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.

Guide to Choosing Social Media Tools

I’ve recently worked with several companies that were trying to bring some order to their social media activities. I’ve found that most have the same problem: They’ve dabbled in blogs, Twitter and Facebook fan pages but after several months they lack traffic, followers and fans. They’re frustrated and confused. Wasn’t this supposed to be a cheap and easy way to build their brand and bring in sales?

Social media is cheap but it isn’t easy. With millions of bloggers and Facebook pages online, building visibility is a challenge that demands time. More importantly, it demands a strategy, and that’s where businesses usually don’t go far enough.

There’s nothing wrong with diving in and using the tools. In fact, I encourage experimentation. But before you invest significant time in social media, you need a plan. Here’s the four-stage process I walk then through.

Define the Objective – Social media tools are only tools. Without an underlying strategy, they have about as much benefit as a plumber’s wrench has to fixing a hole in the wall. Most business objectives demand a mix of online and offline tools, and social media may have little or no value. Start with the objective and work backwards.

Common business objectives range from building thought leadership to generating leads, cutting customer service costs and recruiting quality employees. Each demands different strategies and tools. If you start with the objective, the rest of the process is easier.

Identify Metrics – Here I steal shamelessly from measurement queen Katie Paine, who believes that any goal can be measured. In many cases, relevant metrics have nothing to do with the Internet. They can include yardsticks such as

  • Positive mentions in mainstream media outlets
  • Quantity of new job applicants;
  • Speaking invitations;
  • Reduction in help desk calls;
  • Improvements in Net Promoter Scores; and, of course
  • Increased sales.

Note that many of these examples have nothing to do with Web analytics. Friends, followers and fans have little value if they don’t achieve the business goal.

Don’t go overboard on metrics. Choose three or four that are meaningful to your goal and define standards of success, like a doubling of Facebook fans in a six-month period. Then revisit your progress every three months and adjust (or choose new metrics).

Define Tactics – How are you going to use online and offline channels to reach your goals? Consider all the options. For example, thought leadership may be enhanced by blogging and tweeting, but an equally effective strategy may be growing the quantity of speaking engagements or starting a local professional group. Consider location. The Internet provides a great way to increase international exposure but it may be of little help in growing visibility within your local geography. That goal may be better addressed by increasing activity in local trade associations or advertising on radio. Tactics are enabled by tools, so you need these plans in place before you start blogging or tweeting

Choose Tools – This is where many companies start their social media journey, but it really is where they should end it. Different tools are good for different purposes. for example, Twitter is an excellent news delivery vehicle while Facebook is better for creating a feedback loop. My book, Secrets Of Social Media Marketing, has a more complete selection grid. Also, many businesses are now learning how to use multiple tools in concert to magnify their impact.

Your tools may have nothing to do with the Internet. For example, starting a local chapter of a professional trade association or submitting speaking proposals to conference organizers can be a great way to network or build visibility. You can also combine off-line and online tactics, such as promoting an upcoming speech through the media while seeking interviews with prominent bloggers.

This is the basic framework I use for discussion, and I find that the structured approach helps focus my clients. When you really think about your business goals, it’s surprising to discover how many of the tactics come down to good old-fashioned person-to-person relationships. Online tools can certainly help there, but sometimes a phone call or a lunch meeting is worth 1,000 tweets.