Tech Gift Guide: 5 (relatively) affordable ideas.

December 2, 2009

Pocket Retro Game EmulatorThe future is upon us. Before long, we’ll all be walking around with cybernetic body parts, computers will have emotions and the line between man and machine will be forever blurred, rendering human mortality a thing of the past. What better way to prepare your friends and family to participate in this evolutionary milestone than with totally bitchin’, high-tech gizmos?

»Read more at philadelphiaweekly.com.


4) Mofuse: Launch a mobile version of your Website in minutes

October 8, 2009

mofuse-mobile-site

Mofuse

It’s been 15 months since Neilsen declared that the mobile Web has reached “critical mass” and even longer since news publishers began scrambling to get on board.

Well, the numbers have only skyrocketed since then. There are plenty of providers of mobile Websites, apps and SMS marketing capabilities, but they aren’t all cheap. Vendors like Crisp, Advanced or iLoop Mobile offer really nice solutions, but each one will run you a couple grand to set up, plus monthly fees, revenue shares and SMS messaging costs.

That’s just for mobile (or “WAP”) Websites, SMS capabilities and some other bells and whistles. If you want a native application for iPhone, Blackberry or Android, you’ll have to go to a mobile app developer and fork over a few thousand more bucks.

The good news is that you can get started on the mobile Web without breaking the bank with free or cheap products. There are a few: Verve Wireless (newspapers only), Mobify and Mofuse, to name a few.

The one I found to be the easiest to get started with was Mofuse. In a few minutes, Mofuse lets you launch a mobile-friendly version of any blog or Website; All you need to do is plug in an RSS feed, pick some colors, upload some graphics (optional), and you’re off. One thing: Your RSS feed should contain the full content of each post or article, not just a snippet (You can often change this setting in your content management system, or you may need to contact a programmer to help you).

Mofuse's mobile Web site builder has an easy-to-use UI

Mofuse's backend site editor: Piece of cake.

Like so many great Web apps, Mofuse uses a “freemium” model, with a few tiers of pricing above the free version, each one with a more robust feature set. Mofuse for Blogs, the free version, is really all you need to get a decent-looking mobile site up and running. For more advanced features and customization, Mofuse Premium has three tiers of pricing, ranging from $40 to $200 per month.

Coolest features:

  • Auto-redirect mobile users.The ease-of-implementation will depend on what content management system your full-sized Website is running on, but Mofuse does give you the code snippets necessary to automatically redirect mobile users to the mobile version of your Website. (Note: You can always do this using a simple JavaScript redirect, but it won’t work for people on smaller, non-smart phones)
  • “Send-link-to-phone” widget.Another code snippet that lets you embed a “send link to my phone” widget in your full-sized Website, so a user can text themselves the URL to the mobile-friendly version.
  • Customization.Even without the CSS access that the $89/month “Small Business” version gives you, you can still modify the colors and graphics on your mobile site with ease. Cheaper CSS access would be sweet, though.

Limitations: I feel bad complaining about such an awesome free product, but it does have a few limitations; 1) Rather than redirecting *all* site users to the mobile version’s homepage, some method of relating mobile and desktop versions of each individual piece of content would be nice. That way, if a mobile user follows a link to a specific blog post or article, they’re not redirected to the homepage of the mobile version instead. 2) Although JavaScript is limited on most mobile devices, some means of integrating Google Analytics with Mofuse would be nice too.

Example: PW Style blog (mobile version)


3) Issuu: Make a Flash-based flip book from your publication

June 15, 2009
The Issuu.com dashboard

The Issuu.com dashboard

Issuu

For print publications trying to adapt their content for digital audiences, the debate never ends: How best to optimize our content for Web users without bastardizing our core product (ie, the print edition)? It’s simple: Publish both online.

There are a number of tools out there to make interactive Flash/PDF books, but Issuu is the first hosted one I’ve seen that doesn’t cost anything (they do have a freemium model: Pay extra for a white-label version).

Issuu comes equipped with a customizable embed wizard (with even more customization possible through the developer API), allowing you to pick your color scheme, dimensions and configure a few other options.

In addition to publishing interactive flip-books and documents, Issuu also has a social side: the site is itself a social network, on which you can friend others, exchange comments and, along the way, find new and interesting publications.

Coolest features:

  • Ease-of-use: Upload your PDF. Copy and paste the embed code. Done.
  • Bonus: Attract new readers. By uploading your publication to Issuu (and hopefully adding some basic metadata when you do), you’re sprucing up your site *and* putting your content and brand in front of a growing user community outside your existing readership.

Limitations: The ability to embed hyperlinks into the document would be an added bonus for print advertisers (and, perhaps, provide an additional revenue stream for ailing newspapers and magazines). Nevermind! This is apparently possible.

To get started: Go to www.issuu.com, sign up, and start uploading.

Example: Philadelphia Weekly


Sidenote: Okay, maybe it is time for Facebook to add a “Dislike this” button.

June 10, 2009

Just sayin'.

Just sayin’.


2) Wufoo: Stupid-easy Web forms

June 9, 2009
Drag-and-drop form fields, make up some questions and hit 'save'.  That's all.

Drag-and-drop form fields, make up some questions and hit 'save'. That's all.

2. Wufoo

http://www.wufoo.com

Wufoo is old news for some, but still one of the most handy Web publishing services I’ve come across in the last few years. HTML forms can be a hassle for even the most skilled Web designers and developers. With Wufoo, you can create attractive, extremely customizable HTML forms in a drag-and-drop WYSIWYG interface that even John McCain could use, I bet.

In addition to creating and publishing Web forms, Wufoo also serves as a management console for all your forms, providing rich statistics on usage and collecting all the data for you. Even the most stealthy of Web Ninjas will benefit from Wufoo’s timesaving form creation.

Coolest features:

  • Endlessly customizable: From questions and field types to the CSS that styles it all, practically every pixel can be adjusted to suit your needs.
  • Easy (or advanced, if you prefer) integration: Link to the Wufoo-hosted form directly, or embed it into any Webpage at the drop of a code snippet. Or download the form’s source files and upload it to your own Web server (server-side programming required)
  • SMS & email: in addition to storing responses in Wufoo’s web-based database, you can have it emailed or sent to you via SMS text message. (Hint: this is an easy way to make a clean, usable contact form with no programming required)

Limitations: Won’t make a turkey sandwich for you? Honestly, I can’t think of any.

How to get started: Head over to Wufoo.com and sign-up (free).

For more information: Check out this brief video tutorial on using Wufoo by Chris Coyier of CSS-Tricks.com.


1) Blip.tv: A free, state-of-the-art video platform

June 7, 2009
Blip.tv is a highly capable - and free - video delivery service that lets you cross-post to other media-sharing sites as well.

Blip.tv is a highly capable - and free - video delivery service that lets you cross-post to other media-sharing sites as well.

1. Blip.tv

http://blip.tv

For a free Web video delivery service, Blip.tv’s offering can’t be beat; It even rivals some paid platforms. Sure, you could upload your videos to YouTube, but Blip’s player has no mandatory branding (it’s effectively white-label) and gives you more options.

Coolest features:

  • Developer API to let your Web geeks build a fancy custom player (see MobLogic).
  • Cross-post everything you upload to MySpace, Flickr, Facebook and other media sharing sites automatically.
  • Upload videos via your Web browser, FTP, desktop application or mobile device.
  • Blip automatically publishes standard RSS feeds and feeds optimized for iTunes (among other services). So, all you have to do is upload an iPod-compatible video format to your Blip account and – wa-la! – you’re a video podcaster.
  • Viewership stats: How many people are watching?
  • Basic advertising options: third-party pre-rolls, post-rolls and overlay ads. Blip gives you 50% of the revenue.

Limitations: Advertising is delivered through third-party networks and, of course, you split the cash with Blip. If your organization sells advertising and/or wants to keep 100% of the advertising revenue, you’ll have to look to a paid platform like Brightcove or Twistage.

How to get started: Shoot and edit your video(s). Go to www.blip.tv and sign up. Developers, check out the Blip API developer documentation for more info on how to customize Blip.


Recession-proof Web Publishing: 4 handy tools

June 7, 2009

So, you dodged the last round of layoffs. The company that employees you still exists. Great! You still need a bitchin’, modern Website, whether or not there’s a budget for such a thing.

Don’t worry, you needn’t sell a lung to buy a shiny new enterprise CMS or dip into the kids’ college fund to pay a developer to code something from scratch. There are plenty of free (sometimes “freemium”) tools, plug-ins and products out there.

In this series, we’ll look at four of the most useful and easy-to-use.

As with any Web-publishing technology, knowing your way around code (or having access to a front-end developer) will enable you to take the fullest advantage of each of them, but none of them require it.

So let’s get started…

»Part One: Publishing video with Blip.tv

»Part Two: Stupid-easy Web forms with Wufoo

»Part Three: Turn your PDF’s into interactive Flash books with Issuu

» Part Four: Launch a mobile version of your Website in minutes with Mofuse


Watch it: Us Now documentary looks at the social Web and ponders future of gov’t

May 24, 2009

Us Now is a film about the Internet, social organization and the potential future of government, now available to view online

The concepts aren’t new, but somehow watching these ideas in documentary film format drives the point home in a new way: The folks that invented democracy had no way of conceiving of the means of spreading information, eliciting feedback and organizing people that are now emerging. When the barriers to acquiring information and public participation have dwindled to literally zero for the first time in human history, what will government look like?

Interesting stuff.

You can watch the full-length movie here.


Disruptive technology: Are historical tour guides next?

April 5, 2009

iphone-liberty-bell


Three reasons why it’s a mistake for Hulu to pull content from Boxee

March 15, 2009

boxee-loses-hulu-2
In full disclosure, I am a total Boxee fanboy, which for anybody who hasn’t heard the buzz, is a slick, open source media center application that lets you watch online video (Hulu, YouTube, Joost, Netflix, ABC.com, CNN, etc.) from one clean, seamless interface. You can also plug in RSS feeds for just about any video site you can find an RSS feed for.

Boxee is TV without the cable bill, with a way more diverse selection of content.

A few weeks back, Hulu reluctantly announced on its blog that its being forced to pull its player from the Boxee application, due to complaints from the content providers (meaning the networks).

The move, quite expectedly, sent Boxee users – and many Hulu users – into a furor over what appeared to be another attempt by “old media” to forestall the Internet’s inevitable destruction of its business model.

Boxee and Hulu have been going back and forth ever since, while resourceful users have begun figuring out hacks to restore Hulu’s content to Boxee.

And that is just one reason out of many that this move is going to prove to be a huge mistake for the content providers:

1) Technology first adopters and Web geeks are resourceful. If they want your content, they’re going to get your content. The fact that you think you can stop them proves that you haven’t accepted the reality of the Internet and what it means for the future of your business.

2) Even if you succeed in building an impenetrable wall around your garden of content, guess what: Your competition is not. So, while the NBC and Fox shows are not available on Boxee, content from ABC, CBS, CNN, Comedy Central, BBC, MTV, Netflix, Revision3, YouTube, and literally any RSS-based video feed on the entire Internet are.

3) The advertisements on Hulu videos still play when the videos are consumed through Boxee. So in addition to agitating users and looking stodgy, the content providers are actually denying ad impressions and click-throughs, and, in the process, revenue.