Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Web Secret #134: Shut Up

The Internet records everything and forgets nothing. Every online photo, Facebook status update, Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever. Cool, right?

Well maybe not always...

Over the summer, I missed an important NY Times article on this very subject. So important, that I will now quote from it at length:
Four years ago, Stacy Snyder, then a 25-year-old teacher in training ..., posted a photo on her MySpace page that showed her at a party wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption “Drunken Pirate.” After discovering the page, her supervisor ... told her the photo was “unprofessional,” and the dean of [the university], where Snyder was enrolled, said she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her under-age students. As a result, days before Snyder’s scheduled graduation, the university denied her a teaching degree. Snyder sued, arguing that the university had violated her First Amendment rights by penalizing her for her (perfectly legal) after-hours behavior. But in 2008, a federal district judge rejected the claim, saying that because Snyder was a public employee ..., her “Drunken Pirate” post was not protected speech.

...The problem she faced is only one example of a challenge that, ..., is confronting millions of people around the globe: how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing...

Well I have some succinct advice for everyone out there in cyberland. Until the legal system catches up with Internet technology - and who knows when and if that will happen - shut up.

Seriously, and I don't mean to be rude - I expect Gen Y to be clueless about not disclosing every iota of their personal lives on Facebook - but my observation is that pretty much everyone is saying too much, showing too much and sharing too much.

So watch what you say; it can come back to haunt you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Web Secret #133: Amazon Prime

If you use technology, you need gear. And gear - which in its broadest sense includes power strips, printer ink cartridges, cordless phones, track balls, and much, much more - tends to break, run out and/or mysteriously disappear with impressive regularity. When that happens, nine times out of ten, I access Amazon Prime to rectify/solve/replace the problem.

Most online shoppers know about, the giant retailer which was founded in 1994 as a bookstore and has now diversified into selling - well just about everything you can think of.

But while everyone knows about Amazon, fewer know about Amazon Prime, a membership program that gives you unlimited FREE Two-Day shipping on all eligible purchases for an annual membership fee of $79. (Prime subscribers also get one-day shipping for only $3.99 per item - if you want it even faster.)

Most online stores charge anywhere from $3.99 to $8.00 or more to ship an ordered item - and that usually means you will get that item in 5-10 business days. If you want it faster than that, get ready to pay a premium for that luxury - sometimes as much as $25 or more per order. If you shop more than ten times per year online, Amazon Prime's annual $79 fee is a bargain - plus you get your stuff in two days!

I have discovered a couple of important facts about Amazon Prime during the past year:

1. Amazon carries just about everything you would even think of shopping for - and they have it cheaper and you will get it faster and shipped free.
2. They really mean it - your membership fee means no shipping fees - so you can order one ridiculously small and inexpensive item - and you get it two days later. I needed a printer cartridge and had no desire to fight the holiday crowds at Staples. I ordered it online and saved myself time and money.
3. They have a terrific online tracking system that is easy to use and allows you to change and cancel orders in seconds.
4. They are reliable.

Recently I have ordered:Not sure if Prime is for you? Eligible customers can try out a membership by starting a free trial.

If you are reading this on the morning I first posted and you have or sign up for Amazon Prime - you can still get your goodies before Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Web Secret #132: Web Sites That Make You Think

Is the Internet rotting your brain?

I pondered this question in a spring time post. I concluded that there is enough great stuff on the web - the epic TED site comes to mind - to outweigh the moronic.

It made me wonder what other truly great sites might exist that I didn't know about. Lucky for me, I came across 10 Websites To Make You Think. Of course, TED made the list, but a few I didn't know about absolutely thrilled me:

1. Big Think - The Big Think website is a collection of very short (5 minutes or less) videos in which ‘global thought leaders’ discuss important issues, events and developments. Videos are grouped, and categories include Health and Medicine, Media and Internet, Science and Tech, and many more.

Here, Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, argues that abusers should be treated the same as anyone with a debilitating disease. Or here Tal Ben-Sharar, Psychology Lecturer at Harvard University discusses "Is Facebook Making Us Sad?"

2. Arts & Letters Daily - If Sherlock Holmes was a real person, and living in the 21st century, he would hang at this retro feeling site, featuring a fascinating collection of articles, essays, disputes and reviews by a select collection of bloggers and publications.

Here is an article that argues "Schizophrenia has long been blamed on bad genes or even bad parents. The real culprit, a new hypothesis claims, is a virus entwined in every person’s DNA." Or how about this essay, that begins, "Ed Dante, academic mercenary, will ace your Psych 101 term paper, or help “earn” you a Ph.D in history. If you have the money, Ed has the talent."

3. Academic Earth provides free university video courses spanning a broad range of subjects. Featured professors come from the finest universities in the US.

How about viewing UCLA Professor Benjamin Karney's course on "Communication and Conflict in Couples and Families"? Or for a really thought provoking experience, listening to Harvard Professor Michael Sandel's course on "The Morality of Murder." The quality of these courses is outstanding.

4. Eyewitness To History - A collection of eyewitness accounts and media from the ancient world through to modern history. I don't know that I can argue that this website will be directly relevant to your work. Think of it as a holiday gift to your mind.

Did you ever hear Franklin Delano Roosevelt speak? Watch film footage of the troops celebrating the end of World War I? Read the doctor's account of Hamilton's fatal wound after he was shot by Aaron Burr? If you are even remotely a history buff, this one is for you.

The web is full of treasures. You just have to find them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Web Secret #131: LogoTournament

My friend Juliette runs a wonderful not-for-profit organization, Healthy Living, which provides education about healthy eating to some of the poorest and most underserved communities in Washington DC.

Juliette had a website, but no logo.

She had a great slogan "Nourishing. Connecting. Transforming. TM", but little extra money to hire a logo designer.

Hello LogoTournament. Essentially, this website helps you set up an online logo design contact for as little as $250. $250 typically attracts 30-35 entries from very good designers - which you will get within a week!

Getting started takes seconds - enter your organization's name, slogan and a one sentence descriptor. Then you are guided through a brief series of questions that will help your designer better understand what you are looking for. E.g. "What are the Top 3 three things you would like to communicate to your audience through your logo?"

Juliette received an incredible variety of entries from all over the world and chose the winner depicted above.

Negatives? Her winner was located in New Zealand, making telephonic conversation expensive and difficult due to the time difference. The winner did not seem to have much experience with converting the winning logo for web purposes and had to be instructed as to the correct files Healthy Living needed.

Overall? For the money - can't beat it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Web Secret #130:

Does the world need a new search engine? For me Bing is a fail. I don't get it.

That said, thank you New York Times for turning me on to, a search engine that might actually offer something useful and different than Google.

As the Times article noted:
"Rich Skrenta, Blekko’s co-founder and chief executive, says that since Google started, the Web has been overrun by unhelpful sites full of links and keywords that push them to the top of Google’s search results but offer little relevant information. Blekko aims to show search results from only useful, trustworthy sites.

Blekko’s search engine scours three billion Web pages that it considers worthwhile, but it shows only the top results on any given topic. It calls its edited lists of Web sites slashtags. The engine also tries to weed out Web pages created by so-called content farms like Demand Media that determine popular Web search topics and then hire people at low pay to write articles on those topics for sites like

So for example, people who search for a topic in one of seven categories that Blekko considers to be polluted with spamlike search results — health, recipes, autos, hotels, song lyrics, personal finance and colleges — automatically see edited results.
Users can also search for results from one site (“iPad/Amazon,” for instance, will search for iPads on, narrow searches by type (“June/people” shows people named June) or search by topic, [e.g. “mental health /psychology” or "social work jobs /colleges.]" Blekko has made hundreds of these slashtags, and users can create their own and revise others."
Or as they explain it:

blekko: how to slash the web from blekko on Vimeo.

Slash on.