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Category: Web apps

Mural.ly – Visual collaboration in the cloud

A lot of collaboration is taking place online in geographically dispersed teams, one common problem for all those collaborators is the lack of having the in-office whiteboard, Mural.ly might be the answer.

Mural.ly visual collaboration and mind-mapping tool

Mural.ly is basically a virtual whiteboard enabling sharing ideas, drawing, images etc. It’s available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and uses HTML 5. We mainly used the Chrome app, which the developers had support from Google to integrate, but there is similar integration for Firefox and other browsers.

Mural.ly contains a number of objects such as sticky notes which can be dragged and dropped anywhere, basic drawing tools, sets of predefined stickers etc. It’s possible to embed images, videos, web content (inserting by entering the URL) and documents.

The collaboration features includes inviting other users to a mural, commenting with reply functionality, a chat and email notifications when other participants update the mural.

Using Mural.ly is a breeze, it’s very easy to get started and pretty soon you realise that there are almost an infinite number of usage areas, such as wireframing, plans, brainstorming, creating designs etc. The app comes with some predefined templates for business plans, 5 whys, lean canvases, empathy maps etc.

There are some limitations in the basic version of Mural.ly. For example in the PRO-version it’s possible to download the murals as images or a .zip-file, sharing secure murals using a password, and organising the creations in different rooms for different teams. However the PRO-version is not that expensive, $100 for a year, or $10 a month.

Overall we really like Mural.ly, it’s a must for smaller dispersed organisations, development projects, designers or for just organising your own personal ideas and projects in a visual way. It’s also a very easy to learn and use tool. A major limitation right now is that Mural.ly is not available for the Ipad, the developers are working on a version, which should be coming soon.

Mural.ly features post-its and a series of different objects Mural.ly let's you drag and drop web content to the workspace

Top 5 Outlook.com Tricks

Microsoft is taking a shot at Gmail replacing Hotmail with their revamped e-mail service Outlook.com, including a new interface and various other options. Of course there was an outcry in the Hotmail community for changing the interface, but the service now have 25 million users.

Continue reading to find out how you can be more effective when using Outlook.com (most of our tips are located in the “More mail settings section”).

 

1. Sweep it

If your inbox is like mine, that is a dark hole of endless messages, it’s often time consuming to clear it up. Outlook.com features a simple feature called “sweep”, it works basically the same way as the label system in Gmail where messages with certain characteristics are filed or deleted. It’s also possible to schedule sweeps.

For example it’s possible to file messages from a specific sender or delete them all together.

Outlook.com Sweep

 

 

2. Use Skydrive to send attachments

Outlook.com has a limit of 25 MB when sending attachements, anything above that and the service will suggest using Skydrive, which means that your attachement is uploaded into Skydrive and sent with a URL to the location instead.

If you often send large attachments or if you don’t want to clog people’s inboxes it’s possible to have Skydrive set as default for attachments.

 

3. Customize the layout

Outlook.com comes with a set of options to customize the layout of your inbox. For example it’s possible to change colors and the location of the reading pane (right or bottom). Another nice feature is the Group by conversation option, which basically creates conversation threads instead of displaying individual messages.

Outlook.com Group By Conversation

 

 

4. Keyboard shortcuts

Outlook.com has a set of keyboard shotcuts as most mail services do. However if you are coming from Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, there are also mapped keyboard shortcuts for those services.

Outlook.com Keyboard Shortcuts

 

5. Security, connect your mobile

We recommend connecting your Microsoft Live Account with a mobile device, this means that if you have lost your password or if you account has been hacked you can still access the account from a code recieved by text message (two-step verification).

Top Alternatives To Google Reader

Google recently announced the discontinuation of Google Reader, a product with a vocal following now scrambling to find alternatives. Of course a lot of people have already voiced their opinions about Google keeping products like Google Sites and Correlate open while discontinuing Reader. Others are asking if RSS is already dead benefiting Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We have compiled a few alternative RSS readers for you when Google Reader close down July 1, 2013.

 

Feedly

Feedly were quick in trying to catch Google Reader users, with a feature where users can connect their Google Reader account with Feedly and get the same setup and feeds as in Google Reader. This works like a charm with just a click, and takes a few seconds.

Another interesting feature with Feedly is the updated user interface, Google Reader wasn’t the prettiest product on the market but Feedly really looks great and displays the subscribed feeds in a beautiful way, almost making RSS fun again.

It’s possible to customize the main page of Feedly, for example adding widgets displaying stock market movements, your Facebook or Twitter feed.

Feedly is available in the browser or on mobile devices (Android, iOS and Kindle).

Feedly RSS reader screenshot

 

Netvibes

Netvibes is not entirely a RSS-reader, but a dashboard application for following almost anything online. Getting started is quite easy, you don’t even need to create an account. Start by entering a topic that you want to follow, Netvibes will then compile a set of standard widgets. The widgets include sources such as Twitter, Facebook (open posts), Google blog search, Yahoo News etc. It’s then possible to add sources of your choice using RSS.

Netvibes has two different modes, widget and reader mode. The reader mode has the classic RSS-reader feel to it. Beside using Netvibes in the browser there are also apps available for Android and iOS. It’s possible to import your Google Reader data to Netvibes, but the process is a little bit more difficult than Feedly’s. (http://blog.netvibes.com/easily-migrate-from-google-reader-to-netvibes/

Overall we like Netvibes, but mainly from a monitoring perspective where it really is shining.

Netvibes RSS reader screenshot

 

 

NewsBlur

NewsBlur is another browser based RSS-reader alternative to Google Reader, also available for Android and iOS. The app is updated in real-time when new stories from an RSS-feed is added. An interesting feature is the blurblog, each user gets an individual public feed where it’s possible to share stories.

We think the interface has too many options and buttons for it to be compelling for a wider audience, but this is of course individual preferences, and we know some users like these kind of interfaces.

NewsBlur RSS reader screenshot

 

The Old Reader

The Old Reader is perhaps not as well known as the alternatives above. It’s a light-weight browser based RSS-reader, with no other real options but we really like the minimalistic interface. It used to have Google Reader import but according to their blog they had to turn it off temporarily to be able to handle the traffic. There are also no mobile apps for the Old Reader.

Creating timelines in the cloud – Preceden

Preceden (means “precede” in Spanish according to the developers) is an online web-based timeline and simple time-schedule tool.

The whole point with Preceden as opposed to other solutions for creating timelines is the flexibility. For example creating a timeline in any spreadsheet program, such as Excel, is usually torture, even-though there are built in templates, especially when more detailed timelines are required.

In Preceden different parts of a timeline can be grouped together in layers, the parts of the overall timeline have different colors and it’s also possible to name the layers and dragging the elements around. It’s also possible to add an event without an end-date, and select zoom-levels (seconds, hours, years etc). Overall the user-interface is very straight-forward and easy to use.

Since Preceden is cloud-based it means that it’s possible to share timelines with the rest of the user community. It’s also possible to share a timeline requiring a password, or share a more restricted version of a timeline where a predefined URL is shared to selected participants. Unfortunately Preceden currently lacks more advanced collaboration options. In Google Docs and other applications it’s for example possible to invite selected users to create and edit a document.

It’s also possible in Preceden to download a timeline as an image or a PDF-file (which is printable). In the trial free version of Preceden it’s only possible to create five timeline events, which makes it pretty much useless. The pro-version has a one-time fee of $39, which is pretty cheap (depending on what type of timeline you are creating). Preceden has no login-integration with social media such as Facebook, so you have to create a sole login for the service, which in our minds leave room for improvement.

 

Yahoo Axis – A search browser alternative to Google

Yahoo used to be the coolest tech company around, now they are losing the search engine wars badly against Google and Bing, can they get back into the game with their latest product, Yahoo Axis?

Yahoo Axis home screen.

Yahoo Axis is available for desktops (PC and MAC), the Ipad and the Iphone, a search made on the desktop computer can be continued on an Iphone. All bookmarks and read later lists are also synced between the different devices. Yahoo Axis is lacking apps for Android and Windows Phone, which hopefully will be brought to the table shortly.

On the desktop Yahoo Axis is downloaded as an extension to an already existing browser, such as Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer 9. When Axis was released there a security issue with the Chrome extension, this has since then been fixed by Yahoo. Some blogs reported that Internet Explorer 9 and other browsers were slowed down when surfing the web, it was noticeable in IE 9 but not any of the other browsers, even-though the extension itself sometimes took a while to load it didn’t affect the performance of the browser. The general behavior of the extension in Google Chrome was also a bit awkward, sometimes it opened, sometimes it didn’t.

The Ipad/Iphone apps is really where this product comes to real usage, the interface in Yahoo Axis is perfect for cell phones and tablets. For example Axis shows more relevant info about a website before loading it, making it much easier to use on the Iphone than Safari, which relies on Google who basically have the same layout as on the desktop.
The sync between devices works well, for example it is simple to research something on the desktop and then continue on a mobile device on the go. Yahoo Axis has support for Google and Facebook-accounts, so a Yahoo account is not needed just to use this product.
Yahoo Axis has a home-screen with a list of bookmarks and read-it later items. Adding bookmarks was no problem but adding sites to the read-later list was sometimes a struggle, for example we I added an article in Wired to read-it later, but it didn’t show up.

When searching long tail keywords Yahoo Axis is not that powerful as Google, it simply doesn’t find the in-depth stuff that Google do, and even if it does it’s still hard to tell from the results which hits are good and which aren’t. Searches in other languages than English returns mixed results, it’s not uncommon for Yahoo Axis to mix different languages in its results (for example Norwegian and Spanish). The search engine used as with all Yahoo products is Microsoft Bing.

Axis handles the standard searches such as text and images just fine, but it lacks news and video search making it difficult to use as a sole search engine, Yahoo says that they will add additional options over time.

Yahoo Axis is a good concept, and has the perfect timing, it is however too bad that the browser extensions for browsers need some polishing. As Google is getting more comfortable in their total ownage of the search market, and seem to be focusing on Android and driver-less cars, the field is open again for innovation products, such as Yahoo Axis.

Three Google search alternatives

Google’s way of handling their search engine has come under a lot of criticism lately, the criticism involves favoring of bigger brands and sites making it difficult for smaller sites to rank. Other criticism comes from the fact that Google is tracking searches and visits in order to target advertising etc.

Alternatives to the bigger search engine companies have been available since Altavista in the 90:s, often with various quality. Below you will find some of the hottest alternatives to Google search.

Blekko

Blekko was released 2010 to the public. It is edited by human editors (8 000 of them if you believe Blekko). The editors role is to edit 50 sites to correspond with 100 000 of the most frequent search terms on Blekko, a challenge indeed. Of course this means that search results will be more clear and hopefully more meaningful, but the backside of the model is that there will be about 50 sites corresponding for most of the traffic, and how the editing process works is not clear.

We tried searching for “Cars” both on Google and Blekko. In Blekko we got the following results:

1. Cars.com
2. Cars.gov
3. Disney Cars (official site)
4. Cars (2006) IMDB

In Google we got the following results (logged out of course):

1. Cars.com
2. Autotrader.co.uk
3. Carsales.com.au
4. Cars (2006), IMDB

Blekko assumed that I was looking for information about cars, and did take into account the movie “Cars”. Google got some weird results, one UK-site and one from Australia, this may have been Google’s way of localization, but Australia is on the other side of the planet from where Syntax30 is based.

Blekko also has video and image search, it works well most of the time. Most of the hits are from YouTube, when opening a video it opens in a lightbox screen. I like the video navigation systems much better in Google, Bing and Yahoo, where you can browse more videos as you are watching them.

The major feature in Blekko is slashtags, a slashtag is basically a tag grouping a number of sites on a certain topic. The grouping is edited by an editor, or a number of associated editors, the model is very similar to how Wikipedia works, but a little bit more controlled.

Some cool features in Blekko is the fact that you can subscribe to any of the slashtags using RSS, it’s also possible to view SEO-stats (such as inbound links, ranking etc) for each site listed. If there are some sites that a user doesn’t like to get hits on, it’s possible to mark them as SPAM, then they will disappear from that user’s search results.

One problem with Blekko, is that even-though the search engine is edited by humans, some of the results that Blekko gives are old. For example various sites that we searched for had updated their page titles, URLs and descriptions, but in Blekko they were still included as the old sites.

Overall Blekko is an interesting alternative to Google, but it is too advanced to really be something that the general public will take interest in, at least the editing process. The search results returned are less spammy than Google’s but in some cases also less relevant.

Slashtags edited by a crew of editors is an important part of Blekko.

 

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is an interesting project, which lately has received a lot of attention in the media as an alternative to Google. The main purpose of DuckDuckGo is not to track users searches and target advertising towards them, something Google has been doing for a while.

The interface is actually very similar to Google, with just a white main page with a search box, however since DuckDuckGo has no bias towards any special services online it’s possible to search both in the image searches of Google and Bing, as well as YouTube and Amazon (for shopping reasons). This is a good concept, but we have seen it before.

When searching on DuckDuck Go the results are not much different from Google, for example our search for cars returned:

1. Cars.com
2. Autotrader.com
3. autos.yahoo.com
4. Edmunds.com
5. Cars 2 Disney.com

In the heading of each search there is a box “Meanings of”, this box is basically a widget connecting to other similar searches on DuckDuckGo, the box also changes shape and loads information from Wikipedia or YouTube when available. DuckDuckGo have advertisment in their search results, for example we got an ad for Buick when searching for cars. It’s nothing wrong with that.

For the real geeky users there are various settings that can be applied for DuckDuckGo, for example it’s possible to change the colors, size of fonts, if the search engine should return more results when scrolling down etc. There are also various privacy settings which can be turned on or off, such as if the user search term should be tracked when leaving DuckDuckGo. It’s possible to save the settings for use on other devices.

DuckDuckGo is much simpler than Blekko, and should appeal to a less technical audience. However the ranking algorithm is a sketchy. For example it’s not open-sourced, and the only real information about how sites ranks in DuckDuckGo available is that it is based on inbound links, let’s hope it’s not the only way of determining if a site ranks well.

DuckDuckGo features a lot of different settings.

 

Addictomatic

Addictomatic is not your standard search engine as Blekko or DuckDuckGo, instead of displaying results from an index of sites, Addictomatic imports various hits from social networks, blogs and other online sources, creating a more comprehensive and social view of a specific topic.

The sources connected to Addictomatic are Twitter, Friendfeed, YouTube, Flickr, Bing News, Google Blog Search, Blinkx, Ask.com, Twingly, WordPress and many others. It is possible to exclude some sources and include others.

The search algorithm for finding information in these sources is not open-sourced, according to the founders search results are pulled in to the site using RSS-feeds from the various sources. Overall the results are pretty good, however for search-terms where there is disambiguation Addictomatic will not work at all, at least not if the search-term is not available in social networks.

Each search is presented in a dashboard, with a box representing each network, the user can move the different boxes around, remove some and add others. It is a very neat way of getting the grasp of a topic quickly, the dashboards can later be bookmarked, and also shared on for example Facebook. There is also a browser plug-in available, but not for later browser versions. Addictomatic does not seem to be anonymous, such as DuckDuckGo, and there are ads in there as well.

Overall Addictomatic is not a general purpose search engine, but it does a very good job of finding buzz regarding current events and topics.

 

Addictomatic features a customizable layout.

 

Benelab

Another interesting alternative search engine to Google is Benelab, it may be the world’s first charity search engine. When a user search Benelab advertising will be displayed, the revenue generated by the advertising is donated to charity. Each time you search your Benetrack will be updated with how many cups of rice, cups of water and seconds of labor your searches have generated.

Benelab is based on Yahoo Search, so it’s not a real alternative to the other competitors, but if you want to search for a good cause, you should give it a go.

What other Google search alternatives do you like? Please share in the comments below.

 

Aviary Phoenix – Online photo editing suite

Aviary’s free photo editor, Phoenix has been around for a while, it is gradually growing into a solid online alternative to photo editors like Paint.net, GIMP and Photoshop Express (Adobe’s online version of the popular image editing suite).

Aviary Phoenix intro screen

When first launching Phoenix in your web-browser you will notice that the interface and icons is basically a lighter version of GIMP or Photoshop, with less options and icons. To the left there are selection tools, there is also a lasso tool and a magic wand. Phoenix also contain the usual paint-bucket, brush and text tools.  There are also various smudge options and a clone stamp tool, which is quite useful.

Phoenix also features layers, which works the same way as in Photoshop and GIMP. It is also possible to create a layer in one of Aviary’s other image creating tools (Peacock and Raven) and import it as a layer in Phoenix. It is also possible to create masks from layers and there are also various filtering options.

Why the effect tool Peacock is seperate from Aviary is difficult to understand, it would be easier if the effects were readily available from the menus instead of having to open it and then import layers from it. If you compare Phoenix and Pixlr in this department, Pixlr is a much more integrated product.

Peacock is however a pretty powerful image effects tool, with loads of different filters and options.  It is very close to become too complex however. Also for some weird reason the user have to know that Peacock essentially means “image effect editor” in Aviaryan. Because it isn’t clearly stated in Aviary Phoenix.

Overall Phoenix works surprisingly well for being a browser based photo editor, for example it is faster than expected and loads images from a local drive or URL pretty fast. It’s also possible to import images from Flickr, Facebook and Google Picasa.

One issue with Phoenix is when you want to work with multiple images, in a desktop photo editor it’s possible to have several images open at one time. In Phoenix you have to have several browser sessions open, and the different sessions doesn’t work together.  For more advanced image editing tasks this is definitely a drawback.

Most image-editing is done to put the images online, for that Aviary works well. However if you are an old print buff Phoenix will not cut it, simply because there are no print features.

A  neat feature with the Aviary photo editing suite is that the Raven vector drawing editor is available, which means that you can create vector images in Raven and then move over to Phoenix to do the editing parts.

Saving files from Phoenix to the desktop is easy, and the integration is both fast and solid. It’s also possible to save Egg files, which is attached to Phoenix This means that you can save a file to your desktop with all layers and history attached. Phoenix can also export files as PNG, JPG, GIF, TIFF and PSD (Adobe Photoshop).

If you have an account (it’s free) you can save your files in the Aviary’s cloud storage, and also use the different social options available.

Overall Aviary Phoenix is a good online photo editing app for digital editing, it doesn’t work for print. The power of Aviary Phoenix is not the image-editor itself but rather that there is a pretty big community behind it providing tutorials etc. Compared to Pixlr or Picnik (bought by Google), Aviary has a vector editor attached to it, making it easier to create digital graphics.

Pokki – Web apps on your Desktop

Web apps and cloud based computing is here to stay, more and more applications are moving off the desktop and into the browser, and it will continue.

Pokki logo

A problem with this evolution is of course that applications will become more difficult to reach than just having a simple icon sitting there on your desktop. Also web apps seldom leverage the whole computing power available in a desktop computer. A US based company named SweetLabs believes that they have the solution to all these problems, Pokki.

Pokki is basically an app store for Windows 7, with various applications and games available. The number of apps and games available is basic but still should cover most user needs. It is possible to install a Twitter client named Tweeki, Facebook and Gmail. There is also a neat music application, Grooveshark. Various games are also included, most of them pretty advanced.

The Pokki apps looks and behaves good in Windows 7, they load fast and often look better than some desktop counterparts.  Developers can download an SDK, in which it is possible to develop part of the apps in CSS3 and HTML 5, which in itself is pretty amazing.

Pokki itself sits in the taskbar (it is possible to remove it) and is pretty unobtrusive, especially compared to similar solutions I have tried. A downside with Pokki is the lack of support for other Windows versions and operating systems, when this is written it only supports Windows 7.

The whole idea of an app store alternative for Windows 7 is good, but the question is how long it will live. Microsoft will without a doubt release an app store when Windows 8 is rolled out later during 2012, which may render Pokki useless.

Also Pokki serves no real purpose on other operating systems, Mac OS already have its own app store and Linux have had it for years. However they are not tied specifically to web apps and often have specifically developed apps for Gmail, Twitter etc.  The real selling point with Pokki is being light-weight and providing a platform which is easy for developers to grasp and use. It will be crucial for SweetLabs to engage developers in order for Pokki to survive after the Windows 8 app store is launched.

In the meantime Pokki is a nice addition to Windows 7, and does make it easier to quickly access different web-based apps.

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