Category: Social Media

TechTips: Near Field Communication

Anyone that has gone into a retail store recently has likely seen a Mastercard “PayPass” pad at the checkout station. Using a credit card with a special built in chip, the customer makes contact with the pad with the card rather than swiping it. NFCThe technology behind the tap-to-pay devices is call near field communication.

Near field communication (NFC) is a technology allows enabled devices to communicate with other devices by establishing radio communication, by either touching them or bringing them into close proximity of one another. This is done through the use of NFC chips, or tags, which can be custom-encoded or may use the specifications provided by the NFC Forum, an industry association charged with promoting the technology and setting key standards. The tags can securely store personal data such as debit and credit card information, loyalty program data, PINs and networking contacts, among other information. NFC typically tags contain data and are typically read-only but may be rewriteable.

Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are similar to NFC since all three allow wireless communication and data exchange between digital devices. However,  the significant difference with NFC is that it utilizes electromagnetic radio fields while Bluetooth and Wi-Fi utilize radio waves. NFC builds upon Radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems by allowing two-way communication and works in the same 13.56 MHz radio frequency spectrum. Unlike RFID, both the NFC device and the tag can initiate the communication.

One application of NFC technology already on the market is the Google Wallet, a mobile payment system that allows its users to store debit cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, and gift cards among other things, as well as redeeming sales promotions on their mobile phone. BMW is working to allow car owners to use their key NFC  key FOBs to store downloaded event tickets or check out of a hotel. Hospitals can use NFC to monitor patients at their homes. Students cab use their NFC enabled phones to get into their dorm rooms. A fun application of the technology is the Karotz Bunny.

There are many interesting possibilities for this technology:

– Touch a mobile device over display at a local museum or at an exhibit to access more information and multimedia content
– Touch a device at a display or a poster to create an interactive experience
– Could replace the pairing step of establishing Bluetooth connections or the configuration of Wi-Fi networks

As with other such technologies there are concerns aabout privacy and security. Adopters will want to know that all of their vital information is encrypted and that that viruses can’t be passed by NFC.

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: 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: 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