Saturday, June 18, 2011 “Cool Websites and Tools [June 17th]” plus 11 more “Cool Websites and Tools [June 17th]” plus 11 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [June 17th]

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 08:31 PM PDT

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. Most of the listed websites are FREE or come with a decent free account option. If you want to have similar cool website round-ups delivered to your daily email, subscribe here.

Add Your Website Here!


Memonic – While researching the web for a project, you often end up bookmarking many URLs for later viewing. This results in a cluttered bookmarks folder, something you definitely do not want. Here to help you easily save links or only portions of a website is a web service called Memonic. Read more: Memonic: Gather Research Material With Ease Online


Pikimal – For every type of product, you will find various brands and models. Figuring out which item will suit your needs best usually takes a lot of research and time. But thanks to "Pikimal" finding the most suitable product is made extremely easy. Pikimal is a free to use website that lets you find the products that suit your specific needs. Read more: Pikimal: Easily Find The Products That Suit Your Needs



WebPlanner – While there is no rarity of project management tools online, Webplanner is a new app that takes a nice approach to help teams get things done. This collaborative and team tasking tool lets you manage project goals, phases, tasks, and subtasks nicely with the addition of an easy-to-digest Gannt chart. Read more: Webplanner: Project Management Tool For Time Critical Teams



URL History – If you bookmark a lot of URL's for later viewing, your bookmarks folder is probably very cluttered by now. Here to offer a simple solution is a tool called URL History, a free application for Windows computers. Sized at nearly 400KB, the app monitors the items copied to the clipboard through the System Tray. Read more: URL History: Save & Leave Comments With URLs Copied To The Clipboard



Free Phone2Phone – lets you make free 10-minute international calls from the US to landlines in a number of countries and to cellphones in some countries. The catch is that you have to listen to audio ads (20 seconds max) before you start talking to the person at the other end. It has local access numbers listed for various US cities on its homepage. Read more: FreePhone2Phone: Free 10-Minute International Calls From the US


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 5 Best Questions From You [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 06:31 PM PDT

MakeUseOf AnswersEvery Friday MakeUseOf Answers honors the Best Answer of the Week. With the prizes we are rewarding the hard work that goes into solving tough questions. Did you know that every comment enters the contest and that your feedback can help decide the winners? It’s time to participate!

This week the winners are:

Best Answer of the Week – Jeffery Fabish

1st Runner Up – Mike

2nd Runner Up – Gustavo Ibarguengoytia

Congratulations to the winners!

If you don't feel competent enough to actually solve tough tech questions, how about learning something new? Check out the best questions this week:

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5 Money Saving Sites Which Uses The Bartering System

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 04:31 PM PDT

money saving sitesYou may or may not know about the age-old practice of bartering, but there are several sites on the Internet that could possibly save you money through the process of exchanging goods and services in lieu of monetary compensation.

Say you have web design skills but you can’t afford to buy an iPad, well you just may be able to exchange your skills for that popular mobile device. Or maybe you have a Canon camera but you’re looking to trade it for a Nikon of a similar model. Bartering websites are similar to eBay in which ads are posted for items and services of exchange. Barterers contact one another and make an offer for those exchanges. Though there is some risk involved, it’s best to start bartering on a local level where you can meet the person you're making the exchange with. But as you will see, there are bartering sites set up that can assist in making your exchange with other barterers across the country or even around the world.


As you might expect, Craigslist is not only a free and widely known place to buy and sell goods and services, but you can actually also barter items and services on there as well.

money saving sites

Simply find your local Craigslist homepage and click on “Barter,” listed under the “For Sale” section. Depending on the city or town where you live, you will find a whole host of offers. In my area, barter listings included a “Car for the weekend,” a “A Beautiful Honora Pearl Necklace,” “video services,” and “baseball/softball lessons.”

When you find an item or service you’re interested in, you contact that person and make the seller or buyer an offer. Likewise you can post your own sales. In using Craigslist, depending the what you’re bartering, you might want to set up an insurance payment via PayPal, cash or cashier’s check, that is acceptable to both parties. It’s also a good idea to barter on a local level, if possible. is a very straightforward trading site that focuses on the trading of books, CD’s, movies, and video games. You need to be a Facebook member to register on the site. Once you’re a member, you simply create a “have list” and a “want list” of items. When you’re ready to swap, choose the item you want to trade and an email will automatically be sent to the other trader in the transaction. If the trader(s) accepts, you’ll get an email letting you know the trade is completed and you will then be provided the shipping address where you need to ship your item.

bartering online

The only cost associated with swapping on is shipping costs. Similar to eBay, members of the site are rated by other members about how fast they shipped the item and if the item was what it was described to be.

SwapTreasures seems to feature almost any item you may want for trade – from antiques, to electronics, to video games. You can follow SwapTreasures on their Facebook and Twitter pages, but you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to setting up a trade.

bartering online

There are absolutely no sign-up fees or point systems for this site. You send or receive offers, set up the trade, and make the exchange. Each member has a membership page, and positive and negative ratings can be left about members. You can also do a search in your local area for wanted items.


U-Exchange, an international site for US, UK, and Canadian citizens, is similar to SwapTreasures. There are no membership fees involved. U-Exchange makes its revenue from advertising on the site.

bartering online

As with other bartering sites, you create or respond to items you want to trade and email contacts about the trade offer. You don’t have to be a member of the site to start making contacts, but the process of contacting registered members of the site is easier if you too are signed up. Listings for this site include items and services, bartering for vacation housing, and vehicle and boat trades.

You can use the site’s Google map and keyword features to search for local listings as well. Many of the listings that I linked to didn’t include photos of items up for trade. Providing a few photos as you would on eBay is one of the best ways to get your listing responded to. U-Exchange is not a very well designed site, but its listings seem pretty wide and varied.


BarterQuest is the most well designed and active bartering site of the ones listed for review. Categories for trading items and services are varied, including cameras, furniture, sporting goods, video and computer games, and even gift certificates.

bartering websites

While the trading is absolutely free, you must have your account verified, which costs $9. However, this one-time verification fee is waived if you can get three of your friends to sign up on the site as well. You still can search the site before getting verified and begin making a list of the things you have to trade and another list of things you’re looking for.

BarterQuest uses a matching system to match your “have” items and services with your “wants.” The site also has a point system so that if you don’t have something of “equal value” to trade, you can use points as part of your negotiation.

bartering websites

One other great feature about BarterQuest are Clubs, which are focused on particular types of traders, e.g. freelancers, animal lovers, technology gurus, small business owners, book lovers, etc.

Bartering with strangers online may feel a little risky, but depending on what you’re trying to barter, the process could save you some money if you’re on a tight budget.

Let us know what you think of the online bartering system. Have you ever tried it? What were the results?

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Two Apps To Disable Auto-Rotation & Save You Neck Pain [Android]

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 03:31 PM PDT

disable auto rotationHere’s an all-too familiar scenario. You’re lying in bed, trying to sleep or having just woken up. Android device in hand, you decide to try to check some emails or maybe read a blog post or two. You run the Gmail app, but since you’re lying on your side in bed, it decides to switch over to landscape mode. Now you can’t read anything, so you need to hold the device at an angle that would make it switch back to portrait. But now you can’t read anything either!

Maybe you shouldn’t be messing with your Android device while in bed, or maybe you should try Shake ‘n Rotate or Smart Rotator.

Smart Rotator

disable auto rotation

Smart Rotator (for Android 1.6 and above) really couldn’t be simpler to use. When you run the app, you get a list of all other apps on your system. Scroll down to an app for which you’d like to disable auto-rotation, and tap its name. You’ll get a prompt looking like this:

Just tap “Turn off”, and you’ve just turned off neck pain, at least for that application. One issue though, is that Smart Rotator won’t let you see which apps are on and which are off. Here’s that same list again, after I disabled auto-rotation for Gmail:

disable auto rotation android

Can you tell the difference? Me neither. It did work very well, though. Immediately after switching auto-rotation off for Gmail, I switched to Gmail and couldn’t make it go to landscape mode, no matter how I held the device. Smart Rotator doesn’t request root privileges and doesn’t clutter your notification bar with any messages. As simple as could be, really.

One caveat though, is that Smart Rotator may work a bit too well: Gmail wouldn’t auto-rotate even after I uninstalled Smart Rotator. So you might like to test Smart Rotator first with one or two apps before you decide if you want to stick with it.

Shake ‘n Rotate

Requiring Android 2.0 and up, Shake ‘n Rotate is a bit more of a vigorous option, since it requires you to physically shake the device. It’s also a bit more rich, graphically:

disable auto rotation android

Almost looks like a game, doesn’t it? Let’s tap the large CONFIGURATION button and see what we get.

disable auto rotation android

This is a more standard Android look, with a bit of Engrish thrown in for good measure. My sensor is rather sensible, thanks for asking. I just left all options at default (it’s the sensible thing to do) and went back to the main screen to switch the app on.

I then started the Gmail app and shook the device to toggle auto-rotation. It took quite a vigorous shake, the kind that might wake up your significant other if they’re lying on the other side of the bed. But I then got this nice overlay:

disable auto rotation

Auto-rotation has now been enabled. Very clear, and quite satisfying. You will probably want to dial the sensitivity up a notch, though. This isn’t a per-app setting, either – it impacts all apps on your system.

In Closing

It should be noted that if you happen to have Tasker installed, you could easily replicate both apps’ functionality without installing anything else on your device. But we won’t delve too deeply into that, as we will shortly be looking at Tasker in an upcoming article.

Another note is that some apps (such as Gentle Alarm and previously-reviewed Miren browser) have built-in settings to prevent auto-rotation. If you’re having trouble with just one or two apps that auto-rotate at inopportune times, you might want to dig into their settings and find out if auto-rotation can be toggled just for them.

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2 Really Simple Ways To Send Audio Tweets To Twitter

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 02:31 PM PDT

send audio tweetThere is a lot that can be done with Twitter. You can search for people on it, share documents and other files with it, use it to search for your next job, and much more.

Tweets can take on many forms, especially now that Twitter displays multimedia right within the site and is going after services like Twitpic. Things are sure to get pretty interesting when that happens, as people are already sharing a lot of pictures, videos, and everything else. Plus with all the different URL shorteners out there, I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of unique short-links. But there’s probably one type of link you haven’t come across as regularly, if at all, and that’s the audio link.

1. Chirbit

Chirbit (directory app) is a free online tool that lets you send audio tweets to Twitter a number of different ways. It’s very easy to use and whether you want to share something you’ve uploaded or recorded, it can help you get the job done.

send audio tweet

With Chirbit, you can upload audio in mp3, wav, aiff, wma, and m4a format, and you can record on the go using your iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, or any other smartphone you might have. Chirbit lets you share audio with your friends on Twitter and – believe it or not – Facebook with short URLs.

Chirbit has a lot of examples of posts if you would like to view some of the ways that people have been using the service. You can browse the Top 100 Chirbit Posts, Featured Chirbits, and even tweets that people have already sent containing the link.

If you would like to see Chirbit in action, you can watch the short video screencast provided by the site on YouTube:

To start sending Chirbit tweets, just head over to the Chirbit website and sign up. Signing up requires an email, username, and password. Once you’ve got an account, all you’ll need is a microphone, webcam, or smartphone to begin recording audio and sending it to Twitter.

2. AudioTweet

AudioTweet (directory app), on the other hand, takes a different approach to sharing audio tweets to Twitter. Audio Tweet is a simple service that let’s you say what you want by converting text to audio for you, and it gives you the option to publish your audio tweet to both Twitter and Facebook.

audio tweets twitter

In case you were wondering, Audio Tweet utilizes Google Translate to do the actual converting of your text into audio. Then, a short link powered by is utilized to get your message out to others.

send audio tweet

Unlike Chirbit, Audio Tweet does not require any information from you at all – no email, no username, nothing. You can generate as many audio tweets as you like with the service.

As the service runs on top of Google Translate, Audio Tweet currently supports 58 different languages. Just type a sentence in English and select what language you would like it to read your tweet in.


I’ll admit I had never thought of sending audio tweets before discovering these services, but it’s a very interesting concept. I’m also interested in seeing all of the unique ways our readers can find to use these services to send tweets, so let me know what you’ve tweeted in the comments!

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Hot Tech Deals – Polk Audio Loudspeaker Discounts + more

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 01:30 PM PDT

Today’s featured deals are the Polk Audio discounts for their Monitor Bookshelf speakers, Floorstanding loudspeakers and the center channer speaker in black.

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

  1. Polk Audio Monitor 60 Series II Floorstanding Loudspeaker (BLACK, SINGLE) $109.99 + $2.99 Shipping after Coupon Code: EMCKDJC66 (Exp 6/19)
  2. Polk Audio Monitor 40 Series II 2-Way Bookshelf Speakers (BLACK, PAIR) $114.99 + $2.99 Shipping after Coupon Code: EMCKDJC74 (Exp 6/19)
  3. Polk Audio CS2 Series II Center Channel Speaker (Black) $99.99 + $2.99 Shipping after Coupon Code: EMCKDJC75 (Exp 6/19)
  4. Auria EQ3266L 32in LED-LCD HDTV (1080p) $329 Free Shipping
  5. Asus VE247H 24 inch LED LCD Monitor (HDMI, 2ms) $159.99AR Free Shipping via code EMCKDJC54 (Exp 6/19)
  6. Buffalo MiniStation Stealth 320GB Portable External Hard Drive $39.99 via code EMCKDJC47 (Exp 6/19)
  7. D-Link DIR-601 802.11n Wireless N Router $19.99 Free Shipping via code EMCKDJC52 (Exp 6/19)

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OpenStudy – A Collection Of Online Study Groups On All Subjects

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 12:31 PM PDT

online study groupAre you a current student? A homeschooler or homeschooling parent? Have you decided to keep learning and to always be a student? Have you ever dreamed about the ideal study group? Well, OpenStudy has too, and they’re determined to make it happen.

If you’ve ever experienced a successful online classroom environment, then you’ll know that the right mix of online course material and interaction with peers is what keeps the class motivated and achieving results. What OpenStudy is doing is working on the latter part of the mix. In theory, the students may learn in their real-life classrooms or working with online course material. But if the peers are interacting, they’ll share known resources with each other. It’s the other side of learning.

What’s OpenStudy?

OpenStudy is a collection of study groups based on topic. Some are broad topics such as “History”, while other topics are centred around specific courses, such as those in MIT’s Open Courseware. Essentially, OpenStudy facilitates the communication between all students interested in the subject matter. It’s an ideal way to meet your peers from all corners of the world.

online study group

Join OpenStudy

Anyone over 13 can join OpenStudy, so it’s perfect for both high school teenagers or adults completing further education. To sign up, you can either create a login or just use your Facebook account. Either method is quick and easy, so it’s your choice.

Using OpenStudy Study Groups

The study groups are open to all ages and levels of study, so there’s no segregation between those studying at high school level and those doing tertiary study. This can work both to help or hinder students, depending on the group.

online study group tools

Take a look at two of the most popular groups - Mathematics and Writing and English. The former is straightforward, but the latter is a mix of English Literature study and people learning English as a Second Language. There’s no way to separate the two interpretations of the group yet, but as the site expands it may need to consider such things.

online study group tools

Each study group allows users to post questions or to answer other people’s questions. It’s easy to browse through the latest questions, unanswered questions or to refer to your own questions.

online study group tools

Users are ranked in each group according to how many questions they’ve answered, thus adding a sort of friendly social competition and hierarchy element. Group chat is also available to make conversation easier.

Concerns With OpenStudy

My biggest concern with OpenStudy is that with its “latest question” focused model you are unable to have in-depth discussions on important topics, such as you might find on a forum. The question model would suffice to offer this if there were a way of perusing the best questions or the most-answered questions. The group questions could also benefit from the use of a tagging system to allow people to browse the most relevant questions and answers.

Also, the Mathematics group shows how many students will just use the system to get answers for homework they can’t do. Many students are simply typing out their homework questions and while that’s good practise for other students, it’s not really helping the people asking the questions. It would be nice to be able to ignore those questions and focus on the ones asked by someone who is truly trying to understand how something works.

online study group

Despite these concerns though, it seems OpenStudy has a bright future. No doubt they’ll implement new sorting mechanisms and features as the site grows further.

While you’re here, you’ll probably also want to check out these study-related articles:

Have you tried OpenStudy? How did it work for you? Let us know in the comments!

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How To Recover An Unsaved MS Word 2010 Document In Seconds

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 11:31 AM PDT

recover word documentThe general consensus is that most mishaps on our working with computers occur because of carelessness and an itchy trigger happy finger. It's a bitter lesson that's taught to us while working on documents like MS Word, MS Excel, or any other like MS PowerPoint. The lesson says – save and save early.

Even with the right MS Office etiquette in place, documents disappear from the screen before you can save them. The notorious Windows system crash or your house power on the blink could cause you to lose your work before you can click on save. Lot of times we also tend to close an unsaved document after taking a printout. So, how can you recover that unsaved MS Office document and restore your work (and also save yourself from a hair-tearing apoplectic attack)?

We turn to a little Microsoft Office 2010 feature that lets us recover document drafts in a second.

Bringing Back The Draft

Here's my open MS Word document that will be taken through some deliberate steps to demonstrate the 'life-saving' feature that's present in MS Word, MS Excel, and MS PowerPoint (MS Office 2010 only).

recover word document

After closing the Word file unwittingly, open up a new MS Word document again. Go to File – Info – Manage Versions. Click on the little dropdown and select Recover Unsaved Documents. In Excel 2010 click on Recover Unsaved Workbooks or Recover Unsaved Presentations if you are in PowerPoint 2010.

recover word 2010

MS Word opens the location where a copy of the draft resides.

recover word 2010

Now, it's just a matter of selecting the draft, opening it up as a fresh MS Word document and saving it properly using the Save As button on the business bar at the top of the document; something which we 'forgot 'to do the last time around. Copies of unsaved documents are kept for four days and then they are automatically deleted.

recover word 2010

While opening the unsaved document, you can also make use of the Open& Repair feature for troubleshooting documents that might have got corrupted or damaged.

recover word 2010 document

You can browse to the following file locations to open the file manually, depending on your operating system:

Windows 7/Windows Vista: C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\<Application_Name>

Windows XP: C:\Documents and Settings\<username> \Application Data\Microsoft\<App Name>

Saving of drafts takes place automatically in all applications within MS Office. The Auto Recover option kicks in if the document has been open for some period of time. You can easily change the Auto recover interval by going to File – Options – Save. The default is 10 minutes as indicated under – Save AutoRecover Information. I prefer setting it to a more frequent 3 – 5 minutes. Remember that AutoRecover may be a lifesaver, but it is not a substitute for the good habit of regularly saving your file while you are working on it.

recover word document

AutoRecover is a feature to rely on and more often than not it will help save you from all that can go wrong while working on a long document. Microsoft Office 2010 makes it slightly easier to get back an unsaved document than the earlier versions of Office. If you are still on MS Office 2007, check out how you can use AutoRecover to come to your rescue. We have a substantial lineup of other MS Word tips for you. Were you aware of this one?

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5 Baby Steps To Learning CSS & Becoming A Kick-Ass CSS Sorcerer

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 10:31 AM PDT

learn cssCSS is the single most important change webpages have seen in the last decade, and it paved the way for the separation of style and content. In the modern way, XHTML defines the semantic structure – the meaning and content of the webpage, while CSS concerns itself with the presentation. While most of us are comfortable writing a little HTML, we seem to think that CSS is some kind of black magic. I hope to change that with these 5 baby-steps to becoming a CSS sorcerer.

This article is aimed at users who have very little experience with CSS yet, though hopefully there is something here for everyone. Before you start playing with CSS, you may want to download our fantastic free beginner guide to XHTML.

(1) Grammar

Like any language, CSS has a certain grammar to it, and it may seem a little “computer programmy” at first, but it’s really just a list of things. All CSS is written like this:


As you may already know, CSS works by applying a style to a selected element in the webpage. For instance, to style how all your links are shown, you would use “a” as the selector. The various properties and values you will learn with experience, but some are easy – things like COLOR, BORDER, FONT-SIZE, HEIGHT are all some possible properties, whose values might be red, 14pt, 150%, 1000px –  it really is that easy. Let’s see how we would go about styling all the links red:

a {color:red;}

You can also use the same block of CSS to do more than one type of element at the same time with commas:

a,h2,h3 {color:red;}

This makes not only all the links, but also all the h2 and h3 headings, in the same red color. Notice they might all be different sizes, as this particular code block ONLY changes the color.

(2) Class & ID selectors

Sometimes you don’t want to style ALL the a elements in the same way though – and in those cases, you could use CLASS or ID. As a general rule, ID is used for one-off elements and is most commonly used to define large blocks of content or single special buttons and such.

For example, you might have a large DIV for the HEADER, CONTENT and FOOTER blocks of your page – so defining those as IDs would be a smart move. Classes on the other hand are used when style elements are likely to be repeated throughout the page. Perhaps you want a bunch of items to have rounded corners with a 2px solid red border – rather than writing out the same inline style a million times, you would define a class for it, and attach the class to those elements instead. So how do you define these IDs and classes?

<div id="sidebar"><h1>SIDEBAR</h1><div><img src=".." alt="" class="red-rounded" /></div></div>

To target these items in CSS you would use:

.red-rounded { // this is a class border-radius:5px; border: 2px solid red; } #sidebar { .. } // this is an ID

(3) Descendants

You don’t need to attach classes and IDs to everything in your document though – you can also use what we call DESCENDANTS to select items. Look at this CSS statement and see if you can figure out what it does:

#sidebar h1 {font-size:20px;}

This will FIRST find the item with an ID of “sidebar” THEN it will narrow the selection down to all the <h1>s contained within that, and only apply the style to those.

So, if you can group of all your items together somehow, it’s best to use descendant selectors as it’s even less code than adding a bunch of class=”" definitions to everything.

(4) Where To Put This CSS?

The best way to deal with CSS is to separate it entirely from your HTML. Make a file called whatever you like .css, and simply add this line to your HTML header:

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="mystyle.css" />

You can also add blocks of CSS to the section in between tags, but I don’t suggest this method as it results in messy and difficult to read HTML files.

The third place to add CSS is inline, but you should be wary of that too. Anything added inline like so:

<img style="height: 150px;" src=".." alt="" />

will automatically override anything defined in your separate style. So you may sit there trying to debug for ages why your thumbnails don’t resize, and your CSS may be perfect – but if the IMG element includes inline styles already then those will take priority. How do you know if something else is affecting it though?

(5) Get FireBug, or Use Chrome

FireBug is an amazing development tool that’s especially useful for figuring out how CSS works. Take a moment to download it and have a quick look at it. FireBug is available for Firefox as a plugin, or if you use Chrome then an identical set of features is already built-in. Once you’ve activated the plugin in Firefox or are using Chrome, simply right click anywhere on the page and select “Inspect Element“.

learn css

This will open a new pane in the bottom of your browser. On the left side is the XHTML view, nicely formatted and collapsible. If you hover over any element, it will highlight that element on the page and show you the CSS box model around it (we’ll talk more about the box model in a future lesson). The key point here is that you can also select any element and see precisely which CSS is acting upon it on the right hand side, and it will break those down into which selectors have caused that. Anything added inline will be shown under the “” heading. Try it now on this page. Notice that very often a lot of the CSS listed on the right is crossed out with a central line – this means that another selector working on that element has priority and is overriding the one crossed out.

learn css

That’s it for today, but do feel free to leave comments if you think I’ve missed some fundamental key beginner points, or if you have any specific questions or problems with CSS then ask away in the tech support section of our site. Next time I’d like to develop your knowledge of CSS beyond basic color and size changes.

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Offer Free Online Customer Support On Your Website With Mibew Live

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 09:31 AM PDT

online customer support softwareIf there is one thing any business could do to dramatically improve their customer base and boost their bottom line, it’s customer service. Being there when people need your help is probably one of the single most effective ways to develop a following, to earn the trust of new customers, and to prove time and time again that you have what they need.

One of the applications I wrote about early on involved actually selling computer web support services exclusively, using the LiveZilla chat system. LiveZilla is fantastic, but if you just want to offer a simple, free chat interface between your website visitors and your support staff, it’s a little bit overkill. Tim covered Zopim, which is a great service to use if you don’t have your own web server, or if you don’t really need your own dedicated solution all the time.

On the other hand, if you do own your own server and you’d like to have your own self-hosted online chat system where you can offer your website visitors instant, live customer service – then Mibew is exactly what you need.

Instant Self-Hosted Live Customer Service

LiveZilla was actually a little bit intimidating – the system was fairly complex and really offered way too many bells and whistles for a simple, small-scale interface with occasional customers. Mibew is nice because it is PHP/MySql based, and because of that, installation and setup is almost identical to the quick-and-easy installation you may be used to with WordPress. Just save all of the files from the Zip package to a subdirectory on your web server, set up a quick MySql database with a user that has full admin access, and then edit the config.php file in the /libs directory with those details. Finally, open the index.php file in the /install directory, and you’ll see the following screen.

online customer support software

Believer it or not, you’re almost done. This first step of the wizard is a quick check to make sure you have all of the proper versions of PHP and MySql installed. Once that’s confirmed, just click on “Create required tables” to move on.

online customer support

If the user permissions you created were okay, then this step should complete without any issues either. Now that all of the tables are created and populated, the Mibew system is fully installed on your web server. You’ll see the log in screen – just initially log in using the “admin” ID without any password.

online customer support

Once you’re logged in, you’ll find yourself in the main menu. As you can see, things are pretty straightforward with this system. There are no complicated or confusing settings – it’s simply a chat system that connects your online visitors to you whenever you’re logged into the system.

online customer support

If you click on “Operators“, you’ll be able to add as many new customer support agents as you like. This is also where you can set up permissions, adding or restricting what they can do or see when they’re logged into the Mibew support system.

online support software

Another nice feature is if you click on the “Canned Messages” menu option. This is where you can stockpile a whole collection of responses that you find you have to type often during chats with clients. During the chat, these canned messages show up in a dropdown box (which I’ll show you below). This can be a real time-saver during an online chat where you’re trying to troubleshoot a problem and chat at the same time.

online support software

Finally, there is the “Settings” area, which allows you to configure things like the company title that’s displayed in the chat session, whether you want to display a pre-chat survey to customers, and of course under “Themes preview” you can select from a short list of different themes for the IM session.

online support software

Click on the button code in the main menu to obtain the webpage code which you can insert into your website to allow visitors to open up a chat window with your live agents (or you). When visitors click on that button, they’ll have to at least type in their name, or if you’ve selected to enable a pre-survey, then they’ll have to fill that out as well before they can chat with anyone.

What you see on your chat window with the visitor is a little different than what they see. For one thing, you’ll have the option at the bottom of the chat window, to choose from your list of canned messages in order to save a little time during the chat. You can also click the purple button at the top of the chat window to forward the customer to one of the other available operators.

As you can see below, what the visitor sees on their end is just a little different. There are no canned messages, and the purple button in this case allows them to forward the chat session to their email address for their own records.

online customer support software

Overall, I really like the Mibew open source live support system because it’s so fast to set up on your web server, and it’s so easy to use. Within less than thirty minutes, you can have a fully-functioning, stand-alone customer support system running on your website, with very little work on your part at all.

Do you want to establish a better connection with your customers or website visitors? Give Mibew a shot and let us know how it worked out. Do you like the system, or is there anything you would change? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The 3 Best Alternatives To Steam For Downloading Games

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 08:31 AM PDT

downloading gamesFor PC gamers, Steam is an incredible boon. Valve's digital download service has insane deals, offers excellent customer support, an easy-to-use interface, and provides a wonderful selection of games. There is very little to find fault with.

With that said, Steam can't do everything or provide every game made, so there is room for competitors to survive or in a few cases, thrive. There is also, inevitably, going to be some who don't like the intrusive nature of Valve's service – why tie your games to an account if you don't have to? These three services should help you blow off Steam.


downloading games

Formerly owned by IGN Entertainment, Direct2Drive is now under the control of Gamefly and operates under the motto “Download Today. Own Forever“. Like all of the Steam alternatives here, Direct2Drive doesn't offer a community or a client, but tries to make up for by stepping out of the way of gamers.

Direct2Drive tends to focus on major titles from large publishers. That's not to say they don't carry indie titles, but it seems that the games most heavily promoted by the site are well-known titles. Although this site is not known for crazy blowout sales, it does offer a limited price-matching policy.

Downloading games from the service is easy. A proprietary downloader is provided and usually the better option, but you can download games without it. Once you have a game on your computer, you don't need to log into Direct2Drive to play, although you can obtain your software keys and re-download games from the website.


downloading free games

At first glance, GamersGate looks and feels a lot like Direct2Drive. The website is a bit busy, and when you make a purchase, you obtain a software key and download using a mini-installer. There's no set client that must be used to manage or play games.

The main difference between GamersGate and Direct2Drive is the focus. The service is a big proponent of indie games, and while it also sells many popular titles from major publishers, you'll find that niche games are often on the front page.

I personally wish the website was a bit more organized, but that's really the only knock I have against the service. GamersGate will likely end up your digital storefront of choice if you're an indie gamer.

Amazon Game Downloads

downloading games

If it's for sale, Amazon probably has a couple in stock and will happily let you buy it. That seems to be the rule these days, and that goes for games as well.

Amazon's game download service has never been well promoted. Indeed, for a time I forgot that it had existed entirely, and it's certainly easy to miss the store in Amazon's sprawling site. But it does exist, and it provides a reasonably large selection. If it's from a major publisher, Amazon probably offers it – and when Steam isn't having a specific sale on a title, Amazon can often beat Steam's price. There aren't many indie games available – for example, the recent indie hits like Terraria and Frozen Synapse aren't for sale.

As you might expect, Amazon's not interested in creating its own software client. The titles you purchase from Amazon are simple downloads, and once installed the game will act just as if you'd installed it from a retail disk. The familiarity of the website is an advantage, because you probably already have an account and a credit card registered. That makes buying and downloading a game snappy.


These are far from the only Steam alternatives. Impulse is popular because it offers a client with features like automatic updates and community support, but also lets gamers play without the client if they wish. However, I'm a bit leery about Impulse now that it has been sold to Gamestop. The Impulse client also advertises deals on its storefront via desktop pop-ups, which are extremely annoying.

Some of the publishers, like Electronics Arts, have their own digital storefronts. It seems rare that they provide excellent deals, but they do exist and sometimes contain older, less popular games that aren't found elsewhere.

Let us know in the comments if you have any other favorites which are alternatives to Steam.

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Google Adds More Innovative Search Features [News]

Posted: 17 Jun 2011 07:31 AM PDT

Google has just released a new batch of innovative features for search, including voice search for desktop, Google Instant for image search and search by image. This means users have more search options available to them and are given quicker results when they do searches with Google.

Google’s Inside Search event was where all these announcements were made, generating quite a stir in the tech community. You can learn more and watch the whole Inside Search event on the Google blog.

Search by image is a lot like TinEye search, since users can enter an image file into Google search, see where it came from and find out more about it. This is especially useful when you want to find out where memes started or find out who owns the copyright to an image.

To use the search by image service, users can either enter a URL, upload a file or drag and drop an image into the search. There’s also Chrome and Firefox extensions which allow users to right-click on images in order to search for them.

Google Voice Search is currently available only to users of Google Chrome 11 or higher. This could be handy for kids who aren’t good at spelling yet or people in the kitchen with their hands full. Check out this video of voice search in action.

Another new search feature available just to Chrome developers is Instant Pages. This works by Google pre-rendering the page for users, allowing them to interact with the page they searched for immediately. When this has been thoroughly tested it will be rolled into stable versions of Chrome. Meanwhile, Firefox users can stick to using tools like CoolPreview.

Obviously, by adding so many great features into search purely in Chrome, Google has made Chrome look just a little more tempting. Will you switch from Firefox? Why or why not?

Source: TheNextWeb

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