Monday, November 14, 2011

Technology Boot Camp Week 6: RSS and Conclusion

Welcome to the final week of LFPL’s Technology Boot Camp. This week, we’re going to talk about RSS and show you how it makes following your favorite websites easy.
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What is RSS?

Depending on whom you ask, RSS stands for different things, but most commonly Really Simple Syndication. RSS makes it easy for people to receive regularly updated content (such as posts on blogs and news sites) without having to visit the same website over and over again. Here is a helpful video.

As the video explains, you need two things to take advantage of RSS technology. You need a home for reading all the new content. For this purpose, we will use The Old Reader, which can be accessed using your Google account. And then we need to connect The Old Reader to your favorite websites by subscribing to them.

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The Old Reader and LFPL’s RSS feeds

So let’s start by taking a look at the RSS feeds offered by the library.

1. Head to the library catalog.

2. Toward the left side of the screen, there’s a box titled “New Titles” with an orange button labeled RSS. Click on the RSS button.

3. On this new page, there are four different URLs in the middle of the page. Each one corresponds to a “new items” feed for a different material type. Select whichever feed interests you the most and copy the shortcut.

4. Go to The Old Reader. There is an option to login with your Google account to the upper right. You will be asked to connect your Google account with The Old Reader by clicking Allow Access. Once you’ve logged in, click on the button to Add a Subscription toward the top left. Paste in the URL that you copied from the page in the library catalog.

5. You are now subscribed to that feed. The name of the feed appears on the left as a Subscription. The content of the feed appears on the right half of the screen. The Old Reader will check the feed URL periodically and, when it finds new items, it will store them in The Old Reader for you to peruse at your convenience.

Give it a try!

Now that you have a basic understanding of how to subscribe to an RSS feed, it’s time to explore the internet and find some more RSS feeds to subscribe to. Your task is to find two additional RSS feeds from different sources and subscribe to them. Find sites that you are interested in.

Perhaps you already have a group of sites that you visit regularly, perhaps daily. It is very likely that those sites are available for subscription with RSS. Just remember to look for the icon, which typically looks like this:
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If you need some inspiration, there’s no shortage of places to find interesting feeds. Here are a few examples:

New York Times
NASA
MTV
Rolling Stone

On your blog, tell us what feeds you subscribed to. What do you think of the experience of using The Old Reader versus going to the individual sites?

congrats

Congratulations!

You have now completed LFPL’s Technology Boot Camp! We hope that what you’ve learned will help you get the most out of the internet’s resources. To help us plan future programs of this nature, please take a moment to complete this very brief survey about your experience with Technology Boot Camp. Thanks for participating!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Technology Boot Camp Week 5: Online Library Resources

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LFPL.org

This week we are going to focus on the resources available right here on the LFPL website. The website allows you to access many of the library’s services from the convenience of wherever you have internet access.

We recommend taking some time to look around the web page and explore some of these offerings. After you’re done, come back to this post to learn all about our Research Tools page.

Research Tools

Databases are also an important feature of LFPL’s website. The databases offered by the library bring together information and services typically not available for free on the internet. Many of our databases include current and back issues of journals, magazines and various other publications. Some of these are popular materials, like the Wall Street Journal or Newsweek; others are scholarly journals or industry-specific publications, such as The Harvard Law Review. Certain databases specialize in collecting and organizing data, such as financial information or auto repair guides. Let’s explore some of LFPL’s databases and get started on this week’s activity.

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The library’s databases are located on the website, www.lfpl.org, under Research Tools, the fourth option down on the left-hand side of the page. Follow the steps below to find your way around the library’s various databases.

1) Start on the Research Tools page.

2) On this page the databases are organized by subject, in case you don’t know exactly which database you need. If you do know which database you need, look to the right-hand side of the page and select “A-Z Listing of Research Tools” for an alphabetical listing of all of LFPL’s databases. If you are working on a computer outside of the library, you will need to log in. When you click on the database you want to use, you will be prompted to enter your library card number and password.

3) If you are looking for a specific publication and you’re not sure which database carries it, select “Journal/Magazine/Newspaper Search” (just below “A-Z Listing of Research Tools”) . Once you search for the name of the publication, you will see a list of databases that carry that publication.

Give it a try!

This week we offer seven activities, so you have an opportunity to explore all that you can do with the library’s databases. Try all seven or just pick a few that match your interests.


A) From the Research Tools page, pull up the alphabetical listing of databases (See step 2 above.) and select Academic Search Premier. In the search field, enter a topic of interest to you. As an example, we use ‘constitution’. Above the search field, uncheck the box next to ‘Suggest Subject Terms’. This allows you to do a keyword search, rather than browse by subject listings. Below the search field, under ‘Limit your results’, check the box for ‘Full Text’. This will restrict your search to only those articles which the database can give you full access (otherwise it will include citations for articles relevant to your search, but only the citation, not the actual article). Then click Search.

When you find an article, click on either ‘PDF Full Text’ or ‘HTML Full Text’. We select the second article that comes up for constitution. Once you’ve opened your selected article, notice on the right-hand side the different options you are given. You can download the article directly to your computer or flash drive. You can also email the article to your email account. If you’ve ever had to write a research paper and hated having to put your citations in the correct format, note the option to select a citation format to go with the emailed article. You can copy and paste this directly into your bibliography.

B) Back issues of The Courier-Journal on microfilm are one of the more popular resources at the Main Library downtown. But did you know you can search the Courier-Journal, both current and past issues, from your home with our ProQuest newspaper database? From the Research Tools page, click on Newspapers and then Courier-Journal. Here you can search articles, op-ed pieces, obituaries and more.

C) Try finding some specific journals. (See step 3 above.) Can you find the December 2010 issue of Consumer Reports?


D) Morningstar Investment Research Center is a great database for investors, whether you are a professional money manager or just monitoring your retirement investments. Morningstar provides in-depth and up-to-date data, charts and reports, on stocks, mutual funds, financial service providers, industries and more. Also, it provides an excellent glossary for those trying to make sense of financial jargon. On the Research Tools page click on Business and Money and scroll down to find Morningstar. When you open up the database, across the top you will see a row of tabs. Towards the end of the row is Help & Education, which can assist you with both finding your way around the database and understanding finance and investing. In the field under the Home tab that says Enter a ticker or name try Vanguard Target Retirement 2020. Take a minute to look over the profile of this mutual fund.

E) Business Reference USA is an excellent database for researching business demographics. You can search for franchises, business types (e.g., dry cleaners), or even a whole industry, and pull up everything from sales reports to management directories. Even better, you can narrow your search by geography, business size, yearly sales and more. From the Research Tools page, select Business and Money, then Business Reference USA. Once the database opens, move your mouse over where it says U.S. Businesses and click on the search option that pops up. On the following search page, there are two tabs. The first, Quick Search, allows you to search for an individual business. The second tab, Custom Search, allows you to do the more detailed searches described above.

F) Are you or someone you know preparing to take a test, such as the GED, SAT or ACT, GRE, MCAT? Studying for a certification exam to become a law enforcement officer, real estate agent, or electrician? Does your elementary school student need to strengthen his or her math or spelling skills? The Learning Express Library database provides study guides; timed, scored and corrected practice exams; and test-taking tips. You will find this database under the Test Preparation heading on the Research Tools page. When you open the database, look to the left side to find the different test categories. Once you find your practice test, you will be asked to create an account. This allows the database to track your performance, provide corrections to incorrect answers and suggest areas for improvement. Learning Express Library is an excellent resource for any test taker, whether a student or professional.


G) If you take care of your own car repairs, you definitely want to look over Auto Repair Reference Center. Auto Repair Reference Center provides detailed, step-by-step diagrams for various repairs, from electrical wiring to transmission, as well as recall notices and a labor calculator. Try finding your car in the database. Once you open up Auto Reference Repair Center, simply select the correct option as it is presented to you: year, make, model and submodel. Then you can choose your repair topic.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Technology Boot Camp Week 4: Photo Sharing, Online Video and Audio

This week, the Technology Boot Camp theme is multimedia. We’ll take a look at photo sharing, as well as online video and audio resources.

Photo sharing?

Recall that last week, we explored social networks. One of the most-used features of social networking is photo sharing. Photo albums no longer collect dust on the shelf; they now travel the world. When you snap a great picture, it’s easy to share it with a few friends or to send it to all of your online contacts.

To get a better idea of what photo sharing is about, take a look at this video overview.

At the Library, we get many questions about taking photos from digital cameras and getting them onto Facebook and other sites. The specifics differ from site to site, but this article on Discovery’s How Stuff Works site provides a general overview of uploading photos, along with discussions about privacy, tagging and other aspects of online photo sharing.

Facebook provides a page of information about uploading photos, but we also recommend taking a look at this video tutorial. For information about uploading photos to Twitter, look here.

Beyond Facebook

Many people use Facebook and other social networking sites to share photos, but sites that specifically focus on photo sharing have advantages worth considering. They typically give you more flexibility to organize your images, more capacity to store your digital images, and more ways to connect with communities of people who share your photography interests. They also allow you to do lots of additional things with your digital images, such as editing and ordering prints.

You can also search and browse through photos posted by other people. Last year, Flickr, perhaps the most popular dedicated photo sharing site, reached five billion total images. There are several other noteworthy photo sharing sites, including Snapfish and Google’s Picasa. If you have a Yahoo! account, you already have a Flickr account. If you have a Gmail account, you’ll have access to Picasa.

Flickr

Let’s look a little more closely at Flickr, one of the most popular photo sharing sites. Start by taking the tour.

Flickr gives you a modest amount of free storage space for your pictures, sufficient for the casual photographer. More dedicated photographers would want to consider stepping up to the pro account which provides unlimited storage.

Flickr has a few features that have made it stand out amongst its competitors.

  • Tags are like labels, keywords that you can attach to photos to make them easier to locate. Flickr provides more information on their Tags FAQ page.
  • Groups allow people with common interests to connect and share photos with each other. To get a feel for what a group looks like, take a look at these Louisville-related groups.
  • Sharing and privacy: Similar to our discussion of privacy in Facebook last week, Flickr has tools to make it easy to share photos only with those people you’ve designated. You can read about this in more detail on their Privacy FAQ page.

Even without having an account, Flickr is a remarkable tool for finding fantastic images. Most photo sharing sites have a good search function. Flickr’s search tool is simple, yet excellent, enhanced by the quantity of tags that have been applied to photos.

What makes Flickr’s photo search particularly useful is the ability to limit your search to those photos that have been designated with Creative Commons licensing. This means, in short, that the photographer has given you limited rights to reuse the photo. So if you are seeking photos to use in a presentation or school project, you can click on the Advanced Search link from the search page and then select the “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” option to get photos safe for reuse. Be mindful that there are different levels of re-use permission, so if you plan to modify a photo or use it commercially, be sure you understand the different types of Creative Commons licensing.

More fun with Flickr

Flickr provides the means to build some interesting applications that leverage their huge collection of images. These tools are usually referred to as mash-ups. Check out some of these tools and fun sites that are built around Flickr:
Spell with flickr
Colr Picker
Mosaic Maker (Try the Flickr tags option)
earth album (another Flickr map mashup)
Big Huge Labs is home to a long list of Flickr based tools and toys.

Next, let’s talk about online video.


YouTube and beyond

It’s likely that many of you have watched a video on YouTube. As of May, 3 billion videos were watched on YouTube every single day! But did you know that YouTube has a special section of their site dedicated to educational videos from colleges and universities? It’s called YouTube EDU and it features an incredibly wide range of lectures, student projects, and other university-driven content. You can search by topic or browse the individual university channels.

Take a look at the offerings from Khan Academy: more than 2,400 videos on a wide variety of academic topics, all freely available online. (You can also browse their catalog on the Khan Academy web site instead of using the YouTube interface.)

But what about my videos?

Of course, YouTube and other video sites like Vimeo aren’t just places to watch videos, but also allow you to create an account and share videos with others. YouTube is now owned by Google, which means that your Google account is also your YouTube account.

Uploaded videos can be viewed on the YouTube site and can be shared with a link or by embedding the video onto your blog or other website. For example, Google provides instructions for embedding a YouTube video onto your Blogger blog.

Online Audio - Podcasts

Without being overly technical, podcasting is a technology used for the distribution of audio files over the Internet. Just like blogging makes it possible for anyone to publish about their particular topic of interest, podcasting makes it nearly as easy for people who want to produce audio programming to do so. The result is thousands of programs produced outside of mainstream media on any topic you can imagine. LFPL uses podcasting to provide access to recordings of our Authors at the Library series.

If you’re interested in the history of podcasting and origin of the term, Wikipedia’s article on podcasting provides a good starting point. You might also find this video explanation of podcasting insightful.

Let’s explore the diversity of programs that are being produced under the banner of podcasting. Check out one of the following podcasts. Visit the link below and click on the media player to listen to a recent episode (unless otherwise noted). Look for a play button along these lines:

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Grammar Girl, part of Quick and Dirty Tips, a network of great self-help podcasts
Merriam Webster Word of the Day (Scroll down to the podcast section.)
Storynory (Click on one of the stories.)
Genealogy Guys (Click on the direct download link.)
Internet Safety Project
ESL Pod

Mainstream media has also adopted podcasting as a way to distribute content. Check out the offerings of one of the following:

CNN Podcasts
ESPN Podcenter
BBC Podcasts

If you use iTunes to manage your music on your computer, you’ll find an enormous selection of podcasts, both independent and mainstream, in the iTunes Store.

Give it a try!

Try using Flickr’s search tool to find images of interest. Post a few remarks on your blog about photo sharing. What did you search? Did you come up with anything interesting? How might this be a helpful tool?

Browse some of the videos on YouTube. When you find one you would like to share, it’s easy enough to embed a video onto your blog or link to it from your Facebook page. Try to do one or the other. To add a video to Blogger, look here. For tips on adding a video to Facebook, click here.

On your blog, talk a bit about your experience browsing and consuming podcasts. What did you listen to? What did you think of the podcasts you sampled?

That’s it for this week. If you have questions or other feedback, please use the contact form. Next week, we’ll take a look at some amazing online resources available specifically to LFPL’s patrons.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Technology Boot Camp Week 3: Social Networking

Welcome to Week 3 of LFPL’s Technology Boot Camp! We know this is the week that many of you have been waiting for, so let’s get right into it.

So what’s a social network?

There are many definitions to be found for the term “social network.” For our purposes, think of a social network as an online community. It’s a place where people can connect with others with whom they have relationships (family, friends, colleagues, classmates) or with whom they share common interests.

Individuals are usually represented on the network by a profile page where they share some amount of information about themselves. This can range from basic biographical information all the way to up-to-the-minute updates on what that individual is doing. The idea is for people to share and, in return, be shared with, bringing people closer together and keeping them connected, regardless of where they are scattered across the globe. Try out this video to get a better understanding of social networking.

There are a number of popular and useful social networking sites, each with a different emphasis. This week, we’ll look at four: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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Facebook

Facebook is the dominant player in the social networking space right now, claiming to have more than 800 million active users. Odds are that some of you already have an account of your own. Even the library has its own Facebook page.

If you don’t have an account, but would like one, visit the Facebook sign-up page. You will need to provide an email address to complete the sign up process. If you are interested in step-by-step instructions for getting your account created, take a look at this handout (.pdf) from LFPL’s Facebook for Grown-Ups class.

OK, I have an account. Now what?


Once you’ve created your account, Facebook encourages you to find friends. They do this by using your email contact list. Let’s say that you’ve registered for Facebook using a Yahoo! Mail account. If you give Facebook permission to do so, they can look at your Yahoo! email address list and find which of those addresses are associated with a Facebook account. This can be a very efficient means of finding people you know to connect with on Facebook. However, if you are not ready to connect with others, you can skip this step and go back to find friends at any time.

Next, Facebook will encourage you to fill out your profile information. This is where you tell Facebook a little more about yourself. And it’s also a good opportunity to talk about privacy.

Understanding Facebook and privacy

While Facebook is driven by people’s desire to share information about themselves, privacy can be a real source of concern for users. To make matters worse, Facebook’s approach to privacy can be difficult to understand. And it changes. Frequently. Facebook provides a good, basic explanation of its privacy settings. To supplement that, we’ve created a quick overview of several features of Facebook’s privacy settings to help you understand and control what you’re sharing and with whom.

If you’re interested in learning more about this issue, we recommend taking a look at Facebook Privacy: 10 Settings Every User Needs to Know. Just remember that Facebook routinely changes how users control their privacy settings. You want to be sure you always have the latest information on Facebook privacy settings.

Now I have a profile. So what?

OK, so you’ve familiarized yourself with Facebook’s privacy settings and filled out the profile information as you see fit. You might even have uploaded a profile photo. (For those of you who are interested in uploading and sharing photos on Facebook, we recommend watching this video tutorial.) Now you have something that looks similar to the screenshot shown here.

Click on the Home link, which is found in the top blue bar all the way to the right. If you are a new user, you will be taken to a welcome screen that will, once again, encourage you to find friends. Toward the left side of the screen, you’ll see a list of options, including something called the News Feed. Once you’ve been on Facebook for a while, the News Feed is what you’ll see when you click on the Home button. The News Feed is something like a constantly updated newsletter that’s filled with content determined by your friends and interests on Facebook. Your News Feed is unique to you and can only be viewed by you.

But in order to have items show up in your News Feed, you have two basic options:

  1. Connect with friends. This will add your friends’ status updates and other shared activities to your news feed.
  2. Find the Facebook pages of things (activities, organizations, celebrities) that you are interested in and tell Facebook by clicking on that page’s Like button.


For example, you can go to the Library’s Facebook page and, right next to where it says Louisville Free Public Library, you’ll find this button: . Clicking on the Like button will indicate that you are interested in this page and Facebook will start adding updates from this page to your News Feed.

Remember that Facebook is about sharing and being shared with. Just as you are interested in people, they are interested in you, so don’t forget to provide status updates of your own. You can do that from the Home page or your own profile page. In this screenshot, you can see Lou Biblio is about to post a status update on his News Feed page. Because he has clicked the Like button on LFPL’s Facebook page, the Library’s updates now appear on the News Feed page.

From this point, Facebook is yours to explore. One thing to know about Facebook is that the company makes frequent changes to the look, feel and functionality of the site, so be prepared for things to look different from one month to the next.


What is Google+?

Google+ is Google’s response to Facebook. Google+ is similar to Facebook in that you create a profile, post messages, photos and links, and connect with other users. According to this article, Google+ is now estimated to have over 43 million users, which is tiny compared to Facebook’s aforementioned claim of 800 million users. However, many have moved from Facebook to Google+ for some of the features it offers. Here are a few.

  • A number of users say that Google+ makes it easier to control what you share and with whom. Google+’s circles feature lets you easily put those you share with into separate groups - say, one for family, one for coworkers and one for friends.
  • Google+ is increasingly integrated with other Google services. Whenever you are logged into your Google account, Google+ is accessible from the top of any Google page. This makes it much easier to share content from other Google sites like Picasa (photos) and YouTube (videos) on your Google+ profile. And, with the +1 feature, you can click +1 on a particular website you come across through a Google search and then link it with a comment to your Google+ profile.
  • Finally, if you ever decide that you’re through with social networking once and for all, Google+ makes it easy to close out your account and delete the personal data you’ve stored. Certain other social networking sites make it very difficult, if not impossible, to close your account for good (and take everything you’ve shared with you!).

To watch a short demo on how Google+ works, click here, and then in the top left-hand corner click on Take the tour. To compare Google+ and Facebook, check out this presentation by PCWorld by clicking here.

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What is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is similar to other social networking sites, but with an emphasis on professional networking. It allows users to share information about professions, careers and job opportunities. You can set up a profile with the intent to draw the attention of an employer, compare your credentials with others in your field or search job postings. Whereas a Facebook profile will list a person’s friends, likes and dislikes, and personal photos, a LinkedIn profile resembles a CV or résumé, including education, work history and professional associations. According to this LinkedIn blog post, it currently has over 1 million profiles spread across 200 countries. Simply put, LinkedIn is the foremost online networking service for professional and career interests. For a more in-depth review of LinkedIn and how to set up and get the most out of your profile, read this article.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is many things to many people. At its most basic, Twitter is a communication tool. It allows its users to provide updates in response to a simple question: “What’s happening?” These status updates, or tweets, are restricted to 140 characters or less, much like a text message. This forced brevity ensures that the tweeter gets to the point in a hurry. Users can choose to follow other users and see their updates as they are posted. You can also respond to tweets and/or “retweet” them. Retweeting is a way to pass on someone else’s message to the people who follow you. It’s this ability to connect with other users by interacting with their updates that makes Twitter a social experience.

Confused yet?

This video provides a quick introduction.

If you’d like another perspective on the many ways of looking at Twitter, here’s a recommended read: What Is Twitter?

Updating your status and finding someone to follow

1. To sign up, proceed to Twitter’s home page.

2. The first thing to do when you log into Twitter is update your status. Click in the box under the question “What’s happening?” Answer the question. Remember you only have 140 characters to work with. An example might be “I’m moving right along with Technology Boot Camp @ LFPL”.

3. Click on the Tweet button to publish your update. Notice how it instantly appears in the stream of tweets directly below where you were typing. This is your Twitterstream.

4. Now it’s your turn to find someone to follow. At the top of the page, in the black bar, there is a link for “Who To Follow.” Click on that.

5. This brings you to a different page, where you have some options.

  • Right away, you see that Twitter will suggest users for you based on whom you currently follow.

  • You can also search for specific people (celebrities, athletes, authors, etc.) using the search box that reads “find users by name.”
  • There’s also a Browse Interests tab which lets you find interesting accounts to follow based on their general topic.
  • Or you can select Find Friends, which will let you identify people you know on Twitter based on email addresses in your Hotmail, Yahoo! or Gmail contact lists.

6. Once you have found someone of interest, click the white Follow button. That person’s updates will now appear in your Twitterstream, which you return to by clicking on Home up in the black bar at the top of the screen.

Twitter As Search Engine


According to this Forbes article, Twitter claims there are 110 million messages (also called “tweets”) posted to Twitter every day. One of the most powerful things about Twitter is that you can search these messages and get a good sense of what people are saying about emerging events in real time.

1. So we need an emerging event. If you are aware of something newsworthy that just happened, go ahead and pick a keyword to represent that (e.g., a person’s name, “earthquake,” “stock market”). If you need ideas, go to CNN’s NewsPulse, Google News or some other online source for breaking news and find a headline with a person’s name or a place that can be your keyword.

2. Return to the Twitter page and enter your keyword into the search box at the top of the page in the black bar.

3. If you’ve picked well, there will be a page full of results. If your topic is particularly active, new tweets will appear while you’re looking at the original results. The pace can be breathtaking at times. Searching Twitter can provide immediate information on topics that haven’t even reached a proper news desk yet.

Give it a try!

We encourage you to consider starting an account on any or all of these sites and to spend some time playing and exploring.

If you’ve opened a Twitter account, choose a keyword that describes a popular current topic and try searching it. Find a tweet you agree with or find amusing and retweet it.

Also, if you have a Facebook account, explore your privacy settings. Try creating a customized list of friends and post just to that list.

On your blog, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of social networking. If you are following the blogs of others in the Tech Boot Camp program, read over what they have to say about social networking. Do you agree or disagree?

Wow, you made it! Halfway to the finish line. If you have questions or other feedback, please use the contact form. Come back next week for a discussion of online video, audio and photosharing.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Technology Boot Camp Week 2: Cloud Computing and the Googleverse

Welcome to Week 2! Lots to look at this week, so let’s get right into it. Remember, if you ever need any help, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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Cloud computing?

By now, many of you have heard the phrase “cloud computing” or read about storing your stuff “in the cloud.” But what does that mean?

Your personal computer (PC) contains storage space for things like software (for example, Microsoft Office) and files (say, documents you create with Microsoft Office). This is handy in that it allows quick access to those programs and files, regardless of when you sit down at your computer.

But what happens if that computer fails? Or you’re somewhere else and need to get to those programs or files? To get your files to another computer, you would have to have emailed them as an attachment or saved them to a flash drive. Then you still have to put them on the other computer and hope that computer has the right software for your file.

Sounds inconvenient and complicated, doesn’t it? Rather than rely on constant access to your personal computer, more and more services allow you to access software and store files on the internet. You can then get to the software and your files on any device (a computer, smart phone, etc.) that has an internet connection. This is what’s meant by cloud computing.

Google is one of the companies that is pushing its users toward cloud computing. Many of their services are intended to get people away from storing data on their PC and move them into the cloud. The most obvious example of this is Gmail, Google’s email service. Like other online mail services, such as Yahoo! Mail and Microsoft’s Hotmail, Gmail gives you the ability to send and store email messages in the cloud, so that you can access them from any internet-accessible computer.

Web-based email has been around for years, but now you can do much more than just email. Google Docs is an especially good example.

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Introducing Google Docs

Google Docs is an office productivity suite similar to Microsoft Office with a critical difference: You access it over the web rather than via your PC. The suite includes Document, Presentation, Spreadsheet, Drawing and Form. Google Docs does not have all the same features as Microsoft Office, but it does have a few key selling points:

  1. It’s free. All you need is a Google account.
  2. Google provides free space to store your documents online, accessible from any Internet-connected PC.
  3. Google Docs provides online tools to work on documents collaboratively.

LFPL now offers a class each month on Google Docs. We encourage you to take a look at the course handout, which contains an in-depth tour of Google Docs.

What Else Does Google Offer?

Google offers a variety of services that you might find useful. We encourage you to explore and play with these sites and get a sense of all the things you can do and accomplish in the cloud using only your web browser.

Google Books allows you to search the full-text of books, and if the copyright has expired, you may be able to download a copy directly to your computer.

Google News identifies top new stories and groups together all the coverage of those stories from news sources around the globe.

Google Calendar is Google’s free web calendar service. Access your calendar from anywhere with an internet connection, email your schedule or event invitations to friends and coworkers, email yourself reminders about upcoming appointments, and more.

Google Reader tracks your favorite websites and blogs so you can follow updates and see when new content is available. Click here for a quick instructional video.

Google Scholar is very much like Google’s general search site, but the results are limited to scholarly content on the web.

Google Patents allows you to search more than seven million patents.

Google Sites lets you easily create a website, from scratch or using templates.

Google Maps is a Google feature you’ve probably used before to get directions. But have you seen all you can do with personalized Google maps? Check out this user guide to get started making customized maps of your own.

Google Translate provides quick translations between any of 58 different languages. The translation may not always be perfect, but it gets the job done if you need a quick translation of a simple word or phrase.

We also recommend you take a look at Google Chrome, which is Google’s very own web browser. Compare Google Chrome with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and other popular web browsers to see if it is right for you.

Google Chrome is software that is installed on your PC, which means that, in and of itself, Chrome is not a cloud application. But Google is so confident that cloud computing is the future, they’ve developed a computer operating system that completely does away with locally installed software other than the Google Chrome browser. You can read a bit more about Chrome OS in this article.

cloud computing

Is it just Google?

Not at all. Many other companies, large and small, are offering cloud-based services. The following is just a small sample of what’s available.

Productivity suites:

Beside Google Docs, there are a few other good online productivity options including Microsoft’s own browser-based version of their Office suite called Office Web Apps. Another well-regarded option is ThinkFree.

Online file storage and sharing:

SkyDrive, part of Microsoft’s Windows Live set of services, offers a significant amount of free file storage space. Dropbox is a popular service that provides up to 2 GB of storage space and makes it easy to create shared folders that allow you to share files with family, friends, colleagues, etc.

Online backup:

Taking file storage to the next level, online backup services can make periodic copies of the important files on your personal computer and store them in the cloud, so that you can recover them if your computer fails. There are numerous options with different pricing plans and features. Some of the biggest names are Carbonite, CrashPlan and Mozy.

Bookmarking:

A traditional web browser allows you to bookmark websites so you can easily revisit them without having to remember or type in the address. There are a variety of websites that allow you to save your bookmarks in the cloud, so that you can access them from any computer. Some popular examples are Delicious and Diigo. Because many of these sites incorporate features designed to encourage the sharing of links amongst users, they are often referred to as social bookmarking sites.

Give it a try!

We strongly encourage those of you with a Google account to visit Google Docs and experiment with creating a document. If you know others participating in the program or have a friend with a Google account, try collaborating on a document with several people. Google provides some helpful instructional videos for new Google Docs users here.

Also be sure to take some time to explore and play with the other sites listed above.

On your blog, write about whether or not having your documents stored online is a good thing. Can you think of a scenario in which some of Google Docs collaboration features might come in handy? What about the other sites listed above?

Thanks for joining us. If you have questions or other feedback, please use the contact form. Come back next week as we delve into the world of social networking.

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