Technology Tools for Information ManagementBy Barbara Fullerton and Roger V. Skalbeck, Published on August 18, 2008
Note: This is a summary of materials presented by Roger Skalbeck and Barbara Fullerton at Computers in Libraries 2008 in Arlington, Va., as well as a similar program presented by Roger Skalbeck, Barbara Fullerton and Susan Skyzinski at the American Association of Law Libraries 2008 (Portland, Or.).
At two conference this year, we had a chance to give collaborative presentations on favorite technology tools. In doing these, we decided to try something different. We wanted to avoid PowerPoint at all cost, and not risk showing sites live online. Instead, we scripted screencast videos of the tools we would cover, and presented them in a brisk fashion, all run directly from the computer's harddrive. Initially we wanted to do 30 tools in 60 minutes, thinking that this would give us twice as much time as your typical 60 something in 60 minutes program. As it turns out, we had forty-five minutes for each program. Ultimately, we ended up presenting around twenty tools at each program, which was a bit tricky given the time. Thankfully we talk fast.
The screencast videos are too unwieldy to present online, so we've compiled highlights of the tools in the following brief entries. With many of these tools, we've tried to list alternatives if we know about them, while also noting some other relevant elements. With all of them, at least one of us used the tool on a regular basis. Undoubtedly there are tools we should have covered but didn't. I guess that gives us a chance to do this again some day. It's a lot of work to create, but it is also pretty fun.
Partial Xobni display shows email traffic (incoming v. outgoing), as well as person's rank in email correspondence. Graph shows the time of day this person sends email.
Information Need: Searchable Outlook Email
Description: If you've ever been frustrated with the default search options in Outlook 2003 or 2007, consider getting the free add-on application called Xobni (which is Inbox spelled backwards). Not only does it provide superior email search options, it builds a network listing of your contacts, and it makes finding attachments very easy. It can also associate phone numbers with contacts, even if somebody is not in your address book. Also, it provides email analytics, showing average response time, email traffic trends, and related statistics. They partner with LinkedIn for displaying profile information and pictures, and there's talk of a Facebook tie-in.
Color editing screen, all run in Flash through the browser.
Information Need: Discover, create and share color palettes
Solution: Kuler from Adobe
Description: To create or find color palettes, Adobe's Kuler is a great option. Starting from a single base color, you create combinations such as monochromatic or complementary colors. Controls on the color wheel let you adjust colors for very specific values, and it gives you color properties with multiple values (e.g. RGB and Hex code), so you can easily use these in a print or web application. You can also share colors with others, and search thousands of palettes for relevant tags. There's a new feature that lets you analyze a picture from Flickr to build your palette interactively.
Note: If you use Dreamweaver, check out the free PalettePicker extension, which integrates Kuler functions directly in your web editing environment. Kuler is by no means the only color generator online. For alternatives, consider this list of 25 Popular Color Scheme and Palette Generators.
Google Custom Search Engine / Rollyo
Homepage for Rollyo: "Roll your own search engine"
Information Need: Search only a specific set of sites
Description: To search only a defined set of websites, consider Google's Custom Search Engine (CSE) or Rollyo. Both let you choose a set of sites to search, save the search collection, and share it with others. Rollyo has more of a user-friendly interface, with predefined search categories and a way to promote your search collections. Google's CSE, on the other hand, give you more configuration options. For instance, you can imbed output in a page on your site, so you maintain a URL with your own domain name. You can also customize output colors to complement your site design
Note: By default, results from the Google CSE display advertisements with search results, which can be excluded for educational sites.
Share your computer desktop with one or many remote users.
Information Need: Share your computer desktop with others
Description: This product is a low cost service that can help you share your computer screen with others. This application can be used in training sessions, online conferencing, computer troubleshooting and answering customer service questions. It is easy to install and easy to use. Retail cost is about $50/month.
Web Developer Toolbar
Color cubes representing the stylesheet colors used by the New York Times on their homepage
Information Need: Test your website as delivered to the browser
Solution: Web Developer Toolbar
Note: Also consider the Firebug extension, which provides many more debugging options, including integration for PHP or ColdFusion. Firebug also lets you edit any code delivered to the client computer and display it locally. This is very handy for mocking up text changes or testing changes to a stylesheet without having to transfer files to the server. There's also an Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar, which will apparently be built in to Internet Explorer 8.
Saving a record from the Library of Congress website.
Subject headings automatically appear as tags.
Information Need: Manage research citations in your browser, for free
Description: Zotero is an extension for the Firefox browser for collecting and managing citations directly in your browser. With this, you create a collection of materials, whether it's bibliographic citations from a catalog or copies of web search results you want to store and index locally to your computer.
Note: Zotero 1.0 only stores citations local to your computer, so you have to transfer the research database if you use multiple systems. As of July 2008, they are testing Zotero 1.5, which lets you synchronize your collections and use existing EndNote export styles when Zotero doesn't have an equivalent format. See also: EndNote, RefWorks, Citrus. Also, you can read a great review of Zotero here on LLRX.com.
Information Need: When You Need to Generate RSS Feeds
Description: This free widget is one way to have users access feeds and share content. For example, you found a website or blog that does not have an RSS feed. With this widget, you can easily create feeds for your PC and mobile device. The application is very simple to use. Registration is required. This product was created by NBC Universal. There is a search engine to find RSS feeds already created for your favorite sites, but the link to this search engine is not very visible to the user.
Note: There is a search engine to find RSS feeds already created for your favorite sites, but the link to this search engine is not very visible to the user. Registration is not required, but it allows the user to track feeds.
Conduit's browser-based configuration interface.
Information Need: Create a browser toolbar with customized links and RSS integration
Solution: Conduit toolbar
Description: Conduit provides a browser-based tool that lets you create a branded browser toolbar that can include your own logo, customized search engine choices, RSS integration, and multi-level menus of links you select. In our library, our database links route people through our proxy server, and we promote our blogs by including headlines in the RSS reader. You can also customize section graphics with seven sets of small icons.
Note: Currently Conduit toolbars only work in Internet Explorer and Firefox. Also, it's geared towards commercial sites, highlighting features such as a rewards program and toolbar promotion campaigns. As an alternative, consider the open source LibX toolbar. It is intended much more for researchers, and you have much better configuration options for things like recognizing ISBN numbers or integrating with CiteuLike.
Meebo signup page.
Information Need: Instant message chat across multiple networks or directly in the browser
Description: With its IM multi-applications on one site, you can choose to use AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Gmail, Google Talk, etc. without downloading any software. This is great for organizations that have a “lock down” on software applications. A single buddylist is available to use on any of the applications.
Setting up an RSS feed for a government site that doesn't have one.
Information Need: Get RSS from a site that doesn't have it
Description: This is a web-based tool that lets you create an RSS feed from a page that doesn't otherwise have one. You simply browse to the page, click on a few links where new material appears, and it generates the feed for you. With the free version, you can create three feeds. For paid accounts, you get more feeds and more frequent updates (up to 1 hour vs. 4 hours).
Note: Setting up a Ponyfish feed involves some degree of trial and error, so you may need to test your configuration to make sure it's getting what you expect.
AddThis Bookmark Widget
Graph showing percentages of bookmarks saved to nine separate services. Top three are Google Bookmarks, Facebook and Reddit.
Information Need: Let users bookmark your content to your
Solution: AddThis bookmark widget
Description: If you run a blog or more traditional website where you want to give users options to save your content, you have two options: You can select specific sites (e.g. Facebook and del.icio.us), or you can use a tool that aggregates multiple content sharing sites into one graphical widget. With AddThis.com, users can select among three dozen target sites to share your content. One feature of AddThis is that you get aggregated statistics showing which pages people bookmark, and percentage distribution of the services they use.
Annotation and customization interface for SnagIt software.
Information Need: A
picture screenshot is worth a thousand words
Solution: SnagIt 9.0
Description: For around $50, this utility tool can help you capture and create screen shots for your publications, e-newsletters, blogs, wikis, training materials, etc. This tool helps you snag your web project and share it with others. With an easy-to-use interface, you can draw lines and arrows, make comments, change colors, etc. on your “snagit” projects screens. You can save the captions as GIF, JPEG, PCX, PNG, TFF, TXT and AVI.
Note: This tool can capture entire web pages. It's probably one of the best tools in the field. For alternatives, take a look at this online review of 10 related programs. There's also a free Firefox extension called Screengrab! that does a fine job with no bells or whistles. It's certainly better than just hitting <print screen>.
Fantastico interface: single click installation around fifty programs
Information Need: Try Drupal, WordPress, PHPNuke or others with no programming required.
Solution: Fantastico web hosting
Description: If your internet host has Fantastico available (often found in the Control Panel (or cPanel) interface), you can install around 50 separate programs with a single click. Fantastico takes care of database setup, directory creation and related server settings. Read about it on the Wikipedia Entry: Fantastico (web hosting). Programs include blogs, around a dozen content management systems, a mailing list system, project management tools, a wiki and others.
Note: One potentially bad problem about using Fantastico is that program updates lag behind the release date anywhere from a day to a few weeks. For instance, a WordPress update took up to three weeks to get updates on a host I used in the past.
Site details for the file 'svchost.exe'
Information Need: Where can I find info on that weird DLL?
Description: After you have initialed your anti-software and it found a strange DLL or EXE on your computer, what can you do? Surf to ProcessLibrary. This site is a “technology heaven” of information on those strange extensions found on your computer. The library will give you the status of those extensions, if they are harmful to your computer, how to remove them, etc.Note: As PC Magazine’s Top 100 Classic Websites, this site should be bookmarked and utilized. Launched in 2004, and written in plain English, this library is free to all users.
Initial screen for BrowserShots.org, listing all available browser versions to test, as well as options for size, color and page components
Information Need: See how your site looks in more than fifty different browsers on three operating systems ... for free
Description: With this free online website, you choose a single URL, decide which browsers you want to test, and then your request is queued and sent around to a distributed network of comptuers that generate full-page screen captures of your site. This is a great way to really test browsers on an operating system you don't have.
Note: During peak times, BrowserShots.org can be slow, and you typically have to renew a request every 30 minutes or it terminates. There are options to pay to get better priority. For more sophisticated options, including mobile device rendering and virtualization options (to test a site, not just look at a page), try BrowserCam.com.
ScribeFire extension open in bottom of browser, copying text and image from a web page, posting it directly to your blog
Information Need: Post to multiple blogs without leaving the webpage you're reading
Description: Scribefire is a browser plugin that lets you post to numerous blog platforms using a single interface that's integrated with the browser. From their toolbar, you can embed YouTube videos, Flickr photos, upload files and manage posts. It supports eight named blogging platforms, as well as any that choose to implement the relevant programming interface.
Note: If you just post to one type of blog, it's probably best to use the system's native blog editing interface, which of course will be web-b ased. Some features don't work on all blog platforms (such as category or tag management), and they are frequently updating this to tweak the features.
If you want to integrate sites like Facebook, Pownce and Digg, while making it really easy to use RSS in the browser, try out the Flock browser, which is based on Firefox.
Watch That Page
Information Need: Find out when a website changes, without using RSS
Description: This application is a free service that can help you monitor web pages and extract new information from them. When changes are made to a site, a daily email to the user announces the changes for each webpage. For about $25/year, you can subscribe to the service to receive “faster” announcement emails. Registration required.
Note: Other applications that monitor sites are: InfoMinder (monitor web pages, blogs, RSS feeds, and Wikis) and TrackEngine (updates on web pages are highlighted in your email message). ChangeDetect looks like it might offer a similar service. Recently, WatchThatPage.com's website has been down for more than a week. This could be a temporary problem, or they might not be online any longer.
7-Zip software in action
Information Need: Zip or unzip files for free, even directly from a USB flash drive
Description: This is a simple and free utility to unzip files in any of several compression formats. It works with more than fiften formats for unpacking compressed files, five of which can also be used to create compressed files. You can also add encryption in two of the file formats.
TechCrunch Video Download + Adobe Media Player
To view FLV files, Adobe's Media Player and the latest Real Player both work well.
Information Need: YouTube, offline.
Description: Online, a common format for streaming video is a form of a Flash Video file, which ends in .FLV Some sites provide direct download of files in this format, and a tool from TechCrunch lets you download files from YouTube in this format. Once you've got a file with the .FLV extension, you can view them offline in the newest media player from Adobe.
Note: Do not, do not use this to violate copyright. NO! The latest version of Real Player includes options for downloading video files, which is a feature they promote on their homepage. If you prefer open source software, consider the VLC Media Player. It's not as fancy as commercial players, but it lets you convert files using numerous media formats. For instance, with a bit of effort, you can turn a Flash Video .FLV file into an MPEG video.