Archive for the ‘Product reviews’ Category

10 great Facebook apps

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

My latest article is up now on The Industry Standard10 cool Facebook apps that you’ve probably never heard of – but should. The article is a profile of some Facebook applications that aren’t in the list of the top 50 most popular applications – some aren’t even in the top 20,000! But they are cool apps, and ones that are worth a look. (Thanks to @fuzzy76 for the tip about Web Presence.)

This article was really fun to write. I can see why someone would want to write for a gaming magazine! Testing games all day was a delight – especially when I can call it “work” instead of “procrastination.” While all of the applications that I reviewed in the article were really good, there were two that stood out as my favorites: Traveler IQ Challenge and Who Has The Biggest Brain? 

Let me be clear – neither of these were favorites because I was any good at them. They were just both really fun to play.

As part of the testing experience, I also came away with two show-and-tell items.

The first is a pencil-sketch drawing of my Facebook profile picture, courtesy of an application called Sketch Me. Here is the before and after:

Melissa Chang Profile Picture Facebook sketch

Second is a cartoon I created with a really cool application called Pixton Comics. I don’t think that this app can really be called a Facebook application, but it is pretty fun nonetheless. (The comic is based on a real-life conversation documented here.) Be kind, this was my first-ever comic!

Irish 1
Irish 2
Irish 3

Tomorrow I’ll be posting an article on the top 10 tips for developing a killer Facebook app. Subscribe here or here to make sure you don’t miss it!

Two sites where you can get great free images for your blog

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

People ask me all the time where I get the images that I use on my blog. There are two sources – and one tool – that I use to find and manipulate the images.

1. Flickr – This is by far my favorite site for free images because of the wide variety and types of images that are available. The community of users that upload their pictures to Flickr – from all over the world – ensures that there is a vast collection of images of varying quality (some are incredibly good). The trick with using Flickr images, however, is that you need to use images that are governed by the Creative Commons license that fits with what you’re doing.

Attribution licenseHere is a list of Flickr’s Creative Common licensing policies. Basically, the “Attribution License” is the most liberal, and allows you to use anyone’s image, manipulate it how you want to, and do most things that you would want to do with it – as long as you give the author of the image credit. My suggestion if you don’t want to get into the intricacies of Creative Commons licensing is to stick with these images. As of today, there are more than 7.5 million images with this license on Flickr, which is certainly a big pool of images to choose from.

Here’s the link to the images with that license.

Just make sure that whatever you do, you give credit back to the photographer. I use “Photo by photographer” with a link to the Flickr page at the bottom of posts. You can do that attribution any way that you want, however. (Hat tip to Skelliewag.org)

Young photographer
Photo by muha…

2. stock.xchg - This site has a database of very good free images that you can use for your blog. Just type in your search, and look to see what you can find. You will have to register to download images, and make sure that you check the “Availability” of each photo. If it says that “standard restrictions apply,” you can use the image. Sometimes, however, the photographer must be notified or approve the use of the image before you post it. So be careful to check this out.

BONUS- A great cheap tool for screenshots and minor editing of photos

If you have Photoshop or another major image editing tool, use that. But if you don’t have a great image editing tool, consider using SnagIt from TechSmith. There is a free 30-day trial and the tool is only $39.95 for a single-user license. I use this tool ALL THE TIME and it’s been really helpful. The learning curve is short and it can handle all the simple editing tasks that I do on my blog.

Do any of you have any other great free image sites that you use? If so, please post them in the comments.

High-tech movie reviews

Friday, February 1st, 2008

My friend Denise Dubie, who is a senior editor at Network World, has started doing high-tech movie reviews – and if you like going to the movies and are interested in technology, I highly recommend that you start listening.

Her co-host is Jason Meserve, and the tagline of the “Network Downtime” podcast is “Movies for techies, where we review movies that put technology in the spotlight, but sometimes get it wrong.”

If you’ve ever seen a movie and been turned off by the way that technology is depicted completely unrealistically, you’ll love this show. Denise and Jason are both skeptics, but fun and open-minded ones, and their take on this movie was totally entertaining and informative. My favorite part of the show is the chemistry that the two have.

Denise: Basically, I’m tired of seeing movies that misuse technology in their plots.

Jason: And I just want to go to the movies on Network World’s dime. 

Denise and Jason are both smart, interesting and funny – a good combination for a podcast. The first movie that they review is Untraceable, a new release starring Diane Lane, where she’s an FBI agent trying to track down a serial killer who is streaming live video of his victims. Check out their podcast. And let me know what you think.

5 reasons that TuneCore has a place in the digital music revolution

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I first heard about TuneCore from my friend Mary when we were on a trip together in Baltimore. She is currently working on producing her first album, and I was picking her brain about digital distribution and manufacturing options for Cara Austin. Because of that conversation, I decided to use TuneCore to distribute Send Meto iTunes, Amazon and Rhapsody.

TuneCore logoSo far, the process has been seamless and I think that TuneCore will emerge as one of the Web sites that musicians can’t live without as the music industry continues to evolve and more and more control is in the hands of the artists. Why? Here are five reasons:

1) It’s a piece of cake to use. I have written step-by-step instructions for using a Web site application before, and although it seems like that type of writing would be easy, it is incredibly difficult to make sure that you remember every step and it’s also tricky to keep the language simple enough that it stays clear. Add on top of that the fact that it’s practically impossible to make step-by-step instructions not-boring. But TuneCore has done it all, and their FAQ may be the best one that I have ever read. It’s thatgood and helpful. Uploading music to the site was also really simple, and they are very clear about exactly how long it will take for the music to debut on the various services. (January 26, 2008 – Stay tuned!) I’m also in the process of manufacturing some CDs with them – I’ll let you know how that goes when the process is complete.

2) They give artists all the money they make. There are a number of other services that help musicians get their digital tunes up on iTunes (CDBabycomes to mind), but they all take a cut. Sometimes a small cut (CDBaby takes 9%), but TuneCore takes 0%. Nothing. They just charge a fee to process the stuff up front – $0.99 per track, $0.99 per store per album, and $19.98 per album per year for storage and maintenance. All the money that the songs earn goes to the artists. Plus, it’s really smart that they are charging $19.98 PER YEAR because that creates a recurring revenue stream that will only grow as more musicians sign up and use the service.

3) TuneCore “gets” musicians. I am not sure if the founders and people who work there are musicians, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. Here’s a paragraph from their philosophy that reminds me of the movie School of Rock, the part where Jack Black’s character is talking about how rock music is really all about fighting “The Man.”

“Why should you have to give up money from each and every sale of your music? Why should you have to enter into exclusive deals and sign strangling contracts? Why should you have to give up your rights and the ownership of your own music to some other company just to gain access to music stores? TuneCore changes all that.”

4) They keep rolling out new features. Since I first looked into TuneCore, they’ve released a service that allows artists to create a branded Web page for their album (these can be seen in the TuneCore directory), the ability to upload music videos to iTunes, and cool metrics, like the ones shown below. They are also working on technology to offer daily tracking of how many songs are sold through the U.S. iTunes service, a feature that is bound to be a huge hit with musicians who are trying to figure out ways to get people to listen to their music and who I bet will easily become obsessed with monitoring the sales.

TuneCore Screenshot

5) Success stories and big-name artists. TuneCore has been able to sign up some big-name artists – Jay-Z and Public Enemy – to use the service, and it’s generated some really good publicity for them. I expect this will continue. They also have a success story that’s really compelling, an artist named Eric Hutchinson who rocketed to fame after he was mentioned by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. This type of rags-to-riches story is going to be really attractive to musicians who are trying to make it, and should only help to increase the popularity of the service.

The YouTube digital camera

Friday, November 30th, 2007

When I was browsing the advertisements in this weekend’s paper trying to get some inspiration about what to buy the people on my Christmas list, I spotted this in the ads from Best Buy:

YouTube Digital Camera

I did a bit of hunting online, and it appears that this line of YouTube-ready digital cameras has been out for some time (available since August 07 in the U.S.), but I have to admit that this is the first time that I have seen them.

This positioning strikes me as being a little bit of marketing genius from Casio. There are at least 65,000 videosposted to YouTube per day, and eight hours of new video posted per minute – so there are a large group of power users out there who would love a camera that is set up to make it easier to send their videos to YouTube. That is, if the cameras are any good.

Here’s a roundup of some of the reviews that I found online:

Digital Camera Review- “The other feature worth noting here is that the V8 includes Casio’s YouTube Best Shot movie capture mode. In this mode, movies are captured at settings optimized for publishing on YouTube. Movies captured this way are also placed in a separate folder on your camera’s memory card so that the supplied YouTube Uploader software can easily find the movies. This software, provided by Casio allows you to upload multiple movies directly to your YouTube account.”

PC World- “The cameras are the result of a deal between Casio and Google, which owns YouTube, that gives Casio exclusive rights to the YouTube features until the end of this year.” 

“While it’s not particularly difficult to upload clips manually to YouTube, the software certainly makes it much easier, especially if you have several clips to put online.”

Becky Worley’s Vlog – “You want a digital camera, and you want to be the next YouTube celebrity. Have I got the camera for you.”

About.com- “You won’t shoot the most dazzling images every time, but this camera provides powerful features for the money. As with other cameras in the Casio Exilim Zoom line, this camera makes it exceedingly easy for even beginners to capture great images.”

Laptop Magazine – “An impressive set of features makes this digital camera well worth the price.”

“YouTube fanatics will enjoy the convenience of filming video that’s ready for the Web with no editing at all. In fact, it might even lure some first-timers to the video-sharing site.”

GeekSugar- “These new digital cameras not only come with the YouTube uploader that accesses your clips from a flash card to the web, but they also have auto-tracking face detection technology, image stabilization for movie mode and anti-shake blur reduction.”

I didn’t come across a single negative review of the cameras.