days, I thought I might share my own personal thoughts, feelings and preferences regarding my Twitter-interaction (contraction: twitter’action).

For, to best experience Twitter, especially when one has a large number of follows, one must consider using different tools for different jobs.

Louis Gray, whose own post on the subject inspired my post here, outlines why different clients work best for different uses.

First, consider the problems. Twitter, on its own, is a massive flood of sound-bites, bereft of organization, management or discipline. Twitter as a service is only now considering embedding some of the features that users have organically adopted and third party apps have made their mark with. First: how do you locate and attend to the information of interest? Next: how do you interact with that information, from following links to media to resharing it, from responding in the public time-line to engaging in one-on-one communications? Then: how do you take that information with you and access it on-the-go? Without even considering directories, analytics, fancy search functionality, bookmarklets, and other high-level applications, there are many options for managing Twitter and making it work for you.

Ultimately, your own preferences will dictate the services to which you regularly gravitate. Let me share the ones I use for Twitter’action. I am not including in this post the ways that I share into Twitter from outside of it. These are the apps I use for reading and interacting inside Twitter itself.

As a matter of background, I have tried most of the services available on my computer and several of the services available on iPhone, so please bear that in mind. Historically, I have tended to try services and then, after a while, gravitate back to the Twitter web because I value simplicity in my social web interactions.

BrizzlyRight now, though, I find that I am consistently using Brizzly for my web-based interaction with Twitter. Brizzly is a new service, still in beta, that incorporates many of the features users would like to see: multiple accounts; groups; autocomplete of contact names; an IM-like direct message box; a mute button(!); in-line media, including pictures and videos; a URL expander; a list of trending topics with explanations as to why (and some are pretty darn funny); saved searches; and, an endless page. Brizzly auto-refreshes the page without manual updates too.

Why are these features great? I love being able to switch with a single button between my Twitter accounts. I love being able to see pictures and videos in the line of tweets, without having to actually click on a link to get to them. I love being able to group my favorite twitter follows and quickly hone in on their information. I like to see my DM conversations in a stream. I like to be able to see the trends (without having to actually search and find them) and learn why they are trends without having to read the stream. And I like the auto-refresh – no more reloading every few minutes! While I haven’t used the “mute” feature (removes tweets from a particular user from the stream), I can imagine doing so.

I have become disenchanted with desktop clients – they tend to bog down my computer with extra processes and require me to manage multiple windows. For my time and money (free!), Brizzly is my hands-down favorite Twitter interface on my desktop and laptop. Brizzly is in closed beta, but I have a few invites left. If you would like one, please leave your email in the comments or send your email to me (check my contact page) and I will send one along.

The other piece of the puzzle for me is mobile Twitter. I find that I spend more time gazing at the stream during moments of down time while I am out and about. I use an iPhone, so my experience is limited to iPhone Twitter applications. I have used several of them, and I have now paired them down to two, with one add-on for push notification.

Tweetie 2My main Twitter app has been Tweetie, and is now Tweetie 2 ($2.99 in the App Store). Yes, I paid for both versions. Yes, I think it is worth it and have no qualms about sending a little more money to this developer. Tweetie offers a great many features – it returns you to the same place in the stream where you left off; it offers messaging and reply indicators; it has a clever reloading mechanism (simply scroll up to trigger a reload); it incorporates third-party applications Follow Cost, Tweet Blocker and Favstar.fm; it provides live search with filtering; it has added tweeting options (when you hit the character count indicator); it includes a draft manager for saving and tweeting later; it has added new options revealed when you swipe tweets to the right (a feature from Tweetie 1); it allows controls over SMS notifications; it syncs saved searches from the Twitter web; it is able to create iPhone contacts from Twitter profiles; it works in landscape mode; and, it shows conversations in threaded format.

Why do I like these features? Returning me to my place helps me to ensure I haven’t missed a beat. Scroll/reload speeds up my Twitter reading. The added applications, particularly Favstar.fm, allow me to manage how people view my own Twitter contributions from right within the Tweetie application. More tweet features makes it easier for me to share media through Tweetie, taking full advantage of the iPhone still and video camera, and facilitates link sharing. Landscape mode, a necessity for my worsening eyesight, makes tweets easier to read. Threaded conversations are a must if you are engage in a lengthy one-on-one conversation (yes, they DO happen occasionally on Twitter).BoxcarTweetdeck

But there are two features missing from Tweetie that require me to turn to two other applications: groups and push notifications. When I want to focus on a particular group of Twitter follows, I use Tweetdeck for iPhone (free). Group reading is pretty much the only reason I would use Tweetdeck rather than Tweetie, but it remains a compelling one. For push notifications of retweets, mentions and direct messages, I use Boxcar ($2.99 for one service, .99 cents for each additional service). My one service is Twitter, but you can use Boxcar to push your Facebook updates and email as well. It works very well – I can get push notifications from Boxcar in places where I have insufficient signal to get a phone call or text message.

As Louis Gray points out in his post, no single service is available on all platforms: desktop, Web and iPhone. So, if you are interested in having full-featured access to Twitter, you really have to consider employing more than one application. The endorsements of Brizzly, Tweetie 2, Tweetdeck, and Boxcar in this post are based entirely on my own experiences. I encourage you to check them out and see if they fit your purposes and meet your needs. Also, please feel free to post your own favorites (and why they are) in the comments below.