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Tag: emerging technologies

Web Apps to Watch

Web Apps to Watch

Here’s a short list of my current favourite and frequently-used web apps.

My current darling, Prezi, is probably best understood as a slick replacement for powerpoint, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a cross between a mind-mapping tool, presentation software, an interactive flash embed for a website, and a great way to present a whole mash of youtube videos in one simple document. Rather than flipping slides, you zoom from one element of the presentation canvas to the next. Perhaps what I like best about Prezi is the way it makes use of depth as well as height and width; your content can hide in small text, visible to the audience only when it’s turn comes along the path. Working in Prezi makes the web feel like infinite space rather than a simple text box or just the space within a monitor. I’ve taken to not only presenting with Prezi, but also creating presentations to add to our website and throwing ideas out onto a canvas to construct ideas and make plans (even when I have no intention of presenting it).

Prezi has an educational license, making it freely available to those of us in higher ed.


I feel like I’ve been looking for this web app for most of my life. Crocodoc lets you upload a pdf and mark it up. It has a nice set of tools; sticky notes, drawing tools, highlighters, text. You can share the URL and let others mark up the pdf with you, or download the marked up version and have a permanent, printable copy of your commentary. Simple, incredibly useful. Crocodoc has actually been an answer to reference questions at our library. Can you mark up a pdf document without paying for Adobe? Yes, you can.

Screenjelly and Screentoaster

In general, I’m not a big fan of the screencast. It focuses our attention on how-tos and distracts us from the deeper issues of any tool. However, there are times when it’s a heck of a lot easier to demonstrate how to accomplish a task with software rather than trying desperately to paint a picture with words. And if you’re going to do it, do it fast. Screenjelly has pushed me in my “quick and dirty” thinking; if you’re going to do video (which surely dates itself instantly), make it disposable. Don’t spend hours on it! Do it, post it, move on. Let it fulfill its purpose right this moment, and don’t expect it to be perfect. I like this attitude and this embrace of the ephemeral. And thus, Screenjelly is my friend. Screenjelly records what’s on your screen (and optionally records whatever you have to say about it) for a maximum of three minutes. Then it gives you the option to embed the video, just like a youtube video. In fullscreen mode, your video is sharp, crisp, and actually looks as if it’s your own computer, not a video recording. Screenjelly is surely the quickest way to show someone how to do that one little thing they’re struggling to do. Custom videos, made on demand! That’s music to my ears.

If you need something a little fancier than what Screenjelly can do for you, you can try Screentoaster. Screentoaster doesn’t have a time limit, it lets you choose a segment of your screen to record, and it will record and superimpose live video from your webcam into the bottom right of the video. So not only can your audience hear you explaining how to do something on a website, they can see you while you tell them!

These services are just amazing. And free! Outrageous!



So: new job title (“Emerging Technologies Librarian”). Definitely something that I wanted to see happen. I feel like it reflects what I actually do a lot better. Though I have pangs of regret when I think about instructional technology, but the lines are still blurry. Now I deliberately look at emerging technologies in teaching and learning, or maybe ones that haven’t quite emerged at all yet. Also emerging technologies as they apply to libraries in general, and our library in particular.

It’s exciting to have a job title that reflects what I’m already doing anyway, but it’s also kind of intimidating. I mean, keeping up with the trends was something I did as a bonus. Suddenly it’s in my job title.

So I was thinking about what trends I’m currently tracking, and I wonder how they fit into the whole “emerging” thing.

Second Life/Virtual Worlds. I’ve been on this one for a while, but I still think it’s emerging. Mostly because I think no one’s popularized the one true way to use virtual worlds in teaching and learning yet. In fact, there are so many wrong ways in practice currently that many people are getting turned off using Second Life in teaching. I’m still interested in it. I’m a builder, I’m interested in what you could use the environment for to build things and have students build things. A giant collaborative place filled with student-created expression of course content would be awesome. So I’m holding on to this one.

Twitter. I can’t believe I’m putting it on the list, but I am. Mostly because I’ve been talking about how great it is at a conference for some time now and I’m starting to see the argument come back to me from much larger places. People complain about what people twitter during events (“Too critical! Too snarky! The audience is the new keynote!”), but that’s pretty much exactly what would make things interesting in a classroom. I want to install the open source version and try it out with a willing instructor. I’m also interested in it for easy website updates, but most people would tell me that that’s a total misuse of the application. (Too bad!)

Ubiquitous Computing. I’ll say that instead of mobile devices. The hardware will come and go, but the concept of ubiquity for computing is fascinating. It’s coming in fits and starts; I want to see how I can push this one in small ways in the library. Computing without the computer. Ideally without a cell phone either. This is something I’m going to track for a good long while. I have this ubiquitous future in my head that seems like a perfect setting for a cyberpunk novel. (I might get around to writing it one of these days.)

Cheap Storage. As a rule hardware isn’t my area, but I’m interested to see what it means that storage capacity is getting so crazily cheap. If I can carry 120 gb in my pocket without even noticing it, what does that mean for computing in general?

Cloud Computing. This goes along with the cheap storage. Jeremy tells me we will never be affected by the cloud because we are a locked down environment for the most part, but I think he might be wrong. Even if we can’t fully employ the cloud because of security and legal limitations, I think the concept of cloud computing will sink into the consciousnesses of our users. We will need to be prepared to offer services as easily as the cloud can.

Netbooks. This fits in with cloud computing and cheap storage; if we can have tiny little computers with us at all times, massive amounts of physical storage and powerful applications coming down from the cloud, what does the world end up looking like?

Social Networks. Embracing the networks you have, on facebook, on IRC, on Twitter, on IM, wherever. Accepting that we are no longer a culture that uses its brain for information storage; we are processors, connectors. We store our knowledge in machines and in our networks. While social software may look like too much fun to be productive, those social networks are what’s going to scaffold us through most of the rest of our lives. Learning how to respectfully and usefully employ our networks as part of our learning (and teaching, for that matter) is an important skill.

There are some other pieces that are just never going to go away: blogging (for librarians!), wikis for everyone, IM: I think we’ve finally reached a point where we can intelligently choose the best tool for the task at hand from an incredible range of options. So I think part of the emerging trend is to use what’s best, not necessarily what’s most powerful, most expensive, or most popular. Things like twitter and netbooks are evidence of that: sometimes you don’t need all the bells and whistles.

So that’s my emerging update of the moment.