Jing

Playing support technician for your friends and family members is not always fun, especially when you can’t see their screen. You find yourself describing tiny little buttons in really obscure places that you’re almost positive they won’t find. It’s in these types of situations that I bust out Jing.

Jing is free software that lets you record the action on your screen (up to five minutes) and share it instantly. Works on both Mac and PC.

Here are some of the more specific selling points:

  1. Narration. Need to talk out loud as you record? No problem. As long as you’ve got a microphone, you can narrate the video in real time.
  2. Custom Recording Size. Jing lets you specify the area you’d like to record. It could be just the program you’re using, a specific part of that program, or even full screen.
  3. Five Minutes. Some people might see this as a limitation, but I see it as motivation to keep my comments and directions concise and to the point. When you know you’ve only got five minutes, it often forces you to script out what you’re going to say.
  4. Screencast.com. When you sign up with Jing, you automatically get 2GB of online storage with Screencast.com (same company). When you’re finished with your Jing video, you can easily upload it to your Screencast account and share it instantly.
  5. Publishing. Once your video is on Screencast, you can share it via URL or even embed it into a webpage. If you’ve got server space elsewhere, you can also publish to FTP. But if you’d rather keep things local, the option is available to save it locally to your hard drive as a .swf file.
  6. Twitter. Jing also has the option to share your video via Twitter. From the Jing dashboard, you’re able to use your 140 characters and send out a URL to your video.
  7. Lightweight. It’s a small install, and runs inconspicuously in the corner. When you need it, it’s there; when you’re done, it disappears.

Check it out at JingProject.com.

Smart Twitter

I’ve always been a fan of linking things together and consolidating as much as possible. For example, ever since I got a phone that could handle playing MP3s, my Zune player has found considerably less use. Efficiency is the name of the game, people.

Which is exactly why I’ve started using Smart Twitter on Facebook. Because I do most of my social media-ing on Twitter, I went on a quest to find out how I could make my tweets become my Facebook updates, my LinkedIn updates, and my Google Buzz updates. LinkedIn and Google Buzz were easy; it was Facebook that gave me issues.

I’m an anti-application Facebook user. I think they’re pointless and annoying. So when I learned that an easy way to get Twitter updates to Facebook was through an application, I was immediately skeptical. I started searching out applications, thinking it would be an easy find. Instead, I was confronted with several Twitter-related applications, most of which were misleading. Some of them created new tabs on your Facebook profile page for your tweets, others did other things, but it didn’t seem as though any of them actually would update my Facebook status using my tweets.

Then I found Smart Twitter, the application that would finally do it for me. I installed it and waited for the magic, which apparently doesn’t happen right away with a Facebook app. After a while, I got bored and went to do something else. But when I came back — there it was! My latest tweet had become my Facebook update, with hardly any effort on my part.

Now whenever I tweet, those 140 characters get sent out to three other places online, giving me the power to effectively control my social media sites and produce dynamic content on all of them simultaneously and regularly. All in a day’s work, and pretty efficient, I’d say.

The HTC Incredible

Alright, I gave in. The new HTC Incredible came out on the Verizon network, and I bought it.

I took some convincing, however. My first look at an Android phone was the HTC Hero on the Sprint network. Because my dad deals directly with iPhone and Android apps at his job, his company gave him several phones to play and become familiar with, including the Hero. After test driving it for a few days, I wasn’t very impressed. It was sluggish, the buttons at the bottom of the phone were distracting and annoying, and the phone was heavy and clunky. When I heard that HTC had come out with a new phone, I wasn’t expecting much better.

But then I headed to the Verizon store and played with it. The weight didn’t bother me, the physical buttons at the bottom were gone, and the thing was faster than any phone I’d ever seen. Plus, it touted an 8 MP camera, a crystal-clear screen with fabulous resolution (480×800 WVGA OLED), Speech to Text functionality, GPS, and WiFi.

I was sold.

I’ve had the phone for a week now, and have absolutely nothing to complain about. The battery life is just fine, the WiFi works well, the touch sensitivity is fabulous, and the Android Market is replete with fabulous apps. The only thing I question is the trackpad at the bottom of the phone. The only time I’ve ever used it was to take a picture. I’m sure that on future HTC phones, the trackpad will be done away with.

The HTC Incredible has restored my faith in HTC and the Android OS. It’s quick, efficient, and fairly intuitive. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a phone replacement (with Verizon, of course).

Bit.ly Link Shortening Service

Have you ever tried to copy a long URL into Twitter, only to realize that it puts you over your alloted 140 characters per tweet? Well, there’s a way to shorten those long URLs into something a little more manageable and useful. With a link shortening service, you can shorten your URLs and even track the number of clicks on your shortened link.

Link shortening services are all over the Internet. I’ll be using Bit.ly (http://bit.ly). The basic idea is that you take a long URL and enter it into the shortening service, which will then create a unique URL that’ll be much shorter than the original.

Once you’ve created the unique shortened link, it becomes ready for distribution all over the Internet. When people click on the shortened link, it will redirect the user to the original URL, thus satisfying your need to post a link when you’ve got a limited number of characters.

But limited characters isn’t the only reason you’d want to use Bit.ly. Once your link has been created, Bit.ly tracks the number of clicks on that link, allowing you to see information such as where your link has been shared, how many people have commented on your link, and where the clicks are coming from (geographically).

You can even see a timeline of when people clicked on your link. When your link is relatively new, you’ll see a timeline by minute. You can also few the timeline by week, by month, or by total.

Unlike some other shortening services, Bit.ly creates a unique short link for each long URL. However, if you enter a long URL that someone else has already entered (like http://www.google.com, for example), only one short link is created, and all clicks on that link will be aggregated together. This is one reason why you might want to create an account with Bit.ly–even if you enter a long URL that’s been entered before, you’ll still be able to see the clicks that came from your individual sharing of the link on Facebook, Twitter, etc. ¬†And according to the Bit.ly FAQ page, the links should remain active forever.

For those addicted to Google Analytics, this is another step in the right direction to figuring out where your traffic is coming from and making relevant decisions based on the aggregate traffic information. You can begin to further pursue your target audience when you start realizing what is working and what isn’t. Whether you’re a casual blogger or a business professional, using a link shortening service like Bit.ly to shorten and track your links can be extremely valuable.

Why WordPress?

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about why I’m such a WordPress fan. Here are a few reasons why I enjoy it so much:

  1. Easy to afford. WordPress is free! Keep in mind that there are two versions of WordPress you can take advantage of: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.com is an already-installed version that allows you to piggyback off the WordPress.com servers to host your own site. The problem with this is that you’re limited in your admin options. WordPress.org will give you the files to install your own version of WordPress for which you’ll have complete and total access and all admin options. I prefer using my own installation.
  2. Easy to create. If you’ve ever tried to build your own website, you know that it takes more than just a few clicks. In fact, the process is pretty intense. With WordPress, you can have a website up and running in a matter of seconds. The time it took for me to purchase my domain (spencerbean.com) through HostMonster and install WordPress was about five minutes. From there, it’s just a matter of tweaking and editing until you feel like you’re ready to add content and publicize to the world.
  3. Easy to modify. The user interface for WordPress is clean, organized, and easy to use. There are a lot of elements that comprise a WordPress site, so I’ll highlight a few:
    • Posts. When I want to create a new post for my blog, I go the posts section, click Add New, type in my content, and click Publish. That sends it live to my blog page and as content for my RSS feed.
    • Pages. The different tabs or links that you see on my site (Blog, Portfolio, About, Contact) are just pages. Creating a page is as easy as creating a post. Click Add New, give it some content, and click Publish.
    • Themes. Themes control the way your site looks. Things like layout, color scheme, and positioning are all determined by the theme. WordPress has a large directory of themes completely free to use and easy to install. With each theme comes a slew of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that tell your content how to look. With your own installation of WordPress (not on WordPress.com) you have full access to both the CSS and PHP files that act as the building blocks for your site. If you’re code savvy, you can get under the hood and manually tweak a few things.
    • Widgets. Widgets are simply the items that appear in my sidebar. It’s a great way to display content through your entire site, even when you’re jumping from page to page. Currently, I choose to advertise things like my Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts, along with my post recent blog posts and even my live Twitter feed.
    • Plugins. I like to think of Plugins as iPhone apps–they increase the functionality of your site in some way or another. If you want to install Google Analytics, for example, there’s a plugin you can use to make it happen with minimal effort. If you’d like to add a contact page with a form for people to fill out, there’s a plugin you can use for that, too. Just like the themes, plugins are free to use, easy to install, and easy to use. You can search the plugin directory to find relevant and effective plugins for your site.
    • Media. Uploading and adding media (pictures, music, PDF documents) to your WordPress site is as easy as uploading pictures to Facebook. And once you’ve uploaded these items, you can easily access them through the Media Library. If you’ve created a PDF, for example, that you’d like to share with your visitors, you can upload the file, create a link to it in a page or post, and allow people to download and view it.
  4. Easy to hand off. Every now and then I get a call from a friend or colleague who needs a website. I’m more than happy to build a website, but I don’t have the time to keep it updated. And for someone who isn’t comfortable with HTML, PHP, or databases, it’s a steep learning curve if you want to do it yourself. However, if I build them a WordPress web site, all it takes is a few phone calls and perhaps some online training videos for that friend or colleague to be in complete control of their site, including their dynamic content.