Cool & Useful Sites for the Holidays

Webby AwardsThe folks at the Webby Awards sent along a super-helpful list of Web resources to use over the holidays. They range from social shopping to gift recommendations to real-time TV and music sharing. While I was familiar with several of these sites, I hadn’t heard of gems like, Wantful and Trippy. Definitely bookmarkable. The descriptions below were provided by the Webby Awards.

1. Skype 

Video chatting is now a standard activity for most Internet users – in fact, earlier this year, Skype reported that their users log 300 million minutes of video calls daily. Skype has recently added a new multi-party platform that allows up to 10 people to video chat with each other, which is a great way to get the family together, even if you’re all far away from each other.

2. Google+ Hangouts

Yet another way to connect groups of people over video chat – but Hangouts also enable the chat participants to share and enjoy digital content like YouTube videos in real time.

3. Crackle

Sony has brought together two of its popular platforms by creating virtual movie theaters on Playstation 3 that stream content from Crackle – and it’s planning to add more digital hangouts later this year.

4. brings together the social experience of the Web and music. Users can create or join listening rooms for friends – or strangers – and DJ their favorite songs for each other.

5. YapTV

A great app that brings people together around their favorite TV shows – it shows every program on television at any moment and lets you socialize with other viewers. It pulls in tweets about the show and has a built-in chat functionality so you can talk while you watch. This is especially useful for every “Elf” re-run on TBS or if you’re sucked into another “A Christmas Story” 24-hour-marathon.


Through sites like this, shopping online is no longer an isolated event. Shopping online is now social. These sites allow you converse with friends (through Skype and chat), compile lookbooks for your friends and family’s seal of approval, and most importantly, buy online.

7. SocialVest

SocialVest is an online retail platform that allows customers to buy and give at the same time. With SocialVest, you can make purchases at your favorite stores – like Target, Walmart, Bloomingdales, and more – and a percentage of all your purchases will go to a charity of your choice.


Make someone’s day brighter with this site that allows you to send a lucky person a gift of your choosing. All you need to submit is your first name, general location, and a picture of the gift you’re sending, and the site will generate a random address.


The site suggests an array of thoughtful gifts based on information you provide about the recipient – everything from age and relationship status to how often the cook and their level of neatness.


With a well-designed, streamlined interface and smart use of filters, Hipmunk makes it easy to find the right flight or the best hotel. The site also has an app available for your phone or tablet device.


It makes it easy for you to get recommendations and tips for what to do (whether you are heading home for the holidays or on a dream vacation and have a nice picnic and bring your cooler from Survival Cooking List of Best Coolers) from your friends who already know you and your interests and needs, helping you travel better.


Whether it’s a 6-hour flight home or over-the-river-and-through-the-woods, every trip is a little shorter with good book. Now, Amazon allows you to share your favorite books with your friends. Each loan lasts 14 days and are automatically returned to your library at the end.

My Favorite Productivity Apps – Multimedia & Web

Continuing on my post from two weeks ago about my favorite PC productivity tools, here’s another list of goodies. Most are free, all are bargains.


We are all our own artists and layout editors these days, and with my crummy graphic design skills, I need all the help I can get.

I use a lot of video in presentations, and have always gotten good performance from the free Foxreal YouTube FLV Downloader. It works with a lot more sites than just YouTube and cleanly downloads Flash video. I then convert the downloads to a format that PowerPoint can understand, such as WMV, using the terrific iWisoft Free Video Converter. You used to have to pay 50 bucks for this kind of functionality. Another good option for downloading videos in the Firefox browser is the DownloadHelper plug-in.

A very cool option I’ve recently discovered is CacheViewer. You can use it to download a video when all other means fail. It works by retrieving the stored video from your memory cache. It doesn’t always find what you’re looking for, but it’s a good tool of last resort. Just be aware that there are often copyright restrictions on these works that limit what you can do with them.

For video editing, call me simple, but Windows Live Movie Maker does a pretty good job of meeting my very basic needs.

I keep my photo library in Picasa, which has terrific features for organizing and tagging images. Its “I Feel Lucky” option instantly fixes lighting and contrast problems. You can even create collages like the one I use for my Twitter page background.

For photo editing, though, I like Zoner PhotoStudio. It’s fast and it includes editing features that I haven’t seen anywhere outside of PhotoShop. Most people don’t touch more than 10% of the features of Photoshop, anyway. What a waste. They could get Zoner for free.

Zoner Photo Studio screen shot

For a cheap and easy bit of artwork, a screen grab often suffices. Snagit is a great tool for this purpose, but it costs $50. A free alternative that has nearly as many features is PicPick. It’s worth having for the image editor alone, which is kind of Windows Paint on steroids.


I’ve recorded several hundred podcasts over the last five years and have settled on a few basic tools that always work. I record phone calls using Skype and MX Skype Recorder. There are cheaper options than MX, but this $15 utility has one nice feature that I haven’t found anywhere else: it records both sides of the conversation on separate tracks in the high-quality WAV format. That’s a godsend when you are piecing together a conversation and want to eliminate such irritations as background noise from one track.

For sound editing, I haven’t found better than the popular open-source Audacity. It does nearly everything I need it to do, and where it doesn’t, I use Doug Kaye’s terrific Levelator to automagically normalize sound levels. I’ll also put in a plug for ClickRepair, a tool written by a retired Australian IT manager ostensibly to restore old LP recordings. It’s bailed me out more than once when mysterious noises infected my podcast recordings. It has saved me the $40 license fee many times over.

Audacity screen shot


I consult lots of websites on a regular basis, of course, but there are a few that have special utility to my daily work style. Tweetdeck for Twitter is one. Another is Diigo, a social bookmarking service, I discovered about three years ago that has been my favorite ever since. Like Delicious, Diigo makes it easy to bookmark a website with one click. It’s got a couple of very useful features that Delicious doesn’t have however. You can highlight and annotate pages and choose to have those comments to appear only to you or to everyone who has the Diigo plug-in (see below). You can also take a snapshot (essentially a cached image) of a page, which is useful for content that goes behind firewalls after a few days. The site has recently added the capability to bookmark images, too, although that feature is limited in the free edition.

Page annotated in Diigo

Another useful service that I initially dismissed when I saw a year ago is, an RSS syndication service. monitors any RSS feed you specify and automatically posts items to social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook. I have monitoring all of my blogs as well as several delicious and Diigo feeds. When Dana or I post a new entry on Joy of Geocaching, for example, the headline and link automatically post to the Joy of Geocaching twitter account and then my personal Twitter account automatically retweets @joyofgeocaching. You can also schedule and gate the number of messages that go out at any given time, attach tracking codes and monitor results.

I also have all my most important feeds organized into Google Reader. You really come to appreciate RSS readers when you have a lot of topics to monitor. For one project I’m working on now, I need to track activity on nearly 200 blogs and news sites according to different topics they cover. Reader saves hours weekly compared to “surfing.” You can also export categories of feeds and display them on a website, as I do with the “Media Sites” list in the right-hand sidebar on Newspaper Death Watch. That list is easily generated by Google Reader, and it changes whenever the feed list changes.

A look ahead at tech PR in 2008

In the final Tech PR War Stories podcast of 2007, David Strom and I stretch out a little and ruminate on what’s ahead for 2008. Here, in no particular order, are our predictions. It’s going to be another wild year for tech PR, but one in which savvy PR pros can elevate their status with employers and clients:

  • The end of beats at technology publications. Reporters will become more generalized and contract experts will contribute more of the specialized coverage;
  • Fragmentation in coverage of technology; it will come from a variety of sources;
  • Google will buy Second Life and Skype. Paul sees big opportunities for the search giant to leverage those core technologies into franchise businesses;
  • PR pros will have to do a better job at creating meaningful relationships with press. They’ll also have to reach out to unexpected places for coverage;
  • Increasing concerns about privacy in social networks. Facebook’s Beacon was just the tip of the iceberg;
  • The Wall Street Journal will become a free service. Rupert Murdoch has already made it clear that he wants to take the paper in this direction and that will have big implications for tech coverage as the Journal asserts itself as a major online news force;
  • The rise of social search, addressing some of the inherent limitations of search. Mahalo and WikiaSearch are early proofs of concept of an evolution of the search utility;
  • Vendors will increasingly become publishers and will need help from PR people to create useful and interesting content.

Download the podcast here (19:00).