Archives for posts with tag: Tools

I recently joined the ranks of tablet owners by getting my hands on a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

The first thing to mention is how awesome using  a stylus is (a stylus is like a pen). A few minutes of using a stylus and using fingers to swipe around seems so 2012. A stylus is great for handwriting notes in meetings and doing anything that requires precision (such as image editing and certain types of games).

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks scouring the web trying to find the best apps to use and thought I would share my findings so far.

Unfortunately, it is true that there aren’t anywhere near as many awesome apps for Android as there are for iOS. However, things seem to be changing, and I’ve even come across a few amazing apps that are Android only!

So here are my recommendations so far (I’ll post more when I’ve got more to share).

Swype

I’ve been using Swype as a replacement for the keyboard on my phone for a while now, but held off installing it on my tablet to see how the default keyboard fared. Verdict – it was rubbish compared to Swype.

Swype is a gesture recognition way to use your keyboard. You swipe your finger across the screen over the letters of the word you wish to type and Swype works out which word you meant. It is incredibly accurate and becomes even more accurate the more you use it.

The ‘Living Language’ feature of Swype means that the dictionary is always updating with the latest words by looking at the words being mentioned on major news sites and other Swype users.

Swype is the kind of tool that amazes people when they first see it. It is certainly worth getting past the slight learning curve at the beginning. Furthermore – I have a feeling that the team at Swype will continue to create smart new algorithms that will make this product even better.

SimpleMind

This is a beautiful and easy to use mind-mapping tool. I’ve been having lots of fun playing with the free version, but I’m quite tempted to pay the £3 for the fully featured premium version that allows you to link mind maps together and gives you a range of styling options.

The dragging interface is intuitive and the workspace is uncluttered, and the app works amazingly well with the Samsung Stylus.

Any.Do

After playing with a few different to-do list apps, I think I’m going to settle on Any.Do.

It doesn’t have many features, which is a blessing for any to-do app. It’s design is simple and elegant whilst the widget is clean and customisable. It syncs across all of your devices and the Chrome extension looks pretty sleek too.

Bacon Reader

If you are a Reddit fan (and if you are not then you need to check it out), then you need the bizarrely named Bacon Reader app.

It offers a great swipe based way to explore your favourite topics and manage your account.

Pocket

Pocket is a bookmarking/read-it-later app which takes the page you are reading and saves it for later offline reading.

Although I already use Delicious for social bookmarking, I’ve decided that Pocket is going to be used for resources that are of a high quality – not just things that I may need to reference later. Kind of like a curated bookmarking service.

It has all the tagging functionality and cross platform synchronisation you expect and also a clean user interface that gives you a little snippet of each page you have bookmarked.

I don’t think it has the same kind of open architecture you would find from Delicious, so it will unlikely ever be a replacement. But it’s pretty darn stylish.

Monkey Write

This cool little app turns learning Chinese characters into a game. You have to get the strokes in the right order in order to earn stars.

I’ve only gone through a couple of workbooks, but it’s proving to be a fascinating introduction into the world of Chinese symbols.

The bug downside to this seems to be the cost. At £2 for every new workbook, it could turn out to be pretty expensive to work your way through all of them.

Regardless, there is a deep sense of satisfaction and pleasure writing these letters and I’m already pretty hooked.

GalaxIR

When I first touched a Tablet I envisioned the gaming potential. Point and click games like Command & COnquer would take on a whole new life!

Unfortunately, all we seem to get is casual games like Angry Birds.

GalaxIR has given me new hope for tablet games. Its a game that could only really be played on a tablet as it requires you to move your hand around the screen selecting units, putting them into groups and attacking the enemy at a super fast speed.

The game itself isn’t too polished – but to me it is standing at the cutting edge of tablet gaming.

Aldiko

Books online seem to come is a range of different filetypes – and Aldiko seems to cover most of them.

It has a cool little bookshelf, let’s you sync between devices, is fully customisable with night time lighting etc and gives you access to lot of catalogues and stores.

The quality of PDF’s didn’t seem to be quite as good as using the officical PDF reader though.

Advertisements

With the ominous SOPA act looming menacingly over the internet it is more important than ever to seek out and support progressive methods of getting artists and writers the money they deserve.

A stand-out service that I have joined is a social micropayment service called Flattr.  You create an account, choose a monthly amount of money to add to a pot (minimum 2 euros) and then click the Flattr button on webpages you like to share the money with the authors.

Kind of like tipping – the idea is simple, brilliant and completely in line with the ethos of the internet. I’ve recently noticed the Flattr button on a few websites – and I’ve started looking out for it on articles that I have enjoyed reading. It is a great way to reward bloggers for their hard work.

The service was started by Pirate Bay founder and spokesman Peter Sunde as a way to reward content creators for their work. Ambitions involve using the Flattr button to pay music and video creators as well as writers – Flattr has already teamed up with SoundCloud to include a Flattr button on their music player and there is a way to add a button to your Flickr account. YouTube are apparently keeping an interested eye on the project and Facebook are looking into delivering something similar. The service has already been used at conferences, enabling listeners to ‘Flattr’ speakers.

The Flattr team have already developed an app for Chrome that allows you to support Wikipedia by pressing a browser button whenever you have enjoyed or benefited from a Wikipedia article. As it is unofficial – they are keeping hold of the money raised and will deliver it the the Wikimedia foundation when enough money is raised. Also, when PayPal and Mastercard froze Wikileaks account – Flattr provided a way for supporters to send funds.

Flattr is a great project ran by people that really seem to value internet freedom over profit. It is a refreshing idea in an age of pay-walls and dangerous legislation, and it harks back to the democratic and collaborative origins of the internet. Money goes direct to the producer, the consumer decides what they consider a fair amount to pay and the Flattr button integrates snugly next to the Facebook ‘like’ button. It’s an idea I hope spreads – so sign up and start Flattr’ing.

Today offered a glimpse of a truly amazing future for conscientious shoppers that want to boycott products.

A team of anti-SOPA activists (read about the Stop Online Piracy Act here) have created an app that allows you to scan a barcode from a product and see whether the product is made by one of the 800 SOPA supporting companies.

It works by automatically checking a product against a database of companies. If the scanned product  comes from a SOPA supporting company, then a big red ‘x’ is displayed on the screen – enabling the shopper to chose not to purchase.

The idea behind the boycott app is brilliant and could be applied to anything. Simply change the list of companies in the database to whoever you want. If, for example, you want to boycott GlaxoSmithKlein after hearing about their exploitative and illegal vaccine tests that killed 14 babies – you could add them to your ‘boycott list’. Don’t like Coca-Cola for any of their irresponsible acts – add them to the list.

In a world where mobile app’s seem to be the domain of marketers – it is refreshing to see mobile technology being used by activists  to empower consumers and help hold corporations accountable.

Ideally this tool should become opensource so that any activists  or consumers can create their own unique database of companies to use with the app. Campaigning groups could make lists for supporters to upload to the boycott app. It could even be used to discover things about products when in a store – e.g. this cereal manufacturer CEO kills baby seals or this fashion designer has links to the far right.

Barcode scanning is something that is set to become more popular among consumers. This app is the latest incarnation of a broader trend of  scanning technology. Amazon recently released a popular mobile ‘Price Check’ app that encourages consumers to scan products they come across in bricks and mortar stores and receive a discount if they buy the product online through the Amazon app.

You could argue that the time it takes to scan every item of a weekly supermarket shop would be a barrier. However, jump a year or so in the future and every item will contain a RFID (radio frequency identification) chip, which is a superior and more efficient method of identifying objects than a normal barcode.

Then the same kind of friction-less technology we are seeing with Facebook will be a part of our shopping experience. Put a product in your shopping basket and your phone will give you a little alert if it is to be boycotted. Check out this ubercool video on the RFID future of shopping to get what I mean.

You may be under the impression that when you search for something on Google the results you see are the same as anyone else that performs that search. This isn’t the case, and hasn’t been for a long time.

In 2009 Google went full steam ahead with personalized search. The idea was to look through your internet history, your Gmail and all the rest of your Google products and look for signals that would enable Google to tailor a search results to exactly what you are looking for.

As well as looking through your history, Google has always wanted to look at your social network to make your search results more relevant. The only problem with that is it doesn’t own any social network data – a social network like Facebook is a ‘walled garden’ that Google can only peek in from the outside.

The arrival of Google+ allows Google free-rein over your social data and will herald the age of a new buzzword – social search. Social search is the process whereby your social network (or social graph) affects the results of a Google search. By looking at the content that has been created or shared by people in my social graph, the results I get from a Google search will be more personalized than ever before.

I’ve already seen this in action. After searching Google for ‘SOPA’ (the Stop Online Piracy Act) I found myself reading from a website that I had never heard of. I traced how I ended up on this particular page and it turns out that someone I have in my Google Circle network was a writer for this website and had +1’ed the article.

This is great, right? Google search results will become more relevant, based upon people like me and less likely to be manipulated by dirty SEO tactics. Some people have even gone so far as to call this a ‘Socratic Revolution’ – suggesting that the era of personalized search is akin to the philosopher Socrates placing man at the center of the intellectual universe.

There is, however, a dark side to personalized search that has been recognized in a book called  ‘The Filter Bubble’ by Eli Pariser. The problem, he argues, is that this personalized ecosystem of knowledge acts as a mirror that reinforces what we believe without allowing the possibility of our views being challenged. Each new layer of personalization strengthens the walls of our own bubble – satisfying us with the information we want to see instead of offering new ideas. Or as he puts it, we are being given ‘too much candy, and not enough carrots.’

Whilst the Filter Bubble emphasizes our uniqueness, it acts as a centrifugal force – it pulls us apart from one another. With enough personalization the front page of Google News will be different for everyone, removing the kind of shared experience we used to have with a newspaper. Also, the Filter Bubble is invisible – we don’t know the maths behind how these algorithms define us. And with the increasing omnipotence of Google – it is difficult to not be a part of it.

So the arrival of Google+ social search marks a new era of ‘invisible autopropaganda’ that will continue ‘indoctrinating us with our own ideas’. What it will also mark is the start of a new form of marketing and campaigning – especially in the run-up to the 2012 US election. If I tap ‘Healthcare’ into Google I will be presented with the healthcare articles that my network has shared. Both the Democrats and the Republicans will have to fight to ensure that they have the right people inside the voters Google Circles.

Whilst we may still be at the dawn of social search – the correct techniques in this area could eventually make or break a campaign. Could 2012 be the year that Obama leverages Google+ to win the election?

Google+ seemed to take up the lions share of my predictions for 2012. It is the most interesting and promising social network out there. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have their place, but Google+ is still surrounded by a suggestive veil of mystery. However – despite all my interest, I don’t actually use the service that much. So with a new year starting I thought I would dive in and see what pearls I can find.

Starting Over

A point raised by Ezra Klein over on Quora is that Google+ allows you a fresh  start. Furnished with all the skills you have picked up from four years of Facebook and two years of Twitter,  Google+ gives you the opportunity to ensure that people are correctly grouped and avoid any miscalculations you may have previously made.

Bookmarking

I used to be a massive fan of social bookmarking and I used to religiously save all the interesting links I found to Delicious. This changed this year for reasons that escape me. I think it was a combination of a forgotten password, a broken plugin or fears that Delicious was to close that stopped me bookmarking everything. However Google+ looks set to bring me back into good bookmarking habits.

The G+ button that you see at the top of webpages and next to search results act as a one click bookmarking function that saves the page you are viewing to your public or private +1 page (here’s mine).

The problems are that you cannot tag links like you could in Delicious and you cannot currently perform searches on your list of +1’s. I imagine this will all be changed soon, and you will be able to search your +1 bookmarks from the Google homepage. After all, Google intends your +1 page to be ‘the place you’ll go to personally manage the ever-expanding record of things you love around the web‘.

Subscribing

Every so often I need to give my Google RSS reader a clean out. I am constantly following new websites and removing others from my feed. On Facebook – I am careful to follow only a few websites and brands in order to ensure my Facebook news feed doesn’t get clogged.

However, when I am subscribing using Google Circles I am instantly encouraged to categorize each subscription. I can have a tech news circle, a recipe circle and film circle. I can have a circle dedicated to particular thinkers and a circle for particular colleagues. And – I can drop people and websites in and out of circles with ease.

You could argue that this is not much different to Twitter lists. Yet things seem easier and more integrated with Google than it does with Twitter.  It is also easier to have longer and sustained conversations around a post than is possible with Twitter’s 140 character limit. The Google+ feed is also more visual and exciting than with other social networks.

Connecting

Google are search – so it makes sense that searching for people on Google+ should be perfect. There is already a directory that has indexed over 31 million users called FindPeopleonPlus which allows you to restrict a search by the profile information logged by Google. This kind of people search is something lacking in Twitter.

The Google+ profile is also something that will become increasingly important. Unlike Twitter which restricts you to 140 characters – Google lets you create a full profile that will act as your shop window to all of your Google activity.

In conclusion

Google+ is going to be the most public of your social network profiles. It will be fully indexed and come up early on Google search. It is also going to serve as an infrastructure behind all of Google’s applications. It is also going to radically redefine what it means to search the internet – as my next post on the world of social search will explore

Blekko is a search engine that allows you to narrow down your search in a unique way. After entering a search query, use a ‘/’ followed by a word. So if you search for ‘Global Warming /conservative’ you will only see search results from conservative websites. Add a ‘/tech’ to a search and you will only see technology related websites.

The website offers an extensive list of slashtags available for you to start using, and encourages you to develop your own.

A great additional feature is the ability to delve into the SEO of the site – so if you search for a domain name using the  ‘/seo’ slashtag you can see all the relevant information.

The site also allows you to mark anything as spam and remove it from all future search results.

Check out the welcome video for more information

In my last post I described some of the main metrics used in social network analysis graphs. In this post I am going to look at some of the important considerations regarding the look and design of a network diagram.

A social network can be very vast, and a network diagram can quickly become very cluttered and unreadable. Netviz Nirvana has been developed to combat this. It is a set of principles that can guide you in your graphing projects. Your diagram should come as close as possible to matching these requirements:

  • Node Visibility – Each node should stand apart and clear from all others – no node should occlude another node.
  • Edge Visibility – You should be able to count the amount of edges coming off from every node
  • Edge Crossing – The less crossings – the better. The more often an edge crosses over another, the more visually complex the image becomes, and the harder it is to follow paths.
  • Edge Tunnels – These are when a node lies on an edge that is not its own. The problem could lie with either the position of the node or the position of the edge.
  • Text Readibility – All text should be clear enough for a reader to read.
  • Text Distinction – All text should be appropriately truncated (use a key if necessary).
  • Clusters and outliers should be clearly visible and distinct.

These are all good points to keep in mind when producing a graph. I would add that you should be careful that all colours used are distinctive from each other, and that they shouldn’t clash (you want your diagram to look good don’t you?)

For a video that goes a bit further into Netviz Nirvana – click here