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.

RSS 101

I’m a recent convert to RSS (don’t ask me why it took so long). And seeing as how I’ve only just found the joys of loading my RSS reader with feeds, I figure there are plenty of other people who don’t know the kinds of benefits to be reaped from becoming an RSS fanatic.
We’ll start with an analogy–using RSS is like subscribing to a local newspaper. When changes are made to the newspaper (think daily newspapers), those changes are delivered to your doorstep in printed form. You can even subscribe to several different local newspapers at once, all of which will have changes, and the changes will be delivered to your front door. You don’t have to go out; they come to you.

That’s how RSS works. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. From a user’s perspective, it’s a simple way to collect updates from blogs, news articles, and other online content instantly and to a single location. From a publisher’s perspective, it’s a simple way to publish updates to blogs, news articles, etc. instantly and in a standard format for users to read.

Basically, it simplifies things. No more bogged-down bookmark bars with the blogs of all your friends, immediate family members, and distantly-related cousins. No more checking the Times for the latest articles. It’ll all come to YOU.

Enter Google Reader. There are plenty of RSS readers out there (you can even use Outlook if you’re married to your exchange server), so you might want to do your homework. Honestly, I started with Google just to play around with it, and haven’t found anything I really dislike. So Google Reader it is (for now).

First, find the feed you want to subscribe to. If you click on a “Subscribe to RSS” button on any web site, you’ll see a new window open up with a new URL. Copy that URL to your clipboard (CTRL + C).

The second step is logging in to Google Reader. Once you’ve logged in, you’ll see an environment that somewhat resembles an email inbox.

On the left, you’ll see a button to Add a Subscription:

Just paste in the RSS feed obtained from your source. In this case, I’m using “spencerbean.com/feed”, the feed URL for this blog.

Once you’ve subscribed to a feed, it’ll show up in your list of subscriptions:

You’ll see I’ve got quite a few, arranged by folders. To manage your subscriptions and put them into folders, click on the arrow in the top right corner of the subscription panel:

I won’t go into the details there–hopefully it’s pretty self-explanatory.

One last tip (personal preference, really): Change your Show options from Expanded to List. You’ll find this option in the top right corner of your browser, just below your Google account name, settings, etc:

Changing it to list will show only the title of each new RSS feed item that comes in. It more closely resembles a Gmail inbox.

You’re all set to go! Now, any time something comes in from that feed, you’ll see it in your “inbox” area. And if you have multiple feeds, they will always come in by date and time, with the newest on top. Simply click on the title from the “inbox” area to read the post.

If you want to go to the actual article on the actual web page, click on the two arrows next to the title:

You’ll notice that some articles in your RSS reader may not contain the full text. That’s just a ploy on the publisher’s part to get you to actually visit the web site. In those cases, you’ll almost always have to follow the RSS article to the actual article by clicking the double arrow button.

And that’s RSS in a nutshell. In other posts, I’ll show how to browse for feeds you might be interested in. Check back for more posts.