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Making the Web Work for You

August 10, 2012 Leave a comment

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a great tool for automating tasks on the web and making your life that little bit easier

Let’s start with an example.  I regularly download PDFs (Articles, Reports etc) for reading offline, usually on a mobile device during my commute. I’ve done this in a number of ways but recently I’ve mainly been using my Kindle. The process for this is:

  1. I download / save PDF
  2. I send an email with the PDF attached to Kindle (see Sending Docs to Kindle)

Only two steps but it always feels just that little bit too much work! Now using IFTTT I have automated step 2:

  1. I save the PDF to a Dropbox Folder
  2. IFTTT automatically sends an email with the attachment to my Kindle

OK, it’s only a small time saver but every little helps 🙂

Screenshot of IFTTT Recipe

I really like the simple user-friendly interface IFTTT uses for creating these ‘recipes’. It works with loads of popular services & tools including email, RSS Feeds, Twitter, Facebook, Diigo, WordPress, Evernote & Dropbox. See About IFTTT for a more detailed explanation of how it works and Popular Recipes for more ideas on how you might use it.

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5 tools to make your working day easier

August 3, 2011 1 comment

A brief overview of my 5 favourites: Remember the Milk, Dropbox, Delicious, Evernote & Doodle.

After reading The research lab in your pocket: apps and the academy in this week’s THE I thought I’d highlight the 5 tools I make most use of, which includes two from the article.  My recommendations are focused on tools for everyone’s everyday working rather than as “essential academic tools”.

All of these tools have free versions.  Some also have paid for upgrades offering more features or removing usage limits.

1) Remember the Milk

http://www.rememberthemilk.com/

Remember the Milk screenshot

A to do list.  It has many features, including shared lists but I use it quite simply.  I don’t set deadlines, I just use the 3 levels of priority and I use the Notes feature a lot to add information to tasks.  For example I regularly paste emails into Notes. My working day always starts with RTM.  I use both the website and the (Android) app.  You can also update your list via email, Twitter, your browser and probably in many other ways.  See Services. Some aspects, including the Apps require a Pro account (US$25 pa).

2) Dropbox

https://www.dropbox.com/
Dropbox screenshot“Your files, anywhere” is how Dropbox describes itself.  Dropbox replaces your need for USB memory sticks.  It allows you to access your files from any computer by storing them online while giving you access via the Folders on your computer.  There are Apps and access via their website too. It’s great for sharing files with others, as you can invite people to specific folders making it ideal for collaboration.

3) Delicious

http://delicious.com
Delicious screenshotA replacement for Internet Favourites / Bookmarks.  A place to store links to your favourite websites proving easy access to them from any computer and making them available to anyone. I like the simplicity of Delicious and have found myself returning to it after experimenting with a more fully featured social bookmarking service: Diigo. Delicious provides feeds which enables you to display your links elsewhere e.g. your website or Moodle.

4) Evernote

http://evernote.com/
Evernote screenshotReplaces scraps of paper as a central place to make & keep notes.  It can also capture much more – including audio, links to websites, files & emails. You can organise you notes in notebooks and share them with others.  There are lots of ways to access it – desktop, web, Apps and some nice integrations, e.g. with Outlook.  I use this one on-and-off,  mainly for making notes in meeting, at events or on the tube. The premium version (US$45 pa) increases storage, allows collaborative editing and more file types.

5) Doodle

http://www.doodle.com/
A Doodle iconReplaces headaches and roughly a thousand emails when trying to schedule meetings, particularly with those outside of your workplace. A must-use for fixing a date for your next meeting.  No account required, simply choose possible dates/times, email the participants who tick boxes in a simple form. It comes with other calendar integrations but I’ve never tried them.

Bundling Feeds

July 29, 2010 1 comment

Bundles in Google Reader provide a simple way to combine multiple feeds into a single feed.

Earlier this week, thanks to Joe Dale I discovered Google Reader Bundles.  In the past I have used Yahoo Pipes to combine feeds.  For example this M25 Bloggers pipe combines several individual blog feeds into one stream. I think Yahoo Pipes is great but it’s a bit daunting for the uninitiated.

Creating Bundles is much easier, especially if you are already using Google Reader. I’ve created a Bundle of a selection of Ed Tech blogs.  If like me you’re new to Bundles there’s an explanation from Shelly Terrell below.

I’ll be using this to create a bundle of the ‘official’ ALT-C 2010 bloggers which will feed into the ALT-C conference website.

Writing for the Web

July 13, 2010 4 comments

KeyboardWriting for the web is different to writing for print.  Key guidelines:

1) Users don’t read

People use websites; they don’t read them. Web users are focused on a specific goal, they want a piece of information or to complete a task e.g. book an appointment. They do not want to “settle down with a good website”.

2) Important stuff first

The most important information (to the user, not to the editor!) must be given priority.  The top of the page, the area visible without scrolling, should be reserved for the most important information, with the less important stuff & the detail relegated down the page.

Headings & paragraphs should start with information carrying words not blah-blah.

3) Easy on the eye

Most web users scan and web pages need to be structured to help with this.  Long paragraphs of dense text are difficult to scan.  Web pages need headings, sub-headings, bullets, short paragraphs and space to make it easier for users to find the information they want.

When emphasising text use bold or a colour (not colours!).  Underlining & ALL CAPS should not be used and italics can be difficult to read. Links are another form of emphasis that draw the eye.  They should state what they link to and never “Click here”. Emphasis within the main text should be limited as too much is distracting to users scanning the page.

4) Remove redundancy

Unnecessary words should be removed.  Web users are looking for specific information, they are not visiting to read prose. Avoid padding; remove repetition & waffle.

5) Mind your language

Keep it simple, use plain English. Avoid jargon, slang & clichés.  Limit your use of similes, metaphors & humour. Web writing should be conversational rather than formal. Use the active voice (“Actor does X to Object”) in sentences rather than the passive voice (“Object has X done to it by Actor”).

Finally, know your users and always have them in mind when writing.  A website must meet the needs of its users and to achieve this web editors must understand what their audience(s) want.

If you want to know more about writing for the web then I recommend the following:

Image: Keyboard 2 by spadgy on Flickr

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Digital Footprints

September 4, 2008 Leave a comment
Dublin sidewalk

Dublin sidewalk

I recently ran an ‘Emerging technologies’ workshop for Careers Advisers working in HE in Ireland, with Kezia Richmond from the LSE Careers Service.  One of the topics we raised was digital footprints and whether Careers Advisers should be advising students on this topic.  The overall feeling was yes! with people coming at it from two angles.

Firstly, students might want to think about creating a positive online presence for prospective employers to find when they Google them… which I’m sure they do even if they say otherwise.  So, for example, comments on work-related blog posts,  profiles on more professionally-focused social networking sites.  In addition these networks, such as LinkedIn & NiCube are useful places for making contacts & job-hunting.

On the flip side students need to be aware of how their digital footprint might act against them and to think about pivacy & social vs professional networks.  I’m starting to collect useful links on delicious as i have agreed to write a guide on this topic for Graduate Careers Ireland! (And I feel a new workshop coming on!)

Image: http://flickr.com/photos/tjstein/2566862622/

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Blended Learning Guide

May 14, 2008 1 comment

Educational considerationsI like this!  Educational Considerations for Blended Learning is a short booklet from the ENTICE project at Brunel.  It highlights 8 topics to consider when embedding technology into campus-based teaching.  I really like the simplicity of the structure and it’s accessibility.  It’s an easy read which isn’t always the case for pedagogy-based stuff 😉

Need to think about how best to use it next… oh, I came across this on  the e4innovation blog and Grainne Conole has written a bit more about it than I’ve had time to this morning!

Seven things

April 29, 2008 Leave a comment

Dice showing sevenThanks to Blogging IT & EDucation for a reminder about EDUCAUSE’s “Seven Things You Should Know About…” series. I’d used a couple before – covering blogs and wikis – as supplementary handouts in workshops. However I’d no idea how many there were, it’s a monthly thing. As well as the obvious candidates: Podcasting, YouTube, RSS, there are plenty of less well-known topics such as Lulu, Ning & Haptics, so something for all the family!

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/maxbisschop/324291309/