Entries in ND&P (206)

Tuesday
Jul122011

“Happening Now” Facebook’s Seeing Double

ND&P Intern Anna Hirschbiel takes a look at some likely Facebook changes, and possible impact of those changes...

Happening Now
Well Facebook users, after a year of stability we are in for another “positive” addition to the network’s format. The designers and developers of Facebook have begun testing a new aspect to the basic layout called, “Happening Now.” According to Mashable.com this new attribute appears where the “Upcoming Events” section is currently displayed. “Happening Now” seems to be a live feed of everything that your friends are doing on Facebook, such as “liking” comments or posting pictures.

Seeing Double
Hmm… Don’t we already have this feature on Facebook? I’m pretty sure it’s that big section that takes up most of the space in the middle of your homepage. What’s it called again… Oh right, a News Feed! The designers and developers have said nothing about removing the actual News Feed from the layout, so my question is: Why do we need two News Feeds?

Now, it is quite possible this will help keep the network open and free for the 750 million users, and that is all good and grand. However, let’s be real here, the only reason this aspect is being added is because it could lead to more advertising profit. The new layout will keep advertisements static as users scroll up and down the page. So how is limiting the ad space more profitable? Well, one theory is Facebook will treat their ad space like the Super Bowl treats their commercial space and charge more because they will be viewed longer and more often by a large audience. Nonetheless, how this will make the network additional money is beyond me, because designers can currently load that side with as many advertisements that they see fit and in theory make the same amount of profit as they would with the new layout.

Also, have they forgotten the very vocal oppositions there have been to the past design changes on the site? I predict this modification can only bring equal or more of an outcry simply because it is a change that is completely unnecessary.

So...
So what’s my conclusion? Is it that Facebook likes to turn us upside-down whenever they feel we are too comfortable, and they enjoy hearing our outrage when big changes occur? No, I think Facebook is trying to make a change they believe will be profitable for them in the long run. However, I can guarantee that we users will not conform quietly.  Facebook will have to put up with a lot of angry posts and comments from us while they wait for this change to pay off. But hey, at least they will get the message twice on one page, right?!

 

(Anna Hirschbiel)

Friday
Jul082011

Getting in on Google+

I’ve been giving Google+ a tentative whirl this week (check out the demo). The network, Google’s answer to Facebook, is currently in beta field testing by invite only. But today an invite option popped up on my account, so I’ve been sending out invites to colleagues and friends. (I seem to notice a lot more users and connections online today, so I wonder if more of us are acquiring invite ability or I'm simply imagining things - I didn't have time to verify which before this post!)

There’s much to explore. I haven’t had a chance to try out the video chat options yet (such as a group video chat in a “Hangout”). Or even initiated a group text chat (aka a “Huddle”).

But I have followed a few “Sparks” (topic threads and content focused on a specific area of interest you specify – such as “cooking” or “Android”). And I’ve set up additional groups of friends and new connections (via “Circles”). I admit I really prefer the Circle concept to the lists option on Facebook. Maybe I’m just a visual person, but so far groups of contacts I’ve classified into, well, circles, just seem easier to manage in both posts and in my head.

It's the Little Things
I’ve been doing the basic stuff - I uploaded and posted content, shared others’ posts. I’ve “plus-one-ed” (sp?) others’ posts (the equivalent of “liking” on Facebook). I’ve found some great contacts in the public posts, too. I’ve discovered more friends and colleagues through others’ circles. Every day I’ve picked up a few extra things when I have a few moments to poke around. For example:

Want that vanity URL for your G+ profile? Accounts are identified with numbers, rather than names/titles, so Mashable shared this little gem that lets you create your own (mine is gplus.to/shaunamanda for example).

And here’s a tiny little thing that makes life easier:

If you would like to direct a post or a comment to someone in particular – mentioning them in a way that your comment will show up in their notifications (the equivalent of mentioning a user ID on Twitter) – type the plus symbol (+) before you start typing their name. Similar to auto-fill in your email, a window will pop up giving you options of users from your G+ circles. Once you choose someone from the list, their name drops nicely into your post and they’ll get a notification someone has mentioned them (provided, of course, notifications are turned on in their account settings).

Face to Face
I am looking forward to trying out the video capabilities, especially with Facebook’s launch of video chat yesterday, June 7. I tried that out with limited success. A colleague could not even get the software to load for us to test it, but my brother and I had an interesting conversation in which I could see him but not hear him, and he could hear me but not see me. He had to keep telling me to stop typing into FB chat since he could hear me speaking – he could even hear me typing. But he had to converse through the text chat on his end since I could not hear him. (We’re still working on it). Even headphones didn't help my brother hear me when we first tried Facebook (via Skype) video chat.

I have to wonder how quickly G+ invites will roll out now that Facebook has launched video chat (when they’ve seemed so restricted).

Either way, the next months should be interesting, as G+ and FB both vie for our collective attention.

(Side note: Facebook is rolling out video chat capability over the next several days/few weeks. But you can go ahead and choose to add the functionality early by going here and choosing the “get started” button

(Shaun Amanda Herrmann)

Friday
Jul082011

There's An App For That: Pet Edition

As the proud owner of a 100-pound Rottweiler puppy and a fat, moody housecat, I spend a large amount of time with pets on the brain. Food, litter, toys, treats, crates, beds ­– you get the idea. I will admit that it gets a little hectic and I have found myself wandering around the pet store in a daze quite a few times.  Luckily, there are tons of apps for my iPhone  (this is not an Apple plug – I actually own one and tested all the apps myself ) that are made with pet owners like me in mind.  Prices range from free to five dollars. I did a little searching and came up with a list of apps that can come to your rescue when you need a helping hand (or paw) with managing your furry ones – I know I sure do!

Off Leash (iPhone) – Having a hard time finding new friends for Fido? Eukanuba® Off Leash is an app that lists more than 600 dog parks throughout the US. It uses GPS support from your phone to locate the top five closest dog parks in your area for convenience.

Pets Next Door (iPhone) – Pets Next Door is a social networking app for pet owners and lovers alike. You can trade tips, stories, pictures, pet food recipes and recommendations with fellow owners. There is also a companion web site that allows non-iPhone users to join in on the fun as well.

Paw Trotter (iPhone) – Searching high and low for specialty items for your pet just got easier.  Paw Trotter is a directory that lists over 130,000 pet related business, services and destinations. The directory also includes ratings and reviews so you can compare services and tailor them specifically for you and your pet.

Pet Notebook (iPhone) – Pet Notebook is just like it sounds – a notebook for your pet. This app allows you to store your pet’s vital information such as vet appointments, vaccination records, health issues, microchip numbers and photos for quick reference.

All Pets Radio Player (iPhone) – All Pets Radio Player is a streaming Internet radio news station that is all pets, all the time. Listen for broadcasts on pet information, resources and even pet trivia and interesting facts about your four-legged friends.

Pet Vet (iPhone) – Pet Vet is essentially WebMD for animals. This database allows you to search symptoms that your pet is displaying and match them with medical conditions that have been researched by experts at the ASPCA. By no means does this app serve as a substitute for proper veterinarian care, but might help you point out why Whiskers isn’t eating as much as he should.  

Friskies® Games for Cats (iPad, Android) – It is 2011, the year of feline video games. Believe it or not this app is actually for the pet and not the owner. Friskies has created three separate interactive games for your cat. Each game is specially created to involve your cat’s senses with moving shapes and kitty-based sounds. 

Relax Alarm Clock (iPhone) – This app was created with only the most dedicated pet owner in mind.  The clock settings allow you to record your pet’s “voice” and use it as an alarm. Now you can be awakened by the gentle sounds of your furry friend even when you are away from them.  Awwww.

(Janae Johnson)

Friday
Jul012011

Cloud 101: What is this "Cloud?"

The cloud is here! Rumbles on the internet say it’s the next best thing since, well, the internet. (How meta!)  In fact, companies are moving so quickly with cloud-based developments you’re likely to get lost in its fluffy trail.  The concept of cloud computing is as vast and nebulous as it sounds.  By no means is this blog a comprehensive report, I just wanted to answer the question that everybody has been asking lately– what’s up with the cloud?

What is it?

Consider the cloud your virtual hard drive in the sky that contains absolutely all of the information you wish to share; centrally located data that is accessible via internet connection. Your computer, smartphone or tablet can connect to this cloud of computing power, where all your applications and files are housed. Confused?  Ok, try to think of the cloud in a literal sense – a mass floating above you that can be filled with select information accessible to whoever, whenever.  Imagine having all of your chosen information – and when I say all I mean all –available 24/7/365. Basically, we are no longer bound by location and hardware. Still confused? PCMag.com offers a pretty succinct definition, “In essence, personal cloud computing means having every piece of data you need for every aspect of your life at your fingertips and ready for use.”

Everybody loves the cloud!

All the big names, from Amazon to Apple to Google are on board, too. Chances are you’ve already been in the cloud and didn’t know it. Web-based file sharing services like Dropbox and SugarSync , that allow you to access and share information in your cloud, are gaining users at rapid speeds. In fact, Dropbox alone has 25 million users worldwide. These services are equipped to run across all the operating systems and mobile devices to ensure that you are never without access to your info. See, the cloud is kind of a big deal.

What about privacy?

But before we collectively burn our jump drives, there is the, uh, “cloudy” issue that we need to address called privacy. Having your personal cloud networked with the public will undoubtedly make a few people nervous. As the cloud continues to gain popularity I’m sure privacy settings and good old fashioned internet paranoia will increase. In the meantime, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is keeping a close eye on the cloud and continues to promise consumer security and privacy policies are valid concerns. Needless to say, discretion is advised when sharing files, cloud or no cloud.  

From the looks of things, the cloud is shaping up to be a huge, innovative step in the right direction towards how we access and share information.

(Janae Johnson)

Thursday
Jun302011

July 4th Tips from ND&P (and Mo's dip recipe, too!)

Many of us are hitting the road this weekend to visit family and friends for the July 4th holiday, (though perhaps not as many as last year, according to travel forecasts). Or we'll be playing the host, pulling out the family recipes or hunting for new ones, making lists and grabbing our recycled grocery bags. And at the end of the day the odds are pretty good that we'll take in a few fireworks.

For the Road Warriors
In your haste to get up and go, don’t forget some basic (and important) items before you hit the traffic-packed roads. Parents.com has seven good road-trip tips (for those with or without little ones), such as making sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before you leave. And here are eighteen various tips from blogger Britt Reints – like changing the oil in your car before you go and making sure you have trash bags (and sunglasses!) with you in the car.

For the Gracious Hosts
Looking to add some new recipes to your patriotic party this year? Check out some ideas from Food Network, including black bean burgers and a fruit tart flag. If you want something really easy (and yummy) to take to a party, consider customizing your own layered dip. I have a new fave I’d like to share. Credit goes to ND&P colleague Mo Davis, who recently brought a batch in to the office. (I should also mention Mo seems to have some magical gift with avocados, so don’t skimp on the green layer!). Measurements aren’t exact, allowing each chef to customize to his or her taste, but it’s an easy dish your guests are sure to dig in to:

Mo’s "Make it How You Like it" Layered Dip:

  1. Start with a medium or large rectangle serving dish.
  2. Spread two cans of your favorite refried beans in the dish for the bottom layer.
  3. Combine about 4 peeled/seeded/chopped or mashed avocados, lemon juice, chopped fresh cilantro, salt and pepper to taste, and spread over the bean layer.
  4. Combine approx. 1 cup sour cream, ½ cup mayo, and about ½ package of taco seasoning mix and spread over the avocado layer.
  5. Rinse and drain a can of black beans, and shake on top of the sour cream layer.
  6. Dice about three Roma tomatoes and mix with a medium/small jar of your favorite salsa (Mo uses Marie’s Mild) and spoon over the beans.
  7. Dice a few green onions and sprinkle on next.
  8. Drain a can of black olives (chop or slice ‘em up if they aren’t already) and add them to your masterpiece.
  9. And last, top with a layer of shredded sharp or extra sharp cheddar.

(serve with red, white and blue corn chips if you're feeling ultra patriotic)

For the Entertainment-Seekers

Many of us will be slathering on some bug repellant and grabbing blankets to head out to local hotspots for a fire-crackin’ evening under the stars. Some will be putting on their own shows. Options for those who prefer their fireworks in HD include (all times are EST):

Just like you, ND&P-ers will be celebrating the holiday in a variety of ways. Embarking on roadtrips where we tell our backseat children to stop taunting each other and we’re almost there. Wondering where we stashed the red, white and blue napkins. Showing off our grill finesse while serving neighbors our famous ooey-gooey-four-cheesy-turkey burgers. Maybe even making REAL lemonade.

And wishing you all a safe and happy Fourth.

(Shaun Amanda Herrmann)