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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.

Nick runs a new media marketing consulting company helping real estate professionals learn how to implement new media tools into their marketing arsenal. He frequently gives presentations on generational marketing, green marketing and advanced online promotion. Nick is active on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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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

Instagram now lets you create and share fundraisers

(SOCIAL MEDIA) If you’ve been wanting to start a fundraiser for something you care about, Instagram’s new feature lets you do just that. Go check it out!

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Instagram Fundraiser

Instagram announced last week that it has launched a test for a Personal Fundraiser tool on its platform. The feature will allow users to start their own fundraiser if it complies with guidelines or choose an existing cause to support. The launch began in some US, UK, and Ireland markets and is available on Android and iOS.

In its announcement, the company confirmed that since January, more than $100 million has been raised for COVID-19 across Facebook and Instagram (also owned by Facebook), citing that donations on Instagram have doubled in the US in the past 30 days. The announcement said, “from people raising money to buy medical equipment for Black Lives Matter protesters, rebuilding Black-owned small businesses affected by COVID-19 and funding educational resources related to racial justice, people are eager to mobilize around causes they care about.”

Personal Fundraisers are short-term and meant to serve time-sensitive causes, with the initial duration lasting 30 days with the option to extend for an additional 30 days. Users must be 18 to create a fundraiser and have a designated bank account in which funds can be deposited. Donations will be processed through Facebook Pay, which also powers Instagram’s new shopping features. The platform covers fees for non-profits, but not for Personal Fundraisers. Donors can choose to keep their information hidden from the public, but organizers will be able to see user names and donation amounts.

To start a Personal Fundraiser, users with access to the feature can tap “Edit Profile”, “Add Fundraiser”, followed by “Raise Money”. They can then choose a photo, select the fundraiser category, and write out a story to encourage donations. When approved, users will be able to raise funds.

Instagram says it will expand the number of users who have access to this feature in the months ahead, as well as give users access to share fundraisers both in their Feed and within Stories. Fundraising features already offered by the company include Donation Stickers for Stories and a Live Donations feature for live streams.

This feature is similar to the fundraising feature already available on Facebook, Instagram’s parent company.

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Social Media

Should you be Facebook friends with your boss?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Are there times when it makes sense to connect with your boss and team on Facebook? Or is LinkedIn enough?

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facebook friends

Just as we learn, grow, and change in life, so does our use of social media platforms and technology in general. It makes sense though – when hot new programs come out and “everybody’s doing it” (thinking of you MySpace and Plaxo), it’s easy to create a user profile to see what you think of the platform.

You may be a heavy user at first (looking at you Facebook) and then back off, only to use it for certain functions (Groups and Events for example). In the interim, you may have joined Instagram because for some reason it seemed simpler and light-hearted. And don’t let the new, shiny things coming out pass you by without at least seeing if you like them, or if they help entertain you and connect you to loved ones (looking at you Snapchat and TikTok).

Amongst some doubt of new or potential users in the mid-2000s after Facebook opened up to those outside of universities, we have to admit that Facebook has had a longevity that some of the other platforms have not. It allows you to keep your personal network in one place as well as your photos, significant dates, your career changes, events, and even see what your cousins are up to. It almost feels like once you’re invested, it’s hard to get out.

The thing is, there is definitely a grey area on who you accept as a “friend”. It really is up to each person’s comfort level on who they want to be connected to, and how much sharing they do on the platform. This article isn’t going to address Facebook privacy concerns and data sharing, but we do encourage you to look in to those if that is something that is important to you. It’s a similar idea with LinkedIn – some people are happy to connect with anyone and everyone, while others prefer to keep their connections to those they personally know and/or have worked with.

This story is addressing a question as it relates to an article in Inc. about whether or not is it’s ok for managers and employees to be “Facebook friends”, and some other tricky professional situations. We have to look at few things first, including the evolution of our use.

Since Facebook was made available to everyone, we have gone from a simple profile picture, relationship status (oof), and random updates about our breakfast/dentist appointments, to joining interest groups, sharing news articles, promoting brands and memes at a mind-boggling rate. Many people have considered deleting their Facebook profiles due to a high level of negativity, privacy concerns over their data and pictures, and how ultimately, scrolling your newsfeed can be a total time suck.

Many stay on because they are in groups (like super amazing, supportive, and popular ones such as Austin Digital Jobs) that they enjoy, and it’s a way to stay connected with others. This has felt true especially during COVID-19 where many people have lost their social outlets, networking opportunities, and have not been able to get together in person. Social media has also been a useful platform for small business owners and entrepreneurs to run a business page at minimal costs (free unless they run advertising), and reach out to customers. Facebook (owner of Instagram) also seems to have been making strides this year to better support small business owners.

So, should you be Facebook friends with your boss?

That is up to you (we are not here to tell you how to run your life) and while many have said, “Nope” in a super unofficial survey of 30 respondents, there were a couple of interesting perspectives:

“Since I’m my boss, twist on my answer… I don’t yes any professional that asks to be FB friends. That’s what my page is for. I even have a canned response that says this because I get so many asks. My personal FB is for actual friends of mine. I didn’t want to yes my MIL either. I have her on the restricted list.”

“I guess it depends. I’m friends with my boss and most of my coworkers. Creative shop within a corporation … about 45 strong. We are tight.”

“If you love your job and you love your boss then I think it is ok. I work 2 part-time jobs and both of my bosses are amazing! I am friends and Facebook friends with both of them.”

“I’m fine. I don’t post much on Facebook anymore. My bosses are all fairly chill. ”

“I have been Facebook friends with previous bosses while they were my boss. I am not with my current boss, but I’d be fine with it if we were. I don’t post anything too crazy, and I tend to over share in the office already. I like to be an open book. Tiktok would be different though… ”

For some who are part of a start-up or smaller team where collaboration and getting to know one another  are supported (thinking teams of 10 or less, hey AG Staff Writers), this may be more of the ‘norm’ and acceptable. However, the majority of people do not want to be “Facebook friends” with their boss to draw a line between work and personal sharing. Many people also mentioned that it varied if they chose to be Facebook friends with their colleagues, although they seem to be more open to colleagues vs. direct supervisors.

This seems to reflect back on how you use Facebook and if sharing your weekend or family photos is not something you want everyone to see. On the flip side, if you’re not sharing much, maybe you’d be OK with being connected there. A more professional way of connecting with your supervisor and others at work is through LinkedIn, and is in fact, highly encouraged.

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Could TikTok soon be banned in the U.S for privacy breaching?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) TikTok, a video content social media giant, has been deemed a potential national security risk by the U.S Federal government.

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TikTok is banned

U.S lawmakers are calling for a full investigation into TikTok, the fifteen second video app with almost 180 million downloads, after expressing concerns of a privacy breach by the Chinese government.

TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, purchased the platform originally known as musical.ly in November 2017. Since then the social media app worth an estimated $150 billion has almost 180 million downloads in the U.S, and 800 million downloads worldwide.

According to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, the U.S has reason to believe the Beijing-based company, ByteDance, may have been coerced into handing over data to China’s communist leaders. The app’s Founder, Zhang Yiming, and TikTok’s spokesperson responded to the accusations with the following statement: “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S. We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

We don’t know if we believe you TikTok.

TikTok received over 500 legal demands, including emergency requests, in the first six months of 2020. TikTok has also previously confirmed that the app stores user data on “U.S-based servers” withdrawn from phone downloads. Information includes IP addresses, messages, location information, and according to Pompeo, “sensitive information”, exposed by data breaching that disregards American rights to privacy and potentially violates national security guidelines.

Company employees may live in the U.S, but with its head of operations stationed in Beijing, pressure from the Chinese Government to provide user information is a very serious concern for Americans using the app. 41 percent of its users are part of Generation Z, a highly influential, social media-friendly age group, ranging between 16 and 24.

A sense of invincibility within this age range encourages users to use the app without caution of personal information that may be provided or derived off your phone after installation. In the past two years, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have also been criticized for not abiding to lawful privacy standards.

ByteDance has halted the use of its corporate office in Beijing and is looking to establish headquarters within the U.S or under new management.

The U.S. government is seriously considering banning the use of TikTok.

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