Exploration: Finding and Using New Sites

web20map This is a guest post from Squealer over at SquealingRat. Head over there for tons of great articles about the Web, technology, and all manner of coolness.

In 2005, I received an invite to a relatively new and interesting new email service, Google Mail. I immediately switched my email over to Google Mail, also called Gmail, and encouraged my friends to do the same. But one of my friends refused to go to this beta, justifying that the email service would soon die out and you would loose all of your email.

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Get Your Learn On with HowStuffWorks

Storytime, kids: my freshman year of college, I took Physics. I hate physics. I loathe physics. But I took physics. The class was titled “How Things Work,” and we learned physics by learning how everything from a seesaw to a microwave to a computer worked. It was a fascinating class, and taught me a ton. I love learning about how to apply things in my life, and this class was perfect for that.

If you’re not in college, or just not at my college, such a class isn’t available to you. I’ve got you covered, though: it’s a Web-Wonderland called HowStuffWorks. Continue reading

Stay Updated on the Web with Yotify

Staying updated enough not to miss anything on Craigslist, eBay, YouTube, and Perez Hilton is a pretty serious undertaking.

To help you out, Yotify, a Google Alerts-like application, just launched a beta yesterday. What Yotify does is simple- send out “Scouts” to scour the Internet for content that interests you. Continue reading

Highlight and Save the Web

Most Web pages, even the ones with the most useful content, are too wordy (except this one, of course). Sometimes you’re reading an article, all you want is nine words that you think are important. Instead of taking notes, and having to write down what you want to remember, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to highlight the page?

The Awesome Highlighter (here) thinks so. With Highlighter, you can highlight any page on the Web, and save it to get back to it later. Using either a Bookmarklet (which I use) or a Firefox Extension, you call up the application, and then highlight away. Highlighter gives you a link to the page you highlighted, which you can save. Continue reading

Journal Writing 2.0

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Over the last few years, pen and paper is beginning to become a less-used commodity. Though no one is truly paperless, more and more things are making the switch “into the cloud,” as part of the online community.

For me, at least, journal writing is something I used to do with pen and paper (and a Care Bears diary with a lock. I mean…) but has somewhat fallen by the wayside since I’ve made the switch to primarily using a computer. I spend too much time in front of the computer, and not enough writing in a real diary.

That got me wondering: is there a place where you can keep a diary online? A journal, either in a traditional form or a more Web-friendly version. In my searching, I found a huge number of options. After weeding through them, here are some of the best I’ve found.


A disclaimer: I didn’t include blogs, or services like Twitter, or even note-taking applications. Those can all be used as journals, but I wanted to primarily focus on those applications that are meant to be used exclusively as journals, diaries or scrapbooks.

The Best One’s I’ve Found

Diary.com (here)
This is sort of a micro-diary site. Entries can be up to 1,000 characters long- this is a deal-breaker for those looking to write long journal entries, but fine for those wanting to keep a record of things. You can enter a URL of a video, or an image, and Diary.com pulls it into your diary. Diaries can be private or public, and you can have as many diaries as you want. For someone wanting to hold on to links, pictures, etc. Diary.com’s a great choice. More of a scrapbook than a diary, Diary.com is a solid way to keep little online mementos.

Tumblr (here)
Tumblr is something of a blog/journal/scrapbook hybrid. With Tumblr, you can add a huge number of different things- chats, quotes, photos, text, videos, etc. Your information is public, more like a blog, but posts are much shorter- a thought, a picture, a video. You can post through an email, or on your phone, from your IM, basically any place you can think of. For me, the most natural way to use this as a diary is as an idea-journal. If something hits you, inspires you, or comes to your head, send it to Tumblr as a post. It’s a nicely put together, free site that will store all the short, spurted musings of your head

LiveJournal (here)
Also in the hybrid vein, LiveJournal is probably the most popular of the ones I’m including here. LiveJournal can be totally private, or shared with your friends, or totally public- this allows you to choose the way it looks. You can design it in a huge number of ways (Care Bears, anyone?), and support exists for mobile posting through voice, email and text. You can have friends that you get updates about, forming a mini-RSS feed.

Penzu (here)
More of a traditional journal, the thing I love about Penzu is how hard it tries to look like a pen-and-paper journal. You log in, and your journal is presented to you, complete with lined paper. You can search through your journal (a really useful feature), add images, and even write an entry without signing in. You’ll have to sign in to save it, but if you have a sudden urge to write, go for it! Entries are saved as you write, so you’ll never lose anything. Print entries, share single entries or entire journals, or just keep your journal in the cloud. Penzu is the one of these that has really stuck with me, and it’s become my daily journal. My only worry is not being able to save entries locally- what happens if Penzu goes away?

There are many more options out there- Diaryland, Xanga, OpenDiary, to name a few. I’ve tried a bunch of them, a few more than others, and the ones above were the ones I saw the most potential in. I loved keeping a journal, and online journals make doing it a lot easier for me.

Do you journal? Do you use pen and paper, or online? Why?

Got Questions? Get ChaCha

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I’ve talked briefly about ChaCha before (here), but it’s a service that’s definitely worth a real mention, given all the help it’s been to me.

ChaCha is a service that lets you call, text, or Twit a question to them, and then real-live people answer you. Guides are paid by the answer, and for the most part are very good.

When you’re at your computer, Wikipedia is a great tool for answering any questions and doing research, but what about when you’re out? ChaCha wants to help.

Their most basic service is simple question answering. You can text your question to 242242 (ChaCha), call 1 (800) 224-2242 (2ChaCha), or send them a Twitter message. You’ll receive an answer, by text message, within just a few minutes. For your first question, you’ll get a confirmation text message, but afterwards the only thing you’ll receive is the answer and a link to your conversation (I guess in case you forgot your question…)

For example: I called the number, listened to the nice computer lady, and asked “How long has Coke been around?” before hanging up the phone. I got a text message welcoming me to ChaCha, and then, about two minutes later, my answer: “Coca-Cola has been around for 122 years! Coke was invented by Doctor John Pemberton, a pharmacist from Atlanta, Georgia in 1886.”

I texted the exact same question to ChaCha, and got my response in a couple of minutes: “In May of 1886 Coca-Cola was invented.” I tried it through Twitter, waited 15 minutes, and then gave up. I guess Twitter at your own risk.

The human aspect of ChaCha makes it a little bit iffy to use, as the quality of the service is dependent on the people working there. I’ve generally found answers to be extremely helpful, though, and have loved using the service.

If you ask questions about your specific place, ChaCha wants to help you out. Send a text with “set loc whereeveryouare” to ChaCha, and they can answer questions specific to where you are.

If you don’t have any questions, ChaCha’s still got some love for you. “Send me a joke” gets a funny joke from ChaCha. My knee-slapper? “There was this Eskimo girl who spent the night with her boyfriend. Next morning she found out she was 6 months pregnant.” You decide.

Weather can be found easily with a text saying “w yourlocation”. You can check stocks too, but I don’t really see the draw there.

ChaCha’s out to replace the Google SMS feature, and is doing a pretty good job. The service is free, only applicable to your regular cell carrier’s charges. As TechCrunch has pointed out before (here), ChaCha’s money-making potential may not be high, but while they’re around, ChaCha is a great way to win bets, stay entertained, and answer all of your questions. There are those who’ve had bad experiences, but for a free service, ChaCha has served me pretty well.

CNBC and the Wall Street Journal gave ChaCha some love, if you want to check it out. The video is here.

Also- it’s a fun way to make a little bit of money, if you want to be a guide. Apply here.

Gotta Go? Diaroogle It.

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Forget the actual purpose of this website, this is the single greatest URL I have ever seen in my life. www.diaroogle.com. Think about it.

There you go! Diaroogle is “The Premier Toilet Search Engine.” Truly a point of great pride for them, standing out in the competitive world of toilet search.

Do you go to the bathroom? Are public bathrooms icky? Diaroogle’s here to help. Though sadly only limited to New York City right now, it’s actually a huge database of toilets open to the public, along with tips for how to get into ones that aren’t.


For instance: a search for 61st and Broadway (my office), brought up Google Maps-used results A-J. Result C was

John Jay College Barnes & Noble Bookstore‎
834 10th Ave‎
Ask for the bathroom key at the front desk. The bathroom is straight back towards the textbook section. It helps to learn criminal justice terminology like ‘perp’ before you enter — it will help you masquerade as a John Jay student and not arouse suspicion.

There are tons of tips like these on the site, a community-based database. You can search by address, neighborhood, cross street or zip code, or browse all available toilets- helpful for the casual toilet fan. You can also submit a new toilet, should you happen to run into one on the street. You can even rate a toilet once you use it, so other people know. (How do you rate a toilet? 3.75 for flush power, 4.5 for hand towel softness…)

There aren’t exactly content filters on the site, so some of the descriptions can be a bit profane, but the site is actually really helpful. Big city public toilets are vile, and finding the ways to use cleaner ones is much appreciated.

I think Diaroogle should become a verb. You’ll hear, on the streets, “I have to go to the bathroom.” Your civil duty is to learn over and tell them “diaroogle it.” It’s going to be a thing.

Cover-Flow Search with Searchme

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Apparently this is a day of discovering cool new ways to search the Internet.

While Searchme may not have the diversity of a site like ButtonAll, or even Google, it does have one feature that helps it stand out: the user interface.

The Searchme site works like any other search, at the beginning. You type in your search term, and up come the results. Here’s the cool thing: the results come up in an iTunes Cover Flow-like spread, letting you move between thumbnails of the results. You flip through, looking for the site, video, image you were looking for, and then click the one you want to open it in a new window or tab. You can also refine your search using the “categories” feature that Searchme uses to narrow down your search, a feature I found very useful.

Searchme also has a bookmarking-like Stacks feature, which lets you create categories and save pages into them. Once you save them (“My News” was the example Searchme gave), you can post the stack to your blog, share it with a friend, and look at other people’s stacks.

For me, this is most useful for multimedia things. Creating a stack of videos about a topic is incredibly easy, and then plays back in a gorgeous, simple interface. It’s also a good research tool, helpful for keeping similar things in one place.

Though they won’t revolutionize search, Searchme (here) may be the first step in changing how search looks.

For example, here’s a stack someone put together of information and videos relating to Randy Pausch (update: I’ve removed the embedded piece, because I hate things that play automatically. My apologies- If you still want to see it, go here)

Search on Steroids

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In Firefox, there is a search bar in the top right corner. You can add search engines, manage them, and use that bar to search a huge number of places on the Internet.

Or, you can save yourself a bunch of time and search with ButtonAll. ButtonAll calls itself “The Internet’s Universal Remote,” and lets you search a huge number of sites from the one page. You type a word or phrase into the search bar, and then click what you want to search.

http://www.buttonall.com/

ButtonAll can search everything from the obvious choices like Google and Yahoo, to the social networks like MySpace and Facebook, to shopping sites like Amazon and eBay. The buttons they use aren’t permanent, and change to reflect popularity and use of various sites on the Internet.

The thing I really like about it, though, is it makes searching one thing across sites really easy. Results are opened in a new tab or window, which means you can search Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, Facebook, and Google with just 4 mouse clicks, instead of going to each site and searching again. It makes searching faster and easier, without losing any of the helpfulness of the sites.

ButtonAll (here) is a great research tool, and great for anyone who searches frequently.

5 More Reasons To Love Firefox

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This post, as with many, falls under the category of “Do you have Firefox? If not, why not? I should punch you in the mouth.”

If you’re not convinced, though, here are five Firefox extensions, or add-ons, that make Firefox absolutely killer as a browser. I’m ignoring the big ones (delicious, stumbleupon, etc.) because everyone already knows those, and what fun is that?

Speed Dial(here)
DO you spend the majority of your time on the Internet looking at, like, 6 pages? ESPN, I Can Haz Cheezburger…That’s all I got. If you visit a few sites frequently, Speed Dial is an awesome extension that turns your homepage into an Opera-style page, with clickable thumbnails to 9, 12, 16, etc. of your favorite sites. It makes them easier to get to, easier to see at a glance, and saves a bunch of time. It also loads quickly, which makes me like it more than some other extensions that do the same thing.

Fast Video Download (here)
Can’t get enough of the sneezing panda on YouTube? With Fast Video Download, you can easily, through one click, download videos from Youtube and a huge number of other sites. Bring the pandas with you!

PDF Download (here)
Do you deal with PDF’s? If you said “what’s a PDF?” then probably not. If you do, though, PDF download is a huge help. It lets you choose whether to download a pdf, view it as html, use an external app,or just let Firefox do what it will. No more dealing with Adobe Reader and its epic slow-itude!

ScribeFire (here)
This extension is a blogger’s dream. You can post, edit, view, and manipulate your whole blog from this small extension- particularly for Blogger users like myself, this is a much better interface as well. For a full review, check out MakeUseOf’s look at it here.

FireFTP (here)
I was amazed by how often, in the working world, you need FTP. I was amazed mostly because I had no idea what ftp was, and was surprised other people did. FireFTP is a great client for uploading and downloading to other people and websites, and in my opinion works much better than a standalone browser.

All of these have saved me enormous effort and time in working on my computer. They work well, look good, and don’t break (CoughInternetExplorerCough). Just five more reasons Firefox rules.

What should have gone on this list that I missed? Let me know in the comments.