Category: Discovery (page 1 of 2)

A Few Alternatives to Google Reader

Twitter lit up on March 13th when Google announced it was shutting down Google Reader on July 1st. Google Reader was launched in 2005 but apparently over the years usage has declined. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout.

After looking at a few alternatives over the last couple days I’ve decided that even if Google decides not to pull the plug, I may stick with an alternative. This is primarily since many of the alternatives provide more of a magazine-style presentation of the content when compared to Google Reader’s headline display.

feedly (

This has become a popular alternative. The feedly team has been working on a project called Normandy which is a feedly clone of the Google Reader API. When Google Reader shuts down, the goal is for feedly to  seamlessly transition to the Normandy on the back end. So Google Reader users that are using feedly will have any wasy transition.

Bloglines (

Ironically, when Google Reader started up Bloglines was an early causality. However, the service is back with new ownership and offers a similar Google-like summary of headlines as well as a usable mobile experience.

The Old Reader (

This basically is Google Reader. The interface is familiar and one can login with your Google account to import feeds.  The downside is that social integration is only through Facebook. Currently, there are also no apps.

Digg Reader (

Digg just launched it’s new RSS reader service. Its beta is currently in invitation only. It features like a built-in Instapaper button and full-on Digg thumbs-up, thumbs-down integration.


 -Eric Schnell

TechTips: Optimizing EndNote to Access Full Text

Many researchers take advantage of bibliographic management soft to search online bibliographic databases, organize their references, images and PDFs, and to create bibliographies and figure lists. Although the a central site license provides campus access to RefWorks, many researchers instead use EndNote.

Bibliographic management tools like EndNote can not only help researchers to manage references, they can also be used to search for full text. To increase the liklihood that EndNote will find full text resources requires the proper configuration and an understanding of certain limitations:

  1. Finding full text requires the OpenURL path of (see config at right)
  2. Finding full text requires authentication with URL (see config at right)”
  3. Searching and finding full text may work better on campus than off due to different resource authentication methods and licensing agreements.
  4. EndNote offers several pathways to some databases, such as Medline. However, OSU Libraries may not have access through each of these pathways.
  5. Thomson-Reuters offers excellent FAQs, tutorials and webinars at
  6. Additional bibliographic styles can be downloaded at
  7. EndNote is available at a discount price of $79 at the campus WiredOut store.

Eric Schnell and Jessica Page

TechTips: The “Quora” Question and Answer Service

Quora One of the hot emerging social media sites is a service called Quora. Started by former Facebook employeesQuora is a “continually improving collection” of questions and answers that are user created, edited, and organized. Quora aggregates all the questions and associated answers while allowing users to collaborate on any of them.

Yes, question and answer services have already been done to death, such as Google Answers and  Yahoo! Answers. However,  Quora has a much more authoritative tone and has a better understand of the whole social element than the predecessors. Users can follow/be followed buy other users (no spambots!) and one can also follow subjects and individual questions of interest. Since the service does  leverage existing social media spaces such as Facebook and Twitter, new users will quickly see familiar faces, which helps to validate the service. As with other social media outlets, contributors can use the service to establish a reputation within specific areas of expertise.

Once logged in (one must have an account to use the service), users type in keywords to find questions on subjects.  The search bar provides auto-suggestions that helps to identify questions and topics that have already been asked relating to the keywords. The user interface does take a few tries to figure out in part since the label “Ask Question” makes one assume queries must be in the form of a question.

Since the developers would like new question entered into the system to be properly constructed, the system requires new users to successfully identify properly formatted questions before they can pose their first question.  All new Quora users should read this post first before jumping in and answering questions. One of the more interesting features is that any member can edit another member’s question.

Users can not only answer any question as well as comment on the topics attached to the questions and answer other member’s answers. The site suggests that users summarize links and references in a sentence or two. A Digg-like rating system allows the more popular answers to move to the top of the list.

Pundits will likely view Quora as they did Wikipedia in its early days since  Quora also relies on the users for quality control. The primary difference being that the answers in Quora are directly attributable to specific individuals.

As was the case with Wikipedia, Quora has the potential to turn into a useful starting point for any line of query and result in a new type of search engine. Or, it could turn into ” a continuously spamming collection of unanswered questions created, answered, and organized by no-one that uses it”.

Eric Schnell

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, one could use the 27 character shortened URL of

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

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: or 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 is owned and operated by so the shortening service is as reliable as the Flickr service. Therefore, when someone navigates using a link with the domain 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 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: 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


Songbird Music Player Songbird

A nice demo video is available.

Eric Schnell

TechTips: Does 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 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
  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: 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,,,, and 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.


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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