In early April I’ll be doing the technology showcase for the Association Executives of North Carolina ( AENC ) again. In addition to talking about Internet marketing and digital content creation, I’ll offer up another session on tech tools – Cool Tools School 2009. To prepare for that, I thought I’d start noting down some great resources that I find very helpful in my day-to-day work. “Helpful” is the key word here – some of these are hardly bleeding edge at this point, but they have made my work life much more productive. That, for me, is cool!
These are the six I tend to use most on a daily basis right now.
Sure, yawn if you want, but a trusty RSS reader is, in my humble opinion, the tool you need above all other tools if you expect to stay on top of things these days. (Not sure what RSS is? Common Craft to the rescue!) At a minimum, you should be set up to track your market though a reader using Google Alerts. Personally, I have my Google Reader so loaded up with tags and folders for the wide range of things I track, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to leave it. Fortunately, for the time being, I’m content to stay with it. Next year, RSS readers will be officially barred from my “cool” list – it’s well past time for them to be completely mainstream.
A year from now, I’ll be saying pretty much the same thing about having a Twitter management tool as I say above about having a RSS reader. TweetDeck is my tool of choice right now. The biggest upside to it, in my opinion, is that it gives you the ability to set up groups for the people you follow in Twitter – much easier than trying to navigate the Twitter Web site! I have groups set up to track association tweeters, marketing tweeters, e-learning tweeters, etc. That, and the ability to easily follow saved Twitter searches make life a lot easier for me. Downside? Why on earth is it not possible to see a simple listing of your friends and followers in TweetDeck? Am I missing something? Twhirl, which is otherwise not as good, at least provides for this.
Skype with Call Recorder (Mac) or CallBurner (PC)
I do a lot of interviews for podcasts and for research, and having Skype set up with Call Recorder (or Call Burner on my PC) has been a great help. I use the Skype option to call phones to place calls to my interviewees – this helps ensure better sound quality and also means they don’t have to be Skype users. Once I get them on the line, I click the record button on Call Recorder (with the interviewees permission of course!). I’ve done dozens of recordings this way, and the quality so far has always been very good. (Note: You have to purchase time on Skype to be able to call phone, but the rates are very low.)
Digital recorders almost certainly don’t qualify as bleeding edge “cool” any more, but I resisted getting one for a long time and am now wondering why. It’s been great to have one for in-person interviews or even for capturing thoughts while driving or in other situations where writing is not easy. I use the Sony ICDUX70 Digital Voice Recorder and have found it to be excellent. It records to MP3 format, and transferring the files to your computer via USB is a breeze. I suppose I may throw this one off the list in favor of the Flip Video Camcorder at some point, but I just happen to be doing a lot more plain audio than video right now. The Sony recorder is indispensable.
I’ve had a need to share some of the big, fat audio files I’ve been producing lately. There are a number of services out there that support storing and sharing large files, but the one I like best at this point is Box.net. The service is free for files under 25MB, and above that the prices are reasonable. You can even stream the files that you upload. I actually use Libsyn for my podcast hosting – and I highly recommend it – but I suppose Box.net could be an option for this as well.
It may seem a bit odd to include a service as a tool, but I think a service provided in the way that Elance does is a tool, and a very powerful one. For those not familiar with it, Elance is a marketplace for freelance services. There you can post requests for proposals to do just about anything and attract a pool of bids from qualified providers. The service has become increasingly sophisticated over the years and now offers, in addition to ratings and other qualifying tools, a series of tests and certifications for participating vendors. What do I use it for? A number of things, but most recently I have used it to find transcription services for all of the audio recording referenced above. I make the recording, upload it to Box.net, the transcriptionist downloads it, and within a few days I have a complete transcript of the recording.
By the way – I use the combination of Skype, my Sony recorder, Box.net, and Elance to crank out a variety of simple digital content.
So, that’s my list for right now. I thought it might be useful to keep it short and spell out how I am using these tools rather than simply provide a long laundry list. But never fear, if you want a long laundry list, check out the tools I covered at the AENC meeting last year – many of which were suggested by popular association bloggers..
And let me know about any favorite tools of yours. I’d love to add them to the Cool Tools curriculum.
Hedgehog & Fox
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