Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Shelfari - Social Networking for Book Lovers!

I love books, bordering on an addiction. I don't watch movies, and I don't even own a TV, but I read more than I should. Reading entertains me, educates me, and provides an excellent form of procrastination. And it passes the time on public transportation.

So, imagine my glee when a student "requested friendship" to a site called Shelfari. Now, as a middle school teacher, I have been invited to join MySpace, Facebook, IMVU, and even Club Penguin by my students. I have shied away from such social networking sites in the past, however, I have never been able to resist a good book.

I checked out the site and it was love at first sight. The site allows you to track which books you have read, are reading, and are planning to read. You can give ratings, write reviews and document when you completed each book. Like most social networking sites, you can post questions to discussion boards and read others' reviews. You can also recommend books to friends. Plus the user interface is really clear and easy.

At first, I thought I wouldn't want to take the time to upkeep my account, but there is something strangely satisfying about seeing all those texts sitting on my "shelf," chronicling my recent literary adventures. It is also great to add book recommendations to my "planning to read shelf" since I have often written recommendations on scrap paper, only to lose them by the time I checked out my next book.

Shelfari was launched in October 2006. This Seattle startup was founded by former RealNetworks employees Josh Hug and Kevin Beukelman. "Just as Flickr was social media around photos or YouTube around videos or Digg around news, we are building the first social media site focused on people that read books," said Hug.

Shelfari, like any self-respecting website, has its own blog. From their blog, I learned that Shelfari was acquired by Amazon in late August, 2008.

Although, all does not seem to be rosy. According to a blog post of one of Shelfari's competitors, LibraryThing, Shelfari has some nefarious practices that can result in spam being sent to your address book. According to this post:

The method is simple. When you sign up for Shelfari you are dumped into a screen that offers to send out check-out-my-books invitations to friends. The user interface is confusing and deceptive, and what seems like an attempt to continue into the site really sends out hundreds or thousands of letters to everyone you've ever known by email. Reminder-letters follow. Skipping this step requires clicking out-of-the-way, gray non-underlined text.

I don't think I've had a problem with it. Perhaps I was diligent in checking the "out-of-the-way, gray, non-underlined text." Or, maybe because I don't let ANY website troll my address books for "friends" (already on Shelfari). Apparently, if you choose to do that, the site is unclear. One blog commenter says, "The thing is, I didn't even see the 600 checked names (many of whom I promised not to spam) because they were checked down below my screen, and the "Send Invitations" button right underneath your "Friends Already on Shelfari" makes it look like you're only sending invitations to those guys. Slick, slick, slick." So keep your eyes open. And just type in your friend's addresses if you want to invite anyone.

I still think it is a great site. If anyone has used its competitors, GoodReads or LibraryThing, I would love to know your thoughts.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dreaming of ScreenFlow

So, a few months back, I researched screencast software and video converters. Now I need to find a way to accent my mouseclicks (Mouseposé 3?) As I embark on this new screencasting adventure, I think I have found the ultimate program - ScreenFlow, released by Vara Software in February 2008, with the most recent update to version 1.1 just weeks ago. Here are just some comments from the blogosphere that lead me to check it out:

  • "a recently released product called ScreenFlow just flat out rocks. For how simple it is to make great screen casts, it’s pretty mind blowing really." - I, Blog
  • "screencasts made on Macs just got exponentially better"- tauw.com
  • "I’m calling it The iTunes of Screencasting" - Fraser Speirs
  • "Users who need to create video tutorials will find a program like ScreenFlow indispensable" - macnn
  • "comes as a huge sigh of relief and wave of elation for Mac screencasters everywhere" - WebTVWire
I was smitten when I saw the introductory video, then became completely enraptured when I watched the screencast tutorials. (Screencasts of screencasts?)

You can record multiple tracks, mouse callouts, and video effects using a linear editor that looks as simple as iMovie! The only drawbacks? Some may be put off by the $99 price tag and it's (gulp) only available for Mac OS X Leopard. (The OS upgrade is only $116 at the Apple Education Store....)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Converting .mov to .swf for Mac

In a previous post, I discussed my purchase of two screencast programs. One of them was kind of cumbersome, and the other one was easy to use, but did not output to .swf. I almost spent another $65 for a new program that was easy to use and outputted to .swf (Screen Mimic). Moments before I clicked "buy," a friend suggested I look for a program to convert my Quicktime files to Flash.

It was like a door was opened for me, leading to vast golden fields reflecting the late summer sun... OK, maybe I am being a bit melodramatic, but I was really excited. This means that I could record a silent screencast in iShowU, then import the Quicktime into iMovie 06 to edit the video and add voiceovers at my leisure. I had been frustrated that one stutter or misspoken word in a screencast often necessitated starting over.

So I found a blog post about converting Quicktime files into Flash which also had a tutorial for Mac users interested in using the (free) program FFMPEGX. However, this program only converts to FLA and there is a whole other process to be able to play it on the internet.

I need something simpler.

Video to Flash Converter 5.7 seems to be a popular choice, but it also seems to only work with Windows, despite what some sites claim. In fact, there seems to be no shortage of shareware for Windows use. I was getting discouraged.

Finally, I found Video2Swf which, ironically, is produced by the same company that makes Screenography. For $45 (on "sale") it seems to be a good choice. It even allows you to chose from a number of players to embed your video. (The Luddite in me enjoyed choosing the pretty designs.) The demo was clear and easy to use. (The demo puts a watermark across the middle of your output file.) Here's my first demo sample (a video inspired by a 2006 school trip to Europe):

Thursday, January 03, 2008

iTunes is More Than Just Music

I have to admit, I haven't been keeping up with all the developments of iTunes. For years, I have used it as a great way to purchase music. But a recent article reopened my eyes to the wonderful host of resources within the iTunes store.
He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.
This inspired me look past the search bar in iTunes and to create a list of the coolest things I found that are not music (in no particular order). You will notice, however, that the list is heavily biased towards science. :)

1. Scientific American 60 Second Science Video Podcast - complex ideas broken down into a managable 1 minute segment
2. How Stuff Works - one of my favorite websites - now a podcast!
3. VH1 Best Week Ever - when I gave up my TV, I only missed VH1 and the Discovery Channel. Now I can catch one of my favorite "guilty pleasure" shows. (Totally non-academic)
4. Teacher 2.0 (a group of educators who want to share ideas about using technology to help prepare students for the 21st century. "We're tired of preparing them for the Industrial Age.")
5. National Geographic - Wild Chronicles - cool short video segments on topics like the zoo dentist.
6. iTunes U (I just downloaded a couple lectures from Stanford on Global Warming)
7. KQED Public Broadcasting (QUEST in Northern California) - video segments on topics such as earthquakes, the physics of baseball, forensic science and nanotechnology. You can also download the corresponding educator guides!

For every topic I type in, there are free podcasts and videos. There are tutorials for things like Final Cut Pro and screencasts. And I haven't even started with the music videos yet. (Another unfortunate loss when I gave up my TV.) If you haven't checked iTunes out lately, look a little deeper than your music library.