February 28, 2007

What are Wiki's?

A Wiki is the term used to describe a document that is a collaborative work between many people. The word 'Wiki' (according to Wikipedia, the web's largest Wiki) means 'fast' in Hawaiian and stands for 'What I Know Is'. The first Wiki was developed in 1994 and the technology is increasingly recognised as a robust solution to develop a knowledge base.

Unlike standard web pages that are created with HTML Wiki's are created with natural language. Wiki sites allow contributors to make changes easily and without the need to learn programming languages. Most provide an easily recognisable icon based editing environment.

The largest and most popular Wiki started as the Nupedia encyclopedia project but is now known as Wikipedia. Wikipedia now claims to have over 1.55 million articles that anybody can add to or edit. Anybody is welcome to edit or add to Wikipedia and editing a document is easy and doesn't require a user account. To edit a page all you need to do is click the 'Edit this page' link at the top of any page (or above any section) and add your changes. Once you have finished editing click the 'Save Page' button and your changes are saved. Wiki entries can also include images and other forms of media as well as text. Contributors to Wikipedia are called 'Wikipedians'. Inappropriate changes or edits are usually removed quickly and repeat offenders can be blocked.

Wikis are also gaining in popularity in organisations where knowledge sharing is important. There are many different sites that offer a free hosted wiki solution including wikidot.com, wikispaces.com and wetpaint.com. All of these sites give you access to wiki functionality and allow you to create either a private or public wiki. Public Wikis are accessible by anyone on the Internet while private Wiki's are only accessible to those you invite.

Geni Us

Putting together a family tree is a time consuming past time. Usually, there is only one family member committed to the pursuit. Genealogy software is very popular and can help you piece together your families roots but a new website called geni.com has made building your family tree even easier.

Geni is part of the new generation of websites that falls under the category 'web 2.0' - a second generation of websites that is interactive, almost like you were using a desktop application however all the data and interaction occurs within a web browser. Geni.com also harnesses the power of the Internet to make your job of constructing the family tree easier.

To get started on your family tree simply go to geni.com and enter your name, email address and select your gender. You then add family members to your tree by clicking on the arrows to the left and right. You are asked for the family members names and you can also submit their email addresses. This is where Geni really takes off. If you do choose to enter family email addresses Geni will send them an email asking them to contribute to building your family tree.

When your relation receives your email they see the family tree from their perspective and can add to it like you have. When you go back to Geni your family tree is updated with their new information.

Geni also gives you the ability to add and view other information besides name and email address. By clicking on your relatives name you'll be able to see photos, biographies and history about your relations. Geni is a private network so only the people you invite (your family) have access to your tree. I used Geni to set up my own family tree and it worked well however sometimes the website was slow to respond when using Firefox, forgivable considering Geni is still in 'Beta' mode. Setting up the tree was easy. After emailing my parents and sister we'd all put together a family tree that spanned 6 generations. Not bad in less than twenty four hours.

Hands on with Next G

Unless you've been living under a rock you should by now have heard of Next G, Telstra's next generation mobile network. Next G is based on the HSDPA standard or 3.5G. HSDPA stands for High Speed Data Packet Access or means 'fast downloads' in English. Telstra aren't the only mobile network to offer HSDPA to customers but are the first to offer the technology in handsets. Vodafone for example have an HSDPA data card that lets you laptop take advantage of high speed downloads but haven't released a handset yet.

New mobile networks are notoriously bad. I remember when I used my first digital GSM phone many years ago in anticipation of the close of the analogue network (which was reliable). According to the my friends most calls I made sounded like they were direct from the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. Those were the days when the telcos actually credited your phone bills when your calls got disconnected.

I tested my first Next G phone, the iMate JasJam a few months back and was bitterly disappointed. The sound quality was poor and I was unable to stay connected on a phone call for more than five minutes. I'm pleased to say that in my most recent trial of the Next G network those problems seem to have been rectified.

In fact I'm really impressed with Next G. The phone I've been testing it with is the Motorola RAZR V6 Max - a very capable phone that's part of the wildly successful RAZR range. Sound quality has been good and in the two weeks of testing I haven't had a single dropped call. The phone also has strong media functionality that plays well with Next G's ability to stream live Foxtel direct to the phone.

The Motorola RAZR V6 Max is available on selected 24 month contracts for free or you can buy it outright for $729. The JasJam is also available free on a 24 month contract or outright for $1299.

February 7, 2007

BlackBerry Pearl

When I picked up my first BlackBerry a little over a year ago I was impressed with its functionality. Here was a device that made sending and receiving emails easier then making a call or sending an SMS. Old BlackBerry devices delivered lots of function but little form. The screens were dim and the devices big - a bulge in your pocket. Fast-forward 12 months and the BlackBerry has emerged from the shadows of its enterprise past and now competes with Sony Ericsson and Nokia as a viable consumer oriented smart-phone. In my opinion there is nothing even close in terms of performance and useful functionality.

Research in Motions (RIM) latest phone is the BlackBerry 8100 Pearl. The Pearl is the first BlackBerry to offer many new features including a 1.3 Megapixel camera and multimedia capabilities. But what I love about it most is its size. You have to see it and hold it to believe it. The Pearl weighs in at 89 grams and is about 10cm long and is less than 1.5cm thick. And you get all the great messaging capabilities of all other BlackBerry's including its bigger 3G enabled cousin the 8707.

To achieve this size reduction RIM had to re-invent their traditional side mounted scroll wheel. The result is a 'pearl' sized trackball in the centre of the phone. Getting used to this new navigation tool was easy and within 5 minutes I was familiar with the 'pearl'.

The Pearl has a reduced keyboard and uses RIM's award winning SureType technology. It's kind of like predictive text on steroids and combines a traditional phone number key layout with a familiar computer-style QWERTY letter layout that is designed to provide a comfortable typing and dialling experience. SureType works well, and is complemented by a solid keypad that is great to use and has a nice tactile feel.

RIM has included 64Mb of on-board memory (enough for around 80 high resolution images) but has also added a MicroSD media card so you can extend Pearls capabilities. RIM has also included software that lets you sync information to your PC. If you are using Mac you'll need PocketMac which is now also included as standard.

The Pearl delivers great voice quality and now supports polyphonic, MP3 and MIDI ring tones. It also has intuitive call management features such as smart dialing and speed dialing. Pearl’s speakerphone is the best I’ve ever used and Bluetooth allows for easy to connection to the ever-growing universe of peripherals including hands-free headsets, car kits and other Bluetooth peripherals such as a GPS receivers.

Vodafone are the first Australian carrier to offer the Pearl ($699). I think they’ve got a winner on their hands. It’s no surprise RIM’s share price has risen over 30% since the launch of this little wonder.

Printing Smarter

I received an email the other day from the MD of a large technology company. After I had finished reading it I noticed a small capitalised sentence at the end of the email that said 'PLEASE CONSIDER OUR ENVIRONMENT BEFORE PRINTING'. It's an important point, and one I'm sure that gets overlooked too frequently. How many times have you hit 'print' unnecessarily?

Much energy is focused on recycling paper but little is focused on reducing its usage. Image the impact on our environment if everybody who had a computer printed one less document each day. If you are running a company the maths are simple. Save on paper, save on toner and ink replacements, save on the cost of storing and removing the paper.

One company in the US has come up with a novel solution for helping you save paper when you print. GreenPrint is a small piece of software that sits between your application and print driver and helps you save paper. GreenPrint highlights and removes unwanted pages before you press print but it also helps you work out what you actually want to print by providing you with a print overview - a mode that helps you easily decide what stays and what goes.

GreenPrint is also focused on getting you out of the habit of printing altogether, that's why it comes bundled with a PDF creator. The idea - if you can save the document in a digital form then you won't need to print at all. Lastly, to make you feel warm and fuzzy GreenPrint lets you track the number and cost of the pages you save.

GreenPrint is available as a free 14 day trial. If you are happy with the software (and based on my testing you should be) you can buy it for around $30. At the moment GreenPrint is only compatible with Windows a Mac client is nearly complete.

Mapping Mash-ups

Mash-ups are websites that combine content from more than one source into a new integrated source. Mash-ups have become popular with online mapping websites such as Google Maps. Lots of different sites have sprung up to cater for different 'mash-up' tastes, for example Celebrity Maps (www.celebrity-maps.com) lets you find the address of your favourites celebrity's abode.

Now Whereis (www.whereis.com.au), the leading Australian digital mapping and navigation website have released a set of API's (conduits that let developers access data) that let developers access the same map data that is presented on whereis.com.au (and all the other Sensis web properties like whitepages.com.au and yellowpages.com.au). If you are a developer the Whereis API can be accessed from the Whereis Workshop.

There are already some great examples of mash-ups available. My favourite so far is a mash-up called 'My Places'. At 'My Places' you create and edit your own groups of places, and add images and text that can be viewed by clicking an icon on the map. Visitors to My Places have already added lots of great information to the map, for instance I found an entry called 'Quest for best pancakes' that took me to a map of Melbourne with eight 'food' icons representing places to eat pancakes around Melbourne.

Whereis API's are still young but I'd expect to start seeing lots of different mash-ups in the future when developers realise their potential. I'm excited for the time when someone creates a mash-up with all the cafes in Melbourne. Imagine being able to access this sort of data via your mobile phone when you are wondering the streets looking for a hit of caffeine.