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TechTips: RockMelt: The Social Web Browser

rockmelt logoIf you are a heavy Facebook and Twitter user, you might want to hunt for an invite and try the RockMelt web browser. RockMelt works like any other browser with one big difference: it integrates Facebook and Twitter.

In short, one can use the browser to browse web sites AND keep up-to-date with your friends without opening Facebook or Twitter.

When RockMelt is opened it immediately connects to Facebook. Along the sides of the main browser window are two sidebar ribbons with icons; one on the left showing friends, one on the right displaying  favorite social sites.  In addition to social networking sites, the browser can directly access RSS feeds. When RockMelt  is minimized, update notifications persist on the lower right hand side of  the monitor.

The browser also has built-in support for Facebook chat so one can initiate a chat session from within the browser.  Another handy feature is  that all  settings, notes, preferences, and bookmarks aer saved online so that can be synced between devices. This means one can log into the RockMelt browser on any computer and everything saved on another computer is available. One can also share web site links directly to Facebook or Twitter by a simple drag and drop.

The browser has the same look and feel as Google Chrome since it is built on the same platform (Apple’s WebKit). This also means that all Google Chrome extensions are available to RockMelt  users. The browser is available for Mac and Windows.

The RockMelt effort is backed by Netscape developer Marc Andreessen. The browser went “live” on November 8, 2010.

-Eric Schnell   

TechTips: Read It Later With Instapaper

How many times a day do you come across articles or interesting items online that you don’t have time to read at that moment?

The most common method of saving such content is to create browser bookmarks. However, over time browser bookmark lists can become very long and unorganized.  Another common approach to saving content is to drag shortcuts to the desktop. Again, over time the desktop can become loaded with shortcuts.  Another challenge is that if you happen make use of several web browsers, or computers, the content saved one one is not available on another. In the end, what was once interesting content eventually gets lost in the clutter.

instapaper logo

One solution to addressing this problem is Instapaper, a “simple tool to save web pages for reading later.” This service allows one to save content accessed on one browser or device for later reading on a different browser or device.

After creating an Instapaper account, the user installs a browser ‘bookmarklet.’  When content is being view, one clicks on the Read Later  bookmarklet button. A “Saved!” message will briefly appear in the corner of the page as a link to the content is save on the users’ account.

All saved content is saved and accessed from the Instapaper site or app. An RSS feed is also available for all the items that have been saved allowing the content to be accessed from any RSS reader.

Some additional features:

  • If you use folders, each folder has a bookmarklet to save pages directly into it under the Folder Tools section in the sidebar.
  • Provides Kindle-compatible files containing the text versions of your saved pages that can be transferred via USB.
  • The bookmarklet also works on Apple mobile devices: just add it to your bookmarks in Safari, and it will be synchronized to the bookmarks folder. Many Apple applications make use of their API to provide support for sending pages directly to Instapaper.
  • Other Instapaper users can subscribe to a folder of your Starred items if they know your username.

As with many cloud-based services, Instapaper has no outside funding or corporate backing. So, although the service is free, it is ad-supported.

-Eric Schnell   

TechTips: URL Shortening

URL shortening is the process of taking a long URL and turning it into, well, a shorter one.

For example, instead of using the 168 character URL http://library.ohio-state.edu/search~S7/?searchtype=a&searcharg=+gee+e+gordon&searchscope=7&SORT=DZ&extended=0&SUBMIT=Search&searchlimits=&searchorigarg=ae+gordon+gee, one could use the 27 character shortened URL of http://tinyurl.com/geebooks.

The mechanism for resolving a shortened URL is relatively simple. The long URL must first be registered with a URL shortening service. The service either generates a random shortened URL or the user could enter a custom ‘alias.’ The service maintains a database that contains the long URL and the shortened URL. When a web browser is directed to go to the shortened URL, the service performs a redirect of the shortened address and the browser is sent to registered long URL. There are many, many services that create shortened URLs, most notably TinyURL.com.

Shortened URLs are essential in communication channels where there is a limit to  the number of characters that can be used, such as with Twitter. Shortened URLs can be useful when reading longer URLs aloud to customers over the phone, including URLs in printed materials, or when adding URLs to video displays or embedding them within presentations. Shortened URLs are also much easier to enter into mobile devices.

One concern with URL shortening is that the domain of a URL plays an important role in identifying the authority of a resource. Which URL would you trust:  http://tinyurl.com/geebooks or http://osu.edu/geebooks? Simply put, brand/name recognition – the authority of an organization – disappears since the domain is hidden behind the shortened URL. Web users must select the shortened URL and actually visit the redirected site before discovering the site’s authority.

One solution to this authority issue is the growing use of branded URL shortening services. An example is Flickr. Each photo page also get a shortened Flickr URL. The domain flic.kr is owned and operated by flickr.com so the shortening service is as reliable as the Flickr service. Therefore, when someone navigates using a link with the domain flic.kr they know they will get a Flickr photo page, not a redirect to a site containing malware.

Another problem with using cloud-based services is when the services die, as tr.im almost did in August ’09,  all the shortened links would break. The person relying upon the service would have to  re-enter each URL into yet another shortening service, which could also die.  This would be a big problem if the shortened links generated by the service were to be included in printed publications.

Work is underway on an OSU branded URL shortening service that not only helps to promote and support the institutional brand by creating authoritive shortened URLs,  but also increases the chances that carefully crafted custom links will live a longer life.

Photo by schill under Creative Commons license

-Eric Schnell  

TechTips: Extending Cellphone Battery Life

I recently purchased a new Android-based mobile phone. I spent the first day checking out all the features and options, downloading a bunch of applications, and experimenting with the GPS and location-based services. It didn’t take very long to notice the battery drained relatively quickly.

The problem with the current generation of phones is that all the neat features also eat away at the battery. They have large bright screens.  They have connections for 3G, Wi-Fi, and GPS. They connect to the Internet. They have applications that run in the background to provide alerts.

Simply put, cellphones spend a lot of time connected to their chargers these days.

Here are a few things one can do to extend cellphone battery life:

Check the settings of your background applications and notifications: Having email, Twitter messages, Facebook updates, and calendar appointments delivered minute-by-minute is perhaps the largest battery drain. Resetting the email polling interval from every 5 minutes to an hour will do wonders for battery life. If you keep multiple applications “open” for quicker access or alerts, run them only as needed. There is no need to get storm alerts if it is going to be 80 and sunny.

Turn off roaming/3G/4G when not needed:  If you have good coverage and are mostly usind the phone for talking, or get only occasional email updates, there isn’t a need to keep such a wide wireless connection open.

Use location-based services onlt when needed: Having the phone constantly look for new Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi hotspots, GPS positions definitely eats up battery. Find out how to turn these things off on your phone, or automate their use. Add shortcuts and widgets to the homescreen to make it easier to control the radios.

Play with screen time-outs, brightness, and backlight: Adjust the setting for how long the screen stays lit after a quick check of the clock. Turn on automatic brightness so the screen auto-adjusts in light and dark environments rather than having brightness turned all the way up. Alternatively, lower the default screen brightness.

Keep it cool: Avoid keeping the battery at full charge and high temperature. This is the case when placing a cell phone or spare battery in a hot car. Keep it out of your pocket and away from your body heat whenever possible.

Turn off live wallpapers and vibrate; lower ringer volume: They do use processing power and eat into the battery life.

Please leave a comment if you have any other tips for extending smartphone battery life.

Tips:

 iPhone | BlackBerry | Windows Mobile | Palm

References:

LifeHacker | Gizmodo | wikiHow |

Photo by fbar under Creative Commons license 

-Eric Schnell  

TechTips: What is Website Clickjacking?

Clickjacking describes a Web page / browser attack where user initiated mouse clicks trigger an unintended action, such as disclosing passwords and other confidential information. This action is done primarily by hiding clickable Web page elements inside an invisible frame. Clickjacking can affect all the major Web browsers — Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and even Opera by exploiting vulnerabilities in embedded code or a script on a Web site.

For example, the attacker may create a set of “dummy” buttons that are loaded transparently on top of another page. The visitor thinks that they are clicking on the visible buttons when, in reality, they clicking on the buttons located on the hidden page. Another technique is known as text injection, where attacker controlled text is entered into a field on a Web form.

One of the more recent clickjacking attacks was made on Facebook in 2009.

In a recent white paper, Paul Stone, researcher for UK-based Context Information Security LTD, discusses new attacks that dupe users into activating malicious links on websites without their even knowing it. website developers should read the paper. There is also a browser-based clickjacking tool available to show website owners how easy their site could be clickjacked.

While much of the management against the risk against clickjacking involves best practices by site developers, there are a few things the Web user can do.

Firefox users can download the “no script” plug-in. It allows JavaScript, Java and other executable content to run only from trusted domains of your choice, guarding your browser from some clickjacking attempts.

Internet Explorer 8 users can also mitigate the impact of attacks by logging out of sensitive websites when not in use or by using independent InPrivate Browsing sessions, which lets the user control whether or not IE saves browsing history, cookies, and other data.

Google Chrome now supports a security feature that helps sites defend against clickjacking attacks

While not immune to clickjacking attacks, Opera appears to have a decent built-in prevention.

-Eric Schnell  

TechTips: Sharing Content Using Shareaholic

Shareaholic is a Web browser plug-in which makes it easier to share, e-mail, tweet, and bookmark news, videos and blog postings on any of your social network sites.

  • Share links, videos, news articles, images without cutting and pasting
  • Toolbars, buttons and bookmarklets are no longer needed for every social media site you use
  • Works with 100+ sites
  • No need to sign up for yet another service or account
  • Available for Windows, Mac and Linux
  • Supported browsers include:

Mozilla Firefox Firefox

Google Chrome Chrome

Internet Explorer 8 IE 8

Flock Flock

Opera Opera

SafariSafari

Songbird Music Player Songbird

A nice demo video is available.

-Eric Schnell

TechTips: Does Spokeo.com Violate My Privacy?

There has been a lot of discussion over the the past few weeks about a personal data aggregation service named Spokeo.  Just yesterday, I received an email about the site with a subject line containing the word “scary.”

The bottom line with Spokeo is that all the information pulled together with this service is already discoverable on the Internet. Some of the information is factual, the same as what one could find in a phone book. Other information is available through public records sites, such as property records.  Additional information is pulled from social networking sites.

Such services are not new. In fact, most of the data on Spokeo has been available on whitepages.com for years. Every time a new site pops up privacy concerns are raised, like a few years ago with ZabaSearch.

Spokeo’s began back in 2006 as one of the early aggregators of data that was mined from the various social networks. The early vision for the service was as a customizable browser home page that could keep track of friends activities from all those sites. The recent increase in discussion about the service began about a month ago when the latest version was released.  All the chatter is certainly driving a lot of traffic to their site, making “spokeo” among the top Google search terms over the past last few weeks.

While all the information on Spokeo is generally discoverable otherwise, and may be actually inaccurate or old, there is a way to have your information removed:

  1. Go to Spokeo.com
  2. Search for your name. One can narrow the search for common names by adding a city and state.
  3. Select your name to see the information listed
  4. Copy the Web site address for your information page
  5. Go to their Privacy Page
  6. Paste the Web address in the URL field
  7. Enter an email address to receive a confirmation message
  8. Enter CAPTCHA code shown on the screen
  9. Click “Remove Listing”
  10. Open the email message sent by Spokeo and click the embedded link
  11. Search Spokeo to confirm your record has been removed
  12. Remember, all this does is remove your Spokeo profile. All your information is still on the internet – just not pulled together on this site.

Scary? Well, what may be scary is how much of your personal information has been made available though your activities on social networking sites.

-Eric Schnell  

TechTips: Can My Smartphone Get a Virus?

A couple of weeks ago I bought my first Android phone. As I was researching cool applications to install, I stumbled upon this blog posting from the security company Panda about smartphones sold by Vodafone in Spain being infected with the Mariposa botnet.While the Vodaphone outbreak was limited is scale it did make me think.

If the primary methods used to spread viruses on a desktop computers include email clients and web browsers, and if these applications are also installed on my smartphone, is it vulnerable to a virus?

In short, yes.

As phones evolve to include even greater functionality the more vulnerable they are becoming to the same threats that plague our desktops and laptops. At a security conference in early March 2010, researchers demonstrated how they could send the malicious version of an application to smartphones via an auto-update feature.

According to McAfee, the most vulnerable smartphone features include:

  • Text messages
  • Contacts
  • Video
  • Phone transcriptions
  • Call history
  • Documentation
  • Buffer overflows

The outbreak might not be contained to the smartphone either.

Most of the current generation of smartphones have mini usb connectors. The connector not only allow the devices to be charged, but also allows them to be plugged into a desktop computer for data syncing. This could allow a virus to be transferred to your desktop or laptop from your smartphone.  (I also plug my smartphone into my car’s usb connector to charge. Could a virus be uploaded into it?)

So, what should smartphone owners do? While many companies have developed anti-virus software for smartphones, I suggest simply using the same safe computing practices one uses with their desktop:

  • Be wary of email attachments, even if they come from friends
  • Obtain applications from trusted sources
  • Keep your sensitive data safe
  • Protect your passwords
  • Be careful using open wifi networks

-Eric Schnell  

TechTips: OSU Branded Doodle

Anyone that has had to schedule a meeting with participants across campus departments, or at other institutions, knows how challenging it can be. One emails out a list of possible times and sorts the replies looking for a common time. The process is repeated if no time can be agreed upon.

Well, this has been simplified for members of the Ohio State Community by a new scheduling tool called OSUDoodle.

Account users use this tool to establish a “poll” of preferred meeting times, which are presented in a tabular display of possible time slots. The meeting coordinator then invites participants and enable them to vote transparently and democratically for the best available date and time to meet.

Alternatively, Doodle can also be used to help a large group make a choice among activities or social events.

OSUDoodle is free to the university community. Only users with e-mail addresses ending in osu.edu, wosu.org, osumc.edu, wexarts.org, and ohiostatealumni.org may initiate new OSUDoodle polls within this OSU branded service.

For more information on this service, contact: Ted Hattemer.

-Eric Schnell  

TechTips: foursquare

Foursquare is an location-based social networking service (some call it a game) that is a combination a Facebook status, a Twitter update, and a Yelp restaurant review.  Users “checkin” at different locations,  unlock badges, post “to-dos” and “tips” for different locations. The goal of the service is to help users find new ways to explore a city by “discovering new places, doing new things and meeting new people.”

Users checkin to foursquare from their mobile devices using a text message or from an iPhone or Droid application. There is also a web form and the FoursquareX desktop application for (mac) laptop users.

Users can also can see other foursquare users that have checked into the same physical location, or that are in close vicinity.  The application is able to identify a user’s current location using a variety of methods including GPS and WiFi mappings.

For example, one can see those that have checked into Ohio State’s Thompson Library,  the Science and Engineering Library, or even Adriatico’s Pizza.

Upon checkin, one may leave a short tip about the location or about services offered at that location. For example:

foursqaure tip

Checkins can be pushed to Facebook or Twitter accounts, or, only be communicated to other foursquare users. Alternatively, one can also checkin but elect not to share the location. Such checkins appear as [off the grid]. One can also get a direct message from Twitter when a friend checks in.

The possible uses for foursquare in libraries could include:

-  Incentives for those checking into the library. The Mayor could be given reserved seating or priority access to group study rooms.

– Library events could include check-with prizes for the first person who checks in or includes a ‘shout.’ 

– Someone checking in, and identifying themselves to staff, could be given $X amount of free printouts/copies.

There are other similar services that help friends find each other like BrightKite and Google Latitude. However, there is currently more excitement around foursquare since it incorporates elements of gaming and social competition.

Here are a couple of tips for new foursquare users:

- Don’t push all your checkins to Facebook or Twitter. This can quickly annoy your friends, or make them feel like they are stalking you

- Do selective posting to Facebook or Twitter and make sure to include a ‘shout.’

- Turn off the option to push an update Facebook or Twitter when you are elevated to mayor or earn a badge.

References:

Foursquare, Libraries, and Librarians
Foursquare in Libraries: Social Media Incentives for Engaged Patrons
Location based services and Libraries – Tweets & Foursquare
Fourquare and Libraries – Anything There?

-Eric Schnell 

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