Tag Archives: life online

Finding and Using Online Help

Out in the wild world online, getting help using a particular tool is often up to you. However, using help centers, support pages, live chat, and discussion forums, there are many ways to figure out how to make things work the way you want them to. These suggestions are good for using online tools, but also for using the help resources available online for home & personal electronics, appliances, tools, and other gadgets we use.

Getting Help from a Website

Where’s the link? — The link for a site’s help section is usually in the upper right or lower right corner. Sometimes, it might be along the bottom edge (with links to About Us, Contact Us, etc.) or very occasionally in the regular menus at the top or left. The link to the help section is frequently near the links to the account settings, which we found last week.

LG products knowledge baseOn the site’s home page, take a look for links to Help, Help Center, Support, Support Center, Customer Care, Getting Started, or Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). A site might use any of these to link to their help section. If you see the words “Knowledge Base,” that’s a fancy way of describing a way to search by a product name or number to find information about that one thing.

What will I find in the help section?
The first way that a website usually offers help is through a Getting Started or Setting Up Your Account page. These pages give you step-by-step instructions for creating an account, changing the settings, and learning the basics of using the site. Many sites include a video that shows you how things work in real-life.

After you’ve used the site for a bit, you probably have a few questions. So do many people, and websites usually have a list of Frequently Asked Questions to offer answers. As the title suggests, these are questions frequently asked about how to use a site or tool, and often include problems that users frequently run into. Each question is answered briefly, with examples or screenshots when needed, and occasionally by linking to another section.

For more complex questions, or ones that aren’t asked as often, the help section will list other topics, arranged by category. These sections are often organized from signing up for an account, through using the basics, to more advanced features and troubleshooting. Work your way through the categories as you learn to use the site or tool

While you’re there, take a look to see if the site offers tutorials, training or other suggestions for learning how to use a site or a real-world gadget. For examples, see Microsoft Office training and DIY videos from Home Depot and Lowe’s.

In most help sections, there’s a search field just for the help section. When you’re searching Help, try to use the same words to describe things that the site or tool does. If you need help on Facebook Pages, type “facebook pages” into the search field. Be specific, and use just a word or two to get started.

Zappos.com live chatFinally, some larger companies will offer live chat with a support person through their help pages. If you’d prefer to talk to a real person, at any point, try turning it on and asking your question. When you’re using chat, you don’t have to worry about misunderstanding what someone says on the phone, and you can occasionally save the chat for later.

If I Can’t Answer My Question There, What Next?

Search the web, especially if you have a strange error code. Copy the error code and paste it into a search engine like Google or Bing – make sure you include the software you’re using or the website you were on. Then click search. Read through the results list and look for words like answers, forum or discussion. These indicate places where people go to talk about software and technology, and often ask each other questions to get help that way. Also, look to see if anyone else has had the same problem and written about their solution somewhere, in a blog or Facebook post.

Use discussion forums to ask your question and get answers. If you’re really getting stumped, look on the service or tool’s website for customer discussion forums, or look for other ones online using a search. These forums are places where users get to ask questions, search to see if someone else has already asked their question, and hopefully get some useful answers. Take a look at any of the Google product forums or Apple product communities for an idea of how these work.

If you have a blog or a Facebook account, post your question where other people can see it. Again, other people might have had the same problem and might have found a solution for it. You never know until you ask, right?

Help & Resources

On “Knowing Enough”

For the month of April, Learning for Life Online will show you how to learn more about the settings and features of the tools you use online. We’ll start by exploring the new Facebook Timeline and the security and feature settings Facebook uses. After that, the next two sessions will cover finding and changing the settings on any online account, then finding and using Help for an online account or a real-life product you use. On the last Monday in April, we’ll wrap up any loose ends from the previous weeks and maybe have a spring surprise or two.

But before we start looking under the hood of all these online tools, let’s think about just how much we really need to know about these tools in order to use them.
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user stephenliveshereFor most technology, you only need to know as much as the driver of a car. Get it started, send it in one direction or another, stop when you need to, get it fixed when it’s broken, understand the safety features and rules of the road.

That’s all, and that’s enough.
 
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user therealkeltonSometimes, you might need to know as much as a mechanic. More about what’s going on under the hood, more about how it really works, more on fixing most of the everyday problems.

And that’s certainly enough.
 
 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user aero_gopherIn a few cases, you might even want to know as much as people who build cars. You’re thinking about how to create new features, solve complex problems, make improvements, get the most out of your tools.

That’s absolutely enough.
 
 
 

Photo and design courtesy of Flickr user smallritualThen, maybe – just maybe – you want to know as much as the designers of cars. You want to get the science behind it, understand the math that makes it go, create the art and beauty
of design, and learn the physical mechanics of construction.

This is more than enough, and more than most people would ever think of trying to know.
 

The point is, you don’t need to know exactly how a particular tool works in order to use it well. You may not understand everything about your car or DVD player, but you know enough to use it safely and well. The same is true for online tools – the more you know, the more efficiently and securely you can live life online. However, just by learning the basic rules of the road and understanding a few safety features, you can get pretty far. That’s what Learning for Life Online is here to help you with.

Next up, Facebook Timeline and the privacy and account settings.

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.

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

Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Whether you’re supporting small businesses, creating custom gifts or buying ebooks, music or anything else, it’s important to keep yourself and your personal information safe. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to do.

Easy Steps

  • Almost all online purchases require using a credit card. For added safety, use one credit card just for online purchases. Set a very low purchase limit (say, $200) to minimize risk. You could also buy a cash card from Visa or American Express to use for very small purchases.
     
  • Do not use your debit card/bank card unless you absolutely have to. This protects your bank account.
     
  • Work with well-known companies. Real-world stores also have online ordering – you know they’re legitimate businesses. Other safe bets are Amazon, Zappos (shoes, bags, clothing & more) and Audible for downloadable audiobooks.
     
  • S is for Security: When you’re buying from a website and you click on Check Out, look for the letters “https://” in the website’s address. That “s” means that it’s more secure for your personal information. You can also look for a little padlock on the page or near the website address.
    httpsPadlock
     
     
  • Don’t click on links in email. Visit the store’s website directly and then enter in any catalog or discount codes at checkout.
     
  • Know the full cost of what you’re buying, including shipping and handling charges, fees and tax (if applicable). What looks like a deal might not be after you add it all up.
     
  • Read the details for cost, shipping, delivery dates, and any other steps along the way. Take your time and understand what you’re doing.
     
  • Read the return policy. Some stores like Zappos and Lands End have excellent return policies.
     
  • Never give out bank information, Social Security numbers or your birthdate. No legitimate business will ever ask for these – they don’t when you stand at the cash register, do they?
     
  • Don’t use a public computer for making purchases. Someone might be looking at your screen as you type in your credit card number, or might have done something to the computer to record what you type.
     
  • Keep records of your online transactions & check your statements. Save the emailed receipts from the sellers and check your credit card statement online more often than once a month. This will help in case something does go wrong.

Next Steps

  • Protect your computer from malicious software from fake vendors. Install anti-virus software and keep it updated – new viruses come up all the time.
     
  • When you buy from smaller companies, look for a physical address, customer service phone number and lots of information on the “About” page. Lots of details improves the chances that it’s a real business and not a scam.
     
  • Use a third-party payment service for your online buying. PayPal is the most well-known and trusted of these. Create an account with PayPal, store your credit card information there, then use your PayPal account to make purchases at other sites. This way, you don’t have to give your credit card number to all those smaller sites – just to PayPal.
     

Help & Resources

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!