Category Archives: Tools

Weekly tool, platform and services post.

Facebook – Privacy Settings

Facebook Timeline

Note: We’ve moved the short look at Timeline that was here to a later post, with more details and suggestions. Check it out!

Facebook Settings

That said, with Timeline and other new features Facebook has developed, it’s more important than ever to understand the security and privacy settings on your account. So let’s walk through some of these settings and explain what they mean. We can’t cover every single setting, but we can look at the most important ones.

Facebook Settings menuUp in the upper right hand corner of every Facebook screen, you’ll see your name, the word “Home” and a triangle pointing downward. That triangle means that there are more menu choices. Click the triangle and you’ll see options for Account Settings, Privacy Settings, and the links to Log Out and get Help. [My account has a few extras, for Pages that I manage for other groups.] We’re going to skip Account Settings for the moment and look at Privacy.

 
Facebook Privacy SettingsPrivacy Settings. When you click on Privacy Settings, you’ll see a page that starts by reminding you that you can set the privacy level for every single post you make on Facebook. This is good to remember – you get to choose whether something you post is only visible to Friends, to a list you’ve created, or to the Public. Underneath that, you can set a default setting for all posts; I’d recommend by limiting everything to Friends to start with.

Underneath that are the more specific settings that you can control. Next to each one, click on Edit Settings to see what you can change. For most of these settings, you can choose to let different things (posts, tags, etc.) be visible to No One (but yourself) or Only Me, to your Friends, to all the Friends of your Friends, or let it be Public. I suggest you work your way slowly through the How You Connect and Timeline and Tagging settings, because they’re pretty easy to make decisions about.

Facebook Privacy SettingsNext are probably the most important settings to understand. The Apps, Games and Websites or Apps and Websites settings control what kind of information that sites and apps other than Facebook itself can see and use about you. These are called third-party apps and they include any app created by some company other than Facebook. Most of the games and ‘fun stuff’ in Facebook are actually these third-party apps, and you want to make sure that you only let them see the bare minimum of information needed to use them. A game doesn’t need to know your hometown and an app for the Washington Post doesn’t need to know what your address is.

Click on the Edit Settings link for Apps, (Games) and Websites and READ THE WHOLE PAGE that comes up before you click anything. Then, if you don’t use any games or other apps in Facebook, you should Turn off all apps. Once you click Turn off apps, many of the words on this page will turn grey and the settings will say, “This is disabled because you turned off all apps.” That’s good – this makes your information as secure as it can get. Nothing has access to it unless you permit it.

You might find that when you click on links that other people share, it asks you to let that app do something. THINK CAREFULLY before you click Yes. See the example of a Social Reader app that wants to know an awful lot about me before it will let me read an article someone posted. Do you really want to let this app work, and give it access some of your information? If you’re okay with that, go ahead and click yes. You can always change your mind later by visiting the Apps section of your Account Settings and blocking specific ones. Sample of Facebook App asking for permission it doesn't need

The last two Privacy Settings sections let you make your past posts more or less public (now that it’s easier to see them using Timeline), and to manage Blocked People and Apps. This is another good section to spend some time with, so you can stop getting those game invitations and friend requests from people you don’t care about. You can also add people to a Restricted List, so they can only ever see your public posts. You don’t need to unfriend them, but you can limit what they can see of yours.

[Note: This post has gotten very long – we’ll cover Account Settings in another post later this week. Take your time with the Privacy Settings for now.]

What’s the Big Deal?

So, why do all these apps want access to your information? Because they are businesses, and they are trying to make money by analyzing you and figuring out what you might want to buy from them. Yes, it’s all about advertising and selling information and stuff. We’ll talk more about this later on this month, but for now, just remember that any time you use a tool for free on the internet, it’s because You are the product being bought by advertisers and other companies.

Yes, there are a lot of settings you can change to manage your privacy in Facebook. It seems overwhelming, but it’s really a good thing. You get to keep as much control as possible over what information about you is shared on this social network, with and without your knowing it.

As always, the best way to learn about something is to play with it: take your time, read everything on the screen, and make sure you get help when you need it. For the rest of this month, we’ll look at other types of settings you should find and understand in all of your online accounts. If you have a Facebook account, start with learning these, and next week we’ll look at more places to keep yourself safer online.

Help & Resources

I’ll Tumblr For Ya…

This week, we’ll finish this month’s ‘social finding and sharing’ theme with a look at Tumblr, a social sharing site that mixes blogging and image linking with great results.

What Is It?

Tumblr‘s tagline is Follow the world’s creators, and this visual feast lets you do just that. Tumblr is somewhere between a blog and a microblog (like Twitter): each tumblr site lets you share text, photos, videos, links, or whatever else you’d like smoothly and easily. It’s not meant for long, thoughtful posts (though there are some of those); it’s to help you quickly and easily share neat ideas and the inspirations you find online.

Each Tumblr has a different theme or subject, and all of the posts are about that theme. One stunning example is Things Organized Neatly, full of images of items and parts of things organized into groups or rows. There’s no “point” except to show off some beautiful photography and look at very ordinary things in a whole new way. Check out Dark Silence in Suburbia for an showcase of new and exciting artists, or Revolt Factory – “a collection of ideas that inspire change in culture, commerce and community.” The New York Times is even using Tumblr to repost older images from their archives.

Tumblr also has a simple “reblog” button that lets users quickly share things they find on other people’s tumblrs on their own. “The average Tumblr user creates 14 original posts each month, and reblogs 3.” says Tumblr’s About page.

How Is It Useful?

For people creating Tumblr blogs, it’s a simple way to share your own ideas or reblog other people’s posts. Artists can show new work, race car enthusiasts can share photos, photographers showcase their images, fashionistas offer makeup tips and reviews, and restaurant management students can show off the simple ingredients and meals they prepare. Anything you can imagine, you can put together a Tumblr about.

For groups, Tumblr has an easy submission feature to let the audience submit links for future posts. The submission page for the blog Eat Sleep Draw shows how easy it is. If you’ve got artwork made by you, you just upload the file, give it a caption, enter your contact information and click Submit. Now, you get more visibility for your art and images, and they get content for their site. Check out Designers of Tumblr for another gorgeous example.

If you don’t have an account, you can still search Tumblr for interesting ideas and beautiful images. Just visit Tumblr.com, type a word or phrase into the search box on the right and see what happens. You might find posts about libraries, recipes, football (or soccer in the US), trees, interior design or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Help & Resources

Just a little Pinterest

One of the hottest new tools for sharing online is Pinterest. It takes everything we’ve seen about sharing so far and makes it all visual.

What Is It?

Pinterest describes itself better than I could: “Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. You can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.”

Pinterest is based on an old-fashioned pinboard, used by designers and artists and anyone who works with images. You ‘pin’ images you like to your Pinterest page and organize them into whatever groups you like. Then, the images are always available for you to see and for others to discover.

How Is It Useful?

Since it focuses on images, Pinterest is good for any project or subject that is visual. Redecorating the house, planning a wedding or party, improving your wardrobe, planning travel, organizing recipes – if it’s got a picture, Pinterest is a good way to compare and keep track of it.

Imagine you’re decorating a room. As you visit websites and choose paint, pick furniture and find snazzy storage, you can pin pictures of what you like to your Pinterest board. Then, take a look at your board and see what you think of it all together.

Or, you’re a student writing a term paper on the history of another country. You need to create a visual presentation to go along with your paper, and you can use Pinterest to keep track of all the images you find while you’re doing your research. Then, when you’re ready to make your presentation, visit your pinboard and pick the pictures that work best together. Remember to give credit to the websites or photographers you got your images from!

This is what it can mean to live life online – everything is at your fingertips, ready to discover and compare. Fun, yes?

Try It Out

The best way to understand Pinterest is to browse through other people’s pinboards. Visit Pinterest.com and start looking around for things that interest you. See how other users have chosen and organized their pins, and what sorts of things work best for pinning.

Then, if you want to, sign up to get an invite to Pinterest. It’s still a new tool, and you need an invite to set up an account. Don’t worry, they’ll give you one – they want people to use it! When you get the invitation, follow the link they give you to create your account.

Once you’ve got your account, you can either add the Pin It! button to your browser’s toolbar (scroll up on the page for the button) or, if you have an iPhone, get the Pinterest app from the App Store. Then, whenever you find an image you want to add to your pinboard, you just click Pin It! and you’re done – move on to the next one.

Help & Resources

Finding and Sharing…and Being Social

Last week, we took a look at using more traditional sources of news online to find neat stuff to share. Now, let’s look at the social news sites that make finding and sharing news a much more interactive experience.

What Is It?

Social news sites are places where users – anyone in the world – can post a news story that they’ve found online and share it. Then, other users get to vote on that story, making it appear higher or lower on the list of news items. In this way, the reading community decides what is more interesting or relevant. The same goes for any comments on a story – they can be voted up and down, depending on how interesting they are or what they contribute to the conversation.

Digg was the first general social news site to be well-known beyond the computer industry. It was also one of the first to introduce the “voting” feature. Digg now has Newsrooms specifically tailored to different topics. Read more About Digg.

Reddit (say the name out loud to get the joke) has been around nearly as long as Digg, and it still has the very personal feel it had at the beginning.

Slashdot was one of the first social news sites, focused mainly on science and technology. It’s still one of the go-to places for geeks to get their news, and the conversation in the comments is usually as good or better than the posts.

Fark is a social news site with the motto: “We don’t make news. We mock it.” Try Fark out if you’re a fan of sarcastic humor and weird news.

Now Public is a website for citizen journalists – everyday folks who actively try to find news near them and report it, especially when it doesn’t appear on big media like newspapers and television.

Newsvine was originally focused on political news, but has expanded to include any sort of news from around the world.

Social to Personalized

StumbleUpon is a site that lets you you vote on what you find, and then the site will suggest other stories based on what you tell it you like and dislike. It’s a great way to discover things you would never have known to search for on your own.

Pulse is a social news app for iPhone, iPad and Android that makes news visual. You can choose news sources to create your own personalized news reader from around the web. Read more about how Pulse works.

Digg has also added a customizeable section: the Newswire lets you fine-tune your Digg experience according to your likes and dislikes (not just the community’s). Get more of what you want by choose filters or seeing what’s Trending. (More about Newswire)

How Is It Useful?

Even on the web, major news outlets like newspapers and television news programs can only cover so much, and they don’t often point to all the fun and interesting things in blog posts, on image sites, and in little-known corners of the internet. Social news sites show that by distributing the work among millions of readers (otherwise known as crowdsourcing), much more information can be found and shared than if a single organization tries to do it all by themselves.

Help & Resources

Yahoo! – More than just a search engine

As we continue our month of looking more closely at online accounts, we’ll leave Google for now and see what another provider has to offer. Yahoo! started life as just a search engine (much like Google) and has added features and services over the years.

What Is It?

Yahoo! provides many of the same basic services as Google: web-based email, instant messaging, mobile apps, calendar and even a simple online Notepad. These work in the same way as they do on other online accounts. Read up on these services at the Yahoo! Help Center.

There are a few services bought by Yahoo! over the years that are a little more interesting:

Flickr – We’ve covered Flickr in its own post earlier in this program. What’s important to know is that you need a Yahoo!Account ID to create a Flickr account. Then, if you want to share Flickr photos, you can easily do it using a Flickr app in your Yahoo!Mail.

Picnik is an online photo editor. Once you have either a Yahoo!Mail account or a Flickr account, you can connect them to Picnik and use it to crop images smaller, change the size, add effects and text and then save and share your edited photo. It’s like having all the basic tools from Photoshop in your pocket. (Note: Picnik is actually owned by Google, but has a special agreement with Yahoo as well. Confusing, but useful.)

Evite is an online invitation and party-planning service. Create an account with Evite and you can then quickly create an event page and send out invitations right from Yahoo!Mail. Evite tracks the RSVPS and lets you send messages and reminders to your guests.

You’ve probably heard of Monster.com – one of the oldest and biggest job sites online – but did you know you can use your Yahoo! account to sign up and create a Monster.com profile? When you go to Sign In, just click on the button that says Sign in with your YahooID and you’re all set.

How Is It Useful?

I think each of the tools above is great by itself, but it’s the easy connection between them that is really useful here. Create a YahooID and you only need to remember one login email and one password wherever you can use it to create an account. For the other tools, once you’ve connected your accounts to each other, moving from one service to another is just a click away. Open up a email, look that neat old family photo your dad sent you, crop it and add effects in Picnik, use that as the image for an Evite for your family reunion, then upload it to Flickr and share it with everyone. Neat, eh?

Help & Resources

Stay on Schedule with Google Calendar

Continuing our theme of going deeper with online accounts, this week we’ll take a brief look at Google Calendar.

What Is It?

For starters, it’s a calendar that is easy to check and edit from anywhere you can log in to your Google Account. You can see a day, a week or a month at at time, or view upcoming events as an agenda list. To add an event, you just click on the day, type in a start time and a couple of words about what you’re doing, and click Create Event. If you want more details, click Edit Event and add a location, a description or more.

If you want to keep separate calendars for different things in your life – family events, volunteering jobs, consulting clients, house repair schedules – you just Add a new calendar and then choose whether to make it public, share with only invited people, or keep it private. This lets you share out calendars with the people who need to see them. Other people with Google Calendar can share theirs with you, or you can request that they share with you by typing their email address in the Add a friend’s calendar box on the left.

Google Calendar lets you invite people to the events you create. If you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, set up the event in Google Calendar and then email invitations to everyone on your list. Guests click Yes, No, or Maybe (and the event will be added to their calendar if they have one) and you can easily keep track of the RSVP list. You can send emails to all invitees to remind them of the party, or last-minute changes to the menu.

You can keep a to-do list in Google Calendar using the Tasks feature. Click on a date that you need to run an errand, and click on the word Task at the top of the box that pops up. Add the information about the errand and click on Create Task. The errand appears on your calendar and on a list of tasks off to one side of the screen.

Set reminders for any event or task to pop up on your screen a few minutes or hours before the event starts or the task is due. Never miss a meeting or an appointment again.

Finally, you can add a Google Calendar app to your mobile device and get all these features wherever you are. Those reminders will pop up on your phone, or you can set a ringtone to go off whenever an event is coming up.

How Is It Useful?

Imagine how you can combine all the features mentioned above: You’re hosting that New Year’s Eve party for friends and family. Start by setting up the event and inviting all the guests via email. Check the RSVP list to see who’s coming, and send out reminders to those last-minute folks. Add Tasks to your calendar for party preparations (buying supplies, shopping for a new outfit, meeting with your friends who are helping with set-up) and have that list on your mobile while you’re out running errands. Share the Party calendar with your partner so he or she can keep track of what’s going on without having to ask, and maybe even add a few tasks to their calendar. As the day gets closer, send out a note to everyone attending about how to get to your place by public transit and where the good parking choices are. That morning, check the RSVPs one final time and you’ll know who to expect. Then, get a reminder 15 minutes before the first guest arrives. Success!

You can also use shared calendars to coordinate care between family members for an elderly relative, to find a good meeting date for a volunteer organization, or to stay aware of your closest family and friends’ schedules. Have all that information at your fingertips wherever you are.

Try It Out

If you have a Google account already, just click on Calendar at the top of the page and start pushing some buttons. Add a few events, click on Edit Event and see what your options are. Send an invitation to someone you know well and see how that works. Add a Task or two, or add a few public calendars like holidays or Phases of the Moon. Share your calendar with others, or ask that they share theirs with you (if you know them well enough).

If you don’t have a Google Account, click through the links below to see if it’s useful to you.

Help & Resources

Google Documents – Working together far apart

First, an apology – there was no lesson from LLO last Monday due to circumstances beyond our control. Sorry for the missed week, but we’re back today!

As you may remember, we posted early on in Learning for Life Online about online accounts being more than just email nowadays. During December, we’ll take a closer look at some of the things you get along with your Google, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. This week, we’ll start with Google Documents (better known as Google Docs).

What Is It?

Google Docs is a service provided by Google to let users create and save documents entirely online. Just like the Microsoft Office programs (Word, Powerpoint, Excel), these Google Docs will let you write papers, draft resumes and cover letters, create presentations, put together spreadsheets and write and distribute online forms and survey – all completely online. You can switch from computer to computer to mobile device and always be able to work on your files. Best of all, you can share these documents with others and let them work collaboratively with you on the document. Think about all the party and project planning that would be so much easier without emailing lists back and forth.

Google Docs is made up of five different features:

  • Google Documents is like Microsoft Word. You create a document and type, just like with any other word processing program. Use it for resumes, letters, papers, flyers and so much more.
  • Google Spreadsheets is similar to Microsoft Excel. These spreadsheet programs are good for creating budgets, developing project plans, putting together party to do lists and similar tasks. The basic formulas you can apply do some of the math for you.
  • Google Presentations is their version of Microsoft Powerpoint. Create slideshows for school reports, conference talks, book discussion groups or any other place where you need to present visual ideas to a group of people. Best of all, you can embed the slideshows in a blog or website to make them available to everyone!
  • Google Drawings is a newer service. Use the shapes and drawing tools to add diagrams and flowcharts to reports, to sketch out a process for making household decisions or create an organizational chart.
  • Google Forms is a neat tool to help you create, distribute, and collect responses from online forms and surveys. Simple to set up and share, you can quickly put together a survey to choose an event date, get ideas for a potluck, figure out the best choices for paint colors and learn more about what people are thinking about anything.

For all of these, you can choose to share each document with specific people (invited by email) or publish the document publicly using a web link. You can also download most of the documents to your local computer in a variety of formats including PDF, which is useful for sending out documents that you don’t want changed.

If you’ve started a document on your own computer, you can upload that document to Google Docs to start a file there – you don’t need to do the whole thing over again.

How Is It Useful?

In addition to all the suggestions above, here’s a few ways you can use all of the Google Docs together. Let’s say you’re working with your friends or coworkers to put on a holiday craft fair. By using Google Docs, you can all share the documents, edit them from wherever you are, and save them or print them out as needed. So, create a flyer for the fair in Google Documents, put the price lists and the fair supply budget into a Google Spreadsheet, figure out the map of the artists’ booths in Google Drawings, add an online registration form to your website or Facebook page using Google Forms, and when it’s all over, give a presentation on how it all went using Google Presentations.

Try It Out

If you have a Google account, just click on the word “Documents” up at the top and try a few of them out. Start with things you know already – Google Documents would be a good one – and then try some of the others. If you don’t have a Google account, follow the links to each feature above and play with their demonstration documents. Watch a few videos on how each service works, then maybe sign up for an account and try it for real.

Help & Resources

eBooks – Reading on Other Devices

Last week, we introduced eBooks and eReaders. Today, we’ll look at what’s needed to read ebooks on other devices. After a quick look at some free independent ebook apps, I’ll go into detail about the Kindle apps, using them as an example for how many of these services work.

Independent ebook apps

There are hundreds of ebook apps available through the app stores and markets of whatever device you own. A few of the more popular ones are:

  • Stanza for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch
  • Aldiko for Android phones and tablets
  • eReader for many devices
  • Overdrive for ebooks checked out from your local library (many devices)

Most of these apps are easy to use – all you need to do is follow the steps on the screen. They also work similarly to Kindle apps, which I’ll describe next.

Something a little different is Ibis Reader: a web-based, app-less service that you can access from any computer or mobile device. You simply create an account (by typing in an email address and choosing a password) and you can upload any ePub or PDF format ebooks, or choose from hundreds of freely-available ebooks from FeedBooks.

Kindle ebooks

Originally, you could only read Amazon Kindle ebooks on the Kindle itself. Over the years, Amazon has added Free Kindle Reading apps so you can read Kindle ebooks on your computer or laptop, on your smartphone or other mobile device, and on your tablet (like an iPad). Now, you don’t even need to own a Kindle to use the Kindle Reading apps.

Before you can use any of the Kindle apps, you must have an Amazon account. Visit Amazon’s website and find any link that says “New customer? Start here.” Click the link and follow the instructions on the screen. You will have to provide your email address and a credit card number for buying ebooks. Remember, you can use a dedicated credit card for your online purchases if you want to.

Like all apps, Kindle apps are small programs that let you read your Kindle ebooks on whatever device you’d like. You can download the app either from Kindle’s app page or from the app store on your mobile device or tablet. Once downloaded, open the app and it will walk you through the steps to sign in using your Amazon account. After that, just find an ebook you want, purchase it, then open up the Kindle app on your device and choose that title to download and read. Easy!

The latest innovation from Amazon is the Amazon Cloud Reader. This web app lets you read your Kindle ebooks in either the Chrome or Safari web browsers. (The Cloud Reader doesn’t work with Internet Explorer or Firefox.) If you remember how the cloud works, this app means that you don’t have to download the ebook you want to read – you can just store it on Amazon’s Cloud drive and read it anywhere, from any computer. This is useful if you are borrowing someone’s machine or using a tablet or other device that doesn’t have an app yet.

Nook ebooks

Not to be left behind, Barnes & Noble’s Nook ebooks can also be read on different devices, though they don’t have the web app for any internet browser. Just like with the Kindle ebooks, you do need a Barnes & Noble account before you can set up the apps and download books. Also just like Kindle, you don’t need to own a Nook to use Nook ebooks – just find your preferred device on the list and download the app today!

Kobo ebooks

If you have a Kobo account, you can also read your Kobo books on your iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry and Palm Pre using a Kobo app.

iBooks on Apple products

Apple’s iBooks works on any Apple mobile device (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) and can read both ePUB and PDF formats. It does not work on Apple computers and laptops. You purchase books to read through the iBookstore with the same account you use for iTunes and the App Store.

How Is It Useful?

In our previous lesson, we mentioned a man who never finished a book because he’d lose them 50 pages from the end. Now, he can purchase one ebook from Amazon and read it on his Kindle, on his laptop, on his work computer and on his phone. That same book is always with him, wherever he goes, and he never loses his place or the book itself. He can take notes in a reference book on his Kindle, then bring those highlighted sections up during a work meeting on his laptop’s screen. When he’s standing in line at the Motor Vehicle office, he can read the next few pages of the novel he’s working through…or maybe more. No matter where he is, his library of ebooks is there with him, ready to be read at a moment’s notice.

What isn’t useful about this?

Help & Resources

eBooks & eBook Readers – The Basics

With the surge in popularity of eBooks and eReaders, it’s easier now than ever before to have nearly anything you could want to read at your fingertips in moments. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at what ebooks and ereaders are, how to read ebooks on devices beyond ereaders, and the many places to find and download ebooks.

What Is It?

Electronic books, or ebooks are precisely that – electronic versions of physical books. Rather than read them printed on paper, we read the content of these books on some kind of electronic device. In the US, many people read their ebooks on an ebook Reader, but other devices you can use include your computer, your mobile phone or smartphone, or a tablet device like the iPad or GalaxyTab. Note: This week, we’ll discuss just the ereaders and next week, we’ll look at reading ebooks on other devices.

eReaders are dedicated devices meant only for (or primarily for) reading ebooks on. The Amazon Kindle was the first and most common ereader for many years, but the Nook has become popular because you can also use it to surf the web. Other readers on the market include the Kobo, the Sony Reader, readers from Aluratek and PanDigital and many more.

There are two important differences between different brands of ereaders: the file formats they allow, and the way the screen works.

  • File Formats. There are three most-used formats for ebooks – EPUB, PDF and Amazon’s AZW (Kindle only). EPUB and PDF are what’s called an ‘open’ file format, and they can be viewed by most of the ebook readers out there. Amazon made the choice to create their own ebook file format, and those ebooks can only be read on Kindle devices and applications. You don’t need to know how the different formats work – you just need to know which formats your ereader can read, and which ones it can’t. That will let you find and download the correct format when you’re looking for your own ebooks.
  • Screen Type. There are two primary types of screens for ebook readers:
    eInk or ePaper screens were first used by the Kindle, and later by the original Nook and Sony eReader. An eInk screen looks just like a page of printed text, with a warm grey background and black ‘ink.’ You can change the font size somewhat, but the idea here is to recreate the experience of reading a printed book.
    Color LCD screens were first used by the Nook Color, and they allow the ereader to show color images and to surf the web. With these screens, it’s possible to view magazines, picture books and comic books on your ereader.

Features on ereaders vary from model to model, but nearly all of them will keep track of where you are in a book, let you move from book to book without losing your place, and allow you to download books onto the device for offline reading. Some ereaders will let you highlight text or save notes about what you’re reading, making them useful for students, scholars and voracious readers. The Nook color and other color ereaders will let you surf the web using a basic browser, turning an ereader into a simple tablet device (far less expensive than an iPad!). For an idea of all of the features available, look at the product pages for each of the readers mentioned above.

How Is It Useful?

Imagine being able to carry a small library’s worth of books with you wherever you go, available to read at a moment’s notice? You can decide at the very last minute whether you’d rather be reading the latest James Patterson or re-read that book of Carlos Casteneda’s poetry you love. Now picture being able to write in all of those books without harming them, and marking your place without the risk of losing your bookmark or ruining the corner of a page. Finally, think about all of this happening in a device that weighs less than your average paperback and that can close its cover and slip into a bag.

This is what it means to use an ereader to read ebooks. It is a different experience than reading a printed book, to be sure, and it is sometimes a better one. For traveling, especially, carrying and keeping track of a single ereader is lighter and easier than lugging around a dozen books. Just like iPods and other mp3 players changed the way we listen to music on the go, ebooks and ereaders are changing how we read.

Ereaders can also make it easier to read and finish books. One person who could never finish a book because he always seemed to lose them 50 pages from the end is reading more than a dozen books a year now, thanks to his Kindle. People who need larger text to read more easily now have many more options, because any book can become a large print edition on an ereader. Finally, while electronics are not environmentally friendly themselves, there is some good in not having millions of books printed only to end up recycled not too longer afterwards.

Try It Out

Since I’m not going to tell you to run out and get an ereader, let me suggest getting ahead on next week’s lesson (when we’ll talk about reading ebooks on devices other than ereaders) and take a look at Archive.org. Archive.org is a free online archive of texts, audio, video, websites and many other formats. Search through the texts archives and find something you’re interested in reading. Then, click on one of the options under View the Text – you can view it online, or download it to your computer to read whenever you’d like. PDF might be the easiest format to start with, since nearly every computer can read that format.

Help & Resources

Online audio – Music & audio libraries

Now that we’ve talked about freely available internet radio and podcasts, let’s start looking at your music and audio – the stuff you’ve downloaded or copied from your CDs.

What Is It?

Not too long ago, your personal audio library – the recordings you owned – might have included vinyl records, magnetic 8-track or cassette tapes, or laser-decoded compact discs (CDs). You usually kept these storage devices on a shelf, organized by title, by artist or by genre. You might even have had the same album in three different formats at one time or another.

Since the invention of the mp3 file format in the 1990s, music listeners have been moving away from physical recordings to all-digital music libraries. Music is stored on a computer or a device just like any other computer file, usually in MP3, AAC or WMA format.

Digital music libraries began as folders on the computer, organized like other files of documents or images. In 2001, Apple released iTunes for Mac computers and the iPod, a portable audio player (and in 2003, the iTunes Store and the music industry has never been the same. Now, music lovers are able to easily buy albums or individual songs, quickly share music over the internet, and take their entire music collections with them wherever they go.

The latest change in personal music libraries is streaming (remember streaming?). Music files are stored on your own computer, but you can also securely access that music over the internet or from a mobile device. Now, no matter how big or small your collection is, you can have it all with you all the time. We’ll discuss this feature in our next Learning for Life Online post on music “in the cloud.”

How Is It Useful?

Why digital? The obvious answer is that owning digital audio takes up no space in your home – no more shelves of records, tapes or CDs. Also, by syncing your personal media player to your library, you can bring most of your collection with you on a single device – no more lugging around a bag of cassettes or CDs! However, it’s the flexibility of having your music in digital format that’s really exciting.

Music library software is designed to make it easy to get, store and organize your music, not just by the album but by each individual song. You can put all of your music into a single collection and then sort by artist, album title, song title, genre, time, date added or dozens of other details. You can easily add and remove songs from playlists you create, use the search bar to find specific songs or artists, or randomly play anything in your library. In the newer programs, you can see album cover art and (in iTunes) have the computer Genius create playlists that show off your music in interesting ways.

iTunes is the most well-known music library software out there, but there are others: MediaMonkey, Helium Music Manager, JetAudio and MusicBee (for Windows only) are just a few. Most of these programs work on either Windows or Mac computers, and will cooperate with many of the mp3 players on the market.

Try It Out

If you already have a music library program like iTunes on your computer, poke around in it and try something beyond clicking Play. Create a playlist and add items to it, change the details you can use to sort your music, or add star ratings or descriptive comments to a song. This is your music library – customize it to work the way you want it to.

In our next, last post in the online audio series, we’ll look at purchasing music and moving it “to the cloud” – what that is and what it means. Stay tuned….

Help & Resources

Music Library Programs

General Audio File Information