Category Archives: Tools

Weekly tool, platform and services post.

Online Video – Livestreaming

To stay on the streaming theme, let’s take a quick break from audio and look at streaming video.

What Is It?

Livestreaming video is similar to internet radio: video is broadcast live and in real time over the internet. Anyone with an internet connection can visit a website and watch video coming live from somewhere else. Concerts, family reunions, government meetings, conferences, political protests, breaking news stories, television programs – any of these can be streamed as they happen.

Livestream and UStream are two of the biggest services that host live streams for individuals or organizations. YouTube also provides livestreaming for anyone with a YouTube account.

How Is It Useful?

Just like internet radio, streaming video is useful because it lets you watch events live while they’re happening from wherever you are. Whether you’re in front of a television, a computer or a mobile device, you can watch a White House press conference or meeting or state legislatures doing their daily business. Television stations can livestream their video feeds: C-SPAN and WHDH Boston both offer live programming online.

In entertainment, bands can choose to livestream their concerts to let fans who can’t make it to the show watch and listen. Similarly, clubs and concert halls can offer livestreams for the performances they host.

Finally, businesses use livestreaming in many ways: international companies can livestream important meetings to employees around the globe; large companies like Apple can livestream important announcements about their products; and conferences can be livestreamed to anyone who can’t attend (O’Reilly Media and the E3 Gamer conference are two examples).

Yes, there are sillier uses for livestreaming: watching baby squirrels or puppies may seem ridiculous, but the same tool is used for watching wildlife. Imagine students around the world keeping track of life at South African water holes or hawks nesting on a building in New York City (the hawks are gone for the season, but you can watch recorded video at this same page). Science class suddenly becomes a lot more real for kids who might not ever see these animals up close any other way.

Try It Out

Follow any of the links above and just watch the livestream for a while (the water hole is a good one for this). Better still, keep your eyes out for the words “watch us live online” for any event or concert you want to attend, or on a website you visit.

Resources

Online Audio – Internet Radio

How Is It Useful?

I’m answering this question first this week because the answer is simple: internet radio takes all the ease of listening of broadcast radio and brings it to any device you have. Most of the time, you just visit a website and click Play; sometimes, you need to create an account first.

Whether you’re in an office, at home, or working in a shop, internet radio provides an easy way to play music or listen to talk radio in the background during your day. Having it on a computer or portable device makes it easy to interact with, change stations, and get additional information about what you’re listening to.

Finally, what makes internet radio more useful than listening to audio you own is finding new things to listen to. Just like traditional radio, internet radio stations help you discover different bands, singers or ideas. Unlike traditional radio, there are millions of songs and stations out there to find out there.

What Is It?

Internet radio is precisely that: a radio station playing over an internet connection. You use a web browser or mobile app to get to the station or service and just start listening.

By 2011, most traditional radio stations (such as NPR, WFNX and Magic 106.7) are also broadcasting online. Try to find your favorite station online, or see the Help & Resources section below for ways to find stations across the US and around the world. International internet radio helps people visiting or living in other countries keep up with news back home.

Radio Paradise is one of the giants of internet-only radio, providing commercial-free, listener-supported alternative music radio over the web. While you’re listening, you can browse through a playlist of current and prior tracks, chat in discussion forums and read additional information about featured artists.

Magnatune provides access to the music of independent artists around the world. You can listen on a song-by-song basis, but the genre mixes let you discover new music in styles you enjoy. Here’s the World Music, Classical and Hip Hop mixes to try.

LastFM works in several different ways. From the Music tab, you can browse popular hits, listen to genres of music, or search for a specific artist or song. The Radio tab creates a station for you based on an artist you request, which you can change and update however you want. From the Community tab, you contribute to the service by “scrobbling” the music you like. You don’t need to register with last.fm just to listen, but you do for the other features.

Pandora is a free online service powered by The Music Genome Project. First, you create an account and ‘seed’ a radio station with music you like. As your station plays, Pandora adds other music related to what you chose. You can give each song a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, move it to a more appropriate station, or find out why Pandora suggested the song. Over time, you fine-tune your own stations and discover tons of new music.

Recently released in the United States, Spotify combines internet radio – continuous streams of music, easy search, quick links to more information, recommendations based on what you’ve listened to, easy sharing – with the ability to listen to all of the music in your personal mp3 library as well. Truly a 21st century radio service. Note: Since Spotify is still new in the US, you need to sign up to get an invitation. But don’t worry – they’re making good on those invites. Update: No more invitations needed, just sign up!

Try It Out

Try one of the services above, or use a search engine listed below to find a radio station that interests you. Or, if you already listen to a station, go to that station’s website and find their online version.

Help & Resources

Online Audio – Podcasts

Unlike online video and photos, online audio comes in a few different forms. We’ll look at each of them in the next few weeks of Learning for Life Online.

What Is It?

Podcasts are audio broadcasts used to spread the word across the social web. Podcasts are created by professionals, amateurs or anyone with access to a computer and a microphone, and can be on any topic under the sun.

What makes podcasts different is that new podcasts usually come out daily or weekly, with a changing topic or guest speaker. You can subscribe to podcasts through a service like iTunes or through your RSS feed reader, or listen to the cast directly at its site.

As a note, podcasts are different than streaming audio or internet radio. Podcasts have distinct starting and ending points, while streaming audio flows like a river of sound. Our next post will discuss streaming audio online.

How Is It Useful?

Podcasts are a great way to get news updates, to listen to a weekly show, and keep your music updated and fresh. Most importantly, once you’ve subscribed to a podcast, it comes to you automatically as it comes out – you don’t need to keep going and getting the latest episode yourself.

One of the most natural podcast sources is radio. NPR’s podcast directory is a testament to the continuing appeal of well-created audio-only news and entertainment. Find other sources of radio podcasts at PublicRadioFan.com or using your favorite search engine.

Speaking of radio, have you ever heard of live radio dramas? Before television, these terrifying or hysterically funny shows were audio-only entertainment on radio stations around the world, full of special sound effects and live music. Thanks to the internet, they’ve made a comeback in the form of podcasts. Local to Boston, the Post Meridian Radio Players bring live radio drama to the air with its science fiction series The Mask of Inanna and its stage and studio horror performances of Tomes of Terror and p.m..

Other podcasts from traditional media include Nature magazine, the New York Times, PodMed (the Johns Hopkins Medicine News Roundup), C-Span, BusinessWeek and Sesame Street!

If you enjoy running for exercise or for fun, check out the Podrunner podcats from DJ Steve Boyett. These weekly podcasts feature free music mixes for an hour of workout time, either for running or interval training. You can subscribe to Podrunner directly through iTunes or another service, or use the new iPhone/iTouch app to get to the music directly.

Try It Out

How do you find all of these podcasts?

  • Ask friends, family or coworkers to recommend podcasts about topics you have in common.
  • See if your favorite news/entertainment/educational station has podcasts available on its website.
  • If you use iTunes, just click on the Podcasts tab in the iTunes Store to find thousands of possibilities.
  • Search a podcast directory site such as Podcast Alley, Podcast Bunker or Podcast.com to look for podcasts on particular subjects.
  • If all that fails, use your favorite search engine to look for “a subject of your choice” AND “podcast” and you’ll turn up more results than you’d thought possible. For instance, check out a podcast on hockey, knitting or travel.

Help & Resources

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

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