Gmelius Makes Gmail Better

Hardcore Gmail users will love this – Gmelius is a cross-browser extension that offers lots of options for customizing and  improving your Gmail experience. First and foremost: Gmelius will allow you to excise the ads that show at the top of your inbox! Right now, it appears Gmelius has extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera – hopefully they will come to the aid of some  of those other browsers  soon.

 

Some of the other great features that are selectable within the extension include the ability to make the header auto-expandable, remove the People Widget, customize the navigation icons, add a row highlight, clear formatting from incoming emails to make them look-alike, add attachment icons for different types of docs such as Word or Powerpoint, disable the “consider including” box if you don’t want Gmail to suggest recipients to you, make the Google logo clickable (but watch out when you have multiple sign in’s activated), auto scroll to the top of your inbox when you click the black bar, and move email labels to the right in the inbox. In total, Gmelius is all about creating more space in the interface so that it becomes easier to work with your Gmail, definitely a good thing.

 

 

 

Gmelius insists that it will never access, read, store, alter or transmit your personal data. Gmelius code meets the latest Content Security Policy (CSP) recommendations, making sure its users can keep browsing the Web safely.

 

Gmelius is constantly updating the extension, with new features in settings shown with a “new” tag. Plus they appear committed to cleaning up bugs as quickly as possible.

 

 

The extension is free, but the developers ask for a donation. With the advent of Google Drive and an increase in storage size in your Gmail from 7 to 10 GB to celebrate, Gmelius offers yet another good reason to move your emailing activity to the Gmail cloud. Hope you enjoy this great new extension as much as I do.

Are You Safe & Secure On The Web?

Following my class at Solo Practice University on the changes to Google’s privacy policies and terms of service, I have found myself in a lot of conversations about web privacy generally. It pays to spend some time thinking about actions and consequences on the Web. So I thought I would discuss some tips here about staying as safe as possible in the virtual wilds of the World Wide Web.

 

First, consider your browser. The big three: Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. Oh, and Safari too. 😉

 

Chrome comes with security settings enabled by default. These protections include malware and phishing notifications – it will warn if it detects malicious content on sites you may be visiting. Chrome can be adjusted to permit or refuse cookies, Javascript, pop-ups, plug-ins, images, and location sharing. You also can manage SSL setting and certificates. When you enable SSL, Chrome will encrypt all sensitive data communications. Settings can be found by clicking the wrench in the upper right corner of the tool bar. Click on options, then “Under the hood” and find the setting you wish to tweak.

 

IE has a “smartscreen filter” and several security settings enabled by default. It can identify impostor web sites designed to capture sensitive data. When loading files, it will flash high warnings for risky files, but allow loading of reputable or well known files. It will also alert you of potential harm before permitting software to enter your computer. Simply click on the “Safety “button in the Internet explorer, then “SmartScreen filter” and select it.

 

Firefox has its Favicon in the URL bar – hover and it will give an overview of whether a site is safe or not. Click it and you will get more information such as whether passwords are saved and number of visits. Firefox also warns against Trojans and other malware. Firefox maintains a list of phony phishing sites that are updated daily. It integrates with your antivirus software. To get into your Firefox settings, click on “Tools”, then “Options,” then “Security”.

 

Macs are often considered to be “safe” from such unwanted intrusions. But there have been instances of Mac-borne viruses, so it is worth getting familiar with your Safari security settings. Unclick the “open safe files after downloading” box in the General settings. Go into “Preferences” then “Security” and check the “Warn when visiting a fraudulent website” checkbox Safari will then advise when you are about to visit a website that has been reported as fraudulent or distributes malware.

 

On any browser, look for the “lock” icon and “https” in the URL bar. This connotes that the site is secure and is using encryption to protect your information.

 

Another concept that comes up frequently in web browsing is anonymous browsing through the use of proxy servers. Anonymous web browsing is browsing the Web without revealing your IP address or any other personally identifiable information to the websites that you are visiting. A proxy server is a server that serves as the “middleman” between your local request for action and the response from a server somewhere else. The request can be for a file, a connection, a web page or some other Web resource residing on another server. Many people use anonymous proxy servers to mask their identity while browsing. While there certainly nefarious reasons for doing so, it is a technique that can also be used to protect your privacy and disconnect you from search history. VPN (“virtual private network”) servers also allow anonymous browsing, and are often used within the enterprise to protect against infiltration by unwanted intruders or protect against the dissemination of sensitive information.

 

Worried about tracking cookies? There are ways to deal with those right within your browser. In IE, go to Control Panel, Internet Options, Privacy, and either choose the slider preset that blocks third-party cookies, or go into Advanced, Override automatic cookie handling, and then check Block under ‘Third-party cookies’. In Safari, go to Edit, Preferences, Privacy, and set ‘Block cookies’ to “From third parties and advertisers.” In Firefox, click on Options, Privacy, select “Use Custom Settings for History” from the drop-down menu and uncheck “Accept third-party cookies.” In Chrome, head to Options, then “Under the Hood,” then “Content Settings” in which you will check “Block third-party cookies From Being Set.” You also can deal with these within Google’s Ad Preference manager here or on a grander scale via the Opt Out From Online Behavior tool here.

 

Finally, there are tools to help you boost your security level on the Web. While the browsers all have some form of “incognito” mode, Cocoon is an extension for Firefox and IE, as well as mobile version, that blocks both cookies and IP addresses by routing your page requests through their servers. It has built in virus scanning tools and provides a disposable email address creator, keeping the spam out of your mail email inbox, as well as a handy “notes” feature – jot down notes on any web page and view them from your history. Very nice.

 

To access your browser’s incognito mode, do the following. In IE 9, InPrivate Browsing can be found with a Ctrl-Shift-P, Chrome’s Incognito Mode can be accessed with a Ctrl-Shift-N, Firefox’s Private Browsing mode is set with Ctrl-Shift-P, and Safari can too, with Private Browsing selectable from the Edit menu.

 

Maybe you don’t like so much social in your browsing, consider Antisocial for Chrome and ShareMeNot for Firefox. These will interfere with sharing buttons across the Web, such as Facebook’s “Like” and Google’s “+1”. Whether by preventing them from loading or by keeping them from reporting back to the social juggernaut whence they spawn, these extensions prevent tracking and keep your browsing and your social separate. Of course, you can log out of your social networks when you are done with them to keep sharing activity to a minimum as well.

 

Finally, although it doesn’t work on every site, HTTPS Everywhere will help enable HTTPS on sites that allow for it. When the site is HTTPS enabled, this extension will activate the HTTPS connection to encrypt your communication with those websites. Available in Firefox and Chrome flavors. Brought to you by the fine folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 

Use as many or as few of these tips to meet your comfort level on the Web. Remember to read privacy policies and terms of service on any of the sites on which you may want to spend time. Make sure you maintain control over your own information and web experience. Because if you don’t, who will?

 

 

Syncing with Simplenote

One of the benefits of online research is the ability to organize results in ways that vastly improve upon the old fashioned version of collecting scraps of paper, writing notes in the margins of books and using sticky pads. Most people have at least heard of Evernote, the universal notetaking application, and many have heard of the equally cool Springpad. These apps are undoubtedly very useful, but sometimes I don’t need all the bells and whistles they offer. Sometimes, I prefer using an app called Simplenote for my basic notetaking and information-bit-saving — it offers a simple text editor for notes accessible on the web at Simplenote or via mobile app. You can tag notes and search them by keyword. It is my go-to application for basic, text-based notetaking.

You can turn Simplenote into a web clipping and saving service with the use of a couple of Chrome extensions.  Syncpad for Simplenote allows you to create notes while browsing the web, and append URLs to the note. Syncpad Webnotes (Beta) allows you to create a visual “sticky note” on a desired web page that persistently appears when you revisit the page. Using both extensions, you can write a standard note related to a certain web page and attach a sticky note on the page at the place where your target information is located, with a bit more explanation about why you saved the site in the first place while on your desktop. And then you can access the note on your Android or iOS mobile device when you are out and about.

Kind of brilliant and simple – a set of tools for saving content without the complexity that comes with Evernote’s notebook system. I am not the only one who loves Simplenote – check out the other great add ons, downloads and tools created by developers who also love the bare-bones service. Start clipping and saving virtually with Simplenote!

Time to Re-Wave?

Been a while since I talked about Google Wave in the Studio. Seems much of the initial excitement (zealotry?) has worn off. I was a fan of Wave back at the very beginning, from the moment I was able to successfully beg and plead my way to an invite. I am still a fan, although for me personally, the service still suffers a bit from lack of public participation.

As you may or may not know, Wave is a communication and collaboration tool that walks the fine line between email, chat and Google Docs. Participants in a Wave can edit in real-time and watch while others do the same. Wave’s are highly extensible – meaning that you can add “gadgets” to a Wave to make it perform tasks not normally associated with email or chat, such a mapping, gaming, polling, and video-conferencing. Lots of tools and flexibility, but, at least initially, not a lot of friends on it and not so easy to navigate.  

Despite a brief foray off the path with the introduction of Google Buzz, the brainy developers at Google have returned some of their attention to the Wave platform and recently trotted out a few new features aimed at making the tool more user-friendly. From templates for starting a Wave based on your intended purpose, to email notifications, from anonymous viewing of Waves (by those without a Wave account) to easier extension embedding, Wave has smoothed over some of its rough spots.

First, the templates. Wave now suggests six templates that you can click to start your new Wave. They include “blank wave”, “discussion”, “task tracking”, “meeting”, “document”, and “brainstorm.” Obviously, these are the most popular uses distilled over the past seven or so months since Wave’s introduction. Not only will your Wave be formatted correctly from the get-go, but it will be pre-loaded with the gadgets that are most useful for the task at hand. Nice.

Next, email notifications. Probably the last thing we need is another inbox – that’s why services like Threadsy that aggregate communications centers and inboxes are so popular. Wave initially was only accessible via its own little closed system, requiring that you frequently open and view your inbox in order to stay on top of developments. On the other side of it, if you don’t have a lot of Wavers to wave with, you might, like myself, forget to check your Wave-box for weeks at a time. New email notifications may be set to provide news of Wave developments at set intervals. This enables the user to put the business of checking Waves on auto-pilot.

Next up, Wave access for non-Wavers. People without a Wave account or those who weren’t logged into Wave couldn’t view a Wave. This was a big stumbling block for encouraging Wave use. With the addition of a little bit of code into a website, users can now “drop” a Wave anywhere and others can actually see the Wave update live without a log-in. You can adjust what casual observers can see and do with these more public versions of Wave, including limiting editing permissions to a smaller group while the larger group may view those updates as they happen. Cool way to present an interview or live-blog an event.

 

Finally, extensions. Fun as they may be, they haven’t been easy to find or easy to install on a Wave. I never was able to locate and add the wizard extension that provided instant translation. Now, your Wave inbox shows a menu in the left sidebar for “extensions”. You can view just the featured extensions or browse through all of them. Simply click and add. Much better.

So, what do you think? Would these changes prompt you to either return to Wave or renew your attempts to secure a Wave invite? I, for one, am glad they are still developing for Wave. I still believe Wave is an awesome tool for communication and collaboration that still hasn’t seen its best form or use or realized its full promise.

UPDATE: It works! I just got an email in my Gmail inbox advising of one new Wave in my inbox! Thanks Chris – I’ll get back to you on that this evening! Woohoooo!

Extending The Chrome Experience

I remember when I first met Firefox. It was love at first type. I was bowled over by the “wow factor” of extensifying and customizing your browsing experience with add-ons and plug-ins. Firefox just seemed so very cool, especially to someone who, at that time, could chalk up their prior entire web browsing experience to Internet Explorer 6.

But lately, I have found Firefox to be slow and glitchy. I am sure it has much to do with the many extensions I have added to the browser. On several occasions, I have gone in and purged extensions I never or rarely use. But Firefox still struggles sometimes with the weight of the load.

About two or so months ago, I began spending more time with Google Chrome. Although it is not the fastest browser out there (apparently Opera is – and I use it as well), Chrome is far slicker and speedier than Firefox. And lately, it has beefed up its library of extensions and add-ons, so that you can approximate your “pimp my ride” Firefox experience.

I figured it might be high time to tout Chrome and list some cool extensions (link here) that might make you forget about those “other” browsers. Or at least encourage you to explore the other side of internet life for a little while.

I bet you can guess my very first Chrome extension. That’s right, Feedly (link here). That great magazine start page that translates your Google feeds into a relevance-weighted, easy to read and share format.  Another cool add-on for heavy Google users is OneNumber (link here)- it collects within a button all of your Google (‘cept Buzz) sources with quick links to compose for Gmail and new post / mail counts. If you are constantly searching and have a need to hop to your search terms quickly, try Google Quick Scroll (link here) – it adds a button to the bottom of a page within  your Google search results allowing you to jump right to the place where your search terms show up.

Do you love Twitter? Try Chromed Bird (link here) which pops out a Twitter window within the browser, offering many of the Twitter web features. Manage passwords and fill forms with Last Pass (link here). If you Wave with Google, check out the Google Wave Notifier (link here), so you can glance at your Wave activity in the browser bar. Make Gmail your default email with Send Using Gmail (link here). Make Gmail better with Better Gmail (link here) and lose ads, chat, invites and footers.

Select foreign language text on a site and have it automatically translated via Google Translate with the Auto-Translate add-on (link here). Access your Google Voice inbox in a pop up window with Google Voice Dialer (link here) or get a quick call box with Google Voice (by Google) (link here).

If you like Remember The Milk (not personally a huge fan), you can gussy it up with A Bit Better RTM (link here). Or, you can keep track of tasks with the Google Task extension (link here).

Are you sick of extensions and want one that does absolutely nothing? Well, son, there’s an app for that too. Nothing (link here).

Do you have any favorite Chrome extensions? Would love some suggestions in the comments!

Pimping Chrome For The Social

Yes, apparently it is Google day in the Studio. And, yes, I said “pimping.” What else would you call customizing with Chrome? With the growing number of add-ons and extensions coming to a Chrome developers’ version near you, my indoctrination into all things Google is nearly complete. Mashable has a great list of social media extensions for Google Chrome, Google’s agile web browser, and you can read it here.

 You must be running a developers’ version of Chrome to use them. The extensions include a Gmail checker, a couple of Twitter extensions, a mini Last.fm bar, a Google reader gadget, and a Facebook notification checker. Nice cross-section of tools for budding Chrome-heads. For more gadgets and extensions, head over to ChromeExtensions for a more complete list.  

For almost two years now, I have been a heavy duty fan of Firefox, but as my browser has become more overburdened, the quickness of Chrome is heady and compelling. Now you can pimp your speedy Internet ride and keep tabs on all things social via Mashable’s add-on list.