Monthly Archives: July 2011

Flickr and Online Photos – The Basics

Sharing your favorite photos has come a long way from vacation slide shows and sticky-paged photo albums. Web-based photo sites like Flickr will store your digital photos and other images online and let you arrange them for easy viewing, but there’s so much more you can do.

Atomic

What Is It?

Online photo hosting is just like online video hosting – people sign up for accounts and then upload their photos to store and share. Photos can be linked to individually or in sets; can be embedded into blogs and shared through social media; and can be searched by tags or any other information about the photo (like camera type or the date it was taken).

Photo hosting is different than the software you use to get your photos off of your digital camera. Those photos are still only available on your personal computer – you can then upload them to a sharing site to let others see them remotely. In addition, both Windows and Mac computers also provide photo sharing if you sign up for their online accounts. Also, many photo processing services offer some kind of online viewing: Kodak Gallery and Snapfish (Walgreens & Duane Reed) are just two examples.

How Is It Useful?

Storage and sharing: As we all know, emailing photos to friends and family one by one can be a real pain. By using an online photo hosting service, you can quickly upload your photos, set privacy levels (for public view or limited to only the people you send the link to), and then share your excellent photography with the world. Professional photographers and everyday snapshooters are obvious users of these tools, but so are libraries. The Boston Public Library is in the process of putting its collections of images online. NASA, the Smithsonian and the National Museum of American History all use Flickr to showcase fascinating images and rare objects too fragile to be put on display.

Search: If you’re looking for images to use for whatever purpose, try searching the public photos in any of the services below. Searching for “sunsets” in Flickr will find you some truly stunning photos. Photobucket has grouped their public photos into categories based on the image style or content, including effects like vintage, tilt shift and Holgas.

In Flickr, you can limit your search to Creative Commons licensed photos to comply with a photographer’s copyright when you use their image. Just use the Advanced Search and click on “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.”

Try It Out

Choose one of the photo sites below and run a few searches for things you enjoy. Try searching for a travel destination you’re eager to visit, or for your hometown.

  • Take a tour of Flickr’s features to see exactly how flexible this tool can be.
  • Google’s photo tool comes in two parts: Picasa is photo editing and organizing software you can download onto your computer, while Picasa Web Albums lets you store and share images online.
  • SmugMug is a paid photo-hosting service that provides more security and stability for a low annual fee.
  • Photobucket is a free site that targets bloggers and social networkers, with one-click posting and tons of special effects for your pics.
  • And, of course, there are many, many more to choose from.

YouTube and Online Video – The Basics

Enough with the screens and screens of static text and images. The first decade of the 21st century is much like the first decade of the 20th: still images have begun to move! They’ve also started to speak and sing and…well…

Meet Keepon, a robot designed to react to and engage with children with autism. He’s also an online video sensation, with nearly 3 million views on his first video.

What is It?

Online video hosting is exactly that: individuals sign up for accounts and then upload videos that they’ve recorded. Once uploaded, users can share their videos by email or linking to the URL, or by embedding the video in a blog, social network post or website. Unlike a video posted on an individual website, videos on sharing services can be searched for using tags, keywords or the username of the creator.

YouTube was the first and is the most well-known free video hosting site, but there are others: Google Video, Vimeo and many more.

How is It Useful?

YouTube started as a place for people to share personal home videos, from zombie marches to orchestral experiments and drum line performances. Christmas house light displays and the Hallelujah chorus.

Users quickly realized that any kind of video could be uploaded and shared, from commercials to instructional videos. Rock climbing techniques, juggling demonstrations, experimental filmmaking, movie trailers and knitting instructionlots of knitting instruction.

Soon, posting a video to a website became an important marketing strategy. Bands use online video for inexpensive and easily shared exposure. The pop group OK GO! posted an simple, homemade music video several years ago that gained 40 million views in the first two years it was online. The popularity of their innovative online videos (on both Vimeo and YouTube) skyrocketed them to stardom.

OK Go – Here It Goes Again from OK Go on Vimeo.

Famously, the Old Spice commerical was put up on YouTube shortly after it aired. It was already popular (more than 33 million views so far), then Old Spice invited Twitter users to send in ideas and comments and the company would make short video responses. More than a hundred videos were made over one night and one of the most successful ad campaigns in history reached millions of new people online. It wasn’t long before parodies and imitations started showing up, including a library ad for “New Spice” and a message from Grover.

As internet connections have gotten faster, longer and more serious video has made it to the smallest screen, often kept on an individual site rather than with a free service. The TED Talks, Google Tech Talks and Berkman Center lectures are three series of presentations given at institutions and conferences, put online to share ideas beyond the lecture hall.

More and more colleges and universities are videotaping professors and offering their lectures online, while others are offering distance learning with print, audio and video components. MIT has nearly 2,000 lectures online, free to watch.

Try It Out

Follow any of the links above or below, watch a few videos and then use the search bars to look for more on whatever topic interests you.

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Some more of my favorite videos, just for fun:

Mime Johann Lippovitz’s version of Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn echoed across the web….and eventually got him onto to the stage with her.

Do you remember The Dot and the Line?

Dozens of answers to the question: Will It Blend?!?

Apps – The Basics

“Is there an app for that?”

What Is It?

Apps is short for applications, a fancier name for software programs. On your computer, applications include things like your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome), your office programs (Word, Powerpoint, Excel), your media software (iTunes, iPhoto, Windows Media Player), your email and calendar clients (iCal, Mail, Thunderbird, Outlook) and any other program you’ve got running.

Apps are much smaller versions of applications for smartphones like Android phones, iPhones and BlackBerrys; the iPad and iPod Touch; Android tablets; Palm devices and even e-readers like the Nook.

You search for and download apps from markets like Apple’s iPhone App Store, the Android Market and the BlackBerry App World. Some apps are free and some cost a few dollars. More and more often, companies and organizations are directly offering apps for their products and services on their sites (check out the MBTA’s App Center!), but the easiest way to find apps is to use the app resource on the device you own.

How Is It Useful?

Apps are available to help you do anything you might want to do with your smartphone. Use an app to find a good restaurant for dinner, know when and where a movie is playing, figure out who sang that song playing on the speakers, find a recipe, or even use your Starbucks card to pay for coffee right from your phone.

You can download audiobooks and videos that you check out electronically from your library directly to your device. The Boston Public Library uses Overdrive, which has apps for iPhone and Android.

Try It Out

All smartphones and tablets come with a few apps to get you going. Click on these, open them up, and see what they’re like. There’s no need to sign up for every service with an app on your phone, but most of them provide some kind of use even without an account.

For more apps to play with, visit the app market on your phone: the App Store iPhones/iPads/MacBooks and the Android Market for Android devices. Either use the search bar to find a particular app you’ve heard about, or click on “Top Free” to find popular free apps to try. Don’t limit yourself to games – give a few others a whirl.

Help & Resources

LifeHacker’s App of the Day suggests quality useful apps every day.
Android Market
Apple iPhone App Store
Amazon Apps for Android
Google Chrome Web Apps

Upload, Download, Attach, Save

Moving files around on the web has become something we do all the time, whether we know what we’re doing or not: sending and receiving documents by email, applying for jobs online, sharing photos and music, and buying audio and video online. But what’s the difference between uploading, downloading, attaching and saving?

Uploading just means moving a file from the computer you are working on up to the web. Usually, the button you would click to upload a file says Upload, but it might also ask you to Browse (look around on) your computer to find a file to upload. You might upload a resume file to a job application site, upload a song file to a music sharing site, upload a photo file to Flickr or Facebook, or upload a video file to YouTube.

Downloading is the opposite of uploading: you move a file from the web down to the computer you’re working on. Again, the button usually says Download or asks you to Browse to look for a file. Downloading is also what happens when you borrow an electronic item from the library, buy music or videos from Amazon or iTunes, or save a photo from your web-based email or Facebook onto your computer.

An attachment is a file that you attach to an email message in order to send both the message and the file at the same time. The icon for an attachment is a paper clip, and that’s just what you’re doing: paper-clipping another document to the message you’ve got and sending them both along together. Most kinds of files can be attached to an email message: documents, photos, audio and video. You can also receive attachments in email from other people, which you can download onto your computer. Safety note: Do not open attachments you’re not expecting from people you don’t know or email addresses you don’t recognize. These attachments are one way that viruses get around and infect computers, and can cause you a major headache.

Saving a file means storing it on your computer or a storage device permanently. You can save a letter you’re typing, save a presentation you’ve created or save a photo from your camera onto your computer or to a USB drive. Unlike uploading, downloading or attaching, when you save a file your computer doesn’t need to be connected to the web. In fact, you need to save a document or a presentation to your computer or a USB drive before you can upload or attach it anywhere else.

Help & Resources

Email – Some Definitions

Email is exactly what it sounds like: electronic mail. Emailed messages are sent from one address to other specific addresses directly, and may have documents, photos or other files attached.

Email Providers

Web-based email is email that is entirely online: you visit a website to log in to your account, your email is stored on your email service’s computers, and nothing is ever stored on your computer unless you choose to download it and save it. You can log in to web-based email from any internet browser in the world and from that service’s app on your smartphone or tablet.

Provider-based email is email that your internet service provider offers you as part of your service. Comcast, Verizon, RCN, or any other service provider may offer email that they store on their servers, like web-based email. You access this email using a web browser or from a web-ready television.

Institution-based email is email you get through work, school, or another organization. You usually access this email using a web browser or directly through a client (see below) on your work computer.

Self-hosted email is email you or a friend/acquaintance hosts for you. If you run your own website, you may also get email with that website address provided as part of your web hosting service.

Email Access

All of the above terms refer to who provides and manages your email address for you, in the same way that the US postal service is in charge of managing postal addresses for physical buildings. You can get to, view and store your email using either web-based email or client-based email.

Just as before, web-based email means that your email lives somewhere else out on the internet, not on your home computer. You use a web browser to go to your email provider’s page, log in, and view your email there.

Client-based email means that there is a piece of software on your home computer that you use to access your email. Microsoft Outlook and Mac Mail are two of the most common clients; Thunderbird, Opera and others are also available. Many of these clients also have apps for your iPhone or Android to let you receive your mail on your mobile device.

Help & Resources

Online Accounts: Email and more

Creating an online email account used to mean just that: you signed up for an email address. Now, all of the major web-based email services – Google, Hotmail/Windows Live, AOL and Yahoo! – also offer other tools like photo sharing, instant messaging/chat, blogging sites and more.

For example, your Yahoo account is also good over at Flickr and your Google account works with YouTube. Even your Facebook account can be used to sign in to and comment on hundreds of sites around the web. As this post was written, Google had just launched Google+, offering even more features with your single Google account.

What Is It?

How did this happen? As the email companies grew, they purchased smaller companies that had developed other interesting tools and added these new tools to the services they provided. Google bought Picasa, Blogger, YouTube, Picnik (a photo editing tool) and Orkut (a social network). Yahoo! bought Flickr, Match.com (a dating site) and Monster.com (job searches). AOL owns Patch.com (local community news & events), Going.com (event organization), Mapquest and many more.

How Is It Useful?

Having a single account to log in to many services means not having to remember (or write down) dozens of account name and password combinations. Many of the tools you’d want to create an account for are already bundled together. In fact, when you’re choosing an email service, take a look at everything else you can get with that one account and make your choices based on what might want or need to use.

How are all those individual tools useful? That’s a question we’ll be answering throughout this program.

Try It Out

If you already have an account with one of the big four (Google, Yahoo!, AOL and Windows Live/Hotmail), look around on the home page or menu bar to see what other services you have access to. Choose one tool you might find useful and log in with your existing account. Change a few settings and get started using the tool.

If you don’t already have an account with one of the above, take a look at each of them and see what services they offer. Choose one big provider and create an account, then start trying out tools to see what’s useful to you.

Help & Resources

Search and Maps

Now that we’ve covered the main tools used by the Learning for Life Online program, let’s get to some of the other basic tools of the web.

What Is It?

Search: A search engine is any site that helps you search for other websites based on words you choose. Google, Bing and Yahoo! are the three most popular search engines (right now), but there are many others.

Maps & Directions: One of the most useful resources online, searchable maps provide current information and step-by-step directions from wherever you are to wherever you’d like to get to. They’ll even help you get from the Boston Public Library to Tokyo, Japan, provided you can “kayak across the Pacific Ocean” (steps #26 and #42). Google Maps, Mapquest, Bing Maps, Yahoo! Maps and others are part of the major search engines. Rand McNally and National Geographic are two print publishers who also provide searchable online maps.

How Is It Useful?

Search engines are the only way to find anything on the internet. That might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s mostly true. There are millions upon millions of websites out there, and there is no comprehensive “directory to the internet.” What’s interesting is that each search engine uses a slightly different way to find sites and show results, so if you want to make sure you’ve found everything about a subject that’s online, use as many search engines as you can to go looking.

A paper map is great, but online maps have a few advantages. First, they can be updated much more quickly than published paper maps or even map software on your computer. Second, they can provide street maps, aerial views of buildings and landmarks and street-level views for the same location, to help make finding a place in real life extremely easy. Better still, type in the address (or general location) you’re coming from and where you want to go and you can get turn-by-turn directions on how to get there. You can add multiple locations and create a personalized road trip itinerary.

Try It Out

Using a search engine or a map is as easy as typing into the search bar and clicking Search. Try any of the ones below, and remember to click on buttons to see what happens next, especially on the maps. Search for different combinations of words about the same topic or location and see how the results change. We’ll cover some advanced and specific search techniques in a future Learning for Life Online post.

Google | Google Maps
Bing | Bing Maps
Yahoo! | Yahoo! Maps
AOL | Mapquest

The Social Library Catalog

Learning for Life Online tool #4:
The social Boston Public Library catalog

As more and more people join social networks like Facebook and buy from online retail stores like Amazon, they have come to expect the same kinds of features in all of their online services. Most recently, library catalogs have started to offer useful social features like ratings, comments, sharing, lists and following.

What Is It?

Early in 2011, the Boston Public Library launched its new library catalog. In addition to all the things we expect from a library catalog – good search results, information on where to find items, account information and item renewals – the new catalog offers fantastic interactive features.

How Is It Useful?

Search. The first and best feature of the new catalog is its keyword search and ranked search results, and you don’t need to sign up to use it. Just like Google, this search uses the popularity of items (based on number of copies and number of holds) to give you the most likely results to your search. Searching on “The Help” will take you straight to all the copies of the book; a search for “Harry Potter movies” will get you all of the library’s DVDs of the films, as well as additional items.

Lists. Taking a cue from Amazon, the new catalog makes it extremely easy to create lists and share them online. Anyone can create a list about any topic and include current items in the catalog, items not yet in the catalog (found on Amazon) and related websites. If you have a passion for anything – science, history, painting, carpentry, computers, childcare, baking, health, crafts or travel – you can make a list to help others learn more about it.

Tags. Tags are words and phrases you can add to an item to describe it and make it easier to find. Any user can add tags that describe the genre, tone or theme of a book, movie or album, and any user can search for other items with that tag to find more things to watch, read and listen to.

Sharing. You can share interesting books, movies, CDs and lists straight from the catalog to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and dozens of other sites. Just click on the sharing icons on any item or list to share that information through nearly any social tool you already use. You don’t need to copy and paste anything to share – you do it all right from the catalog.

Following. If you notice that other users often comment with interesting reviews of items or create awesome lists, you can choose to Follow those users just by clicking a button. Don’t worry – it’s nothing creepy. Following just means that you’ll get recommendations for things to read, watch and listen to based on the items that these other users thought were awesome. Better still, the new BPL catalog is linked to other library catalogs across the US and Canada, so you might be following someone from Ottawa, Seattle or New York!

Try It Out

Visit the Boston Public Library catalog and try a few searches. Type keywords into the search bar at the top right corner and see what you get. Use power searches to find very specific things: “Children Chinese DVDs” will show you everything the Boston Public Library owns, not just individual DVD titles. Use the drop-down menu next to the search bar to find Authors, Titles, Subjects, Tags or Lists on topics you’re interested in.

If you have a Boston Public Library card, register with the new catalog by typing in your card number and four-digit PIN. Registering will let you request items to be held for you and allow you to add content like comments and tags, rate items and create lists. Sign up, choose your own username (so you don’t have to type in your library card number any more) and make sure to enter your correct birthdate so you have access to all of the site’s features.

During the Learning for Life Online program, we’ll often create lists of items related to online tools and skills and share them through the blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Use these lists to find all sorts of useful books and sites for living life online.

Help & Resources

Twitter – The Basics

Learning for Life Online tool #3:
The Learning for Life Online Twitter feed

What Is It?

Twitter is the most well-known example of what’s called microblogging – short updates of text, photos, audio or video are pushed out to anyone following your feed on the web, through email, or via their cell phone or PDA. Facebook updates are so short they might be considered the same kind of thing, and serve much the same purpose.

How Is It Useful?

Microblogging lets you quickly update and coordinate with many followers using a single post. For a personal feed, you can let your friends know what you’re up to and share snippets of your life. Companies use Twitter to send out information about their services and products (like Whole Foods) and to offer customer service and advice (Best Buy and Dell, for example).

Searching Twitter can be a great way to find out information and see the buzz about a new restaurant or movie. Just type in the name of the thing you’re looking for into the search bar at the top of the page and away you go. Try a search on a new tech gadget, hot news topic, famous restaurant or summer blockbuster.

You can follow feeds from celebrities, authors, publishers, famous weathermen and even news from the White House. Locally, the Boston Police Department and Boston Fire Department send out alerts and ask for information using Twitter. Boston Food Finds is a feed about all things food in Boston.

Hashtags – words or phrases prefixed with a hash symbol (#) – started as a quick way to link related posts together (try out #womenssoccer). Posters use these to coordinate posts from a large number of Twitter users (for instances, at library conferences) and occasionally as a commentary on their own post. You can search for hashtags in the main search bar to see what is being tagged with that phrase, or you can look at the “Top Trending” topics on the side of the screen.

Try It Out

If you’d like to sign up for a Twitter account, just visit the site, sign up and start posting. Follow anyone you know personally and find a few companies or famous people to follow. Be sure to look for “the official Twitter account of…” in the description to know you’ve got the real deal.

If you don’t want to sign up, start off with a search for the Boston Public Library or a certain kid wizard. Then try searching for anything that strikes your interest.

To get a feel for the possibilities of microblogging, check out a few feeds:

Help & Resources

Facebook – The Basics

Learning for Life Online tool #2:
The Learning for Life Online Facebook page

Ah, Facebook. It seems like everyone is Facebookin’ these days, from the high schooler across the aisle to your mother (it’s the only way to keep track of everyone any more, right?). But what is it, really, and how is it useful to you?

What Is It?

Facebook is a social network – a place where people go to stay connected to friends, family, coworkers and aquaintances online. To create an account on Facebook, go to the main page and fill in the information under the words Sign Up. You will need an email address before you begin; you can quickly set up a free account with GMail or Yahoo!Mail if you don’t have an address yet.

How Is It Useful?

If your family and friends are already on Facebook, then it’s another place to tell them what you’re up to. You can easily share updates, videos, neat web sites, or photos. It’s a great way to invite people to events, and you can use the chat and message features to talk a little more directly to individuals.

People are using Facebook to reconnect with old school friends and past coworkers. They’re also “liking” their favorite places, musicians, famous people & TV shows to get the latest news.

Facebook (or any social network) is no substitute for getting to know people in person, but it can help to keep folks connected even when they’re far apart.

Try It Out

If you don’t want to create a Facebook account right now, you can still see what it looks like. Check out the Boston Public Library Facebook page or the Learning for Life Online page and click around to see what’s there.

If you do want to jump right in, go to Facebook and get going. In upcoming Learning for Life Online posts, we’ll walk through more of Facebook’s features, including the privacy settings and photo albums. In the meanwhile, talk to a friend or relative who’s been on Facebook if you get stuck anywhere. You probably know a few.

Help & Resources