Monthly Archives: February 2012

Finding Neat Stuff Online

Last week, we described many of the ways you can share the interesting links, images and videos you find online. Before we look at some places to find that neat stuff, let’s answer a reader question first:

Why Share?

What’s the point of all this sharing? Who cares, and who has time?

Remember: the internet and the world wide web are just another form of communication, like a telephone conversation or a billboard. Just like you’d share tidbits from the news or a little bit of celebrity gossip with your friends and family on the phone or in a letter, you can do it online via email, a blog or in a social network. The chitchat hasn’t changed much, but now we can share the original works with audio and video, too.

Where to Find It

Searching for topics using a search engine like Google or Bing can give you hundreds of links to choose from. Fortunately, there are many sites out there that have gone through them and found some of the niftier ones.

Technology News – The New York Times has a great Technology section that covers new tools, gadgets and some of the culture of life online. The Personal Tech section and Gadgetwise blog focus on things important to regular folks, while the Bits blog talks about tech business. For everything mobile, check out the Mobile Apps index to articles.

Wired has been reporting technology news for nearly 20 years, and is still one of the best places to find what’s new. It and CNET are also fantastic places to get reviews of that new gadget you’ve been thinking about buying. (And then you get to play with your new toy!)

General News – Every major newspaper and news station worldwide has a website, but there are some web-only news sources. Search engines like Google have news searches built in to offer a wide variety of news sources. The Huffington Post calls itself “The Internet Newspaper,” and it is one of the biggest and longest-running, and Five Thirty-Eight is a political analysis blog focusing on election results. The Daily Beast is the online home of Newsweek magazine, and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is a good first stop for international news. Finally, BuzzFeed pulls hot news from hundreds of sources on the web, and it’s a great place to see what resources out there.

Interesting and Fun – There are more good sources of nifty things online than we can name, but here’s a shortlist of favorites:

  • Boing Boing is a geeky source of news and neat things (Note: occasional strong language)
  • Neatorama, also geeky, but without the edge. Just good fun.
  • This is Colossal showcases amazing images and videos of art and design. Highly recommended.
  • I Can Has Cheezburger is an extremely silly site, full of pictures of animals with funny or ironic captions often in LOL-speak.
  • And, best for last: Cake Wrecks, “When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong…”

This is only the very tip of the “neat stuff” iceberg online. Next week, we’ll look at social news networks and “placeblogging” (blogs focused on places rather than people). In the meanwhile, please share any other sources that you enjoy.

Getting Social – Sharing the neat stuff you find online

When the internet began, the only way to share interesting information online was to copy and paste it into an email, or forward one email message around and around.

Nowadays, the web is built for sharing neat stuff. From social networks like Facebook and Google+ (G+) to video and photo sharing sites, it’s easier than ever to share the interesting links that you’ve discovered.

Copy and Paste

The easiest way to share a link is still to just copy and paste. At the top of your browser, you’ll see the address bar. Inside of that field is the web address or URL, usually starting with “http://www.[something]”. Click into that address bar and highlight the entire URL. Then, either click on Copy (under the Edit menu at the top of your screen) or use Ctrl-C or Command-C to copy the item.

Next, just paste the URL wherever you want to share it from – into an email message, into a Facebook status update, into a comment you’re writing, into a blog post of your own. Click on Ctrl-V or Command-V, or Paste from the Edit menu and the full URL will appear. No need to type it all out yourself; let the computer do the work of remembering all the numbers and letters.

If you’re a bit more comfortable with a mouse and are on a web page, you can right click on the link you want to share and choose Copy Link Location. This avoids the possibility that you don’t highlight the entire URL in the address bar before you copy it.

Sharing in Facebook

Sharing a link in a Facebook status update can be as easy as pasting a URL into a status update, but do get a few more choices. First, when you paste that URL into a status update, Facebook knows you’re linking to a web page and will add a little preview of that page, including the title, a bit of text and an image. You can get rid of the image by clicking the box next to the words No Thumbnail, and you can click on the preview text to delete or change any of it. You can also share to the public or to just your friends by changing the Audience drop-down on the post.

Sharing something that a friend posted on Facebook is even easier. At the bottom of the post, click on Share. Facebook will ask where you want to share this item – your Wall, a friend’s Wall, or in a private message to someone. Pick the destination you want and follow the steps until you’re done.

Finally, all it takes to share a photo or video via Facebook is to upload it. Click on Add Photo/Video at the top of the page, then either upload a single photo/video or Create a Photo Album to add many photos of the same event or thing. Walk through the steps and when you’re done, your photos or videos will be shared on your Wall or Timeline.

Sharing from Flickr or YouTube

There are two ways you can share a photo or video that you find online. Just above the image (in Flickr) or just below it (in YouTube), there’s a small Share button. Click that and either:

  • Copy the link that they offer you, just like you did in the address bar. Now you can paste that link into a status post, email message or as a link on a page.
  • Get the HTML/Embed code. This small bit of web page code will let you actually paste the video itself into a blog post, blog comment, or web page you create. If you’re not using one of those tools, don’t worry about the Embed code – just copy and paste the link itself. But if you are using a blog or working with your own website, try embedding the video instead. Copy the code they offer you and paste it into your blog post or comment. It should look like this:

Sharing Anywhere Else

Most websites and tools will let you share items in one of the ways described above. Before you just cut and paste the URL, look around on the page and see if you see a Share button to click. Try clicking and see what happens – the service will probably just walk you through the steps you need to share using either a link or by embedding an image or video.

A word of caution: If the service requires you to create a new account with them before you can share something, stop and pause for a minute. Ask yourself if you really want to create a new account just for this, or if just copying and pasting the URL is fine. You don’t need to create accounts just because a website tells you so. Remember that you get to choose what you do and don’t want to do online, including signing up for a new service. Pause, and decide what you want to do next.

Help and Resources

Next week, we’ll take a step backwards and look at how to find neat stuff online. Stay tuned….

Playing With a New Gadget

Welcome back to Learning for Life Online, the Boston Public Library’s self-directed learning program about online life. We’re starting up again after a brief hiatus by getting back to basics.

Courtesy of Imamon on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed
When you’re trying to live life online, it’s important to know how to play with a new online tool. It’s also important to know how to start using and playing with the gadgets that connect us to those online tools. Some gadgets are so easy to use that it’s no problem, and others require a little more work.

Here are some suggestions for getting started with a brand new gadget:

  1. Read the manual, but don’t try to read it all at once. Start with the list of What’s in the Box and the Getting Started or Quick Start sections. Go slowly, and look up any words that aren’t familiar. Read as much of the manual as you can before you turn your gadget on.
  2. Push the buttons Follow along with the manual, step by step. Learn what each button and setting does when you press it, one by one.
  3. Do the ‘driving’ yourself. If you let another family member or friend ‘set up’ your gadget for you, you won’t understand how it works. Try to at least get the basics, so you can troubleshoot any problems yourself. Do ask someone to go through it with you, if that helps, but push your own buttons.
  4. Be patient with yourself. You’re learning a new skill and a new tool. Don’t rush, and take breaks when you need to. The more time you take now, the more you’ll know from now on.
  5. Have fun! This isn’t school, and you aren’t getting graded. Learning how a new gadget works gives you the freedom to play, and gives you the power to make it do what you want it to (rather than the other way around).

Remember, like online tools, similar gadgets often work in similar ways. The Power button always turns it on and off. The volume controls will be the same everywhere, as will Play and Stop. Menu button will almost always get you back to your main menu of choices. Yes, some of these gadgets have a lot of buttons, but the basics tend to look and work the same way on all of them. If you knew how to operate a cassette Walkman, an iPod or other mp3 player will feel very similar.

Help & Resources

There are too many kinds of gadgets out there to list, so here’s a few good ideas for finding help about your gadget online:

  • Go straight to the company’s website. Type the full website address in at the top of your browser and hit Enter. Then, look for a link on that says Product Information, Support, Help, or Troubleshooting. Click on it, read the screen, and click the appropriate link.
  • Use a search engine to find information. Type in the full name of the gadget and the word ‘support’ or ‘help,’ then click Search. Lots of results will come up – look for ones from the company that made your gadget first, then try others. The first page of results will have the most popular links, which might be most helpful (if they’ve helped other people).
  • Ask someone else who owns one. A friend, a family member, someone you know from work or school. Even if they don’t know the answer to your question, the two of you might be able to sit down together and figure it out. That answer might be useful to them one day, too.
  • Use a search engine to find discussion forums about your gadget; search for the name of your gadget the word ‘forum’ or ‘discussion.’ This is a little more advanced, usually, because the conversations on these forums are often technical.