blogWhat exactly is a “blog”, and why are there are so many of them?

In short, “blog” is an abbreviation for “web log”, meaning a log, journal or diary kept online.  They can range from personal in nature, to specialized news sites like Mahsble (disclaimer, I work there), to those used by companies to communicate with their customers.

As to why there are so many, that is probably something that will be speculated on until the end of time.  They are a cheap and easy way for people to express their opions to crowds of various sizes, or to just simply work out their frustrations with the world around them.  What direction a blog takes is totally up to the person who started it.

As blogging has gained in popularity, there have been rising conversations as to what responsabilities bloggers have as journalists, or if they should even be considered such.  There are also many discussions about whether people in professional positions should even keep blogs as their employers may find something on it they disagree with, resulting in their termination.  We will cover all of these angles, plus how to start your own blog, in the coming weeks.

Categories: What Is   
 

StopHotlinking, or remote linking, is the act of using a file hosted on someone else’s web server on another site without their permission.

So, how do you know if you are hotlinking?  It’s fairly simple: if you embed an image, say on MySpace, that you did not upload yourself to a server, than you are hotlinking that person’s file.  While this may not sound like a big deal, every time that file, usually an image, is displayed somewhere, that uses up a portion of that person’s bandwidth.  As bandwidth is not free, you could potentially be costing that person money by using their image without their permission.

You also open up yourself to embaressing situtions when you hotlink because you have no control over what happens with that file.  The person you are linking from could potentially delete the image, or they could discover your use of the image, and by just uploading an image with the same file name, you could very soon be displaying some image you would never want to be associated with. As I have been blogging on SeanPAune.com for going on four years, I have an extensive amount of images, and I have been known to swap out images to add my domain name to an image after someone starts hotlinking it.  It amazes me how long it will take people to notice sometimes.

There are numerous free image hosts out there on the Web now, so if you still want to use an image, but think you have no way to host the image yourself, there are alternatives.  Services such as PhotoBucket, Flickr, Picasa and so on will allow you to host images with them for free, and will allow you to display the images anywhere you want, even providing you with codes to do so that you can just copy and paste.

In short, if you go to look for an image on Google Image Search, and it comes up with a picture you want to use, but it is not a domian name associated with you, not only is it a form of stealing, you could get in a very embaressing situation.

Categories: What Is   
 

FriendFeedWhile we have talked about the wonders of social networking, with the astounding number of services out there, how do you ever keep up with everything your friends are doing on all of them?  That is where a service like FriendFeed comes in.

FriendFeed is what is known as an “agregator” in that it brings information from multiple sources into one centralized location to ease your access to it.  Let’s say you have accounts on Del.icio.us, Flickr, Digg and some more, you sign up for an account on FriendFeed, enter your account information from those sites, and then your friends can go to your page to follow everything you do on every site from one place.  This saves them time from having to visit each site to see what you’re doing, and then you can in turn do the same with all of their social accounts.

The other bonus to everything being one centralized location is that FriendFeed allows people to leave comments on your activities so that everyone can join in on the conversation.  This also can be done without them even having to have an account for the site activity they are commenting about.

With support for over 40 sites and activities, this is a fantastic way to keep your online social life organized, saving both you and your friends a lot of wasted time from looking to see if the other updated all the time.

Categories: What Is   
 

DeliciousDel.icio.us is a social bookmarking system that allows you to save sites you bookmark to a centralized site where you can tag and organize them.  If you choose to leave them public,which they are set to be default, other people can search them, explore them and discover other sites they were unaware of.

Unlike Digg, people do not vote on the popularity of a link, they simply keep saving it, and the more saves it has, the more chance of traffic being driven to that site.  While it is an exciting way for typical users to find new links, it can be a boon in traffic to site owners that get a lot of links shared on the service.

This definitely falls under the cloud computing idea we discussed, and as we said, you should never rely on your data being safe without a back up.  Luckily you can download your bookmarks to save on your local browser, and you can also upload the ones on your computer to their system, and in that case those will be marked private by default.  This will also give you access to your bookmarks from any computer by simply logging into the del.icio.us site.

It’s a completely different way to use bookmarks from the old way, and may be worth at least a little exporation on your part.

Categories: What Is   
 

seoSearch Engine Optimization, SEO for short, is a term that refers to programming, marketing and writing to try to get your web site ranked higher in search engine results for your given subject field.

For any web site to succeed, they need to be on the search engines such as Google and Yahoo, and naturally, the higher you rank, the more traffic you get.  This is monumentally important in the early days of a website when you’re attempting to build a following or customer base.  If you write about or sell widgets, then you want to be prominent in the searches when someone looks up widgets.

The majority of this is accomplished by other sites linking to the the site, using words that are relevant to your subject, using tags and on and on.  It is very tedious, but important.  Unless you run a website, it is nothing to concern yourself with, but if you do, you will become obsessed with it. It is another one of those things people just assume you know when they use it in a senteance.

Categories: What Is   
 

cloudsCloud computing is the latest buzz word in the technology world, but like so many other words, your average person on the street has no clue what it means.

Essentially it is just a new name for an old concept.  If you’ve ever used an online email service such as Gmail, then you have experienced cloud computing.  The concept is anything you do with a computer online that is not stored locally on your actual computer.  When we also described doing off-site backups of your data, that would be another instance of you putting data into “the cloud.”

While more companies are moving to using this concept, and it’s a nice idea that you can access your data from anywhere, there are some potential drawbacks.

How secure is your data? – You are putting all of your data into the hands of a third party.  How certain are you of their security measures?  Do they have redundancy plans?  What if there is a fire in their data center?  All questions you should ask of anyone you are going to use o store your important data outside of your control.

What happens if they crash/go out of business? – It’s a great idea to put data where you can access it, but if it’s your only copy, what happens if the company crashes or goes out of business?

Your Internet goes out, what now?Google Documents is great for working on documents or spreadsheets, but what if your Internet goes down and you can’t access them?  If you’re facing a deadline, this could be disastrous.

These are all valid ideas to think about before embracing “the cloud”, and believe it or not, we like the cloud!  All of us here at StarterTech are on the move a lot, so having easy access to all of our files from anywhere is a great help, but we also make sure important stuff is in multiple places.

Just like with a home computer, you need to practice safe computing.

Categories: What Is   
 

adobe airAdobe AIR is a runtime environmentthat you download to your computer to run Web applications directily on your computer.

While people move more of their computing life online, it may seem surprising that people would want to run anything locally on their computers any more.  With Adobe AIR you bring the ability to access certain Web applications locally on your own system, adding functionality that may be missing, or possibly just making it easier to use.

A prime example of an AIR application that takes advantage of adding missing functionality is Twitter.  While the micro blogging service is a wonderful form of communication, to use it you have to leave a window open on it, and you have to manually refresh the page to see any new messages.  With AIR applications such as Twhirl and Snitter, the messages are delivered directly to your computer so you never have to refresh the page, and don’t even have to have it open in your browser.

There are numerous applications out there, which can be a bit overwhelming, so you may want to try this list of useful AIR applications, to help you narrow down your choices.  Now everything that is out there is overly useful, such as the Pizza Hut AIR app, but there could just be a matter of opinion.

Do remember that you must download the actual AIR program first to make any of these applications to work, and then you just need to start finding ones that may be useful for you.

Categories: What Is   
 

firefox portableWith the release of Firefox 3, this seems like a good time to discuss how you can take Firefox with you wherever you go with Firefox Portable Edition.

As an avid Firefox user, when I have to use a strange computer, it feels weird not always finding Firefox, and even stranger not to have my bookmarks and extensions.  Firefox Portable addresses this problem by allowing you to install the browser on a portable USB drive.  Once you do this, you can start Firefox from the drive and have all of your normal extensions and bookmarks no matter what computer you are on.

If you choose to do this, make sure to shut down Firefox, and properly shut down the drive before you leave the computer.  This is also a solution for people who want to try Firefox 3 without overwriting Firefox 2.  If you are not 100% thrilled with the new version, then you won’t have to work at reverting backwards to the previous version.

Categories: What Is   
 

GrandCentralGrandCentral is a service purchased by Google in July 2007 that simplifies your phone usage by giving you one centralized phone number that will ring all of your phones at once.

In this day and age, it’s not unusual to have a cell phone, work phone, home phone and who knows how many others, making it difficult for people to know which number to call to find you at.  GrandCentral will let you set up a free account that gives you a virtual phone number that will ring up to six phone numbers at the same time when someone calls it.  You can also enable and disable numbers as you see fit so if there is a number you don’t want ringing at a certain time, all you need to do is uncheck it.

While this may not seem that exciting, there are some other interesting bonuses such as free voice mail and the ability to record calls when someone calls into your number by simply hitting one button.  When you do have a voice mail, you will receive an email letting you know, and you can then listen to it on your computer or via the phone.

For now the service is free and in beta, and there is no clue when, or if, they will begin charging, but for now it is a fabulous service everyone with more than one phone should be trying out.

Categories: What Is   
 

drmDRM is an abbreviation for a lock put on digital files called “Digital Rights Management”.

If you have ever purchased a song file from Apple’s iTunes store, you have experienced DRM in that those files can only be played by the account that purchased them.  Also, the vast majority of their songs can only be played on their own iPod digital players, meaning they are locked to particular devices.

DRM was created as a way to combat the amount of online piracy going on over the Internet, but at the same time it restricts how a consumer can enjoy their legally purchased files.  Files purchased to play on an iPod won’t play on a player produced by Microsoft, and vice-versa.  Due to continuing pressure from consumers to use files as they see fit, there are movements from companies to start freeing up more and more of the files so that you can use them any way you choose.

Everyone at StarterTech always tries to be very neutral in our coverage of all technology, but this is one subject we firmly believe in.  To be blunt, DRM should not exist.  When a consumer purchases something in a legal fashion, they should be left to enjoy it for personal use in any way they see fit.  Essentially this exists only because it can.  Imagine if you purchased a car and were told you could only drive it on certain roads, you wouldn’t be very happy, and this is exactly what DRM does.

Whenever possible, we highly recommend you support DRM-free alternatives.

Categories: What Is   
 
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