1. Caroline Blankoff’s meditation on GChat

    Posted January 7, 2011 in ephemera, webapps  |  No Comments so far

    I enjoyed reading this meditation on the subject of Google’s GChat by Caroline Bankoff, posted over at Thought Catalog. The piece is titled “45 Things I Think About When I Think About GChat” and it should resonate with anyone who’s spent time talking on that tool.

    “Thing” Number 10 is:

    It would be basically impossible to have anonymous cybersex on GChat. There is Group Chat, but there are no GChat rooms and, even if there were, they would lack the dim light of AOL’s “Romance” chat rooms. The best you could do with GChat is some kind of key party, with everyone going off the record with someone else’s contact.

    If we’re to believe Rule 34, some people must have done this at one point…

  2. Why you should use Evernote

    Posted September 22, 2010 in software, webapps  |  No Comments so far

    Evernote is a free service that allows you store text, images, audio files and (if you’re a premium subscriber like me) any other type of document on the web.

    Evernote logo

    OK, so that sounds useful, but hardly unique. There are lots of tools that do the the same sort of thing: SugarSync and DropBox are two that come to mind. The difference with Evernote is that it’s optimised for a particular purpose, online note-taking. And when I say optimised, I mean optimised.

    For note-taking to work it has to be as immediate and accessible as a notebook and pen in your pocket. And for the online aspect to work, it has to take advantage of the medium. Evernote succeeds on both these points, and here’s how.


    Evernote have produced desktop applications for Windows and Mac OS X. There’s a fully featured web client. Mobile apps exist for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Palm’s Web OS and even ,Windows Mobile. You can add notes via the automated Twitter account, @myEN. There are various browser extensions and third party apps. So there’s no shortage of ways to get hold of, and add to, your notes.


    The various Evernote apps are all designed to help you get information into Evernote quickly, including images and audio as well as text notes. On mobiles, you can use Evernote to launch the camera and take a photo – that photo, once tagged, will be added to your notes, and will then be accessible from anywhere. Here’s the Android app’s start screen:

    Evernote Android app

    On the desktop apps, there’s an option to have Evernote take control of the Print Screen key. Pressing it will bring up some crosshairs, which you then use to select an area of the screen to send straight to Evernote. Right-clicking a file gives you a “send to Evernote” option. And anything you add can be tagged, making it easy to retrieve in future.


    It’s one thing to be able to add lots of notes and have them available on almost any network-enabled device you own. But one advantage of having those notes online is the ability to share them.

    Evernote allows you to create additional notebooks, which can then be shared with the world or with specified individuals. If you want someone else to see a note, just move it to one of your shared notebooks, and others can see it.

    There’s a WordPress extension called Everpress that will automatically post items from a shared notebook to your blog, but I haven’t tried that yet.


    This is the best bit, and the feature that really got my attention when I first found it.

    One day, when I was still quite new to Evernote, I was testing its search feature. I searched for a word that I knew wasn’t stored in plain text (I didn’t have many notes then). Evernote said “1 result returned”, so I thought the search system must have a bug. Then I looked at the result, and it was a photo I’d taken of a whiteboard. The word I’d searched for was written on the board, and Evernote had highlighted it in yellow.

    Evernote search

    Searching for the word 'confirm' - the highlighting is from Evernote

    Up until then I didn’t know Evernote had that feature, and it was a bit of an “encountering the future” moment. Whenever I tell people about this they have an “encountering the future” moment too.

    I’ve since found out that Evernote scans any images you upload and uses OCR to extract text from them. That text then becomes searchable, which is extremely useful, and is becoming more so over time.

    So yeah, I think you should try Evernote. If, like me, you collect & create a lot of information which you then need to get hold of further down the line, you might come to find it indispensable.

  3. Google Flu Trends

    Posted November 13, 2008 in strategy, webapps  |  No Comments so far

    In this post, I’m going to try to outline a convergence between two separate trains of thoughts. It might get messy, so bear with me.

    Train one (think of this as the Edgware branch of the Northern Line) is search engine optimisation.

    One of the areas I’ve been working in a lot recently is search engine optimisation. I’ve carried out three fairly in-depth assessments of different search markets in the last few weeks.

    It’s been an interesting learning experience in a lot of ways—the last time I was heavily involved in SEO was a few years ago and the tools available for carrying out analysis have come a long way since then. Perhaps the most potent new weapon in the arsenal of a search market analyst is Google Trends. Try it, it’s fun.

    Train two (this is the High Barnet branch) is corporate social responsibility (CSR).

    For a while now I’ve held the view that companies are not doing enough just throwing money at CSR initiatives—donating to charity, that sort of thing. After all, money isn’t the only thing that successful companies have to contribute. They are also rich in expertise and capability. Companies should therefore look for ways to apply their know-how to social problems.

    An example of this that I often refer to is TNT Express Worldwide’s work with the World Food Programme. It assigns staff to work with the WFP and contributes its expertise in the fields of distribution and logistics, helping to manage the distribution of food in geographically remote and challenging regions. The value of this contribution is inestimably higher than it would be if it were purely financial.

    And here’s where the two trains of thought converge. To torture an already stretched metaphor, imagine this as being Camden Town station.

    Google launched Google.org some time ago as its philanthropic arm. It’s headed by epidemiologist/technologist Dr Larry Brilliant and seeks to do the sort of thing that TNT are doing with the WFP, namely using Google’s unique capabilities to bring a fresh approach to various social problems.

    A great example of this is the recently launched Google Flu Trends, an analysis of how Google Trends can help point to flu outbreaks around two weeks than conventional epidemiological analysis.

    It’s nice to see companies bringing knowledge and not just money to the table when it comes to health, hunger and other real-world problems.

  4. Gmail’s new Labs feature – Mail Goggles

    Posted October 7, 2008 in webapps  |  No Comments so far

    Ever sent an email you later regretted? Well you might like the new Gmail Labs feature, Mail Goggles. It’s activated whenever you try to send an email late at night, when you’re most likely to be under the influence of alcohol.


    How does it stop you sending indiscreet, inarticulate or embarrassing emails? It forces you to solve a number of simple mathematical problems within a set time period. If you pass, it judges you to be sober, but if you fail it silences you… most likely for your own good.

  5. Online mind-mapping tools

    Posted July 14, 2008 in software, webapps  |  No Comments so far

    What are mind mapping tools? In short, they aim to visualise the conceptual relationships that make up the structure of thought.

    When used for project planning they allow you to break down the central objective into a set of smaller, inter-related items – these items can then be arranged hierarchically. The end result is an at-a-glance overview of your project which is conceptual in nature, as opposed to the linear and temporal visualisation provided by a Gantt chart.

    A vast array of mind-mapping applications can be found online, some of which are free. However I’m more interested in their web-based counterparts, not only because the potential for sharing, publishing and collaboration is much greater, but also as the user can access their mind maps from any location (at least in theory).

    Over the next few weeks I’m planning to try out the following online mind-mapping tools and post some updates on my experiences. I’ve been interested in mind-mapping for some time but have never embraced it wholeheartedly, so maybe these tools will persuade me to become a fully-fledged convert…