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Be Happy in The Cloud

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Previously, I explained what “The Cloud” is.  Today, I’m going to explain some great cloud computing resources for end users as well as addressing some of the concerns from last time.

Netbooks

HP just released their Mini 1000 series netbook, one in a long line of smaller, lighter laptops.  The early reviews have been very favorable, but there are a couple of main points that are appealing to myself and those I’ve spoken with about this computer.

  • It starts at $400!!!
  • Weighs less than 3 pounds!!!
  • Energy Star Certified!!!
  • Powerful enough to run Firefox and Google Chrome!!!
The last point is what makes cloud computing so incredible.  Although this laptop is by no means a powerhouse, it is powerful enough to run every single one of the cloud services I’m about to mention.

Word Replacement

I love Office 2007 and the ribbon, but many people haven’t become comfortable with the new user interface.  If that’s you, you should love Google Docs word processor.  It has toolbars far more similar to those found in Office 2003.  I consider myself to be an expert-level Word user and Google Docs does 99% of everything I want to do, including saving as a PDF.  The number one complaint I receive is that there aren’t enough fonts.  This is a document, it should be easy to use, which doesn’t require thousands of fonts.
  • Price: Free
  • Offline Access: Yes (via Google Gears)
  • Ease of Use: Very Easy

Excel Replacement

Google Docs for the win again!  Again, more similar to Excel 2003 than 2007, but a very robust package.  Here’s a disclaimer about Excel: most people use less than 10% of the true functionality of Excel.  Excel was not designed to be a database, but most people use this to track their contacts – first name in one column, last name in the next, email in the next and so on.  THIS IS NOT THE NATURE OF THE BEAST!  But if this is all you use it for, that’s perfectly fine, Google Docs spreadsheets will do the trick perfectly.  Again, 99% of the advanced features I use can be found here including your charts and graphs.  BONUS TIP: you can use this service to create EASY, FREE survey’s!
  • Price: Free
  • Offline Access: Yes (via Google Gears)
  • Ease of Use: Easy

PowerPoint Replacement

This is a tricky one for me all of a sudden.  I used to love SlideRocket, but they went out of beta and are now charging “from $10/month” for the version that is a must-have.  Why not use the free version, you ask?  You don’t get the offline player, which for me is the single must-have feature.  I’m cheap.  I already have PowerPoint, so I’m not sure I’m willing to pay $10/month.  Google Docs has a presentation tool, but right now it’s not very impressive.  So for me, since I do a ton of presentations, I’ll just bite the bullet and pay my $10 per month, but I’m not happy about it.  So about SlideRocket…
AWESOME!  Far better than PowerPoint! Better transitions, template systems and image tools!  Import your old PowerPoint presentations easily.
  • Price: Free (with paid options)
  • Offline Accesss: with $10/month paid upgrade
  • Ease of Use: Very easy

Photoshop Replacement

This is a tough one, mainly because there are so many options.  My current favorite is Picnik.  It’s very easy to use and integrates with my favorite online photo sharing/storage sites. It allows for all of the basic tools needed to fix photos (crop, resize, brightness, contrast and color correction) as well as quite a few creative tools.
  • Price: Free (paid upgrade available and worth it, only $24.95/year)
  • Offline Access: nope (the only real downside I’ve found)
  • Ease of Use: Very easy

Your Calendar Program Replacement

Thanks again to Google, this is an easy one.  Google Calendar is easy to use, fast, syncs with several devices and can easily be shared with others.  Just try it, you’ll be happy.
  • Price: Free
  • Offline Access: nope (but can be synced with several mobile devices)
  • Ease of Use: Very easy

Outlook Replacement

Made you look!  Sorry folks, right now there isn’t anything I’ve found (and I’ve been looking for a long time) that can reasonably expect to replace Outlook.
Those are the main programs I run into people using daily and have thoroughly researched, but if you have additional requests, please let me know in the comments.

Concerns about Cloud Computing

  • What do I do with my old data?
    • In some cases you can sync it, in others you can import it and yet in others, you have to recreate it.  This is an apparent concern of all of these developers and will become a mandatory feature for new offerings.
  • Is my data safe?
    • As safe as logging into your bank account online or even calling your credit card company.  All data can be hacked.  If you really want to be “safe”, you need to go completely off the grid ala Gene Hackman from Enemy of the State.
  • How can I be sure my data is safe?
    • I still don’t store credit card numbers or logins/passwords in the cloud, but then again, I don’t store then on my desktop either.  My credit cards are stored in my wallet and my usernames/passwords in my head.  If you have something truly sensitive, many of these services offer secure connections.  With Google, change the “http” of your web address with “https” for a secure connection.  As I mentioned in my previous piece, major healthcare companies are trusting Google and Microsoft to store your medical documents in the cloud, all of my financial information is stored in the cloud on services like Mint, so why can’t I store a class presentation online too?
  • How is cloud computing superior to what i’m already using? 
    • Save hard disk space, which allows you to use the new SSD (solid state drive) hard disks that typically have smaller storage volume, but better speeds and battery life.
    • Updates are almost always included.  Adobe just released Creative Suite 4 and to UPGRADE it’s going to cost me at least $899.99!  Picnik, SlideRocket and Google Docs are constantly adding new features for FREE to compete with their desktop counterparts.
    • You don’t need your computer!  You can access these sites from any computer, so you don’t have to lug yours around.
    • Computer horsepower requirements are less.  So if you decide you do want to carry around your computer, it can now be less than an inch thick and weigh less than 3 pounds.
  • Isn’t storing personally identifying information in the cloud is a liability if my clients don’t provide consent?
    • Do you send emails with customer information?  Do you EVER let customer information out of your sight?  Do you ever discuss customers and transactions over the phone?  If you answer YES to any of these, cloud computing is perfectly safe for you.
Like last time, please ask your questions in the comments below.  The last article in the series will be a bit shorter, I promise.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Ben Goheen

    October 30, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    It’s not an Outlook replacement – but Thunderbird does a much better job at basic email. I moved backwards (from Thunderbird to Outlook) for my email and it’s quite the learning curve.

    Thunderbird EASILY out-performs Outlook with regard to a spam filter and IMAP accounts.

  2. Nick Bostic

    October 31, 2008 at 8:04 am

    I love Thunderbird too, but if you’re looking for spam filter, IMAP-like control AND The Cloud, GMail and/or GMail Enterprise are the winners in this arena. The only real reason they can’t take over Outlook for the entire function set is the contact management is really basic. Once contact management is more robust, GMail plus GCal will replace Outlook for me. Good to see another Thunderbird user!

  3. Chris de Jong

    October 31, 2008 at 8:10 am

    Great article – I absolutely love learning about the future of the cloud and the concept of ubiquitous computing.

    Another category to possibly consider is music. Cloud services like LaLa and BlueTunes are making it incredibly simple to take your entire library with you where ever you go.

    I know personally that nothing helps me decompress like listening to some great tunes!

  4. Mark Eckenrode

    October 31, 2008 at 9:56 am

    started playing with an extremely powerful photoshop replacement (not just image touch-ups like Picnik)… check out https://www.aviary.com

    there’s a learning curve but it’s probably the nicest and most complete replacement service i’ve come across yet

  5. Mitch

    October 31, 2008 at 10:03 am

    I’m glad you like SlideRocket and I’m sorry it bums you out to have to pay for some of the advanced features. Unfortunately, I think the days of advertising-supported web apps are numbered (unless you are the GoogleMonster) and we are a business that needs to make money to survive. We’ve positioned SlideRocket has a premium presentation tool with tons of great functionality at the cost of what you probably pay for lunch once a month so we think it’s a pretty fair deal…

  6. Matthew Hardy

    October 31, 2008 at 10:59 am

    You really should study this more. Software as a service (aka “the cloud”) is supremely more attractive to the vendors demanding never-ending monthly payments than it can ever be to customers trapped in their systems. Yes, I said trapped. In nearly all cases, vendor-hosted, subscription-model vendors make it either impossible or painful to get all your business data out of their system when you decide to leave. Oh, and ask your clients if they mind if you load important data on them on website after website. The tragic reality is that many agents find that important business data is strewn amongst all the sites they been “trying” while the intrinsic value of their real estate business has been undermined. And consider the people whose data your handling: you might just find that one day a seller is handing you and NDA (non disclosure agreement) mandating that data you collect on them is NOT submitted to yet another website.

  7. Missy Caulk

    October 31, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Nick, I am enjoying your posts on this topic. I used SlideRock when Lani challenged us to. I loved it, I did a blog presentation in about 30 minutes.

    Started using Google Doc’s for all our transactions with the Buyer Agent and Assistant and Google Calendar.

    I’ve looked at a few things for Outlook, but can’t find anything I like any better at this point. I guess you could say I am addicted to Outlook, I use it A L L day long for everything NOT just email.

  8. Linsdey

    November 2, 2008 at 11:17 am

    I us? Google Doc’s for all transactions with the Buyer Agent and Assistant alongwith Google Calendar as well. You know I am quit ehappy about it

  9. Nick Bostic

    November 3, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    @Mark – Aviary is pretty cool although I’ll admit I forgot about it to a degree because of all the similar products that launched right around the same time. I guess I’ll need to revisit it.

    @Mitch – I understand the need to make money, but for myself (and I would imagine others), while the economy isn’t doing so hot, the choice to pay extra or just use PowerPoint that I already have is the question on my mind. There are several features of SlideRocket that PPT doesn’t have, but the ones I’ve discovered are all appearance tools, which I can live without.

    @Matthew – “Study this more”, I like that idea! However, I’ve been following and studying SaaS (Software As A Service) since before 2000 when family members at some of the largest tech companies out there were heading up divisions developing the earliest models. I can’t see how customer data would be loaded on website after website. A customers name on my online calendar isn’t something to worry about. Their listing flyer created in a photoshop replacement isn’t something to be scared of. People bank online, pay their bills online and frequently/unfortunately share sensitive data via IM and email all day long, I would be very surprised to start seeing NDA’s flying around. As for data lock-in, I can’t agree with you more. Services like Facebook and Top Producer are two of my favorite examples of over-the-top data lock-in that is very unfortunate.

    @Missy – I’ve been forced to become less reliant on Outlook since my company doesn’t officially support Vista or Outlook 2007, so my new laptop has been without Outlook since the beginning of the year. I use Outlook Web Access which is terrible, so I’ve been using Google Calendar (synced to my BlackBerry, synced to my Enterprise Server), but still don’t have a good contact manager integration.

  10. Missy Caulk

    January 10, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Hi Nick, I know this is an older post, but since you wrote it my team has started using WiseAgent. It is very affordable, 25.00 per month. I brought all my outlook contacts into it and it is very user friendly unlike TP.

    It manages each transaction from start to finish. We tested it for 30 days, free without entering our cc. took the online training and signed up.

    I don’t think you are a Realtor so it might not work for you but for our team and my Assistant who manages all the transactions it works.

    I just bought a MacPro at Christmas, got Entourage and it is not as good as Outlook, so I will just use mail. Mail actually functins more like outlook than entourage.

  11. Nick Bostic

    January 11, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I’ll definitely check out WiseAgent, thanks for the tip!

  12. Real-TechGuy.com

    February 25, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Are you still using MS Office? Get with the times and move to the cloud. https://budurl.com/DitchMSOffice

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Social Media

*New* TikTok Insights launch: Content creators finally get audience analytics

(SOCIAL MEDIA) The popular short-form app, TikTok, finally launches the anticipated Insights feature, where content creators can view target audience data.

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Two girls filming on TikTok.

Marketers searching for the zeitgeist which means TikTok scrollers pause to watch their content and then click through to buy a product have a new tool to help make that happen.

  • TikTok Insights offers marketers bite-size bits of user demographic information that will help build content that leads to sales.
  • With TikTok Insights you can learn more about your audience’s behavior, their interests, and their general sentiment toward brands.
  • TikTok Insights is free to use. Marketers can find TikTok user demographics by using filters to determine what they’re looking for.

The demographic info can be age-focused, focused on specific types of marketing, or even as specific as holiday or event marketing.

This is a step in the direction marketers have been asking for as they create content for the TikTok platform; however, creators looking for detailed analytics like they get from meta need to wait. Insights doesn’t offer that for now.

Like TikTok says in its own analytic information,

“While analytics are helpful in understanding the performance of your videos, you don’t need to create future videos based primarily around them. It’s best to consider the bigger picture, lean lightly on analytics, and use them as a source for insight rather than strategy.”

Marketers trying to key into reaching TikTok’s billion users worldwide are left, right now, searching for the magic that leads to consumers making the jump from the platform to using their purchasing power.

For marketers that means keeping things creative and collaborative, two key factors in TikTok’s success. And that success is huge. Users spend an average of 52 minutes on the platform when they log in and a staggering 90% of users say they log on every day.

TikTok Insights will help marketers find ways to connect, but the content TikTok is looking for is authentic.

And while entrepreneurs can bid for advertising like other social media platforms, they need to remember when planning that spend, that most TikTok marketing success stories are more accidental than planned. Have fun with that knowledge. Instead of pressure to create the perfect plan, TikTok Insights allows marketers to keep it creative and to find a way to tie it into what they enjoy about the platform.

Like all other social media marketing, focus on creating content that stops the consumer from their continual scroll. Make it a challenge and keep it real.

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Social Media

Grindr got busted for selling users’ data locations to advertisers

(SOCIAL MEDIA) User data has been a hot topic in the tech world. It’s often shared haphazardly or not protected, and the app Grindr, follows suit.

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Grindr on phone in man's hands

If you’re like me, you probably get spam calls a lot. Information is no longer private in this day and age; companies will buy and sell whatever information they can get their hands on for a quick buck. Which is annoying, but not necessarily outright dangerous, right?

Wrong.

Grindr has admitted to selling their user’s data, however, they are specifically selling the location of their users without regard for liability concerns. Grindr, a gay hook-up app, is an app where a marginalized community is revealing their location to find a person to connect to. Sure, Grindr claims they have been doing this less and less since 2020, but the issue still remains: they have been selling the location of people who are in a marginalized community – a community that has faced a huge amount of oppression in the past and is still facing it to this day.

Who in their right mind thought this was okay? Grindr initially did so to create “real-time ad exchanges” for their users, to find places super close to their location. Which makes sense, sort of. The root of the issue is that the LGBTQAI+ community is a community at risk. How does Grindr know if all of their users are out? Do they know exactly who they’re selling this information to? How do they know that those who bought the information are going to use it properly?

They don’t have any way of knowing this and they put all of their users at risk by selling their location data. And the data is still commercially available! Historical data could still be obtained and the information was able to be purchased in 2017. Even if somebody stopped using Grindr in, say, 2019, the fact they used Grindr is still out there. And yeah, the data that’s been released has anonymized, Grindr claims, but it’s really easy to reverse that and pin a specific person to a specific location and time.

This is such a huge violation of privacy and it puts people in real, actual danger. It would be so easy for bigots to get that information and use it for something other than ads. It would be so easy for people to out others who aren’t ready to come out. It’s ridiculous and, yeah, Grindr claims they’re doing it less, but the knowledge of what they have done is still out there. There’s still that question of “what if they do it again” and, with how the world is right now, it’s really messed up and problematic.

If somebody is attacked because of the data that Grindr sold, is Grindr complicit in that hate crime, legally or otherwise?

So, moral of the story?

Yeah, selling data can get you a quick buck, but don’t do it.

You have no idea who you’re putting at risk by selling that data and, if people find out you’ve done it, chances are your customers (and employees) will lose trust in you and could potentially leave you to find something else. Don’t risk it!

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Social Media

BeReal: Youngsters are flocking in droves to this Instagram competitor app

(SOCIAL MEDIA) As Instagram loses steam due to its standards of “perfection posting,” users are drawn to a similar app with a different approach, BeReal.

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social media - bereal app

BeReal is one of several “Real” apps exploding in growth with young users who crave real connections with people they know in real life.

According to data.ai, BeReal ranks 4th by downloads in the US, the UK, and France for Q1 2022 to date, behind only Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.

BeReal flies in the face of what social media has become. Instead of curated looks that focus on the beautiful parts of life, BeReal users showcase what they’re doing at the moment and share those real photos with their friends. Their real friends.

It’s real. And real is different for a generation of social media users who have been raised on influencers and filters.

As the app says when you go to its page:

Be Real.

Your Friends

for Real.

Every day at a different time, BeReal users are notified simultaneously to capture and share a Photo in 2 Minutes.

A new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.

BeReal app

The app has seen monthly users increase by more than 315% according to Apptopia, which tracks and analyzes app performance.

“Push notifications are sent around the world simultaneously at different times each day,” the company said in a statement. “It’s a secret on how the time is chosen every day, it’s not random.”

The app allows no edits and no filters. They want users to show a “slice of their lives.”

Today’s social media users have seen their lives online inundated with ultra-curated social media. The pandemic led to more time spent online than ever. Social media became a way to escape. Reality was ugly. Social media was funny, pretty, and exciting.

And fake.

Enter BeReal where users are asked to share two moments of real life on a surprise schedule. New apps are fun often because they’re new. However, the huge growth in the use of BeReal by college-aged users points to something more than the new factor.

For the past several years, experts have warned that social media was dangerous to our mental health. The dopamine hits of likes and shares are based on photos and videos filled with second and third takes, lens changes, lighting improvements, and filters. Constant comparisons are the norm. And even though we know the world we present on our social pages isn’t exactly an honest portrayal of life, we can’t help but experience FOMO when we see our friends and followers and those we follow having the times of their lives, buying their new it thing, trying the new perfect product, playing in their Pinterest-worthy decorated spaces we wish we could have.

None of what we see is actually real on our apps. We delete our media that isn’t what we want to portray and try again from a different angle and shoot second and third and forth takes that make us look just a little better.

We spend hours flipping through videos on our For You walls and Instagram stories picked by algorithms that know us better than we know ourselves.

BeReal is the opposite of that. It’s simple, fast, and real. It’s community and fun, but it’s a moment instead of turning into the time-sink of our usual social media that, while fun, is also meant to ultimately sell stuff, including all our data.

It will be interesting to watch BeReal and see if it continues down its promised path and whether the growth continues. People are looking for something. Maybe reality is that answer.

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