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Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 6

slideshare-logoSlideShare appears on my year-end list for the third year in a row. I’m thinking that it probably will move into the hall of fame at the end of 2008, barring some sort of major meltdown or such. Three years of being one of my most used and useful Web 2.0 tools probably means that it has the kind of staying power that you would expect for a hall candidate.

As I started using clickers in more and more of my presentations to gather audience feedback, I found that I actually had an increased need to use SlideShare since the clickers increased my need to use PowerPoint slides. Just when I was almost completely PPT-free, the clickers sucked me back in. I’m okay with that because it seemed as though the info I was collecting from the audience was actually the most productive use of PPT I had ever experienced. Then being able to share the data on the PPT charts via SlideShare made it all the more useful as a repository of the information from the presentation.

Since five of my six blogs are WordPress-based blogs, I have no doubt that I use SlideShare a bit more since they have developed a WordPress plug-in that allows me to show slides as this example shown below. Many types of content cannot be embedded into WordPress due to their ban on flash-based content, but SlideShare is one of the lucky ones that has received the attention needed to get a custom plug-in built for WordPress.

A few useful links:

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 7

pbwiki-logoPBwiki was at the top of my 2007 list of web tools. It slipped a bit in the past year, not because I think it is any less of a useful tool than it was previously, but only because I was using it less myself during the past year. No particular reason for using it less, except that there are so many different tools that I use and it just turned out that this was not the year of the wiki for me. It was, however, a good year for PBwiki as they released a new version (PBwiki 2.0) with an updated interface and new features.

PBwiki is still one of the most popular tools in many of the Web 2.0 workshops that I conduct each year. They still are very educator-friendly by offerings advertising-free wikis for educational uses and being pretty generous by giving away many of their premium upgrades. They say that they have over 250,000 educators using PBwiki. That sounds pretty significant to me.

Quoting myself from an earlier submission to Jane Hart’s Top Tools site: “I almost stopped using wikis about a year ago, but PBwiki brought me back with all kinds of new plug-ins and added functionality, plus it is ad-free for educators” Barry Dahl

A couple of fun facts taken from Wikipedia include: a) Jim Groff, a former employee of Oracle Corporation and Apple Inc. is now the CEO of PBwiki, b) over 1,000 wikis were created during the first 48 hours after the June 2005 launch, and c) several companies and education institutions are apparently using PBwiki as a document management system.

Some useful links:

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 8

poll-everywhere-logoPoll Everywhere makes it into the Top 10 this year, partly based on performance to date, and partly based on the promise that it holds for the future.

I have used Poll Everywhere a few different times this year during presentations. Most often I have used it during a presentation where I am using clickers, such as the Turning Point clickers (very good) that we have at my campus. Part of the point is to show how cell phones can be used as clickers, and part of the point is to not lose sight of the fact that technology continues to expand and develop at an incredible rate. This wouldn’t have been possible just a short time ago. Now it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it works.

Using the service is free if you plan to collect 30 or fewer responses per question. This was specifically targeted at being free for classrooms of 30 or less. Sure, some classes have more than 30 students, but the first un-free tier of pricing is $15 per month for 50 responses per question (no limit on the number of questions). You don’t have to sign a long-term contract but instead pay month-to-month. That tells me that this service could be used for four months in the fall and four months in the spring for $120 per year. You can definitely try it out for free before you decide to do anything else with it.

It’s true that not all students have cell phones with text messaging enabled. On my campus our surveys indicate that about 90% do have cell phones. Most clearly have a texting plan since that is a preferred mode of communication for many. So, even though a few of your students might not have devices in their pockets for this task, it clearly has been increasing rapidly and I have no doubt that this will be less and less of an issue in the next couple of years ahead.

Also, text messaging your answer is not the only option. Your polls can also be web-enabled so that people can answer the questions using a computer instead of a cell phone. In fact, they give you the embed code so that you can place the poll anywhere that you want on a web page. For example, place a poll on the home page inside your VLE, or on a content page, or even a discussion forum.

Ironically, although you can embed the poll widget on just about any webpage, I can’t embed it here (WordPress doesn’t allow it.) So, instead just click on the graphic below to go to answer a Poll Everywhere question (no cell phone needed for this one).

poll-everywhere-example

How does it work? (from the Poll Everywhere FAQ page) – As a poll is displayed to an audience, they cast votes by sending text messages to our short code number (99503) indicating the option they wish to select. Their mobile carrier (e.g., Sprint, AT&T) routes their text message to our web servers where the vote is counted. Once counted, the vote is displayed in real time on-screen.

Can I embed a poll in my PowerPoint presentation? (also from FAQ) – Yes, when viewing your poll, click the PowerPoint link for instructions. If you use PowerPoint 2007, you can download a small .pptx file containing your poll. The poll inside this slide can be copied into other presentations, used multiple times in a presentation, and resized like other PowerPoint objects.

Some useful links:

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 9

imeem-current-logoimeem was number 5 last year but this shouldn’t be viewed as a downgrade of how much I like imeem. I think it’s great and I think it’s getting better all the time. The only reason it is not higher on the list is that I also spend a fair amount of time using other music services, including Pandora, Seeqpod, Songza, and a few others. These different services are explained in a post from June titled “Embedding Music Playlists in your VLE.”

Because WordPress will not allow a flash-based player to be embedded, you’ll have to click on the screenshot below to open the playlist at the imeem site. You can embed the imeem player in normal webpages including Blogger blogs and inside things like Desire2Learn, Angel, Moodle, etc. See the links above.

imeem-holiday-embed

If you click through to the playlist, you will probably see that some of the songs in that playlist are not full-length. When I am logged in to my imeem account and using the playlist at their site, they are all full-length. If you don’t have an imeem account, or you are listening to an embedded playlist, some songs are shortened to 30 seconds depending upon licensing agreements between imeem and the music company in question. Songs on imeem will be only a 30-second preview if the artist or record label has not signed an agreement with imeem giving approval for full-length streaming. Their interpretation of copyright fair use principles indicates that a 30-second preview is acceptable. When you search for a song on imeem you’ll see right away whether it is a preview or full-length.

For songs that you already have on your computer, you can upload them to your imeem account and listen to them full-length, regardless of whether imeem otherwise has permission for that song.

You can use your imeem account to store and play audio and videos, and also to store and display photos. It can easily be used for podcasting, as explained in their FAQ section. Although I haven’t done it, it would be easy to embed the player inside your VLE, then each time a new podcast is uploaded it will appear in the player for students or other subscribers to listen to. For video files, imeem supports many different file types, but recommends .MPEG, .MOV, .FLV, and .AVI for optimum results. The suggested video size is 400×300, but other sizes will work as well. For music files, imeem supports mp3s only, with a recommended sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. At this time there are no maximum file size limitations for uploading video or other file types.

imeem certainly has it’s critics since some people don’t like anything that is ad-supported. But come on, they’re doing all the heavy lifting by dealing directly with the a-hole record companies, they’re helping make it legal to access your music from any Internet connection, and they’re enabling you to legally share the music of other account holders. In my book, that’s a pretty good deal. Did I mention that it’s free?   (some of this text is repeated from the June post linked above)

Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 10

ustream_logoUstream.TV enters the Top 10 for the first time this year. Although I’m not a heavy user, it has come in very handy several times for live broadcasts on the Internet. In addition to the live broadcasts, UStream will also allow you to record and archive the broadcast, and it does all of this for free.

This great tool is not even two years old yet, having been founded in March 2007. This year they added co-hosting so that you can have more than one presenter (and more than one web cam displayed), you can have poll questions appear on screen, send out automatic tweets on Twitter about upcoming shows, and probably other additions that I’ve forgotten about.

ustream-barry-keynote

2008 Web Tools Hall of Fame

Hall of fame iconIt’s that time of the year again. Time to add new web-based tools to my Hall of Fame and to announce my year-end Top 10 (not 12 like previous years) tools. The Top 10 are those tools that are not yet in the Hall of Fame. Think of them of being on the cusp of the Hall. If they have another good year, there’s a chance that they will enter the hall next year.

New additions for 2008 to Barry’s Web Tools Hall of Fame:

  • Twitter

  • Picnik

  • WordPress

Here’s the post from last year when the first six tools were inducted. They are Zoho Suite, Flickr, Skype, Meebo, Delicious, and Bloglines.

And now, for 2008, there are three more to be added.

twitter-logoTwitter – This one snuck up on me. A year ago I did move it up to #8 on my year-end list of tools, but I still wasn’t sold on it. A year later it is completely indispensable to my everyday learning and staying connected with lots of smart people. I have little doubt that Twitter as a thought outlet has resulted in a reduction in the number of blog posts that I write. I’m not saying that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s a change in how I communicate. Just a few random thoughts:

Picnik Logo

Picnik – This free photo editing tool is only the second of the free web-tools that I have ever paid for. I bought the premium account partly to have access tot he extra features, but even more for the reason of supporting the company that provides such an incredibly useful tool for my use. For more info: here is the post I made at the end of last year about Picnik.

wordpress-logo-cristalWordPress – Somehow I didn’t even put WordPress on my year-end list of the top web tools. Apparently that means that I was taking it for granted. The site you are reading right now is provided to me (and you) for free at WordPress.com. WordPress is an excellent blogging tool but it is a bit more restrictive than Blogger in that they don’t allow certain types of content (especially flash and javascript) unless they have built a specific tool to utilize the content. This restrictiveness is related to security concerns and is a wise approach to follow. WordPress.org is the free and open source option for hosting your own WordPress blog software. It is not exactly the same as wordpress dot com, but very similar and based on the same original code.

That makes a total of 9 web apps in Barry’s Hall of Fame. BTW, I know how pretentious it sounds to have your own Hall of Fame. This started as a joke but now I sort of enjoy it. These tools are in my Hall of Fame because I use them, I recommend them, and they never illegally bet on baseball.

Coming up next, my Top 10 web tools for year-end 2008.

Paying for Free Stuff

Flick photographer badge

Flick photographer badge

Until recently, the only Web 2.0 tool/service that I’ve ever paid for was Flickr. Two years ago I paid about $48 for a two-year Pro membership to Flickr. I had been using the free version and liked it so much, and found that it was so valuable to me, and found that the free version didn’t quite meet all my needs (I now have 2,550 items uploaded there), so I broke down and spent a little money. I haven’t regretted that choice at all. I paid that fee prior to Flickr becoming a Yahoo property. The other part of my decision was a sincere desire to lend modest financial support to make sure that Flickr could survive. With Yahoo now in the driver’s seat, they really don’t need my cash any more (or do they?), but I’m going to renew my membership within the next couple of days for another two years.

The second time I paid for something was just recently when I started this new blog here at wordpress.com. It’s totally free to have any number of blogs at WordPress, but I wanted to use my own URL (barrydahl.com). To do that I had to pay $10 per year for domain mapping which is what makes this blog appear at my URL instead of the standard wordpress.com URL. I’m also going to pay another $15 (per year) to be able to customize the look and feel of the blog through the style sheets (CSS) for this particular theme. Therefore, my WordPress blog is going to cost me another $25 per year.

Apparently I’ve found my sweet spot for what I’m willing to pay for a really useful service – $25 per year. Now the question is, which services are worthy of my financial contributions, and why? I’m seriously thinking about paying for more of these services in an effort to help make sure that they are still around in the future and to help insure that I have a higher quality experience with those services. Before I even begin to make the rest of the list, I have already decided that I would be perfectly happy to spend about $200 per year (yes, I know that’s still almost nothing – I guess I’m cheap). Therefore, I’m looking for about 8 applications that I would spend about $25 each for. That would leave the other 75-80 tools that I currently use (some very little, some very much) in the unpaid status.

3) I love the photo editing tools at Picnik.com. They have a premium plan that fits right in at my $25 per year guideline. The free tools are probably good enough for me, but occasionally a premium tools might come in handy. The other thing you get with the premium service is that they take away the on-screen ads. The ads are a bit annoying, but something that I’m generally willing to put up with as long as something is free. The premium tools and no-ads are probably not enough reason for me to pull the trigger on the payment – but keeping them in business so that they can continue to fluff the clouds and kill the ants (or whatever other references to a picnic that they make) is probably a pretty good reason.

Picnik screen shot

4) The Zoho Suite of web office (and other) tools has become indispensable to me. I use the online word processing often, I love Zoho Creator and Zoho Notebook, and sometimes use at least four of the other tools there (Polls, Sheet, Wiki, and Show). However, most of their tools are free and I’m not really interested in the few tools that have a premium (for-pay) service. Those premium tools are directed at a Business audience and for the most part aren’t very useful to me. So, although I would be willing to pay a little sumtin-sumtin, I guess I won’t. Creator is the one premium tool that I do use, but their $25 per month fee (for business accounts) sounds about 12 times more expensive that what I’m willing to pay, so I’ll stick with free.

5) Although I’ve been playing with several different online music services, I still like iMeem the best. I’ve been using the free service but they do have a $25 per year premium service. I could see paying the fee but there are two reasons that I haven’t yet. a) their premium service doesn’t include any really compelling services that I feel I must have, and b) I keep feeling that the next best music service is right around the corner. Still, I would (and just might) pay iMeem sincwe it is one of my favorite Web-based services and it fits within my price range.

6) gMail (and all the other Google services) is free. There is no doubt that I get enough value from their various services that I would be willing to pay my agreed-upon pittance, but I’m not compelled to do so until they really need the money – and besides, they’ve never asked (any of us).

7) Skype is a tool that I’ve used a lot over the past few years. However, I’ve found the quality of service toSkype screen shot be rather shaky over the past several months. This is a tool that I would have been willing to pay $25 for in the past, but now that the calls aren’t very clear and that the video is more unreliable, I’m not so sure that I still would be willing to pay. Still, it’s great for when I’m traveling (especially out of country) to be able to talk to and see the family on the computer. There are now plenty of alternatives to Skype, so maybe now it’s time to pick one and go with it.

8 ) I love Toondoo for making comic strips and ToonBooks. I would be willing to pay $25 per year in order to have a separate site where kids could create and share their cartoons away from the temptations to view some of the less appropriate materials that are often found on the main site. They added a safe search button, but that only goes so far. What I’m thinking about is sort of a Ning site where only the people you want to let in will be there but where you still have access to all the Toondoo creation tools. That would work well with my elementary school afternoon tech club.

9) I really like the quality of video delivery from Blip.tv, quite a bit better IMO than YouTube. For hosting and delivering my videos I would be willing to pay something, but there $96 per year Pro Account is a bit out of my comfort zone. They have several features available only to Pro account holders, but none of them are compelling enough for me to plunk down $96.

10) I haven’t decided for sure yet, but maybe I would pay $25 per year for either a social bookmarking tool like del.icio.us or Diigo, and maybe I’d also pay for a good wiki site such as PBwiki or WetPaint. But for right now, free feels like the best price point for all of these tools.

So, to recap, I’ve only spent $50 so far out of my $200 allocation for “free” tools. I’ll report back after a few months to let you know whether I pulled the trigger on any other payments. After writing this post, I’m less inclined to do so than I was when I started down this path.