Twitter LogoTwitter is one of those services lots of people are talking about it, but hardly any one ever explains it.

Put as simply as possible, imagine it as text messaging for the web. You have 140 characters to say whatever you want in the box the provide (image here has been shrunk)

Twitter Entry

It asks you, “What are you doing?”, which most people ignore, but it’s a jumping off point.  Once done, you click “update”, and everyone who has chosen to “follow” you, sees your message.  You, in return, can follow them, by visiting their profile and clicking the “follow” button, and then whenever they post an update, it will show up in your “timeline” which shows your posts as well as theirs.

If someone posts something like a question, or something you just feel like commenting on, you can reply to them by entering “@” before their name, and this will make sure to notify them that you were talking to them.  So in my case, if you wanted to reply to me, you would enter “@seanpaune and then just type your message to me”.

Sometimes you want to send the person a message only they can see, in those cases you would enter “d seanpaune and the message”, and this would go to them as a direct message that they can only see, and it will also notify them by email if their settings are to do so.

At this point Twitter is mostly about fun, though some do use it for business, but it is overly effective.  Is it made for everyone?  Probably not, but it’s worth checking out just to say you know what it is.  You can find me at http://twitter.com/seanpaune if you want to check out what my timeline looks like, and you can see what it looks like when I receive messages here.

Categories: What Is   
 

Google DocsWhen we discussed What Is Gmail, we mentioned one of the side benefits of using the Google email system was you got access to Google Docs. The question is “What is Google Docs?”, and more importantly, why you should care.

Pretty much everyone is familiar with Microsoft Office, and they are also familiar with the cost. Office has become the standard for productivity software like a word processor and spreadsheets, but no one thrills to the price this staple of workers and students everywhere costs them. There has been a free alternative for a while now called Open Office, but for some reason it never seemed to gain wide-spread acceptance. Since Google Docs is integrated into your Google account, it seems to be getting a bit more attention.

Currently you can create a document (replacing Word), spreadsheets (replacing Excel) and presentations (replacing Power Point). None of the three are quite as full-featured as their Microsoft counterparts, but they are working to catch up as quickly as possible, and also giving you some features you don’t have with the Office-standard.

One of those biggest advantages is the ability to invite other people with Google accounts to work on a document with it, or simply view it. This quickly gives you the added extra of a collaboration tool to work on projects with a co-worker, or someone else from your study group, a service you can usually expect to pay a fee for.

Until recently, the biggest drawback to Docs was you could only work while online, but in early April 2008, that all changed.  A copy of your work is saved to your hard drive locally, making them accessible while you are offline.  With the word processor, you do have limited editing abilities, but with the spreadsheets and presentations, for now, you can only view them with no editing abilities.  Even without the ability to work on them, this is still helpful if you want to go somewhere without Internet access and make your presentation.

Is Docs a perfect replacement?  Not yet (as of April 2008), but Google is very actively working on making it better on a near weekly basis, and it is free, so perhaps you should at least give it a try and see how it suits you.

Categories: What Is   
 

VoIPVoice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the method by which people can talk over the Internet in the style of a phone call. There are multiple ways this can be accomplished, whether is be by using a headset with your computer, a physical handset connected to your system, or even stand-alone devices that don’t even require your computer to be on.

A lot of people are put off by the idea because the traditional landline has been around so long, but when you see how much cheaper VoIP is, a lot of those misgivings go away.

The way it works is very technical, but nothing that the common user needs to concern themselves with. In the simplest of terms: your voice is turned into data by the input device, transfered to the recipient, and the device on their end decodes it. It is not that dissimilar to traditional phones, it’s just done in a different manner.

There are two types of phones: soft phones and physical phones.

A Soft phone is a piece of software on your computer, such as Skype, that require you to use your computer as the interface for your phone calls.

Hard phones can be phones that plug into your computer, stand alone, or, in more and more cases, a phone that you can take with you. Examples of stand-alone services would be companies such as Vonage, Lingo, Voip, and numerous cable companies. For an example of one you can use even outside of your own house you unfortunately have to look outside of the United States at this time to mobile carriers like 3, which allows you to use Skype anywhere they have mobile phone service.

What about the money it can save you? All of us here at StarterTech are big believers in Skype due to its ease of use, and the fact you can mix traditional calling with your Internet calls. Calls from one Skype user to another are always free, and if you use their soft phone, you can even do conference calls of up to 20 people. If you want to add a regular phone number so non-Skype users can call you, you can do that also as well as get voice mail, and make unlimited calls around the world to select countries for $9.99 a month. The possibilities with this service are truly endless.

Philips voip8411bOnce Philips came out with their VoIP841B system, things got even more interesting because you now could have a cordless phone that still allowed you to use Skype even when your computer was off. The system allows you to have up to four handsets working off of one base station, giving you the freedom you get from any traditional cordless phone. You can still make free Skype calls from one user to another with it, use your Skype phone number and more.

The other brilliant thing about all VoIP services is that your number will work wherever you are. Say you are on a business trip to Japan and you have a soft phone service on your computer, with a phone number attached to the account for your hometown in California, if someone makes that local call to your number, it will still ring on your computer in Japan. The caller will never know the difference, and it is treated just like a call made while you are at home. Moving cross country? No problem, the number from your old home will still work.

So while all of this may sound like the perfect answer to get away from the burden of a traditional phone bill, there are caveats to it also.

No emergency service – I have yet to find a VoIP provider that can handle calls to an emergency service because it can’t figure out where you are and route you properly.

Calls are only as good as the slowest connection – If one person in the call is on a slow connection, such as a dial-up connection, then your call quality will suffer.

There can be some delay – Even on the best of connections, you can still sometimes detect a delay in the talking.

The technology is constantly improving, and as more, and better, bandwidth is added around the world, the calls will continue to improve.  VoIP may not be ready to completely replace your main phone line, but it is certainly ready to be your second line, and an answer to the the prays of people that travel frequently for business.

Categories: What Is   
 

The InternetBandwidth is one of those terms people throw around without much concern to if anyone really understands it.  Due to this lack of concern, you also see it quite often getting confused with the similar word, “broadband”.

In the simplest of terms, bandwidth is the capacity for the amount of data that can be transferred, and sometimes at what speed it can be moved.

In the terms of your Internet Service Provider (ISP), they will tell you they offer you “unlimited bandwidth”, and that is to say that you can transfer as much data as you want, they won’t limit it.  (although, be warned there is usually a catch to this in that it is misleading and can cost you in hidden fees, and we will discuss that in another post.)  Many web hosting companies, where you host your web site, will also offer you unlimited bandwidth, also known as data transfer, or just an extremely high number, but with these you also have to be careful.

The speed aspect of bandwidth doesn’t get discussed quite as much, but it can apply to the rate with which you transfer your data either over your Intranet, an all internal network, or over the Internet itself.  So if an ISP tells you that your connection would be 5 Mbps (Megabits Per Second), that would be your “bandwidth”.  If you have an internal network with a 10 Mbps connection, that is also your bandwidth speed.

The confusion with “broadband” that I mentioned earlier is in that term refers to any high-speed form of Internet connection, but over time people have had a tendency to make the two terms interchangeable with one another.  Just remember you are far more concerned with the “bandwidth” and you should be fine.

Categories: What Is   
 

Web 2.0Web 2.0 is a “buzzword” that came into play around 2004, and is most often credited to Tim O’Reilly. To clarify the meaning, he later stated:

Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.

I think the more “basic” explanation would be that a Web 2.0 site does something for you.

When the Web first started, it was very static; Web pages really did nothing more than serve as a way to convey information to users. There was really no way for users to interact with the website, and you merely sat there and read. One quote I read that sums this up is from Darren Barefoot, and he said, “Web 1.0 was about lectures, Web 2.0 is about conversation”. You really can’t sum it up any more succinctly than that.

As designers got more savvy, and came up with more intensive ways for a site to deliver the information, they found they could get web sites to do more than just sit there, doing nothing. A whole new breed of web service was born that the service existed solely on the web without any “offline” use. This led to O’Reilly also assigning levels to web companies.

Level-3: These services exist only on the web without any form of offline counterpart. eBay, Amazon, Skype, social networks and so on fall into this category.

Level-2: These are sites have some functionality offline, but gain major advantages from when you are connected to the Internet. Since Google Docs can now work offline, but you lose features when you do so, this would fall into this category.

Level-1: Level-1 sites work offline, but gain functionality online that aren’t essential to their operation. iTunes, for instance, gains a store when you are online, but when you are offline, you still have access to all of your music and other features.

Level-0: The last level is any application that is the same online as off.

Web 2.0 LogosBesides the functionality, there was also a move to what I call “the candifying of the Web”. It is a mixture of glossy/shiny graphics and a dwindling supply of domain names that ended in the extension of “.com”. People have become comfortable with “.com” and that is the first thing they think of when they hear a websites name; very rarely will you see someone immediately think of “.net”, “.org”, or any of the other ways a domain name may end. This quickly deplenishing pool of names led to companies choosing names for their websites that had little or no connection to what they do, or they would take any odd spelling they could find that might be close.

Skype, which I mentioned above, is a company that allows you to make free phone calls over the Internet from one user to another, and while very useful, the name is nonsensical. What is a “Skype”? What does it have to do with phone calls? No one knows! The list of companies with names such as this is endless: Bebo (a social network), Flickr (a place to share photos), Yelp (a directory for local businesses and reviews) and so on.

The shiny graphics tricks, such as with Skype’s logo above, is that it became a quick way for people to have a visual cue that the site they are using is Web 2.0. However, glossy graphics does not a 2.0 service make. When using a site, and you are unsure, ask yourself if the site is allowing you to contribute in some way? Is it allowing you to generate your own content? Does it somehow allow you to collaborate with others? Is your experience with the site a dynamic one? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, than you are using a Web 2.0 site, welcome to the future!

People that work inside of the technology field, such as myself, have come to have a bit of disdain for the term “Web 2.0″ because it is over used, but it is still a quick way to identify this movement inside of the Internet community. All I can do is encourage you to do is get out there and see what the web has to offer you, it is a constantly changing landscape these days, and there is a service out there for just about every need now.

If you would like to learn more about the constantly changing field of Web 2.0, I recommend blogs such as Mashable (disclosure: I work there), ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch to give you the latest info on what is going on.

Categories: What Is   
 

Social NetworkingPeople discuss social networks, and social networking, endlessly, but what do these terms mean? They only came in to prominence in the past couple of years, but it seems like everyone just thinks you should automatically know what it means, and why it’s so important.

The basic concept is simple: you join a community that is close to your interests, set up a small profile about yourself, and try to locate others who may share your interests.  Once you find other people who share your thoughts, you can talk with them, get suggestions how to further your hobby or career, and do some true networking with them.

Originally the networks were sites like Classmates.com which focused on you reconnecting with people you went to school with, but as time progressed they evolved into sites like MySpace.com where you could connect with people you had never met, but shared interests with.

The problem then sprung up of social networking lost its focus.  People became obsessed with accumulating as many “friends” as possible, giving no regards to the quality of people they were connecting with.  So now the reverse is happening and we are seeing hundreds of social networks pop up, but all with very specific topics that make it easier to sort through the signal to noise ratio of the other members you meet.  And, if you have an interest that doesn’t have a social network yet, or you just want to set up one for a specific group like your little league team, there are options known as “white label” sites where you can set up your very own, such as Ning.com.

Overall, social networking is still probably in its “toddler phase”: it can walk, but it’s not very sure of its footing yet.  As we have gone from narrow focus to broad focus, and now we’re coming back down to narrow again, it is getting more useful as you can really get at the meat of any given subject.

How do you find them?  The link I gave above lists over 350 networks, but if you go to any search engine, enter your interest followed by “social network”, you are bound to come up with some results that will interest you.

Good luck!

Categories: What Is   
 
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