Power of the Internet

February 4, 2006

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while now. I feel like there are a lot of people out there that don’t realize what potential exists online. Not just on the web, but with all the various software you can download that utilizes the Internet.

Everyone knows about the basics: Hotmail, MSN messenger, Internet Explorer, Google, Amazon, etc.
But, there’s a lot more out there to be had besides doing searches for information. I’m just going to do a laundry list of items with a short description, and maybe I’ll go into more detail about them if there is some interest in knowing more about them.

Let’s start with next-generation of basic applications on the internet. They (mainstream bloggers, media) are calling them “Web 2.0,” just to describe the advances they’re making with the software. Web 1.0 are the general webpages, stuff where you go and read, bookmark, print, end of story. For them, Web 2.0 is about communicating with the websites, sharing information more easily, and doing more and more desktop work (ie word processing, calendars, financial banking) online. Myspace.com would probably be classified as Web 2.0, because it’s people communicating with each other, building social networks of friends, sharing links to music, blogging, etc. The rest of these applications will be similar in this vein.

Before I go into the applications though, there’s one other phrase that is used a lot out there: tagging. Tagging is another system of organizing. Instead of putting files into separate folders (A, B, C), with tagging you could put all the files into one folder. Instead of searching for a file name, you would search for a tag- which is a label that categorizes things, but you can include multiple tags on an item. So, the play “Romeo and Juliet” could be tagged as: Shakespeare, play, theatre, love, romance, fiction, historical, etc. You’d do a search for “love” and “Romeo and Juliet” would show up, rather than searching directly for it or going through a hierarchal file system through folders like English > Play > Shakespeare.

With that out of the way, we can dive into some of these sites.

Flickr: Flickr is a photosharing website. You can post your photos and tag them so people can find them easily. It’s purely photos, there’s no blogging or stories to the pictures. Just the pictures with a few comments about what it is you’re seeing. It can be more advanced than that though. People can leave comments on the pictures, you can group your pictures into “sets” (like a photo album), put your photos into a group of photos with everyone else (popular with events like NYE in NYC or a gay parade, etc), and easily share photos with people. A common thing to do is when you’re inserting pictures into a blog post, you can refer to your photo on flickr (or other photosharing sites) and embed it into the post.

If you want to see more of my photos on there, go over to My Pictures.

del.icio.us: is like Flickr, except that instead of sharing pictures, you’re sharing websites. It has some of the basic functions of Flickr, but without commenting on your links. You can see the tags you click on the most easily enough, or which websites you do, and so on. I don’t need to go much further into it because it’s pretty self-explanatory. You have a list of your websites on one side, and a list of tags on the other. You can either see all your bookmarks, or everyone’s.

To see my links, go here

Writely: is an online application. Like what it name implies, it’s a word processor online. Has all the functions you would expect it to have: save to file or online in various formats, spellcheck, being able to format everything, etc. Why you would want to do your word processing online comes down to this: accessibility. Here’s an example that all students are too aware of: you bring your disk to campus to print your 20 page paper, only to realize that your computer doesn’t have Word on it. Before, you’d have to race around to find a computer that did, or go home to reformat it in the program you used to write it in. Now you won’t have that problem if you use Writely, because it prints directly from the webpage, without it appearing like a webpage (ie no links on the top/bottom). It’s also a handy storage space for files you may want to reuse often (cover letter or resume comes to mind). You can import files into it, too, so don’t worry about retyping everything.

What else it adds that Microsoft Word doesn’t have is the ability for people to collaborate on a file at the same time. Perhaps a group of students are supposed to be writing a paper together. Usually, it falls to one person to collect all the notes from people and type everything up, email it out, then do all the corrections people suggested. Now, people could work on the document together. One person can do their page, another their’s, and then you can edit each other’s work. Writely also saves revisions, so there’s no worries about losing everything if someone sabotages everything.

You can also tag and share your writing publically (like a blog), or share it with specific people only. If you’re curious about how this could work, give me your email address and I can set up a test project to show you the power of it all.

There have been plenty of online calendars created, but none have been to my liking yet. The only thing that comes close to this is:

Goowy: a comprehensive application, it calls itself a desktop replacement on the web. You can also download it to your desktop, too. What it includes are: widgets (floating programs which could tell you the weather, iTunes tunes of the month, a search bar for Google, etc), email, calendar, and games (quite a variety). You can import a lot of your email settings into it to handle your POP email (@sasktel.net and whatnot), and import a calendar file, too. With the calendar, you can add attendees to an event (with their email addresses) which should email them about the event. But there’s no way for people to view your entire calendar to see how busy you are/aren’t. This may be updated later, but there are plenty of other products in development, so we’ll see how they handle things.

RSS = real simple syndication. In the past, you’d receive an email saying so-and-so wrote a new blog post, now all that is automated. Instead of getting an email and having to open up the web browser, the task is more organized. Most treat it like email programs treat their content. On the left side is a list of all your subscriptions (blogs, usually) and then on the right is the preview panel with the actual blog content. There are a lot of RSS readers out there now, both web-based and software based, and lots of variety on how it is viewed. Here are two of my favourites:

Abilon (their website has expired, so here’s the download link for their software with a snapshot of it). Abilon is software that you download. It’s just like how I described it above, very simple to use and quick to master.

Google Reader is an online version for RSS reading. It’s pretty clean, but displays things a bit differently than Abilon does. It shows article titles first, not the feed title, so it can be a bit confusing, but it’s fast. Again, pretty easy to get used.

But, like I said, there are many, many more out there. You just do a search for them (“RSS reader”) and you’ll find plenty.

One more website before I finish this off for now:

Digg is a website that focuses purely on other websites, but besides doing a search for content, they have a ranking system of sites. People who find a website are free to post up that link, then if other people find it useful/interesting, they “digg” it and a counter goes up beside the link. So, a website that has a “20” beside it will be more useful than one that has “10” beside it. It’s not the only site like this, but one that’s probably the easiest to navigate around. It may or may not be more useful than your usual website search engine if you’re after current or popular content.

Other websites to look at it if you’re curious: Technorati, Deviant Art, Podcast.Net

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