Tag Archives: creating content

Make it Personal – Creating Custom Gifts Online

Last week, we took a side trip into supporting small, independent artisans and business folk online. This week, we’ll continue to gift-giving theme and look at ways to create personalized objects of all sorts.

What Is It?

It used to be that if you wanted to personalize a t-shirt or mug, you had to use expensive silk-screening to do it. Custom-printed holiday cards were only for the well-off, and publishing your own photobook wasn’t even an option. Now, electronic text, digital images and online business transactions have made highly-customizable cards and gifts easy and relatively inexpensive. We are all creators of content, and now we can share it more broadly than ever.

Remember SmugMug from our online photo post? Use their printing service to showcase your favorite photos through prints, puzzles, photomugs and other personalizable gifts. You can even print professional-looking photo books through SmugMug using Blurb, a photo-publishing platform. CafePress and Zazzle also offer custom-printing using your own designs and images.

Lulu (mentioned last week and in one of our ebook posts) will also let you print photo books, as well as calendars and text-based books. Rather than a simple “family letter” in the holiday card, send a photobook of the year in review. Share memories from a child’s year as a calendar for the next, or print your own poetry or family stories and send them to everyone.

Moo initially made their name by offering minicards – trendy mini-sized calling cards with individualized designs or photos – but now stand out by letting you create sets of cards or stickers with a different image on every one. Think of the possibilities!

If custom printing is more your speed, you’ve got a wide array of sources to choose from. VistaPrint or Next Day Flyers will take any text you input (or upload) and print it on business cards, stationery, greeting cards, sticky note pads and more. MakeStickers.com works on a similar platform to make custom stickers just for you.

There are many, many more options out there for creating unique, personalized gifts and cards out there. Just use your favorite browser to search for “custom [whatever you want to make]” and see what’s there.

Next week, we’ll have a short post on good ideas for safely purchasing items online, and then in December we’ll get back to our regular pattern of a new kind of tool each week. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Supporting Small Businesses, Online

This fall, we’ve seen a lot in the news about the need to support smaller local businesses and stop buying from large, impersonal corporations. Not everyone can occupy a downtown area, but there are things anyone can do, even online.

What Is It?

It’s easy for small, independent businesses to create a website and sell their productions online (like bunny slippers), but there are services that bring together hundreds of sellers and makes it simple for us to buy from them. Rather with struggling with their own sites or giant multipurpose clearinghouses, sellers can just set up an online shop and go. The service handles the website maintenance, the purchase transaction and possibly even the printing, and the sellers can focus on creating neat stuff.

Etsy is a “marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade,” and it gives artisans a place of their own on the internet. Creators put up their wares for sale, Etsy handles the money transactions, and then the crafters ship the products. Check out a few examples to see what’s available: Fancy Tiger craft supply, Grandma Flies a Broom vintage & antiques, Tiny Warbler children’s toys, Rocky Top Studio photography prints & cards, Have It Sweet confections, and many more.

Lulu.com is a self-publishing business and marketplace for creatives of all sorts. They use Lulu’s tools to format their content and turn it from electronic files into print, CD, DVD, calendars and reports, then sell their items directly through Lulu. The old “vanity press” is a thing of the past, and self-publishing is a way of the future.

CafePress and Zazzle offer a similar service for folks who want to sell merchandise to promote a band, company, event, online comic strip or anything they can think of. T-shirts, mugs, calendars, CD covers and gifts of all sorts are available.

Threadless takes a slightly different twist. Artists and designers upload their submissions and Threadless members take a week to vote on the designs. When an idea wins, it’s printed onto a T-shirt, bag, iPhone case, and more. Often edgy, Threadless t-shirts are perfect for the eclectic freethinker in your life. A related site is Society 6, showcasing artists from around the world and offering their art as prints, device cases and shirts.

New to the scene, Spoonflower makes quilters and fabric crafters around the country swoon. You can upload an image or design to their site and they will custom-print fabric for you. They also sell fabric designed by others, for whatever project suits your fancy.

Try It Out

Take a look at a few of the sites above and find a few things that interest you. You can use your favorite search engine to go looking for things you might want to buy. When you find a site, read the “About Us” section to learn more about the business you’re buying from. You’ll be surprised how many small, mom & pop type stores are now online and doing well.

Next week, we’ll look at some personalizable gift resources, and share some tips and tricks for safely purchasing items online. Stay tuned…

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 – 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?!?