Scoop.It's Rich, Easy Curation Makes You Look Like A Pro

Scratching both the itch of discovery and creation, Scoop.it is an invite-only service that offers a slick, powerful tool focused on content. Within the rich interface, users can set up topic-based pages to fill with relevant content. Or, users can explore the pages created by other users. Or both.

Scoop.it makes the curation part VERY easy for you – along with the standard bookmarklet that will allow you to pull from all over the Web, you will also get a stream of recommended content from around the Web for each page you maintain right on the site. Recommendations are based on your own search terms and can be tweaked by source or term. With one click, that content is packaged into a nice little “box” showing the title with link to original article, image and a quote that sums up the article, enticing the reader in for further discovery. When you have curated enough content, your page starts to look like one of those magazine-themed apps like Flipboard or Pulse. Scoop.it also shows you stats for your page, so you can see how people are interacting with your content.

Of course, there are cool social features. In addition to the usual sharing options to other social sites, Scoop.it lets you follow other pages of interest, comment on material and even suggest material to topic curators. Check out the embed of my page on Pro Tech:

Scoop.it’s team likens itself to Tumblr without the blogging and Paper.li with more manual control over the content. Scoop.it isn’t stingy either: they are fine with you taking your Scoop.it page and embedding it elsewhere, anywhere – such as a Facebook page, WordPress blog or LinkedIn, with widgets and embeds. The Slideshare below talks about this new feature in greater detail.

Scoop.it is a total package for content curation, meeting many needs – particularly of those passionate or knowledgeable, but without the time to devote to a blog to impart that information to the public. Look like a content pro with Scoop.it.

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.

Timesaving Tip: Your Smartphone Cam + i2OCR

Just the other day, a colleague and I spent a couple of hours hashing out new content for our page on our company’s portal. We took full advantage of the whiteboard running the entire length of the conference room and, by the time we were done, we had decorated most of the wall with our scratch. One of the VPs walked by, took a look at the board and, with a chuckle, asked “How in the world are you going to get all THAT down on paper?”

Well, being the problem-solver that I am, I asked my colleague to snap pictures of the wall with his smartphone (can you BELIEVE I didn’t have my phone on me?). I then told him to run the images through an OCR (optical character recognition) app. A day later, I found i2OCR.

iOCR2 is a free, online OCR application that extracts text from images and turns it into an editable document. It supports a whole crowd of image file types, including all the usual suspects (.tif, .gif, .jpg, .png, .bmp, etc.). Simply browse your computer for the file or enter a URL and hit the big red CONVERT button. It can read 33 languages, and supports multi-column formats. The site assures that uploaded files are automatically deleted on conversion. The site does recommend at least 200 dpi for better recognition. So easy, and totally free.

As if this wasn’t enough, the clever folks at Sciweaver responsible for i2OCR have a lot of other cool conversion and merge tools for documents and images. Check them out:

Sciweavers themselves is a pretty cool group. Apparently, it is an academic bookmarking network that aggregates links to research paper preprints. The idea is to promote top-ranked papers, with the goal of promoting valuable work and improve the visibility of significant authors. Head over to their About  page to check out the tons of other free online tools they offer.
See, now, Ms. VP. Where there is a will, there is ALWAYS a way. 😉

When Your Front-end Cloud Needs Back Up

One of the most frequently-spouted objections to playing with your data in the cloud is the fear that all that data, once flying around in the ether and out of your control, might be lost forever on the wings of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The big news over the past week about Google’s loss of Gmail data for a number of accouts (link here) painfully reinforces the point.

But common sense should prevail in the cloud, as it does on the ground. If you don’t back up your data, be it residing on your hard drive or elsewhere, you are standing squarely in harm’s way.

So, given the situation, what can the average person do to ensure that their important information does not get lost in a software update, computer glitch, or malicious viral wave?

You can set up an auto-forward within Gmail, using POP configuration, to send mail to your chosen client – simply click on your account settings and the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab to enable POP. This will load all your Gmail into your client email program, creating a copy on the web and a local copy.  

For what it is worth, you can add multiple internet email services to your local Outlook client (not just Gmail), and archive locally from there.

You also can backup your Gmail, Twitter, Facebook (profile and pages), Google Calendar, Contacts, Docs and Sites, Blogger, LinkedIn, Picasa, Zoho, and Flickr accounts with an online service called Backupify. The free version gives you 2GB of storage, or you can purchase 100GB of storage for $4.99 per month – pretty darn cheap. The site offers automatic archiving and search of backups with extreme simplicity – there really is no downside to signing up for a free account and setting up your various data feeds to be sent automatically to Backupify, even as a redundant + redundant system.

For Gmail only, you also can use the Gmail Backup Tool. Download the app, set up your account and your backups will be automatically generated and stored locally, with an auto-restore option for your online Gmail account.

While Gmail is in the limelight right now, it never hurts to put methods in place to save your treasured data. For eample, I have enabled my Twitter RSS feed to flow into my Google Reader account, providing me with a means of storing my tweets and searching the entire history of my existence on Twitter. I have enabled a plug-in on my WordPress blog to facilitate easy backup prior to upgrading to new versions of WordPress, which seem to come out almost every other month.

For every reason, there is a method. Find one that works and get going!

Qwiki & PostPost – Two Great Consumption Tools

I have been playing around with a couple of web tools and thought I might share with the class. Both offer filters, or perhaps lenses, for content with a focus on presentation.

The first one is Qwiki, a tool that has been in closed alpha testing for a while, but has just been released to the public. Qwiki bills itself as a multi-media search engine, but I see it as more of a visually stunning wiki tool. Visit Qwiki and you will find the usual search box. A nice touch – suggested results show below your typed term offering you options. Qwiki includes more than 3 million reference terms, mostly nouns such as people, places, and things. Enter a term and receive an “information experience” – a selection of videos, photographs, maps, and more, as well as links to related topics. You get a narration and scrolling text of the “answer” to your query running throughout the video / slideshow. Share the Qwiki you happen to be viewing via social media links, email it, or embed it in another site. The wiki part for me was being prompted via button at the top to “improve” the Qwiki, such as suggesting video and images that might go with the subject matter. Combining user-participation with such a stunning experience is intriguing. It is SO science fiction. While Qwiki might have limited appeal now, due to its smallish database, imagine its impact when it can access a database of information the size of Wikipedia. And, consider “reading” the morning news on your smartphone with a Qwiki interface. Businesses and professionasl should run and not walk to Qwiki to develop their own brand – what a great way to leverage web presence in an information environment. Not so far-fetched and definitely appealing.

The second is PostPost – a social newspaper for Facebook users. Do you like Flipboard? Do you like Facebook? Then you will probably enjoy PostPost. The “real time” social newspaper is Web-based. Simply log in with your Facebook credentials, authorize the free app, wait a moment, and get a really nice magazine of your friends’ Facebook content. The page will show links, photos, and videos, offering an experience akin to paper.li’s treatment of Twitter. This is meant to serve as a real-time layout, with intelligent grouping of similar content, making it easier to read and share. You can control the experience by moving content between sections and change the size of the newspaper. Filter and block what you don’t want to see and emphasize what you do want to see. A real boon for large friend lists or overactive sharers.

Either way you slice it, making content more visually appealing and stimulating will improve retention and enhance consumption. Both Qwiki and PostPost are aiming to do just that. Check it out and check back in with your comments!

iCloud is Your Cloud

You can go sort of cloud by using cool tools like Dropbox and Gmail. Or you can REALLY go cloud and move your entire desktop up there. If that concept intrigues you, check out iCloud – a virtual computer on the Web. It’s not an operating system per se, but sure looks and acts like one, albeit one that works in the cloud, from any computer with internet access. Accessing your online computer is as easy as navigating to icloud.com in your web browser. When you do, log in, and your  own desktop emerges, giving you access to your most frequently used files and applications. Application gadgets, such as clock, calendar, weather, can be stored in the sidebar to the right. And, like your regular local desktop, your start menu resides to the lower left.

iCloud offers and impressive list of applications, including tools for mail, instant messaging, photo organization, file exploring, music and video playing, writing, calendaring, contacting and gaming.

iCloud utilizes the same general functions for file storing, backing up and managing as local systems, making it comfortably familiar to use. The extra cool feature is automatic syncing via it’s “Easy Upload” system, which keeps your virtual files synced with your local files similar to Dropbox.

Because it is cloud-based, sharing becomes much simpler – you are not limited to email or messaging to deliver your content:

And here is the kicker – because it is Web-based, iCloud can leverage technologies that make managing your virtual “desktop” from your mobile device possible. The mobile app allows you to access your iCloud files, view documents, and upload photos directly from your mobile camera. With the iPhone version, you can directly share any file from the phone, and email the file with a link using the iPhone’s built-in email.

iCloud is actively seeking developers to create applications that can leverage iCloud’s tools and services, much like Dropbox’s app “store.” Check out some of the apps that are already in cahoots with iCloud here.

For free, you get 3gb of storage space. A 100 gb superdrive is available for $39.95 per year – not too shabby for cloud space plus virtual desktop and integrated apps.

Intrigued? I know I am. Offering a free version gives you and I the opportunity to check out iCloud with little commitment. If it is impressive as it sounds, the paid version is not a lot to shell out for a lot of functionality and virtual, cloud space. Thanks, iCloud!

A Student Organizer That's Not Just For Students

If you are trying to get organized in the New Year, check out this tool from a (somewhat) unlikely source. Student Dog Organizer is a virtual organizer for students, created by a student. It’s a download, but you might want to make some space for this one on your Windows-based system. From their site:

  • Denní přehledDay overview – Date, database state, clock (analog/digital). If you go to school with laptop, you will appreciate “In-school” mode, which will determinate upcoming lesson, when it ends and what lesson is next. It uses system time and timetable.
  • KontaktyContacts – Controlls all your important contacts. It can import contacts from MS Outlook and functions like age counting, automatic determination of name day or reminding of birthdays and name days are not missing.
  • KalendářCalendar – Here you can record all you school and non-school activities. Every record can be marked with different icon (phone, book, person…), you can also choose if you want to enter time and if record should occurs more than once (weekly, monthly etc.)
  • ÚlohyTasks – Classic checking tasks which can be stored in user defined categories (Homeworks, Shopping list, Downloads, Borrows etc.)
  • ZnámkyMarks – Virtual student sheet which automatically counts averages/sums of your marks. It’s a table of subjects and every subject can contain marks. Subject list can be modified so it fits to all kinds of schools. It supports Marks (ABCDF, 1-5, 1-6), Percents and Points.
  • PoznámkyNotes – This category keeps all your important texts, notes from speeches and ideas in one place. It supports inserting WWW links and images and you can choose different editors.
  • Time table – Your time table. If “In-school” mode is on, here’s the place from where program determinates information in Overview. It supports 2 time tables for even/odd weeks (on/off) and lesson times are changeable. Supports university timetable.

Maybe because it is student designed and targeted, the interface is clean and simple, yet very effective. It offers a dashboard-like view of several different organizational tools accessible within the program. The overview includes the Date, database state, clock (analog/digital), upcoming calendar events, tips and quick access to the other functions. Oh, and don’t be troubled by the language in the image – it comes in English too.

Those other functions include the full calendar, your Contacts importable from MS Outlook and birthdays, Tasks that can be categorized, Notes with support for links and images, and a Time table mode, with support for two separate time tables. There is also a Marks function, which allows you to record grades, which may not be so useful for the graduated professional. Notes can be organized via category, which allows for sorting and tagging. You can also categorize and icon-ize Tasks, in much the same way as Notes. Timetable offers a great visualization of your day – if you use the College format, you can pretty much set and organize your schedule freely.

Best of all, it’s free.

If you are an organizational junkie, it might be in your interest to check out Student DOG Organizer – it is a great implementation of features for an even better price.

Two More Ways to Move Up With Google Docs

Looking for cool new ways to interact with Google Docs? Check out these two little apps I found, one from Digital Inspiration Technology blog and one from 40Tech.

First, try easily moving entire folders up into the cloud with an open source program for Windows called Cyberduck. Normally, you can only upload individual files in the upload dialog box. Cyberduck acts like an FTP server, allowing you transfer entire folders full of files. Cyberduck doesn’t only send to Google Docs – it is one of several destination options available. Once in the cloud, right click on the files or folders listed in the Cyberduck browser window to download them back to your desktop. You can reload files back up as well, with the option to rename or overwrite the existing file in GDocs.

Next up, how about syncing notes to Google Docs, Dropbox style? Using a little notepad app called Nocs, you can write and save notes locally or directly to Google Docs. Set up Nocs with your Google log in information, set up a folder in Google Docs to store you notes and then you can write, save, reopen and edit within the text editor pane notes that will be saved to Google Docs. You can enable autosave in the preferences setting to take all the brain rigor out of the process. Nice free little Windows-only tool.

Time to get writing!

Relieve Eye & Finger Strain with Snip.ly

Content creation, sharing and consumption is what the Web is about. But, no doubt about it, the process can get a bit weary-making. To that end, there are tools out there that help speed up the sharing process and others that filter and hone information for easier consumption. Tools like curated.by and Keepstream allow you to pull information out of the gushing onslaught to show the thread or “story.” Tools like Amplify allow you to cull bits of information from around the Web – literally clipped sections from Web pages – and share them via personal stream within the Amplify environment or across the Web via widgets.

Amplify is onto something with its “clip the important part” leanings. Another offering that leverages this same concept, while meeting the needs of both content sharers and consumers, is brand new tool Snip.ly. Snip.ly has a site on which people share “snips” of the Web and bookmarklets and extensions to make the process of snipping and sharing as easy as possible. The idea behind the tool is that people see information flowing past in their Twitter and Facebook streams but opt not to explore simply because reading and processing the articles and media behind the links is too energy-intensive. Instead of sharing a link to the full article or media, Snip.ly allows you to clip the most important piece (in your evaluation) and share just that piece via URL. If a viewer clicks on the link, you are taken to the snip and, if the viewer is interested in finding out more, he or she can click within the snip to go to the full content. The snip becomes the gateway or filter – allowing users to expend less energy getting more information about the information on the other side.

Via Snip.ly’s bookmarklet, you can cull information from pages by simply highlighting the text and selecting your sharing medium, Facebook or Twitter, in the bookmarklet’s window. Like Amplify, you can include your own editorial comment on why the content is cool. When your readers click through to the target article or page, your snip remains visible over the page.

This is interesting, for sure,  for the individual user as well as their ultimate target audience. But the big picture is even cooler – Snip.ly will host these snips that ostensibly represent the coolest stuff out there in the minds of Webizens. Go directly to Snip.ly’s site to browse the stuff that caught others’ eyes. If content discovery is your passion, use the “shuffle” feature to get a random sampling of snips. If all goes according to Snip.ly’s Hoyle, it could become a ranking resource of the Best of the Web. Depending upon the filters and search functionality Snip.ly employs, it could become a decent resource in its own right.

Create AND Read PDFs for Free with Nitro

Nitro is at it again. Way back I reported on their great, free, PDF to Word conversion tool. If you find yourself in need of an application that can both read and write to PDF, then Nitro has you covered there too. Nitro PDF Reader is a free tool that allows you to create PDF files, comment and review those files, save PDF forms, extract text and images from PDFs into separate files, type text directly onto the page and even create a signature “stamp” to insert in your PDFs.

Nitro gives you a LOT for free.  The app utilizes a Microsoft Office-style Ribbon with tasks and tools separated into tabs, grouped by functionality, and represented graphically with easy-to-understand text labels. The interface is familiar, facilitating ease of use. The Quick Access Toolbar  promotes easy creation of an accessible group of shortcuts to your most frequently used tools. Nitro Reader incorporates navigation panes, including Pages, Bookmarks, Comments, Output, Signatures, and Attachments. You can navigate larger documents faster. Panes are context-intelligent, and appear or hide depending on the content within the file being opened — when you open a PDF file containing bookmarks, the Bookmarks pane automatically becomes visible.

Extended tooltips on mouse-overs provide fast help and learning for each tool and task in the app. PDF files with additional properties, like security restrictions, digital certificates, or form fields, result in immediate pop up notices. This option is switchable.

Tools include find, zoom in/out, rotate, undo/redo plus history, multiple PDF viewing, preview PDFs in email, PDF creation from over 300 file types, drag and drop creation of PDFs – simply drag any file onto the Nitro icon and get a PDF. Or create a PDF from the print dialog box. You can convert PDF files to plain text or use the Snapshot tool to grab an image or text to your clipboard. Add notes, markup text, and type text directly on the page or document anywhere. Fill in and save forms, even static forms.

This is not an exhaustive list of features. Hit the jump above to see for yourself. And then ask yourself: Why did I pay all that money for Adobe Acrobat? Go, Nitro Go!