Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MakeUseOf.com: “Cool Websites and Tools [December 20th]” plus 9 more

MakeUseOf.com: “Cool Websites and Tools [December 20th]” plus 9 more

Link to MakeUseOf.com

Cool Websites and Tools [December 20th]

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 07:31 PM PST

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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Bu.tt – A URL shortening site like bit.ly or TinyURL are used to shorten links of all kinds. But if you want to shorten the links of a funny page, you can use Bu.tt to obtain a funny sounding shortened URL. Bu.tt is a free URL shortening web service that performs the link shortening task in the traditional way: you enter a long URL, add a token, and then obtain the shortened URL. Read more: Bu.tt: A Funny URL Shortener


Khan Academy – The internet is a great source of information. For students, in particular, the internet can prove to be a great help. There are countless educational resources that help students with their homework and learn new concepts. One such source for learning is KhanAcademy. It includes definitions and explanations of various topics that belong to mathematics, science, humanities and social sciences. Read more: KhanAcademy: A Great Source For Learning Through Videos



Target Map – If you run a large company then creating a customized map with all your outlets marked on it could be a highly useful tool for you and your clients. If for this or for any other purpose you want to create a detailed customized map, then pay a visit to TargetMap, an online tool that helps you create free customized maps online. Read more: Targetmap: Easily Create Free Customized Maps & Share



Easy Hi – Sending greeting cards online is a wonderful way to express your feelings to people who live far away. But the greeting cards available on most sites lack the personal touch. To add your own touch to the online greeting card and customize it pay a visit to EasyHi. It is a free to use website that lets you create custom multimedia greeting cards. Read more: EasyHi: Create Great Looking Multimedia Greeting Cards Online



Convert Video To Audio – Converting YouTube videos to other video or audio formats is a service not many online tools provide. Usually you have to visit separate sites for video and audio format conversions. “ConvertVideoToAudio” however provides all the conversion formats under one interface. Read more: Convertvideotoaudio: Convert & Quickly Download YouTube Videos


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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Share, Share, Share….Spread The Word!

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 06:31 PM PST

With most of the MakeUseOf articles that we profile every day, our main goal is to give you something that you will find interesting and useful.

To show you a website or a software program you can make use of is our number one priority.

This time around, we would like something from you. Something really easy and simple. That is to share MakeUseOf articles you find useful with others. That’s really the best way for you to show your appreciation for our work.

It’s quick and super easy to do.

Simply click one of the sharing buttons at the bottom of the article and vote it up (or share).

As you can see, there are options to share the article with your friends on Facebook, Twitter (retweet), StumbleUpon and Digg. Also, there is a ‘ShareThis‘ button which lets you share the article on several other social networks as well as giving you an option to email the link to someone.

You might not realize it but this has a major impact on our daily workflow and the popularity of MakeUseOf.com. So if you’re an avid reader and like what we are doing, please make sure to always share the articles you find useful with friends.

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Excel Add-ins to Easily Extract and Activate URLs

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 05:30 PM PST

show url links excelExcel is an awesome data management tool. I use it a lot to store and organize the information I need to deal with on a daily basis. As I am working online, most of the time this information contains multiples URLs linking to web sources.

Excel provides for plenty of flexibility to geeky, macros-savvy people. I am not one of them and creating some formulas or macros isn’t an easy task for me. If you are like me, you’ll find my tips on extracting and activating multiple hyperlinks in Excel quite handy!

1. Extract URLs

There’s a great tool that would make a lot of Excel tasks (including extracting hyperlinks from the whole list of linked cells) clearer and easier to implement – ASAP Utilities. It is easy to install, just download and run its free version.

Note: You might have to tweak your Excel security settings a bit before being able to use the tool. The tool offers step-by-step prompts, so you are unlikely to have any problems. First, to make sure the addin is going to work, navigate:

File -> Options -> Trust Center -> Trust Center Settings


  • Make sure macros are enabled (in "Macro Settings")
  • Make sure the addins are NOT disabled (in "Add-ins")

show url links excel

After having it installed, you will get a new submenu with the handy “Web” section. Clicking on it will discover some very cool opportunities for working with content you copy-paste from the web.

So imagine you have copied-pasted the whole lots of linked words from the web and need to see the full URLs now – all you need to do is:

  • Navigate: ASAP Utilities -> Web -> Extract Hyperlinks
  • Select where the full URLs should be extracted:

show url links excel


how to convert text hyperlink to url in excel

2. Activate Hyperlinks

Let’s say you have the list of plain-text URLs (like in the above screenshot in column B) and want to make them all clickable. One way is to go through the list and double click each cell – this will activate each link, but this can take time (especially with long lists of URLs).

With ASAP Utilities, you can do that with (almost) one click of a mouse. Just select the column with your plain text URLs, go ASAP Utilities -> Web -> Activate hyperlinks and select the format and type of the hyperlinks:

how to convert text hyperlink to url in excel


how to extract url from hyperlink in excel

Note: The “Web” section of Asap Utilities also allows you to change the format of your links to =HYPERLINK() formulas. Workbooks in Excel can become slow when they contain too many cells with hyperlinks. The =HYPERLINK() formula should let you work with huge workbooks easier.

3. Extract Domains and Top Level Domains from Hyperlinks

Imagine you have a list of URLs or linked cells in Excel and you need to sort the table by domain or top level domain (or build some stats). For that, you will need this URL tools addin. To install it, just download and save the file, then activate it from within Excel.

Navigate: Office Home button -> “Excel Options” from the bottom of the menu -> Addins and Click “Go” where it says “Manage Excel Add-ins”. Click “Browse” and browse to wherever you saved the Add-in file:

how to extract url from hyperlink in excel

There are a number of functions included in the Add-in – most useful of which are:

  • subdomain() – returns the domain part of a URL including any subdomains e.g “http://www.example.com/index.htm” becomes “www.example.com”
  • wwwsubdomain() – basically, a combination of the above, equivalent to “nowww(subdomain(A1))”. This is what you want to use most of the time!
  • nowww() – removes “www.” from the start of a URL (note that www must be at the very beginning of the URL)
  • tld() – Returns the TLD of a URL (not 100% perfect but pretty good)
  • geturl() – Extracts the URL from a Hyperlink

So, getting back to our task, let’s extract domain names from the list of linked cells.

Copy and paste next to the cell you want to extract domain from (copy-paste it all other cells you want to extend the formula to):


Extract domain names

Do you have your own tips and tricks editing and extracting URLs in Excel? Please share them here!

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How To Create A Simple Zoomed Effect On Screenshots In GIMP

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 03:30 PM PST

zoom effectsI was recently inspired by a Photoshop tutorial on creating a magnifier effect that would really enhance resized screenshots. If you regularly blog and take screenshots, you know resizing images is bound to be the easiest way to deal with image dimension restrictions, but may not always be kind to the eye.

In my search for a similar tutorial for GIMP, I didn’t find an exhaustive tutorial that could be simple enough for new learners of GIMP to follow. This is a simple guide on creating a zoomed effect with explanations on some steps (advanced users, please bear with me.) Here is what I did to create the introductory image.

1. Drag and drop, paste or otherwise create your screenshot in GIMP, the latter of which can be done by going to File > Create > Screenshot. I will be pasting a screenshot of my entire screen (1280 x 800).

zoom effects

2. Use the Ellipse Select tool, make sure it’s on the first mode “Replace current selection” under Tool Options, then to draw a circle over the part you want to zoom in on.

digital zoom effect

Press Ctrl + C followed by Ctrl + V to simply copy and paste the selection. You should see a new pseudo-layer called “Floating Selection” in the Layers dialog which you can see by pressing Ctrl + L.Go to Layer > New Layer to create a new layer for the pasted circle image.

digital zoom effect

3. Now in the Layers dialog, select the bottom, original layer, and use the Scale tool to resize it if you need to, as it is probably too enormous to insert in a blog post.

digital zoom effect

Once you’re done resizing, click on the eye icon for that layer you just resized to toggle visibility so we can focus on the new layer.

zoom effect in photography

4. Select the top, new layer and go to Layer > Layer to Image Size to expand the area for this layer.

zoom effect in photography

Right-click on the same layer and choose Alpha to Selection which will select the circle’s outline.

zoom effect in photography

5. To create the outline for the zoomed image in white and grey, go to Select > Grow.

Type 1 (pixels), if it’s not there by default already, and click OK. We want the grey outline to be under the zoomed circle, so the former needs to be on a separate layer. Go to Layer > New Layer. You can name it “inner grey outline” like I did, or not but it helps to distinguish the layers later on. For Layer Fill Type, choose Transparency.

6. Choose the Bucket Fill tool, then click on the foreground color to bring up the color palette and choose a grey color (I’m using #aca7a7).

Fill the circle and go to the Layers dialog to lower this “inner grey outline” layer.

7. Go to Select > Grow and type “2″ this time for the thicker white outline. Create a new layer, naming it “white outline” if you want and selecting Transparency again.

8. Now swap the grey and the background color (which you should make white if it’s not already). Use the Bucket Fill tool to fill the circle with this white foreground color. Lower this “white outline” layer so it’s right under the grey outline layer.

9. You should still have the selection active so create a new layer (Layer > New Layer with the optional name of “outer grey outline”), again set on a transparent background. Grow the selection by 1 pixel (Select > Grow), swap the background grey color so it’s the foreground color, and bucket-fill the selection with it. Lower this layer so it’s under the white outline layer and above the original background/screenshot layer.

10. At this point, we’re done with the outlines of the zoomed image, which looks a bit flat. We’ll give it a drop shadow and an inner glow (as recommended in this GIMPChat thread) to create some depth, and make it look more like it’s being magnified. Now with the selection still active, go to Filters > Light and Shadow > Drop Shadow.

The default values should be fine, but uncheck Allow Resizing before clicking OK.

11. Now that the drop shadow’s done, we will proceed to create the glow. Click on Pasted Layer (the zoomed screenshot layer) in the Layer dialog, right-click and select Alpha to Selection. Then go to Select in the menu bar > To Path (the last option).

12. Create a new transparent layer (naming it “lens feather” if you wish) and select it in the Layers dialog if not selected already. Go to Select > Feather and type in 50 (pixels) in the dialog box that shows up.

Go to Select again > Invert to make whatever we do next apply to outside the circle only.

13. Swap the colors so white is the foreground color and bucket-fill the new layer with it.

Go to Select > None to de-select. Then go to Select > From Path, then go to Select > Invert and press the Delete button.

14. Right-click on the Pasted Layer (for the zoomed circle) and choose Alpha to Selection (make sure this layer is selected).Take the Ellipse Select tool, choose the 4th mode “Intersect with the current selection” and draw a circle over the left part of the zoomed image. You should have something like this.

15. Create a new transparent layer, naming it “shine” if you want. Bucket-fill the selection with white as the foreground color. Tone down the opacity to about 10.

Go to Select > None.

16. If you want to move the zoomed image around, you can go to Layer > Merge Down the layers above the background bottom layer that constitute the zoomed circle with the outline and effects. Toggle the background (bottom) layer so it’s visible again.

zoom effects

That’s it! Feel free to experiment with the feather value.

What do you think? Do you have tips or suggestions on achieving the zoom effect with fewer steps? If so, please share them with us!

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OpenSubtitles.org – The Web’s Largest, Completely Free Searchable Subtitles Database

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 01:30 PM PST

movie subtitlesIt’s a rather annoying moment when you realise that film, episode or documentary you downloaded (completely legally, of course) doesn’t come with the necessary subtitles.

For those who are hard of hearing or obsessed with world cinema, subtitles are a necessity. Step in OpenSubtitles.org, a vast database of subtitles that we’ve happened to mention previously.

The key is in the name, but OpenSubtitles.org aims to be as open as possible. This has allowed for a few features that give the website the edge over the competition.

Finding Subtitles

The home page is packed with info and small text, but if you’re simply after a quick download then you’ll be done in no time.

movie subtitles

Finding the subtitles you’re after is a fairly straightforward process. On the main page, enter your search query and hit Search. You’ll immediately be taken to a list of possible films that match your query.

english subtitles

Once you’ve found the film you’re after you’ll be taken to the subtitles results for that film. The language of the subtitles you are downloading is indicated via the flag in the second column of the results.

Simply click on a result to learn more information, add a rating or comment or click Download (ZIP) to download your subtitles. Extract the archive (put the subtitles file in the same directory as the movie, for ease) and you’re good to go.

You can then use your favourite media player to choose the file you just downloaded as a subtitle track and finally enjoy your movie.


In line with the openness mantra that OpenSubtitles.org follows, there are a few other ways of getting hold of your subtitles. There happens to be an API for the website, which a number of applications take advantage of.

The list of supported media players is a fairly long one. It’s also refreshing to see some big-name projects on the list.

One such supported player is SMPlayer, a popular Linux media player which also works on Windows. Within SMPlayer is the ability to directly search OpenSubtitles.org using the file you are playing.

english subtitles

Simply click Subtitles then Find Subtitles on OpenSubtitles.org. Your results will be showed almost immediately, and can be directly downloaded with a click.

Another media solution that makes use of OpenSubtitles.org is Boxee, the media centre application which transforms your TV into an internet-ready entertainment centre. Simply click the closed caption ("CC" in a speech bubble) button and Boxee will automatically connect and display results.

english subtitles

There are currently more than 220 registered user agents making use of the API, so there’s a good chance you’ve already got software that supports OpenSubtitles.

There’s also the website’s own project, the OpenSubtitles MKV Player which only works on Windows. Much like the other programs, it is a player that connects and downloads subtitles for you (though there are better media solutions out there).

Uploads & Requests

If you’re a particularly patient individual with a love of helping out your fellow man then you might be tempted to upload subtitles. You don’t necessarily have had to slave away on each and every line, you just might find a version in your collection that the website doesn’t have.

Simply click the Upload link to be taken to the subtitles upload page. You will need to input a fair bit of information related to the film that you’ve subtitled, including the IMDB ID and how many frames per second (FPS) your version adheres to.

movie subtitles

If you can’t find the subtitles you’re after then you can lodge a request, but you’ll need to register on the site before you can do so. You can also see what everyone else is after, and whether you can help out.

If all that’s not enough, then there’s also some add-ons for your browser. For iGoogle users, you can add an OpenSubtitles gadget, there’s also a Firefox subtitle matcher add-on and an Opera widget if you’re that way inclined.


There’s loads of subtitle search engines and databases online, but none quite offer the plug-and-play ease of OpenSubtitles.org. The use of an API to deliver the content directly within media players is second to none.

Whether you’re physically searching yourself or have a media player that uses the API, you probably won’t find a faster way to download subtitles online.

Do you have any favourite subtitle spots? Do you use Boxee or SMPlayer and rely on the ability to directly download subtitles? Share the love in the comments.

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Hot Tech Deals [Dec 20th]

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 12:15 PM PST

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. Panasonic HM-TA1H 1920×1080 Portable Video Camcorder $99.99 Free Shipping

  2. Kingston HyperX 8GB (4x2GB) DDR3-1600MHz PC3-12800 Quad-Channel Desktop Memory $74.99AR Free Shipping

  3. Samsung UN55C7000 55in 3D-Ready LED-Backlit LCD HDTV w/ 3D Blu-Ray Player + 2 Pairs of 3D Glasses $1899.99

  4. Logitech Illuminated Ultrathin Keyboard w/ Backlighting $34.99AR Free Shipping

  5. TODAY ONLY Seagate 1TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive $69.99 Free Shipping

  6. TODAY ONLY Samsung 2494LW 24in Widescreen LCD Monitor (1920×1080) $149 Free Shipping

  7. Lenovo IdeaCentre B305 AMD Athlon II X3 400e Triple Core All-in-One Desktop w/ 22in Touchscreen LCD $549

  8. LG 32LD400 32in LCD HDTV (1080p) $349.99 Free Shipping

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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6 Awesomely Geeky Screensavers for Mac and PC Users

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 11:30 AM PST

awesome screensaversThese days, it seems that one of the last things people think about when it comes to customising their computers is the screensaver. There are all sorts of options out there for both Mac and PC users — from abstract vector designs to clocks and calendars to keep your eye on the time.

Screensavers can be used in all sorts of creative and unique ways, and if nothing else, they can brighten up your screen. We’ve put together a list of 6 screensavers that should appeal to the geek in you. There’s a little something for every type of geek, from the GTD Geek to the Trekkie in you that’s bursting to come out.


There are many clock screensavers out there that will basically get the job done. Design geeks will probably choose PolarClock over other screensavers any day of the week. Available in 28 languages, with a 24 hour or 12 hour clocks, and font size customization; PolarClock gives you a fun and colourful way to protect your screen, and tell the time. PolarClock is available as a free download for Mac and Windows users, and is also available as a paid iPhone app to turn your phone into a geek-chic nightstand.

awesome screensavers

System 47

The ultimate in geekiness, System 47 was created as a homage to Star Trek and displays screens from the fictional operating system, LCARS. The screensaver comes fully equipped with images and sound effects, the latter of which can be disabled in the options.

System 47 hasn’t been updated in quite a while, and Mac users running 10.5 or later won’t be able to install the program from the original file. Since the screensaver was abandoned by its original developer, some fans have taken it upon themselves to update it and the Mac installation file can be downloaded from Mac Update.

cool screensavers

Electric Sheep

No geeky list of screensavers is complete without the iconic Electric Sheep. The psychedelic screensaver certainly needs no introduction. The opensource screensaver is made up of vector art contributed by thousands of people from all over the world. If you want to get in on it it and contribute your own design, you can do so here.

cool screensavers


Another awesome clock screensaver is Simon Heys’ World Clock. Mac and PC compatible, the screensaver displays the current time and date. The screensaver is highly customisable, with the ability to alter the font, choose between a linear or rotary design, as well as several different ways to display the time and date.

cool screensavers


GeoCodEarth is the ultimate screensaver for any Twitter geek. Compatible with both Macs and PCs, the screensaver displays what’s being shared on Flickr, Twitter and Ffffound around the world. You can also add specific Flickr or Brightkite searches as well as any RSS feed you choose. The GeoCodEarth screensaver requires an internet connection to work.

cool mac screensavers

iTunes Album Art

For the music geek, using your album artwork as a screensaver is a pretty cool way to get a huge variety of art on your screen in one go. For Mac users, this feature comes bundled with any machine, with iTunes album artwork used as one of the native screensavers. PC users can get in on the fun with Crayon Room’s free screensaver.

awesome screensavers

Image credit: Shutterstock

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Three Great Study Aids for iPad Users You Probably Didn’t Know About

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 10:30 AM PST

ipad study appsDo you find yourself using your iPad for school and job related tasks and projects? We know the device can be great for reading ebooks, PDFs, brainstorming notes, and doing web related research. But I’ve discovered three new resources — a Diigo bookmarklet for annotating iPad Safari web pages, and two productivity apps — that you might find very useful for doing research and similar projects on your Apple iPad.

Web Highlighter for iPad Safari

If you have been using Diigo’s powerful bookmarking and annotation tools to help research your term papers, you might be interested in knowing that you can now use a new Diigo bookmarklet on your iPad to highlight web pages, bookmark a page with tags, add a sticky note, and store bookmarks and annotations in your Diigo account.

ipad study apps

To install the bookmarklet, visit the Diigo Toolbar page in the iPad Safari browser, and tap on “Web Highlighter for iPad”.

study apps for ipad

Tap the “Install Web Highlighter Now” button and follow the two-step instructions from there. Once installed, simply tap the bookmarklet in the iPad Safari bookmarks bar to activate the annotation tools.

Note Hub

One of the coolest apps for doing project related work is a fairly new iPad app called Note Hub [iTunes Store link].

study apps for ipad

This all-in-one program enables you to take notes, draw, browse web pages, make task lists, perform calculations, and search maps.

study apps for ipad

If you’re thinking these functions are all just separate apps in single application, that’s not quite the case. What makes Note Hub even more useful is that it allows you to save documents in individual project folders.

study apps

What I particularly like about Note Hub is its icon interface. When you click on a project, you can view all its documents similarly to how you view tab pages in iPad Safari.

study apps

Note Hub really helps you multitask on the iPad without having to open four or five other applications. My only wish for the program is that the notepad could also be accessed within the web browser itself, similar to the dual web browser and notepad apps available for the iTunes Store.

All the Note Hub features described above come with a free version of the app. It want export your documents out of the program, you will need to upgrade to the pro version.

Knowtilus Navigator

Another very interesting productivity tool for the iPad is called Knowtilus Navigator [iTunes Store link]. Its features are similar to Note Hub, but I found it slightly more difficult to use. It’s not a poorly designed app, but because it’s packed with so many features, you’ll have to spend some time figuring how to access all of what it can do.

study apps

Knowtilus Navigator sports over 12 different features, including multiple web browsing and bookmarking, a Safari Desktop Reader-like tool that strips pages of obtrusive ads and other content, RSS feed downloading, Facebook, Twitter and email sharing, a doodling pad, text editing, and a language translator.

All these various tools are accessed through the Knowtilus Navigator’s pop-up navigation bar. While this feature is somewhat unique, it’s also what makes Knowtilus Navigator a challenge to use. You need to figure what buttons to tap to access particular features.

ipad study apps

Unfortunately, unlike Note Hub, you can’t organize your documents into project folders. Your content is saved in one of the categories: bookmarks, notes (Knowgets), Library (text documents), RSS feeds, and search documents. You tap the Saved icon in the toolbar to access these categories and documents.

Knowtilus Navigator is also free. The pro version includes a few additional features such a text to speech tool.

While the iPad is not a sufficient replacement for a laptop computer, the tools described above ease the chore of opening several applications to get particular tasks accomplished.

Let us know about similar practical tools you have found useful for your iPad.

If you’re interested in other free iPad applications, check out my two other related articles, The 10 Top Free Apps For The iPad and From Diary Writing to PDF Forms: 5 Awesome Free iPad Apps You Should Get.

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Visit These 5 (Virtual) Museums Without Leaving Home

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 09:30 AM PST

virtual museumA field trip to a museum was one of the necessary educational activities while growing up. I think it still is. The only difference is that with the explosion of the web and virtual environments, a student can cover so many more sights than earlier possible.

Virtual environments open up many more educational options. You can go to places you wouldn't even dream of, or even be able to in your real life. For example, a virtual museum tour is not real, but it is infinitely more 'real' than boring texts and pictures.

As you check out the cool virtual museum tours below, you will realize that it's not only educational but also gives you a preview of what to expect when you do the real thing. Take these five virtual tours of museums in your pajamas without bothering to pay the price of an admission ticket.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

virtual museum

It is part of the largest museum complex in the world run by the Smithsonian Institution and is also the most popular. Even if you take the real tour, it is a complex of 19 museums and research centers. For a lot of us, it has to be on the “places to visit in our lifetime” list. Even though that day is in the future for a lot of us, we can take a peek into the treasures thanks to the virtual tour.

You can enter the rotunda and go for the comprehensive self-guided, room-by-room walking tour of the whole museum. Directional arrows and a few controls help to guide you around the exhibits. You can directly go to a spot by using the map. If you see an icon of a camera, clicking on it displays the exhibit in close-up. Make sure your internet connection is fast enough before you start the virtual tour.

European Virtual Museum

virtual museum tour

A collection of items from various museums in Europe have been put up on this portal with the help of 3D images. Visitors can explore the history of Europe through the artifacts' and archaeological information linked to them. You can go by the eras, the area, objects, route, or pick up a museum to browse their collection online. Although it’s not as visually impressive as the online museum above, the European virtual museum is an educational treasure trove if you are studying European history.


virtual museum tour

Another museum which ranks among the world's largest and also has a neat virtual tour is the Louvre. When it comes to art, this museum in Paris holds the top spot. The virtual tours of the museum come in snippets which cover different sections of the museum. You can take in the architectural splendor from the outside and then go into the different departments housing the art objects. An inline QuickTime player gives you pan and zoom controls to close in on the exhibits. You can see a listing of all the virtual tours around the museum on the left sidebar. When it comes to the view, the medieval tour of the Louvre is the best.

Vatican Museums

virtual museum tour

From paintings and sculptures to frescoes, the Vatican Museum is an art connoisseur's delight. The homepage includes several collections you can view online if you haven't yet managed a trip to the Vatican City. The 360 degree virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel will show you what you are missing. You can explore the other collections in a little Java player.

Toyota Automobile Museum

virtual museum

The Toyota Automobile virtual museum doesn't give you the 3D experience with pan, zoom, and tilt, but if automobiles are your thing, you won't mind. If you are planning to visit the museum in Japan, check out the virtual tour beforehand. Clicking on the map takes you to the different galleries and you can take a look at the photos of the cars that are displayed there. The only thing that's missing is a bit of historical detail on the cars displayed. But I guess that's available on the museum floor.

Most virtual tours are designed for the purpose of tourism. They do take you around the world. But when it comes to history and culture, online virtual tours are useful educational tools. If you want to check out some more cool examples, visit the BBC Virtual Tours page. Do you think that virtual tours are the next best thing to an actual visit?

Image credit: Shutterstock

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Share Your Awards and Achievements (Online and Off) With Score.ly

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 08:30 AM PST

share achievementsGetting badges or awards for activity online is no longer a novel thing for a web application. From location check-ins to entertainment, badges are yours for the taking on many sites. In fact, how do you even keep track of all of those awards in a single place?

Score.ly (currently in beta) aims to be the “meta” award site. It connects to your other social network and award sites – such as the typical Facebook and Twitter but also Netflix, GetGlue, Xbox Live, Kiva, etc – and maintains a centralized location of awards for you to keep track of. Basically it gives you a centralized location to view your collective awards or to ‘brag’ about them via a profile or shout, should you choose to do so.

Let’s go over the features of Score.ly below to see if it is worth your time to sign up and connect your accounts.

Connecting Your Accounts

Upon signing up for Score.ly, you are prompted to begin connecting your accounts to the site. Score.ly connects with many services:

share achievements

It connects using the APIs of various services which is the perfect way to bring in your information. The downside – it is rather tedious to follow through on the numerous social networks to allow authorization to the Score.ly service. The upside – this is a very secure way to connect to the website. Should you decide to disconnect or remove your information from Score.ly in the future, you can revoke permission on each website.

Getting Badges

After connecting your accounts, Score.ly will grab your current information and achievements from the external sites. One thing that I liked about Score.ly is that it actually tells you some interesting stats about your usage of sites, for example below is my total number of movies shipped and viewed on Netflix.

display achievements

Similar stats are available on Foursquare, GetGlue and the other services. I would love to see this expanded further to cull even more interesting stats from the social networks that you use frequently.

display achievements

Score.ly also adds badges to sites that do not offer them currently. One example is Facebook place check-ins. Awards are not currently available on the site, but Score.ly will add them for the number of times you check in and other landmark statistics.

Sharing Achievements

display achievements

As with many other award sites, Score.ly allows you to post achievements to your social networks (Twitter and Facebook supported at the time of this writing). Since many of the original sites already allow the posting to these same networks, with the exception of sites like Netflix, care must be taken to not “double post” your awards and alienating your followers/friends. Score.ly has definitely taken this into consideration and actually make you opt-in to broadcast your achievements, even letting you fine tune the notices per service. So if you don’t want people to know your embarassing YouTube video habits, you can shut that part down.

The LeaderMap/SocialMap

If you want to ‘follow’ people on Score.ly, you can certainly do that too. The LeaderMap is actually a really cool visualization of people registered on Score.ly and probably one of the slickest things going on the site. You can select any number of categories of information, for example number of Twitter followers or total Score.ly score; and then select a range of numbers. After a sweet little animation it presents the people who match that criteria and allows you to view their info and/or follow them.

share achievements

The SocialMap also is a compelling little area of the site that you need to “Unlock” by following Score.ly on Twitter/Facebook. It takes a while to unlock (as of this writing it is still locked for me) but it apparently will map your friends’ data and give you insights to what is trending among them. Sounds cool to me.

Is Score.ly Worth Your Time?

I would have to give Score.ly a thumbs up. They are just getting started, and although the ‘beta’ tag proved itself a few times during my trip through the site, I have a feeling they are going to be coming out with some cool features and will continue to grow in stature and prominence. As a sort of ‘meta’ badge site it helps you to consolidate what is going on with you and your friends lives and that is really a breath of fresh air. It is simply too time intensive to continue visiting every site and/or app to keep track of what is going on.

Score.ly will also be venturing into real-world achievements which I can also see as being a very popular way to share accomplishments. For example, a “Lost 10 pounds” award or “Hiked 50 miles” achievement, that sort of thing that you would like to broadcast to your friends without sounding like (too much) of a braggart.

So if you are big into social media, give Score.ly a try today. You can find me on Score.ly here, feel free to follow and I will follow you back. Let us know what you think of the service!

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