Thursday, October 7, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [October 6th]” plus 12 more “Cool Websites and Tools [October 6th]” plus 12 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [October 6th]

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 08:31 PM PDT

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. All listed websites are FREE or come with a decent free account option. You can make use of them without spending a dime. If you want to have similar cool websites round-ups delivered to your email daily email subscribe here.

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When Shall We – The hardest part about planning a successful event is deciding on a date that will be convenient for all attendees. There are websites that try to simplify this task but unintentionally end up complicating the interface. This is precisely what sets "When Shall We" apart from its competition. Read more: WhenShallWe: Easy Group Meeting Date Picker


BrainRepublic – There is no dearth of social networks on the internet but they are either too Facebook-like or ridiculously random like Chatroulette. BrainRepublic aims to be somewhere in the middle by letting you connect to total strangers but only those that you have a common interest with. Read more: BrainRepublic: Video chat with others online on your favorite topic



Cloud Magic – If you frequently use Gmail's built-in search function to search through your emails and contacts then you'll love CloudMagic. It is a Firefox and Chrome browser extension for Gmail that provides a significantly faster email search for your Gmail data. Read more: CloudMagic: Faster Email Search for Gmail



Chrome To Phone – In the mobile arena, many will agree that Android offers the best online syncing experience. The Google Chrome to Phone Extension is another great tool to make your Android browsing much more convenient. This Chrome extension lets you seamlessly send information like links, maps, texts, and contact numbers to your Android device. Read more: Google Chrome To Phone Extension: Send Links From Chrome To Android Devices



AirDropper – While Dropbox's file synchronization and sharing is a useful feature, it only works if both people have Dropbox accounts. AirDropper is a web service that allows you to request a file from any person, even those who doesn't have a Dropbox account. Read more: AirDropper: Lets Non-Dropbox Users Send Files To Your Dropbox


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These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

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The Best Settings & Formats For Capturing & Publishing Videos For YouTube

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 06:31 PM PDT

capture youtube videoYouTube seems to be among the leading sources of entertainment (and distraction, for me at least) on the web, as there are innovative channels, hilarious spoofs, comedy skits and tutorials, you name it. Regular users have even been receiving the fame treatment (at least on YouTube, with lots of views).

It’s really not that hard to upload a video (it’s just hard to get noticed, but here are some tips), but if you want to actually get started, you might need to know a few things beforehand, such as acceptable formats, lengths, settings, etc.

Capture YouTube Video Straight From Devices You Already Own

Cell Phone

You can start capturing a video even if you don’t have a camcorder. Nowadays, most people have cell phones with decent video-capturing capabilities. If your mobile plan allows you to MMS or use e-mail, you can even send it straight to YouTube via your personalized upload email address (you do need to be signed in).

capture youtube video

You can even check out YouTube’s mobile version that can “record and upload DVD-quality videos“.


If your computer has a built-in webcam, or you have an external webcam you can connect to your computer, head to the webcam upload option in YouTube, give YouTube the OK to use your webcam and microphone and off you go!

how to make youtube videos

You can also use something like Manycam (Windows) or Cheese (Linux) to record from your webcam and then edit in your preferred video-editing program.

Digital Camera

Your digital camera will most likely come with different settings that you might need to experiment with to obtain a video with good enough quality and that fits in your memory card, of course. It’s always better to capture with the highest settings or resolution possible to ensure less pixelated captures.

Even in my older Nikon CoolPix L14, there are options for “TV movie 640″ (640×480) that produces a decent-quality, standard-definition 480p video. After your capture, import the video into your computer, head to Youtube’s upload page, and select the AVI video.


You have a wide variety of choices to record from your desktop.

how to make youtube videos

To get started fast, try Screenr (see above screenshot), or ScreenToaster that I have found to be enormously useful as it records in HD and gives you a downloadable and Twittable video. For the serial screen recorder, there’s Camstudio (Windows), Copernicus (Mac), and recordMyDesktop (Linux).  Additional screen recorders include Jing (Windows and Mac) and Wink (an excellent tutorial or demo creator), although these record SWF files only, which YouTube doesn’t process and thus, can’t allow.

As a Camstudio user, I recommend that you download the Lossless codec 1.4 (find it immediately below the Camstudio beta download link on the download page) and check the Autopan feature so your viewers won’t have to squint or put your video on full-screen.

how to make youtube videos

Digital Camcorder

If your digital camcorder records in Digital8, MiniDV, HDV, or any of the DVD formats, then you shouldn’t have too much to worry about because you’re all set to capture Youtube video. For HD videos, make sure you’re recording at least in 1280×720 (for 720p) or 1920×1080 (for 1080p). If your camcorder’s not HD-capable, you can always shoot in the highest settings and resize it with video-editing software later.

Your raw footage can be uploaded directly without any editing, but a bit of editing can go a long way. Maybe your clip can do better without a redundant segment (just make sure it’s shorter than 15 minutes!), or the audio should be louder.

Let’s see the best free options you have to get your videos ready for YouTube.

Publishing With The Best Settings

Most capturing devices have pre-set resolutions and settings so if you go with the highest settings possible, you’ll usually do fine with some minor editing.

Dimensions & HD Settings

YouTube recommends dimensions of 640 x 480 for standard-definition videos and 1280 x 720 for high-definition videos that will dance around the site with the HD logo. Original videos of 640 x 480 will have black bars on the side in the video page.

youtube video capture

To have no bars on the YouTube page only, a dimension of 640 x 360 can do the trick (or you can resize it to an HD dimension), but you might see black bars on your SD video if it’s embedded elsewhere.

youtube video capture

To upload an HD video, your video needs to be pretty large, specifically 1280 x 720 (for 720p) or 1920 x 1080 (for 1080p). If you have SD videos, they could also bear the HD logo as long as you resize them and use a codec in your video editor that outputs the best quality possible, such as DivX or Xvid.

Codecs For Compression

DivX is a propietary codec that uses the H.246 standard to encode (or convert) HD videos while retaining reasonably-sized files. Xvid is the open-source alternative MPEG-4 video codec that also compresses videos and “allows for more efficient storage” which means it also makes the video smaller at the best quality possible.

When you use either of these and configure them in video editors (like the very capable VirtualDub), you can create ultra-clear videos that don’t ‘weigh’ a ton of MBs, but for most people, the 2GB limit is more than sufficient.

youtube video capture

Frame Rate

If you’re using Camstudio for example, you can set the frame rate (as opposed to cell phone video recording that doesn’t usually offer frame rate options) of the video you’re about to record, which should be a number in the 24-30 FPS (frames per rate) range, though 30FPS is standard. You can also set the frame rate in the post-capture process.


The more popular video containers (AVI, MP4, MOV) are supported in YouTube. Most cameras output to AVI, which is freely ready for upload and to be edited in most free Windows video editors, such as VirtualDub and Avidemux. Other uploadable formats include 3GP (videos from cell phones), MPG, Flash videos (in FLV, FLV1, and the newer F4V formats, but not SWF), as well as WMV (which you get when you make a video in Windows Movie Maker.)

Now Make Your Own Videos

If you run Windows on your machine, you will most likely have Windows Movie Maker (if not, you can download it here), which you can use to make home movies from your pictures.

If you’re satisfied with your product, press Ctrl + P (or go to FilePublish Movie). Choose whether you’re saving the movie to your computer, as an e-mail attachment, DVD, etc. Then give your file a name, and in the Settings screen, select More Settings and Windows Media HD 720p in the drop-down menu, which will generate a video with dimensions 1280 x 720.

capture youtube video

Click on Publish.

For a how-to on Windows Live Movie Maker, check out YouTube’s official tutorial that also has additional tutorials on iMovie, Final Cut Pro and Sony Vegas:

To render HD videos in VirtualDub, check this short video:

Now you can try your hand to make some HD videos, but it’s up to you to inject some creativity in your pieces to garner more views. If you have more recommended settings to help people capture better Youtube video, be sure to tell us in the comments!

Image credit: jonsson

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5 Of The Best WordPress 3.0 Compatible Portfolio Themes

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 04:31 PM PDT

portfolio wordpress themesBack in July I wrote an article detailing a few of my favourite portfolio themes for the excellent content management system, WordPress. Now that WordPress 3.0 is here with a truckload of new features, it only makes sense to dig out a few more portfolio Wordpress themes that can take advantage of the new bells and whistles.

If you've not used WordPress 3.0 yet, then it's probably worth taking a little look around. If you're upgrading then you're probably going to want a nice new theme to take advantage of all the new stuff.

Here's a selection of themes for the photographers, writers, coders and designers who need a little bit more from their blog.

Boldy – Demo / Download

Proclaiming itself a “free premium WordPress theme”, Boldy certainly looks the part. Complete with a sexy-looking JavaScript slider on the home page, this theme adheres to a tried-and-tested portfolio layout.

portfolio wordpress themes

Navigation resides at the top, then come your social networks (complete with fancy buttons), the JavaScript slider, a customizable “get a quote” button and a widgetized footer. The theme is suited to a variety of individuals including photographers, designers and artsy-types.

Also included is WordPress thumbnail support, compatibility with the menu manager, a latest Tweets widget, pagination, Ajax and jQuery contact forms and the fantastic jQuery PrettyPhoto Lightbox.

PhotoBlog – Demo / Download

Very much geared towards photographers (how did you guess?) PhotoBlog from Web2Feel is a somewhat basic yet fully functional WordPress 3.0 theme. With the emphasis very much on your portfolio, this is suitable for illustrators and photo-monkeys whose blog posts consist of their recent work.

portfolio theme wordpress

There's a theme options page in the admin panel, as well as compatibility with all major new WordPress 3.0 features.  There's even some screencast video tutorials included in the admin panel to help you set up your theme.

AutoFocus+ – Demo / Download

This one's the only theme on the list to use Thematic as a base, but worry not, the child theme comes with everything you need included and requires no more effort to set up than usual.

portfolio theme wordpress

This portfolio Wordpress theme is the non-commercial version of AutoFocus+ Pro, which includes extended customizability over its free twin. Not to worry though, because AutoFocus+ still makes for a sexy stylistic choice for anyone working in the visual arts.

Ideal perhaps if your blog is solely your portfolio, as each update is represented by an image on your blog's homepage. With some slick JavaScript for good measure, AutoFocus+ looks and feels beautiful.

Modernist – Demo / Download

One for the writers, proof-readers and anyone whose portfolio mainly comprises of text. The focus is heavily on minimalism and typography, with no images or dependent plugins included. Because it’s tiny, Modernist will also keep you happy if you love an instant-loading website.

portfolio theme wordpress

With support for WordPress 3.0's new features, creating a portfolio out of this one won't be too tricky with help from the menu manager. Easy to tweak, well-commented CSS means customizing the theme shouldn't take you long.

There's native support for publishing to social networks including Facebook and Twitter (without the need for any plugins whatsoever), a widgetized sidebar and the theme's an SEO wet-dream due to its simplistic code.

Webfolio – Demo / Download

This one pretty much follows the same formula as Boldy, which isn’t surprising as it was created by the same studio – Site5. The layout is very much similar, albeit with the Stepcarousel jQuery Slider on the homepage which allows for a bit more detail than the slider included with Boldy.

portfolio themes

Suited to web designers and illustrators, the slider now highlights a number of “featured projects” with room for a neat little description too. There's a widgetized footer and room for three custom fields at the foot of the slider.

Everything's administered through the theme options in your WordPress admin panel, so no tears to be had if you can't code.

I can't finish this article without dropping in a sixth theme, which deserves an honourable mention…

Twenty-Ten – Included With WordPress

It might sound a bit bizarre, but the new default WordPress theme is incredibly customizable. The best bit is you don't need to be a code junky to get it looking the way you'd like. Organising your sections with the new menu manager is a doddle, meaning that your portfolio is a couple of clicks away.

portfolio wordpress themes

We’ve already got an article expounding the virtues of the new Twenty-Ten theme, which makes customization easy-peasy. This makes it a great choice for new users who want WordPress to just work, straight out of the box.

Have you tried the latest WordPress yet? Got any favourite themes, or does Twenty-Ten do it for you? Share your thoughts and creations in the comments below.

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10 Helpful Resources on the Basics For The Computer Illiterate

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 02:31 PM PDT

computer basicsOver the weekend, I was helping a family member with transferring files to his laptop from his new digital camera. The experience showed me that what many of us take for granted with computers seems like absolute voodoo to many other people. When I told him to open Microsoft Explorer, he looked at me with a blank stare. When I said just hold down the control key to select more than one photo at once, he got up to get himself a stiff drink.

There are a lot of people – particularly older folks – that really want to keep in touch with family and friends, and interact with other people online. Unfortunately, computer technology remains a very real barrier for them. Even basic computer terminology like file transfers, blogging, torrents…it all sounds like a foreign language to a very large part of the population.

In an effort to help bridge the technological gap, I went out in search for free, high-quality online resources that can really help by providing tutorials and information about computer basics.

Unfortunately there’s a lot of crap out there – opportunists trying to sell a DVD that will “teach you computers” for $29.95.  Don’t worry – there are plenty of resources on computer basics that you can use to come up to speed with computers that are absolutely free (MakeUseOf being one of them). In addition to MakeUseOf’s awesome Windows 7 Guide titled “From Newbies to Pros”, I also recommend the following 10 sites for the computer illiterate.

Top 10 Websites To Learn Computer Basics

Jan’s Illustrated Computer Literacy 101

The first site I’d like to touch on is called Jan’s Illustrated Computer Literacy 101. Upon first landing on the site I thought it was from the 1990’s. The design is a bit outdated and the some of the graphics are cheesy, but after browsing through the site you’ll see that Jan offers useful instruction that really will teach computers to someone who absolutely has no clue how computers work.

computer basics

Custom Guide PDF Quick Reference Guide

Another very cool resource I found was a PDF quick reference guide from Custom Guide. While the site sells business training courses, it also offers this very useful two-page quick reference for novice computer users.

computer basics tutorial

If you know anyone in your life that you’ve had to explain countless times how to copy files or the correct way to minimize or maximize a window – print out this PDF and give it to them. They’ll never have to ask again!

Computer Basics & Beyond

Next up is Computer Basics and Beyond. This site covers basic tips on computer maintenance, Internet browsing, security and more. There isn’t a lot of material, but for someone that is looking for very short, straightforward answers to basic computer issues, this will do the job.

computer basics tutorial

Microsoft’s Digital Literacy

Probably the most professionally done resource to learn computer basics comes directly from Microsoft at the Digital Literacy site. Here, you’ll find  three “curriculum” levels – basic, standard and advanced. Each curriculum level provides a few tutorial videos that will walk the user through a list of lessons.

computer basics tutorial

The videos will request that you install Silverlight. Obviously, this may trip up a novice, but if they can get through the installation, the videos are animated, interactive and very high quality.

University Of North Carolina

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill probably offers one of the best free lists of online PDF instructional material for new computer users that you’ll find anywhere on the net.

learning computer basics

The list of handouts covers everything from computer basics up through an introduction to Craiglist and eBay. These are all high quality, professionally written handouts provided as part of a community workshop series.

Sandy Berger’s Compu-KISS

Another useful site for computer novices to bookmark is Sandy Berger’s Compu-KISS site. Sandy’s site covers just about any aspect of computing that you can imagine. Her tutorials are very short, very simple, and offers screenshots to boot.

learning computer basics

Terry Bellavance Resource Centre

Another community service site is one provided by the The Terry Bellavance Resource Centre in Ontario. It is basically a free online tutorial where you start at the “Introduction” and click “next” – working your way through the illustrated tutorial at your own pace.

Senior’s Guide To Computers

If you know an elderly person that is constantly getting frustrated while trying to use the Internet, point them to the Senior’s Guide to Computers website. It’s not a joke – it’s actually a website devoted to providing technical information about computers and the Internet in a manner that older folks will be able to understand.

learning computer basics

Computer Help A to Z

Computer Help A to Z is another good resource. While it’s formatted a bit like one of those websites seeking to sell subscriptions, it’s actually chock full of free tips and articles on basic computer topics. If you can overlook the cheesy clipart, it’s a great reference site.

Microsoft Office

Finally, the last site for the computer illiterate is the MS Office website. While I’d rarely point any newbie to the Microsoft site for “easy-to-follow” instruction, this site actually has a lot of useful content, like “getting started with…” tutorials for each Office product.

computer basics

So, whether you or someone you know starts to panic at the mere sight of a mouse and keyboard, decide today to face your fears head-on. Read through a few of the articles at these sites, or walk through a couple of tutorials. Before long, you’ll realize that using a computer really isn’t that difficult after all.

Image Credit: Michelle Kwajafa

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Hot Tech Deals [Oct 6th]

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 01:15 PM PDT

If you’re in the market for a new computer, laptop, mobile phone, games and other accessories; don’t waste your time searching online. We’ve taken the liberty of locating the best tech deals and unifying them into a single post for your convenience.

For more fresh hot deals, visit our Hot Tech Deals page, which is constantly updated.

Keep reading to find out today’s Hot Tech Deals.

  1. TODAY ONLY Sharp LC-52D78UN 52 inch LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz) $1079.99 Free Shipping

  2. EXPIRING bitdefender Internet Security 2011 Software (3-Users/1-Year) $18.99AR

  3. Panasonic Viera TC-L42U25 42 inch LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz, IPS Panel) $629.99 Free Shipping

  4. Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R Intel X58 LGA1366 ATX Motherboard w/ USB 3.0 & SATA 6GB/S $179.99 Free Shipping via code EMCYTZT177

  5. Belkin 7-Outlet 12FT 2160 Joule Surge Protector $14.99 Free Shipping via code EMCYTZT176

  6. TomTom XXL 550M Portable GPS Navigation (5in, Text To Speech, Lifetime Maps) $139.95

  7. OtterBox Cases Exclusive Coupon – 10% off + Free Shipping (iPhone 4 Defender Case $44.95) via code tb1010y

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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10 Real Time Twitter Games You Can Enjoy With Just A Tweet

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 12:31 PM PDT

twitter gamesWhat's with Twitter? Just how far can you take 140 characters? To the extent of just a few words everyone thought as they started tweeting about the cereal they had for breakfast and the local traffic jams. Since those irrelevant musings, the little blue Twitter birdie has grown large wings and flown sky high.

Today, you can just about do anything with Twitter. Ask the tweeps, they know it all.  I won't bother mentioning even some of them here, because I wouldn't know just where to start and finish. I will let you traipse through all our Twitter posts and discover it for yourself.

You can easily lose yourself amidst the myriad of applications and fall asleep on the mouse. So, it's here I will wake you up with a list of Twitter games that will push you into the adrenalin pumping breast thumping combative groove.

Okay, your adrenalin won't shoot up by that much, but Twitter games are a hell of a way to have some fun and waste time if you spend a lot of it on Twitter.


twitter games

A fine use of Twitter which helps us learn a new word each day and replace the colorful adjectives we normally use at traffic snarls. Follow @artwiculate on Twitter and use the word they broadcast in one of your tweets. The more 'likes' or retweets each reply gets, pushes it up the popularity charts on Artwiculate. The prize: An enriched vocabulary which we can use to sound more intelligent than we actually are.

games to play on twitter has a lineup of seven games based on Twitter. You can join and play anytime once one game is over and another begins. For instance, in Tweet Hangman you have to guess a secret word or phrase by replying with letters. Tweet Quiz is about guessing all the multiple answers that may exist for the quiz asked. Each correct guess that matches the majority earns a point. But my favorite was Crack the Code, where I could go on a clue hunt. It seems to be in R.I.P mode right now.

Chess Tweets

games to play on twitter

The idea to play chess with a remote opponent is nothing new. Chess Tweets just takes the idea onto Twitter. You don't need to register separately. You can play against one or against the entire community by moving the set pieces and sending chess moves via your Twitter account. Depending on the responses, this game can be slow at times.

Tweet Test

games to play on twitter

Find out if you know your followers or your friends as well as you think with the range of Twitter games that test your Tweeting I.Q. There’s a sliding puzzle game too.

Bet Your Followers

If you hated losing the last game to your friends, bet them away in this one. As this Twitter game says, everyone has followers to spare. There’s the other side too: you will get new followers (and friends) if you win the game. Check out the game to really see how it works. Don't worry, your lost followers can easily re-follow you (if their egos don't get bruised), because they come to know that they are being 'gambled away'.


Solve user created puzzles via Twitter or create your own. The fun is in the off the cuff bizarre answers that get generated. The site could do with a boost as the responses seem to be flagging off. If you have a sense of humor play this Twitter game which is short and funny.


If you have to brawl, do it on Tweefight. But make sure your Tweerank is right up there because the game calculates that when it pits you against your arch enemy. Even Sherlock Holmes would lose out to Moriarty if the latter tweeted more. You can enter a fight by just giving your and the opponents username.

Tweet Bricks

This Twitter game is the equivalent of the classic game of Bricks, except that the bricks come from Tweets. Stack up your Tweets as they fall down with the arrow keys. You can choose to play with your own Tweets, with other users, friends or followers, with your mentions, or with all Tweets posted with a Hash tag.


ChumpDump is a Twitter game you can play on your iPhone or Android set. The free app is actually a Twitter friend management tool but it weeds out the ones bloating your stream in a fun and engaging way. Every day in ChumpDump the lottery chooses a friend at random from your twitter friends list, the ones who are boring the life out of you. The app gives an insight of the chosen 'friend' and you get to decide whether to save them or dump them. Check out the details on the points systems and the rewards.

Die Fail Whale

twitter games

This is a game which is actually not based on the Twitter API but it is a bit about the little Tweetie bird. And it is addictive. On this Flash based game you have to shoot as many fail whales as you can in 25 seconds. Why? Because that big whale is the irksome thing you see when Twitter goes down. So, reload, shoot, and compare how you are doing against the rest of the Twitter crowd (but in the real world, do respect this gentle creature of the deep).

After playing some of these Twitter games, one can say that 140 characters can really be stretched. In the days ahead, it will be further stretched by others that are in the offing, including MMOPRG ones. The thing to be careful about is that your Twitter account can easily become a source of spam when you aren't playing a Twitter game.

But which are the games are you playing? Do let us know about your favorite Twitter game or send in a Tweet.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Facebook Announces More Control Over Your Profile & Friend Groups [News]

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 11:48 AM PDT

Today at an announcement at Facebook HQ broadcasted live, Mark Zuckerberg & team announced three pretty big updates to Facebook. These updates includes new Facebook Groups, Download Your Information, and the Apps That You Use Dashboard.

Read on to find out more.

Download Your Information

This function allows you to export all of your data from Facebook in a zip file. This includes profile information, friends list, comments, photos, videos and more.

Security is built into the application to ensure your data remains safe.

Once it is downloaded, your profile is available in what looks like is a plain HTML/CSS format, which should make this information available to import into other social networks.

This feature is perhaps a direct response to Facebook’s critics concerned about the platform being ‘closed’ with your data being locked with no way to export or back it up.

Apps That You Use Dashboard

This new feature allows you to have a finer-tuned access to how an external application will access your data. The granular controls give you the ability to enable and disable specific features like the ability to post to your wall, while allowing full access to other functions.

A second part of this feature is an ‘audit log’ to see what exactly an App is doing with your data.

Facebook Groups

This feature helps to mitigate the problem with having disparate groups of “friends”. It will aim to map real-world groups that share information to an area on Facebook which has similar features.

Facebook has discovered that “people don’t want to make lists” quoting that only 5% of Facebook users made at least 1 list. But they also discovered that doing it algorithmically isn’t a great solution either, because who you interact with doesn’t necessarily indicate who you think should be in a certain group of friends.

The new Groups aim to solve this by simplifying how you add friends to groups. Facebook hopes that making it as simple as tagging a photo will help to increase the adoption of creating separate lists of users. Groups is not replacing Lists (or old Groups), but is meant to augment small group communication. Think of it more like Google Wave functionality.

Group features will include:

  • Group Chat
  • Group Messages
  • Wiki-like document editing

The features will be rolled out over the next few days. If you don’t see it now, be patient, it should be there soon.

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Five Tips To Use Dropbox As The Perfect Writing Environment

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 11:31 AM PDT

dropbox tipsFrom the books that I read when I was little, I always thought that a writer is someone who went to a mountain cabin to finish his masterpiece using an old and noisy typewriter. After living as a writer myself, I can safely say that those stereotypes may only be applied to writers of the old age.

Writers from the internet era don’t use manual typewriters anymore, word processors are already an inseparable part of our lives, and going to the mountain cabin to finish a book is a time luxury most of us can’t afford.

Many of us don’t settle with one place and one gadget to write, that’s why a synchronization tool like Dropbox can really help writers with their digital writing life.

The problem is, the idea of customizing Dropbox to help us write and finish our next bestseller is still alien to not-so-technology-savvy writers. But most people don’t know how easy it is to use Dropbox to help their writing life.

The Five Dropbox Tips

The goal is setting a writing environment around Dropbox in such a way that the writer should be able to write anywhere and using any available gadgets while still being able to keep track of his/her work. I could, for example, start writing a piece at my home computer in the morning, then while I’m on the road I could open my iPhone and pick up my writing where I left off. I could easily continue using another computer and the writing is always there, neatly organized amongst other pieces.

There are several routes one might take. Here are five tips that I discovered after trying to customize Dropbox for my own writing life.

1. Use folders and sub folders to organize writings

It’s easy to get lost in lots of text files, especially when you are writing regularly. So the first thing any writer should do when customizing their Dropbox environment is to create a dedicated folder for their writing, and create sub-folders to organize them.

dropbox tips

It could be something like splitting the files into Fiction and Non-Fiction folders, then divide the Fiction into Short Stories and Novels while the Non Fiction gets divided into Articles and Books, and so on. If you are writing books, you could go further by creating one folder for each book and sub folders for each chapter.

2. Always write in plain text

Since we are aiming for the ability to open the writing files from any possible device, it’s advisable to choose a format which is accepted by as many devices as possible. Plain text (.txt) wins without any noticeable opposition from other text formats.

how to use dropbox

3. Share folders to collaborate

No man is an island, so it’s very likely that once in a while a writer would have to collaborate on writing something with someone else. Luckily, Dropbox has a feature to support collaboration called Folder Share.

To share any folder within the Dropbox environment, right click the folder and choose “Dropbox – Share This Folder” from the pop up menu.

how to use dropbox

4. View “Previous Version” for “Revision History

No writer that I know of is able to produce perfect writing in one go. There are always revisions along the way, and sometimes the latest revision is not always the best and we need to go back to the previous versions.

Dropbox allows writers to view the “Revision History” of any edited file. Just right click on a file and choose “Dropbox – View Previous Versions” from the pop up menu.

how to use dropbox

You will be brought to the web interface of your Dropbox account, where you can choose, view and restore one of the versions of the file.

using dropbox

5. Bonus for iPhone/iPad/iTouch users: Use PlainText

I stumbled into a new app for iDevices called PlainText (free – ad supported) that allows users to create and edit folders and plain text files from within their device, and then sync everything to other devices/computers via Dropbox.

using dropbox

Despite some minor early version bugs, this would be the perfect app to implement the folder and sub folder organization method and make your writing life easier. Creating new folders and text files is as easy as tapping the Folder/File icon on the bottom bar, and the interface is also beautiful.

dropbox tips

These five simple tips help me navigate my writing life around the Dropbox environment. I hope they can also be useful for others. I’m also sure that there are other tips that more experienced writers out there can share. Write them down using the comments section below.

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Preview Free Sample Book Chapters From Amazon & iBooks

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 10:31 AM PDT

preview booksIf you’re a book nerd like I am, Amazon and Apple’s iBook Store have made it wonderfully easy to download sample chapters of books from their respective stores. It’s sort of like browsing in a book store where you might flip to the table of contents and then read from the first chapter or two to preview the book and decide if you want to purchase it.

Amazon and Apple understand that browsing their online book store is not like browsing an actual brick and mortar book store, but their free sample book chapters get them pretty close.

Kindle For The Web

Recently, has made this book preview feature even more accessible through its Kindle for the Web Beta. You can now download the first sample chapter to your web browser directly from an Amazon overview book page.

preview books

If a book has a first chapter download available, you will see a ”Read first chapter FREE” button on the right side of the book’s information page. You won’t find this option in the Kindle book store, but on the regular Amazon book pages.

sample books online

The free chapter downloads so that you can easily view and navigate its pages.

sample books online

What’s really nice about this option is that you can also embed sample pages into your blog site, as well share the book pages via email, Facebook and Twitter.

sample books online

As you can do with the Kindle, you can change the font size, line spacing, words per line, and color mode of the downloaded chapter. In the Safari web browser, the download sample is very smooth and easy to read.

preview books online

Sadly, however, this Kindle for the Web is not very well optimized for the iPad. It will download via the iPad Safari browser, but at full screen the navigation controls are not easily accessible and you can’t change the settings as you can with a computer web browser.

Kindle & iBook Options

If you have an iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android, you can use the mobile Kindle app to download sample chapters to these devices.

preview books online

You of course need an account to use the Kindle app. After installing the app on your device, you simply navigate to the Kindle Store and locate books in their Kindle version. Most current and popular books will have a Kindle version.

What’s great about downloading sample versions of Kindle books is that you can keep them stored on your app like a wish list of books to read. You need only pay for and download a Kindle book when you’re ready to read it.

preview books online

You can also download the same sample chapters to more than one device, including the PC and Mac version of the Kindle e-reader.

iBooks Free Download

With Apple’s iBooks, the download process is even easier. You access the iBooks Store through the iBooks app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. When you click on a book’s information page, simply select “Get Sample” and it will download to your app’s library.

preview books

Let us know if you have tried any of these free download options, and what you find useful about them. If you have never used these apps, check out my How to Use the Amazon Kindle Reader for iPhone and iPod Touch article.

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Google Launches Website With Feature Set For Google TV [News]

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 10:01 AM PDT

Google TV has been generating a lot of buzz on the Internet for a while now. Up until now, however, Google hasn’t released much information about their upcoming product, aside from a few small announcements and screenshot releases.

That all changed a few days ago, when Google launched a mini-site detailing the much anticipated Google TV platform. Included with a quick tour, this website reveals a bunch of juicy details about what we can expect to be included with the platform.

Here are the key points illustrated in the tour:

  • Search across every channel, every app, and the entire web, simultaneously.
  • Ability to browse the whole web, not just some of it.
  • Comes with several of your favorite apps, and next year developers can create their own.
  • Use your phone as a remote, including voice search.
  • Customizable home screen with favorite channels, apps and websites.
  • Seamless switching between TV and web, or watch both at the same time.
  • DVR access right from the search bar.
  • Easy to install and works with your current setup.

Loads Of Apps

On the Features page of the site, Google includes a link to a YouTube video in which they demo the wide variety of apps that will be available on the platform. Check it out:

Needless to say, you are going to be able to do a lot with your TV using Google’s platform. You can view more examples of how the service will look on the website’s Spotlight page. The page states that there will be more examples in the near future.

Will you be getting a Google TV enabled television or box? What are your thoughts on the future of television?

Source: CrunchGear

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Hotot: A Fast, iPhone-Like Twitter Client For Linux

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 09:31 AM PDT

twitter client for linuxFeaturing a blazing-fast load time and a quick, animated interface, Hotot, a Twitter client for Linux offers a slick way to access Twitter. If you wish your Linux experience was a bit more like the iPhone or iPad you’ll probably love this application, though those who prefer a traditional user interface might find themselves lost in the uniqueness of it all.

One thing can’t be questioned, though: this sucker is fast. It’s quick to load and quick to browse; perfect for those frustrated with Gwibber.

I’ve already shown you 5 Linux Twitter clients you’ve probably never heard of, focusing on lightweight programs that don’t depend on the likes of Adobe Air. If you liked that list, but didn’t quite like what you found, you should probably check out Hotot (assuming, of course, that you haven’t given up desktop clients for the new Twitter).

Using Hotot

Fire up Hotot for the first time and you’ll be asked to log in. You can do so the old-fashioned way or by using OAuth. Once you do you should see your Tweets just the way you’d expect:

twitter client for linux

Buttons along the bottom allow you to quickly change from one view to the other. For example, you can see “@” responses all in one place:

The other columns included are direct messages, favorite tweets, retweets, user profiles and searches. Clicking any of these results in a slick sliding animation takes you to your selection.

That’s Weird…

twitter client for linux

“But wait,” you’re saying, “this user interface doesn’t really match my Gnome/KDE theme!”

You’re right, of course, but next time don’t interupt me. I’m trying to blog.

Hotot’s user interface is entirely self-contained, not making use of the traditional locations for buttons and forgoing the “File Edit View” menu bar completely. The result is a program that feels more like a website or an iPhone app, which for a Twitter client I don’t think is completely unreasonable. The layout of this program seems logical to me.

You might disagree though, and I’d be disappointed if you didn’t tell me what you think in the comments below.


Install this program on Ubuntu is easy: just add the PPA and away you go. Here are the commands to do so:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:hotot-team
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install hotot

If you don’t use Ubuntu you need to install from source, at least for now. Check out Hotot’s installation page to find out how to install Hotot on your Linux distribution of choice.

Other Features

  • URL shortening.
  • Photo uploading.
  • Plugin interface for third party developers.
  • Keyboard shortcuts for quick browsing.
  • Press “Alt” and “C” anytime to bring up the program instantly.


So we’ve got a slick, fast client for Twitter here. Is there any reason to stick with more bloated options, such as Gwibber or Tweetdeck?

Currently, yes. Right now the program only supports logging into one Twitter account at a time, which will turn off many who manage multiple accounts. The client also only supports Twitter at this time, which is a little disappointing to those of us who use Gwibber to check both Twitter and Facebook at once.

That doesn’t mean these features won’t be included eventually, however; they probably will. This project is still Alpha, after all (although you wouldn’t know it from how well it runs). I’m willing to bet this one program will do pretty much everything this time next year, and I’ll be watching closely.

What do you guys think? Is this a pretty cool Linux Twitter client, or is the market simply too flooded for another? Do you like the animated user interface, or will you be sticking with an old-fashioned program? Let us know below; we love talking with you guys.

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Send Us Your Pictures Of You Wearing The MakeUseOf T-Shirt

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 09:01 AM PDT

The cash registers are ka-chinging over at the MakeUseOf T-Shirt Store and our shirts are travelling out to our fans in the farthest reaches of the world. From the USA to Russia to Australia, MakeUseOf fans are spreading the word on the streets.

However, we would like to see you in your shirts.   We want to see who our fans are and what they look like in MUO garb.  That is partly the reason why we have revived the MakeUseOf Flickr account because we want to show you wearing your MakeUseOf T-shirt.

So here’s the plan. Get your digital camera out and get a picture taken of yourself wearing one of our MakeUseOf T-shirts (if you don’t have one yet, head on over to the store and buy one).    Then email it to me at .

I will upload your picture to our Flickr page, along with all the other pictures we receive and we will show the best of them here on in a special feature article sometime in the future.

Here to inspire you to send in your pics is Justin relaxing in his T-shirt, after a hard day editing our manuals.

Justin Pot

Oh and don’t forget, if you have a Flickr account yourself, make us a contact on the site.   Then when we update our Flickr page, you will be the first to know!   We will be updating the page soon with all kinds of stuff such as staff pictures, fan pictures and much more.

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Give Your Wordpress Blog Lightning Fast Speeds With W3 Total Cache

Posted: 06 Oct 2010 08:31 AM PDT

speed up wordpress blogYou’ve undoubtedly seen a ‘Top 10 Wordpress Plugins’ post before. It’s pretty much required reading if you have a new Wordpress blog, and everyone seems to be writing them these days. We’re guilty of this as well, having written our share of plugin articles over the years.

One plugin I’ve seen on a lot of these lists is WP Super Cache, a caching engine designed to produce static HTML pages and load your blog faster. WP Super Cache is a good plugin, don’t get me wrong, but is it really the fastest?

If you’re really looking to speed up your Wordpress blog, I recommend you check out the W3 Total Cache plugin.

In this article, I’ll educate you about this plugin and show you what you can do to give your blog a blazing fast speed.

What’s All The Hype About?

Before I show you how to set up this plugin, I figured I should give you a little more incentive to check it out. According to the plugin page, W3 Total Cache is:

the fastest and most complete Wordpress performance optimization plugin. W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by improving your server performance, caching every aspect of your site, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration.

It boasts a significant improvement (at least 10x) in overall site performance, as well as “instant” second page views.

Don’t know what a CDN is? Read on and I’ll show you how to set all this up.

Getting Started With W3 Total Cache

Once you’ve installed and activated the plugin, head over to the settings page.

On the General Settings page, you should see a few messages at the top of the screen. One may ask you to ‘empty page cache’. Go ahead and do that and make sure you disable/uninstall any other caching plugins (like WP Super Cache) for the time being.

speed up your Wordpress blog

W3 Total Cache’s default settings are fine to start with. Go ahead and check the box under General to turn caching on.

You should already see an increase in speed just from using W3 Total Cache, but to throw your site into warp drive, I’ll show you how to set up a CDN.

Why Use A CDN?

If you are hosting your own Wordpress blog, chances are you are renting server space from somewhere. Regardless of what hosting provider you are using, your server is probably in another state/country. Add that to the fact that it’s a shared server (probably a busy one) and sometimes it can take a while to load all of your files (images, etc.).

A content delivery network allows you to eliminate this delay. A CDN will use a server close to you to deliver your content when called upon. It’s this efficiency that allows your website to load faster.

Setting Up Amazon CloudFront

Still on the General Settings page, scroll down until you see the Content Delivery Network settings. Check the Enable box, and under CDN Type select Amazon CloudFront. Save your changes and you should now see a bunch of new messages at the top of the screen.

Go to the CDN Settings page from the drop-down menu at the top and scroll down to the Configuration section. To fill in this information, you’re going to have to input some data from Amazon.

Head over to the Amazon web services page and click Sign Up for Amazon S3. Then, head over to the CloudFront page and sign up for that as well.

[Note]: Technically Amazon S3 and CloudFront are not free, but they’re awfully close. It costs roughly 15 cents per GB of monthly bandwidth transfer, which most of us won’t come close to using. Not a bad way to make use of the change you find in your couch.

Once you’ve signed up, head to the Account tab and select Security Credentials.

You’ll want to copy your Access Key ID and Secret Access Key and paste them into their respective Wordpress fields.

Now, you can scroll up to the top of the Amazon web services screen and click on the Sign in to the AWS Management Console link. This will take you to your management page.

Click on the Amazon S3 tab and select Create Bucket. Name your bucket (preferably something short) and go back and enter in that name in the Bucket field of Wordpress.

In the management console, select the Amazon CloudFront tab. Click Create Distribution, select your bucket under Origin, and click Create. When the State column goes from ‘InProgress’ to ‘Deployed’ (takes a few minutes) we’re ready to move on.

See where it says Domain Name? Copy what’s in front of and paste it into the hostname field in Wordpress. Click Test CloudFront upload and save your changes to make sure everything checks out.

speed up your Wordpress blog

Finally, head to the top of your Wordpress screen and click on export your media library. Click Start and it will upload your existing media files to your CloudFront account. When finished, go through the other buttons and do the same thing.

[Note]: You only have to do this once, when you first install the plugin. Everything you upload to your media folder from here on out will automatically get copied over to your CloudFront account.


The first time you visit your website after setting up W3 Total Cache it should load at normal speed or even slower than usual. Don’t be alarmed, as this is normal. Click refresh and see how much it speeds up your Wordpress blog!

What do you think of this plugin?  Let us know in the comments below.

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