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BrainDumping July 17, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Collaboration, Lists, Mobile, Personal, Uncategorized.
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Sometimes you just need to capture a thought in your head or else it’ll be gone forever. There are many ways to record these ideas or brainstorms, but none of them truly take full advantage of the social media and social networking benefits available today. Sure, there are many good mindmapping tools online but none of them work well with mobile devices which is critical when it comes to capturing thoughts wherever and whenever you have them. The process needs to be quick and easy too. Here are some mobile methods for handling your braindumping on the go.

Wridea has just released 2.0 after two long years in Beta. It was previously reveiwed here in the Best Checklist Sites. Judging from my initial experiences with the new look and feel of Wridea’s totally overhauled GUI, I have to admit that it is much improved.
Here are some of the key new features:

  • Full API support for integrating Wridea with third party projects, systems, websites, desktop and mobile applications
  • New user interface for faster idea management
  • Improved idea collaboration with friends or other Wridea users
  • RSS feeds of your idea pages and idea comments
  • Better friend management
  • Expandability with Idea Tools

The best feature of Wridea is the ability to send your ideas to your account via your own email address. The format of the email is Idea_username@wridea.com so it’s easy to remember. Just add the entry to your cell phone’s address book and you will be able to capture your thoughts and ideas anytime, anywhere straight to your wridea account. You can share these entries and collaborate if you want but mostly I think it’s best suited for braindumping.

Here are a couple of screencasts of the new and much improved Wridea.
What is Wridea?
What are the best new features of Wridea 2.0?

Jott is an excellent service to use for capturing your ideas thru your cell phone. Unlike Wridea which does this thru the use of a personalized email address that posts to your online account, Jott accomplishes this in a unique manner via your own phone number. Once you call Jott it asks “Who do you want to Jott?” and you simply reply with “Me” to capture thoughts and ideas to your account. The nice thing about this is that Jott also transcribes your audio message to text and emails it to you so it can be copied and pasted as you wish. The accuracy isn’t that bad but it isn’t 100% either so you must double-check every time. Here’s a visual explanation. Here’s a list of all the tricks you can do with Jott on your cell phone.

Zoho Planner also allows you to send thoughts and ideas to your online account via your own unique email address. You can then turn those notes into to do items, appointments on your calendar or add them as notes to your planner. While the functions work and come in handy, the interface is gludgy and not very user-friendly.

Remember The Milk is mostly for tracking tasks and appointments but you can very well use it to manage your thoughts and ideas because it also provides you with your own email address. So, you can use your cell phone to send any idea you had right to your RTM account. Another perk is the way that RTM integrates seamlessly with GMail (thanks to Firefox)! Here’s a video of how that looks. Here’s a tour of what it can do.

Utterz is like a hybrid of Twitter + Seesmic + Tumbler + Jott. It has some new features that allow you to send ideas privately to your utterz account via email (the format is very easy to remember, username@utterz.com). You can record private audio messages on your cell phone and send them to yourself privately to play back later on or make public and embed on your website or in the utterz public timeline.

Final Thoughts on Thought Capturing
Look for this space to continue to catch on fire thanks to the ever increasing popularity of social networking and mobile devices like the iPhone, Blackberry and many others. It will become increasingly easier to capture and share whatever we want, even those thoughts that used to vanish into thin air.

Social BrainStorming February 26, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Collaboration, Web 2.0.
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If two minds are indeed better than one then just think of the possibilities of conducting an online real-time brainstorming session with several minds at the same time! There are many new web 2.0 services that make online collaborative mental mashups a breeze and best of all they’re all FREE! Here are the best ones that I’ve tried thus far:

MindMeister has received the most attention and deservedly so thanks to its slick interface and ease of use. The ability to embed the mindmap on your website/blog is very useful.

The free basic service allows up to six mindmaps with the premium and team plans allowing unlimited maps. Here is a comparison of each service.

Here’s an excellent screencast from DemoGirl.

Mind42 also allows collaborate mind mapping without anything to download or install. Everyone logged into the map editor will see changes in real-time too.

Here’s a screencast:

bubble.us offers less features and doesn’t look as nice as the others in this space, but there doesn’t appear to be any limits to the number of maps you can create and share online for free either.

So, if you aren’t all that into bells and whistles and a glitzy appearance, then bubble.us might be the one for you, especially for quick and dirty mind dump sessions.

Final Thoughts:
You can’t go wrong with any of these services. Mindmeister is the market leader though.

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Create Web Apps for free February 17, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Collaboration, Databases, WebDesign.
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Zoho Creator offers a free and extremely easy way to create your own web applications in no time at all. You can keep them private for your own use or share them with others. It is similar to Zoho DB & reports in that you can create databases with tables and queries, but Creator goes much further by providing the ability to add customizable forms as a frontend to your databases.

They also have their own scripting language called Deluge Script for those that want to dive deeper into building their web app. They also offer a Zoho Creator API that can satisfy even the most advanced developers. The good news is that you don’t need to learn any scripting language to create many useful web applications in a matter of minutes. You can even access these web apps via mobile devices which is very slick. They now offer SSL encryption for extra security, which makes creating web apps for the enterprise an extremely attractive option.

Here’s a 3-minute demo:

Sample Web App
Here’s a sample web app I created in five minutes called My Muse. http://creator.zoho.com/paisano/mymuse
It can track all of your writing, including blog posts, ideas, publications, etc. If you like this or any public web app, then click the copy application option to save it to your own account where you can customize it and make it your own.

Final Thoughts:
I’ve tried many online services that claim to offer easy database and web application creation but Zoho Creator and their DB & Reports are the best in my book. The load times and application/database performance have always been very good and the intuitive interface for designing is always excellent. I’ve never had to go to the help section with any of their products which says a lot.

Build your own Online Databases for FREE! January 22, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Collaboration, Databases.
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You can now build powerful and sharable databases online for free thanks to websites like Zoho. You don’t even need any special database development experience to create online databases that you can access any time from any browser. You can build it and store it online and even export the data to a spreadsheet if you want to work with the information in an Excel spreadsheet offline.

Zoho DB & Reports offers the best “Free” online database service, hands down. It is extremely easy to create your own database and the performance is impressive. The databases run rather quickly which was a pleasant surprise. There doesn’t appear to be any limits in place for the number of databases you can create for free nor how large they can grow so I do not know how many records a Zoho database can contain. You can share any database with anyone you want by simply adding their email address and sending them a link. They don’t even have to join zoho to view the database which is a nice change of pace from other services. Another excellent feature is the ability to embed any database or view on your website. Here is a example of a database called The Zone where I have every Twilight Zone episode along with other information. You can share databases with individuals, make them public or keep them private.
Here’s an excellent Zoho DB & Reports screencast

Zoho Creator
is another database creation service they offer but don’t get them confused. While they describe it as a Database Application builder, it does a lot more than that. Zoho Creator is a lot more complex than Zoho DB so it will not be as easy to use straight out of the gate. It offers an excellent interface builder for creating customized forms for your database application. They now even offer the ability to build database applications for the mobile platform and have their own API for those interested in building more complex databases.

Final Thoughts
There are many online database solutions, but not that many free ones. Zoho is clearly the best of breed in this class. Now, some will ask “Why do I even need a database online when I can simply store or share a document or spreadsheet online? Well, there are many reasons, one of which is the ability to enter data one time and generate countless view of that data to present it in different views. Yes, there are many situations where a spreadsheet will be the best method of storing data online, but there are also many situations when data is best kept in an online database, especially if the information can be viewed in many different ways. Ultimately, the choice will be your’s. Thanks to companies like Zoho, we now have that option. 🙂

Microsoft Binder 2.0 December 19, 2007

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Collaboration.

No, Microsoft did not resurrect one of their most useful creations, Microsoft Binder. For whatever reason, they decided to kill this brilliant Microsoft Office 95 feature more than likely to put those skilled developers to work on the life-changing Microsoft BOB project (Remember that stinker?).

In any event, for those of you who never had the pleasure of using the Binder, what it did was allow you to “Package” several different types of documents into one bundle! Wow, what a concept! So, instead of today’s “standard” method of packaging related documents and files together in a folder located on a shared network drive or local My Document folder, Microsoft’s Binder let you “link” whatever you wanted in a package. Thus, you could keep Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations all together in the same single binder file. Don’t be misled, you still could work on each type of document within its own native application by just double-clicking the document within the binder. No muss, no fuss. Here’s a screenshot of what the Binder looked like:
To separate the documents, you simply used the unbind feature to save the files wherever you wanted:

ThinkFree or Die!
Why all this reminiscence over another blunder from Redmond? Well, ThinkFree has recently released the new millenium’s version of Microsoft Binder with their free online ThinkFree Portfolio ! Portfolio allows you to bundle different types of documents, spreadsheets and presentations into one package. Sound familiar? Oh, and here is the new twist…it’s all done online and you can share it with the public or individuals you select or just keep it private.
ThinkFree has been around for many years and offered a free online office suite alternative to Microsoft Office long before Google docs came around to steal their thunder.ThinkFree has has three apps that are compatible with Microsoft Office: ThinkFree Write, Calc and Show. Oh and it can save any document to the PDF format…did I mention for free?
ThinkFree Online allows you to store up to 1 GB of documents. They include a free ThinkFree office viewer for viewing their documents without needing Microsoft Office apps and for embedding documents within blogs and web apps.

ThinkFreeDocs is like Scribd in that you can upload and share any document online. You can actually use any ThinkFreeDoc you find in your ThinkFree Office or in your Portfolio.
Here is an example portfolio that I created called Champions of Sports. As you will notice, you can share the portfolio (and any ThinkFree document) with a URL link or embed the code in your blog or website.
ThinkFree continues to add new features and services, many of them premium pay packages. They have a Premium version of office that gives you more storage space online.
They also have a Desktop version that will run in offline mode like Microsoft Office, but ThinkFree will sync with your online office whenever you want. Their Portable edition allows you to run presentations from an IPod or U3 thumbdrive.
Final Thoughts: ThinkFree’s free online office applications and ThinkFreeDocs with Portfolio feature are vastly underrated and powerful tools and services.
I’ve used their products for many years and they continue to improve with each update and like fine wine get better with time. If nothing else, ThinkFree’s Portfolio will help fill the void that Microsoft created when they put their Binder out to pasteur.