Feb 102009

A very talented software developer I used to work with way back when — Walter Higgins (@walter on twitter) over at Cork based Sxoop Technologies — has developed a cool little application that builds a clickable photo-montage of all your twitter followers’ avatars.

People are already putting the resulting Twitter Mosaics on their blog posts, desktop wallpaper, mugs, T-shirts, bags, business cards… you name it. The application has evolved somewhat since I first looked at it — and now lets you selctively delete avatars from the resulting mosaic and even order printed products. It also presents you with the HTML code to embed the mosaic on your own website or blog post.

So if you’re on Twitter, why not check out your own Twitter Mosaic.

Great work by Walter and the crew at Sxoop, and proof, yet again, that when it comes to Twitter application ingenuity Ireland in general, and perhaps Cork in particular, is leading the charge.

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Apr 062007

Openoffice.org is a fully functional office productivity suite that at least matches the leading commercial software, and in some cases exceeds it. It is a shining example of how far Open Source software has come in recent years — and provides an extremely viable alternative to the pricey Microsoft Office Suite.

The best bit is that it’s completely free — just download the latest release from the openoffice.org website, install it and away you go. It’s available for Windows, Linux, Solaris, Mac OSX and FreeBSD.

 Use OpenOffice.org

I switched from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org about two years ago now, and use it on all of my writing projects. It saves seamlessly to Microsoft Office format, and none of my writing clients or editors even noticed that I’d made the change.

OpenOffice.org writer in action

Give OpenOffice.org a try — install it on as many computers as you like, as often as you like and forget about licensing worries.

If you’re used to working with MS Office you’ll find the transition to OpenOffice.org easy and intuitive. A few features work a little differently and some of the menu options are in different places — but overall the interface is a joy to use. And because it’s an open source project there’s a whole community of people who are ready, willing and able to help. There is plenty of support available free of charge on the OpenOffice.org support site, including online tutorials, user forums and several mailing lists. If you decide you want to pay for a professional training an support package there are plenty on offer.

Still not convinced? Take a look at these compelling reasons to use OpenOffice.org

You really can’t loose — trying OpenOffice.org will cost you nothing, and if you decide it’s not for you you can always switch back to your commercial alternative.

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Mar 232007

Blogging as a business marketing tool is on the increase, and it’s easy to see why. It offers organisations an effective way to reveal a more personal side of their business to their customers, prospects, suppliers and staff.

The best Blogs are conversational in style, and encourage interaction through comment and discussion. Your blog will help your business to build a rapport with your target audience, and give you the opportunity to gain valuable insight into what makes them tick. They’re also a fantastic way to drive more traffic to your main website, highlight your expertise in a particular area, build brand awareness and position yourself as a market leader.

So where do you start?

Initially you could try setting up a hosted blog a service like Blogger WordPress or Typepad (Blogger and WordPress are free, while Typepad offers a 30 day free trial). You can have your blog up-and-running in minutes.

If you want more control over your blog, you may want to consider hosting it on your own webserver, and there is plenty of blogging software — both free open source options and commercial offerings — that let you do just that.

To test-drive some of the open source (as in free) options check out OpenSourceCMS.com which lets you play with a huge variety of open source software to find out what works for you. You’ll find blogging software under “Blogs” in the CMS Demo menu on the left nav. I have this blog running on my web hosting account alongside my other websites CJ Writing, Image Invitations and Reenascreena.com. It uses the free, open source WordPress blogging platform, which was an absolute doddle to install and use.

Whatever platform you choose to use for your business blog, here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Update your blog regularly — unless you provide fresh, topical content both your readers and search engines will rapidly grow tired of your blog. Make blogging part of your daily or weekly routine.
  • Give your blog a focus — decide what your blog will be about, make it relevant to your business and to your readers, and make sure its a subject that you’re interested in, or even better, passionate about. That passion will shine through in your posts and you’ll attract more readers and more inward link that will help promote your blog’s search engine ranking.
  • Don’t make it too formal — unlike a lot of business writing, your blog should be personal, and written in a conversational style that connects with your readers. Steer clear of business or technical jargon, and try and write the way you’d speak to a friend. Blogging is about building up a rapport with your audience, and you won’t do that with formal, stuffy or overly verbose language.
  • Keep it varied — although your blog needs to have a particular focus, try and vary the topics you cover within that broader subject area. People don’t generally want to read about the same thing over and over again.
  • Have fun — if you enjoy writing your blog, chances are that people will enjoy reading it.

Blogs are becoming a serious and very effective business tool. If you have a business, and want to maximise the effectiveness of your online presence, you should seriously consider setting up your own blog.

If you need help with setting up a blog for your business, or with writing regular, entertaining, targeted blog posts to keep your readers coming back for more then get in touch.

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Mar 202007

For the last year or so I’ve been using portable versions of popular open source software applications installed on a USB Flash drive. It’s brilliant! I just plug the flash drive into any Windows PC, anywhere and I have instant access to my e-mail client (Mozilla Thunderbird), web browser (Mozilla Firefox), office suite (OpenOffice.org), FTP Client (FileZilla) and much, much more. It’s like being in my own office… only not.

Now these portable applications have been bundled into a Portable Apps Suite that’s simple to install on any removable drive, and provides a handy launcher in the Windows taskbar that gives you easy access to all of your portable applications.

It’s the perfect solution for a writer on the go.

I can carry all of my current work, and the applications I need to work on it, around with me on my USB flash drive. I’m always ready to meet that deadline, no matter where I find myself!

What’s more I have all my browser bookmarks, saved passwords, e-mail and account settings ready to go. No more remembering addresses, login details or struggling with awkward webmail interfaces.

And because they’re all open source applications I have no software licensing headaches.

Give Portable Apps a try, and pretty soon I bet you’ll be wondering how you managed without them!

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Mar 202007

Maintaining this blog just got a lot easier thanks to a neat little Firefox add-on called ScribeFire by Performancing software.

It’s a free, full-featured blog editor that integrates seamlessly with Mozilla’s outstanding browser Firefox.

Screenshot of ScribeFire in action while writing this post….

Basically it adds a little icon to the bottom corner that pops up a WISYWIG blog editor in the bottom half of the Firefox browser window. It lets you write and edit your blog posts whenever and wherever you want, while you continue to surf the web in the top half of the browser. You can even fire it up offline and write posts for submission to your blog later on.

It can handle multiple blogs, works with all popular blogging platforms and is a piece of cake to use.

Best of all, like Firefox it’s completely free.

Give it a try… it makes it so much easier to keep your blogs up-to-date.

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Dec 162006

It took me all of fifteen minutes to set up this blog.

Fifteen minutes — from nothing to fully functional blog. Not bad hey?

I just installed WordPress through my hosting provider’s Control Panel, configured it and hey presto… a new website is born.

I run three other sites — www.imageinvitations.com, www.cjwriting.com and www.reenascreena.com — all of which run on the open source (as in completely free) content management system Joomla, which is a doddle to set up, easy to administer and has some pretty impressive features. There are plenty of others out there too — you can “suck them and see” at OpenSourceCMS.com.

About five years ago I was working as a Project Manager for a web software development company in Cork. They’d developed their own content management system and were building client sites using it. Bespoke dynamic sites could cost well over €100K to implement — now you get more features and almost unlimited expandability out of the box… and all for nothing.

It’s staggering!

If you want to set up your own website, but have a limited budget, check out open source options before getting a web developer — you could save yourself heaps of cash, and end up with a more functional site that you’re in control of. You can even get free templates for most of these systems online, which makes customising the look and feel of your new site a doddle, you can buy “premium templates” for a few Euro that usually come with full customisation instructions or if you want a truly bespoke design, you can hire a freelance designer who has experience of your chosen system to give your site that unique look.

Whatever you choose, chances are that choosing an open source framework for your website will save you time, save you money and deliver a site with all the bells and whistles you could ever want.