Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Comparing Twitter, Jaiku, et al

Read/Write Web compares the biggest players in the microblogging world.

I would not have categorized Tumblr as a microblog. Hmm. I think of it as being more similar to the RSS feed items I share using Google Reader.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Thing 35: Microblogging, or What Can You Do With 140 Characters?

Wow! I still haven't done a blog entry for Thing 35, Microblogging - meaning Twitter and Jaiku and Pownce, pretty much. So this'll be that entry, then, okay?

My initial reaction to microblogging, many moons ago, was a huge "huh? why?" sort of thing. Of what possible use could a blog entry of only 140 characters be? And who on Earth cares if you are wondering what to have for lunch?

But you know, it didn't take long before I saw some really good examples of how to use Twitter and the ilk. For example, there's Barack Obama (which would be better if someone in his campaign would figure out how to update from their cell phone so the feed could be absolutely current), the New York Times (which has feeds for each section too, like Books and Science) and BBCOne, which uses Twitter to notify viewers (or potential viewers) what's on telly. Stateside, The Dr. Phil Show has used Twitter to promote its new season.

I still can't see much reason to use Twitter for personal messages - if I'm arranging to meet someone, I'd use a direct text message or even, you know, an actual telephone call - but for promotion and for things you need to know right now, it's great! For breaking news, weather alerts, and other important stuff, I can't think of anything better. It could also make a fun distraction, maybe as a trivia game: The question is posted, then a few hours later you get the answer?

You may have noticed that all the "good examples" I posted above are from Twitter. Although I have accounts at both Jaiku and Pownce as well, it's harder to find good content on those services. Pownce operates more like an instant message service that lets you send messages to several people at once, IMHO. If there's a way to search or browse entries, I've yet to find it. Jaiku has some interesting participants (and some nice little icons you can add to a post), but I tend to find those when someone recommends them to me. (FakeSteveJobs was marginally interesting at first.) Only Twitter has an easy-to-find way to browse (and, finally, search) postings, which at Twitter are called Tweets. (Wait, I take that back. Here's the same thing on Jaiku. Sorry!)

I'd like to see a listing, somewhere, of the most-subscribed-to posters on all three services, out of curiosity and to make sure I'm not missing something.

Microblogging for libraries? I've got a list of ways we could use these tools:

  • Today's programs and events
  • Latest new book arrivals
  • "Got you interested" things, like that trivia contest or some of the great first lines of literature?
  • A contest for the best 140-character poem?
  • Answers to the 10 most-asked reference questions/reference question of the day
We need to be careful, though, not to microblog without reason. "Just to put something out there" isn't going to cut it. Our postings should be information that followers genuinely want, need or will at least find handy. We might want to take a page from the NYTimes handbook and have many microblogs - one for each branch, say, and even then not lump toddler story times in with news about the latest bestsellers. Create too many Tweets, and no one will be able to hear the bird song because they'll tune it out like background noise.

P.S. - BTW, I'm contributing to the background noise already. Of course I am.

    follow me on Twitter

    And, well, there's a Pownce one too, but I can't find a Pownce widget.

    I'm thinking about starting a Twitter feed - or maybe Jaiku? or both? - that's a Web 2.0 Site of the Day. What'd you think? The biggest problem is that I'd want to post it under a different Tweeter-poster name, which would mean logging out and logging back in, which means more passwords to remember.

    Stuck on Thing 36: Photoediting

    So, I refuse to think of myself as having fallen behind on the Explore ... Discover ... Play activities. Really, it's more like I've gotten stuck on Thing 36, Dressing up your Photos, and I'm having so much fun I kinda don't want to start another activity.

    As usual, I did way too much. I wound up looking at a whole bunch of online photo editors. I wound up with two favorites, and a third I've used the most often! For comparison of the pictures linked below, the original image is here, and the Picasaed image is here.

    Fauxto looked great; I really liked the nice set of drawing tools and the drop shadow effect. However, I was perplexed when I tried to upload a picture - I could only find a way to import an image from the internet. I was also disappointed that crop lines drawn with the marquee could not be adjusted once drawn, meaning I had to get them right the first time. That might be fine for some of you, but my hand isn't that steady. (I found this problem at several other sites as well.)
    Worst of all, though, I crashed Fauxto before I was able to get my picture finished.
    Sample here.

    I found Fotoflexer late in the game, after I thought I was finished playing around for Thing 36, but for actual photo editing, this is hands down my favorite. Fotoflexer makes it easy to change colors in an image, or even knock out the background. Everything works pretty much the way it's supposed to, and there are some cool tools that let you artistically distort your image.
    The only annoyance with Fotoflexer, and believe me it's minor, is that I continually have to log in; the site can't seem to hold on to my information. But it works with Flickr, Picasa, MySpace, Facebook and probably other sites, and the Fotoflexer photo album is easy to navigate and download from. In fact, you can download an entire album at once, a very nice feature.I just can't emphasize enough how pleased I was with Fotoflexer. The editing process was very smooth, and stuff just worked here!
    Sample here.

    Phixr had a few nice features - it automatically zooms out on an image so you can see the whole thing at once, offers a thumbnail preview before it completes any action, and has a handy option to save a cropped picture as a second version of the file so that the original remains intact.
    But I kept losing my image while I was trying to work on it, so I gave up.
    No sample. I can't even manage to login anymore.

    Picnik is one of the first online image editors I used, months ago. I was kinda early on this one, and the site has come a long way since, and I really like it! I thought the Auto-Fix option was exceptional, and I really enjoyed the special effects like Doodle and Lomo-ish. Picnik integrates seamlessly with Flickr, Picasa and Facebook, and generally works well, not to mention the slick interface and nice photo album displays. And the "Create" options are terrific, although I dread the thought of the day Picnik goes big-time and the "plus" features like Doodle and Lomo-ish are only available for paid members. Saving to almost any photo site or your own computer is super-simple, too, and you can do it right from your photo album. And the print option is really nice!
    The absolute best feature of Picnik, and what made it the "killer app", is the way it integrates with Firefox. Install one little extension, and a right-click on any picture on the internet sends that image into Picnik, waiting to be edited and added to your photo album. Oh, the convenience! Even if I had a marked preference for another online photo editor, I'd use Picnik most often simply because of the convenience.
    And that, my friends, is what web applications are supposed to be.
    Sample here.

    was a surprise discovery. The actual image editing here is okay ... nothing to write home about, but not bad either. But if you want to add a cool border to your image, or a frame, or a really unique "artsy" effect, Pikifx is the place. (Look under "Borders," not "Effects," BTW.) Pikifx also loads faster than the other image editing sites, because it starts out showing you a very low quality image - you can force it to display a better one, but that takes longer. Pikifx also lets you see thumbnails of how your image will look before you apply each change, and makes it easy to remove effects you've already added.
    Sample here. (And sprinkled throughout this blog entry. Yes, all three of them are from Pikifx.)

    Pixer looked nice. Unfortunately, it kept losing my picture. In fact, I didn't even have time to mess with it before the picture went away, if it ever loaded.
    Sample here.

    Snipshot is a very basic photo editor, but as such it works really well. I was impressed with how well the crop function works, and was very happy to feed the pixel size of an image displayed in the "adjust" options, because patrons often need image with very precise pixel dimensions for web posting. Other than that, Snipshot wasn't very exciting. A good, basic workhorse.
    Sample here.

    Wiredness is a new site for me, and maybe that's why I couldn't make it do the basics. I couldn't find a way to zoom out on a picture, so I had to crop it if I wanted to fit the entire thing on the screen. Trying to insert text tended the crash the site, and I was frustrated by the lack of a color picker. However, I loved the "rounded" effect under "Photos," especially when combined with some of the artistic options under "Effects."
    Sample here and here.

    XMG Image
    XMG Image was more frustrating than anything else. I couldn't find an option to sharpen my image, or to undo any of my actions. I also couldn't find any way to zoom.
    Sample here.

    What online image editor will I use? If major editing is required, Fotoflexer. If the edits are simple, or once I'm done with Fotoflexer - in other words, most of the time - Picnik, because of the right-click convenience factor and the fun effects, until I have to pay for them. Then I just might take my image over to Pikifx to play with "framing" it.

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