Twitter: The be all and end all of social media

There’s a new Internet phenomenon taking the social media world by storm. And while it’s not exactly “new,” you may or may not have heard some buzz about “tweets, retweets, twavatars, tweeps, tweetspeak, twitterverse…” you get the idea. What is this new language, and where does it come from? In a word: Twitter.

Twitter, according to www.twitter.com, is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

I would consider Twitter to be the number one social networking tool out there that I use – and it’s incredibly convenient to keep up with your fellow “tweeps” by updating via the web, phone, IM, or by using any of the hundreds of applications available that integrates with Twitter. (Check out my blog on Diggin’ Digsby, my personal preference of keeping up with Twitter as well as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace.)

Since the formation of Twitter, there have been numerous, and by numerous, I’m guessing well into the hundreds, of Twitter tools to make your Tweeting experience more productive, pleasant, and just plain fun. But before getting started on Twitter, I recommend familiarizing yourself with a Twictionary to get you up-to-speed with your “tweetspeak.”

Just a few good Twitter tools to check out and get you started:

  • Twuffer
    Twuffer allows the Twitter user to compose a list of future tweets, and schedule their release.
  • TweetDeck
    TweetDeck is an Adobe Air desktop application that groups together your Twitter feeds into more manageable bite sized pieces.
  • Mrtweet
    Mr. Tweet looks through your extended network to help you build effective relationships on Twitter, by asking: “Which of my followers I should be following in return?” and “Who are the influential people I should be following?”
  • Twollow
    Auto-follow people on Twitter based on key words.
  • Twistory
    Twitter + history = Twistory. Add your Twitter feed to your favorite calendar application and browse through your personal Twitter history.
  • TweetBeep
    Keep track of conversations that mention you, your products, your company, or anything else that comes to mind.
  • Twitzu
    Create events to promote through Twitter

So, what are you waiting for? If you’re not on the Twitter bandwagon, sign-up for a free account at www.twitter.com. And while you’re at it, follow The Ohio Society of CPAs at http://twitter.com/OSCPA, myself at http://twitter.com/kvitartas, and Chris Jenkins at http://twitter.com/Chris_Jenkins.

For a list of more Twitter tools, visit wtips.blogspot.com.

Black Monday, Protect Online Purchases

image

With the holidays rapidly approaching, online shopping is on the rise and people are less weary of potential security threats. This leads some security researchers to believe November 24th will become “Black Monday” the peak day for malware distribution.

Some basic tips for on-line shopping include:

  • If a deal seems too good to be true it most likely is. Only buy from known companies with a good reputation.
     
  • Look for HTTPS in the URL of the site and the SSL security lock in your browser.
     
  • When possible, use a secure online payment service like PayPal.
     
  • Use credit cards rather than debit cards.
     
  • Don’t keep your personal or financial information (including account passwords) on your computer.
     
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information over the phone, through the mail, or online unless you are absolutely certain that your contact is legitimate.
     
  • Try to make all of your online transactions won a single credit card.
     
  • Keep a record of what you pay for and always check your online purchases off against your statement.
     
  • Always read the privacy policy and TOS of any Web site that requests personal details. If the Web site is requesting this type of information and does not have a privacy policy, it is not wise to submit your information.
     
  • Keep your operating system, anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software up to date.
     
  • Use anti-virus software and/or firewalls on every computer you use.

Regardless of the time of year we should all be careful when making online purchases. Be safe, Happy Holidays and by the way I’m a medium….

Microsoft OneNote

clip_image002Available as a standalone product for $99.95, or included in MS Office 2007 Student and Ultimate. MS OneNote allows users to quickly create, organize, and share notes.

  • Notes can consist of text, images, audio, video and even handwritten content, and are stored in a familiar binder type interface.
  • MS OneNote is fully integrated with MS Office allowing users to consolidate multiple types of data into a single location or link notes to contacts and appointments.
  • Notes can be shared among multiple users in a collaborative environment, synchronized with mobile devices, and published to the website.
  • Audio notes can be indexed and made keyword searchable.

If you’re a heavy note-taker, run project meetings, or conduct research, this is a great tool to have in your arsenal. For a complete list of features, check out the MS OneNote product overview page.

Put these techie gadgets at the top of your holiday wish list

clip_image001Flip

Previously reviewed, the Flip camcorder is a great tool to easily collect and share video. Everything you need to start collecting and sharing those holiday memories is included in the box. The Flip starts at $169.99.

 

clip_image003COOLPIX S60

Starting at $350.00, the Coolpix S60 from Nikon offers a 10MP camera with a unique touch screen experience. Ensure you always get the shot you want with additional features like Smile Shutter and Blink Warning.

 

clip_image004XBOX 360

Starting at $199.00, the XBOX 360 is more than just a gaming system. Media Center Extender features allow you to share pictures, music and video from your Windows PC to your home entertainment center. Adding an XBOX Live account opens the system to online play and additional content, including Netflix movie downloads. To get the best deal, opt for the $299.00 version with additional storage space and HD connections.

clip_image005CODi Phantom CT3

A gift for the travelers in your life: the CODi Phantom CT3 meets new TSA requirements allowing frequent fliers to leave the laptop in the bag. A hinged design allows this $199.99 bag to open and lay flat for an unobstructed x-ray view.

Technology Tupperware (Data Collection)

Masters of data storage databases are critical technology tools in nearly every organization – storing data regarding customers, materials, products, content and more. Over the years data stacks up, information becomes stale, and before you know it you’ve created nothing more than Technology Tupperware.

Real value in the databases goes well beyond simple storage – it’s the ability to use the accumulated for business intelligence and analysis. Simple enough. Just use the data you’ve collected throughout the years and start writing some snazzy reports that spit out all the answers. This is normally when businesses open their eyes only to realize that data “spoils” over time. Worse yet, they have plenty of ingredients but always seems to be missing the ones they actually need. This raises some serious questions about the data collection, storage, and use.

Many organizations tend to collect as much possible data in a single instance. This trap is easy to fall into without an understanding of future goals or alternative means of data collection. It’s also an easy way to store enough information to make your database a security management nightmare. In the past, it was acceptable to store Social Security numbers, birthdays, and credit card information for a customer. However, with current security threats this is no longer the case. Another issue organizations face with this type of data collection is the “20 Questions Scenario.” Too much data collection slows down points of contact with the customer, therefore diminishing the customer experience.

Balancing the needs of the organization with customer experience can be difficult but it’s far from impossible. With minimal effort you can quickly enhance your data collection and customer experience by adding simple automation and using information differently.

Start with simple steps:

  • Identify and ask for the information that has the most value first
    • Full Name – Can be parsed into the chunks you require in the database
    • Street Address, City, St – Should identify the zip code automatically, or street address + zip should return the city and state
    • Phone Numbers – Collect the one most likely to be accessible – cell phones have the greatest value and also provide SMS connectivity
  • Identify information that may change often and tie this to alternate touch points
    • Surveys - Electronic surveys are one of the most misunderstood technologies on the web. Most often used to evaluate a product or service with an average score. The individual responses or inconsistencies in responses give you a view of customer attitude, interests, and changes at any given point in time.
    • Time Date - Store the time and date of when customers contact you, it gives you a view into how and when they work. Targeting marketing should be done when the customer is most likely to be open to it.
    • E-Mail – If you collect an e-mail address, send a welcome or confirmation from the system to populate communication preferences. This is far easier to do if you are opting customers in automatically and offering opt-out capabilities.

Simple solutions like these can shave several steps off of your data collection processes and enhance customer experience.

Regardless of your data collection and maintenance, sometimes you need additional information that just can’t be obtained from the customer. Free or low costs web services can help fill in some of the gaps, and in some cases Web 2.0 communities can also offer a wealth of information.

While filling the gaps isn’t as easy as adjusting data collection strategies, it allows organization to build more robust reporting and business intelligence.

In the next Technology Tupperware segment we will look at reporting tools and strategies.

Computer repair made really, really easy

It’s not too often that I find myself impressed with a company or a service that a company offers. So often products and services offered by companies are not quite what they appear, or don’t live up to the hype.  But, PCService.com did what so many other companies have failed to do – impressed me immensely.

My initial experience with PCService.com started out with a broken LCD screen on a machine under warranty. Unfortunately, it seems that regardless of if the issue is a workmanship issue or drop related issue, Lenovo considers all broken LCD issues to be ‘abuse’ related issues which are not covered under their warranty (not sure how normally opening a laptop constitutes “abuse,” but that’s a rant for another day). I was left with the need to get a replacement screen for a relatively new Lenovo laptop.

I began researching laptop repair companies, as it had been a couple years since I needed a non-warranty repair on a laptop other than a battery or hard drive replacement. I even researched price costs for a replacement LCD. And, because this laptop was relatively new – my researched prices were ending up relatively high. The part price wasn’t too bad, but labor was adding significantly to the price – a factor that I have pretty much come to expect these days.

Around this time, I ran across PCService.com. It seemed to be everything I had been Fixed!looking for. The price for the part and labor was about what I was finding elsewhere just for the part alone. And shipping…. well that was free as long as you had a couple days to wait (if this isn’t an option, next-day shipping is available for $70). All of this seemed too good to be true – which sent up red flags all over the place for me.

A deal this good? It’s got to be a scam, right? And that’s exactly what I was thinking when I began researching them. Instead, I found praise, a good solid background with the BBB (under the name of MacService – the other end of their business) and that they are Lenovo certified (along with plenty of others). So I decided to take the plunge.

How it works: PCService.com uses a very simple web-wizard that makes life easy when it comes to a repair. It goes something like this:  

  Step 1: Select your laptop brand
  Step 2: Select your Model
  Step 3: Select the repair (LCD Replacement, HDD, RAM, DVD Drive, Keyboard, hinge. Case… etc).
  Step 4: Checkout
  Step 5: They ship you a box – you place the laptop and power cable in the box, and return the box. They do the repair and e-mail you the status, then return the laptop to you.

And…It really is that simple. And to top it all off, all of the prices for all the repairs are listed up-front when you are selecting the repair – something most companies are unwilling to do.

Simple, easy and satisfying. The next time that I need a laptop repaired – I’m going to use PCService.com – and if the service is as good the next time, I will definitely have to recommend them.

If you have comments about PCService.com, or any other Laptop repair provider we would love to hear about it.

Azure? Really, what’s in a name?

If you think the name is hard to understand then you’ll be lost on the technology. Azure is the name of Microsoft’s new “could” computing platform. Diagrams of the new platform show Azure as a common foundation, allowing developers the ability to create applications by utilizing a plethora of Microsoft software and services.

It’s clear that Microsoft intends to allow developers to utilize this platform to build customized applications hosted in a high availability configuration. What’s not so clear is what services are actually available, what the cost is, or how Microsoft’s other online initiatives fit into the mix.

Some of the known services to be included on Azure are:

  • Live Services to create social applications
  • SQL Services for relational database capabilities
  • .NET services to ease communication and development
  • SharePoint Services for collaboration features
  • Dynamics CRM for customer relationship management

For Azure to be a success, Microsoft needs to clearly define Azure’s role, offer-up great communication, and one-up all of the other “Cloud Computing” competitors. Given Microsoft’s recent lack of clear communication and the nature of the completion, they have a long road ahead of them. After all that, now we have to talk about overcoming the name. Azure?

More Azure Information:

· From Microsoft

· From Paul Thurrott’s Win SuperSite

Reframe It: Adding context to content

clip_image001Reframe It, a browser plug-in that allows users to bookmark and comment on specific content within a web page. By creating a virtual page margin, Reframe It allows users to collect, organize, and share information within the content on a page quickly.

Reframe It is still beta, and community participation is still small. Still, I find the tool beneficial for both presenting information and researching various topics.

Over the next few weeks I plan to continue my use of the Reframe It site and incorporate different widgets to bring my tagged sites and comments into the blog. If you care to join me in the experiment, you can join Reframe It at http://reframeit.com/about.

Windows 7, Again

clip_image002After Microsoft’s PDC, more information about Windows 7 has surfaced. To sum it up: Windows 7 is Vista done right. While Windows 7 isn’t a complete rebuild of Vista, every aspect of the OS has been evaluated and tweaked. And beyond the eye candy, Windows 7 promises to be a performance optimized, less bloated and more stable operating system.

For a complete rundown of the changes and updates in Windows 7 see Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows.

Microsoft’s Professional Accountants’ Network offers Action Pack subscriptions and support to accountants

Important notice: Microsoft® Office Accounting will no longer be distributed after November 16, 2009. Microsoft will continue to provide mainstream support until 2014, and extended support until 2019.

Microsoft’s Professional Accountants’ Network (MPAN) is free for accounting professionals and offers a plethora of benefits ranging from training and events, products and services, references and resources, and free unlimited product and program support through 2009.

MPAN membership provides online CPE training and the MPAN Consultant Exam are offered. Users will also receive local MPAN member contact information with an Office Accounting registration, and a subscription to Accounting Network News e-mail newsletter.

Membership in the MPAN also gets you one free downloadable license of Microsoft Office Accounting Professional, and access to discounted software through the Microsoft Action Pack subscription (MAPS). An optional membership into the Microsoft Partner Program allows members to gain access to the internal-use, full-version software.

The MAPS software subscription includes:

  • A Welcome Kit and Quarterly Update Kits as new software releases become available. The Welcome Kit uses Demo Showcase to obtain product demos as downloads or as DVDs.
  • Web Solutions Toolkit software, with a chance to receive a Special Edition Web Solution Toolkit twice a year. Qualifications for the Special Edition Toolkit require members to pass an associated assessment with at least a 70%.
  • Small Business Specialist Community Toolkit is available to all members of the Microsoft Small Business Specialists and provides guidance in Microsoft technology and products, training resources, sales and marketing tools, and promotional efforts.

More information on the MAPS can be found on their FAQs page.

Microsoft Office Accounting Express customization is targeted toward small business accounting and designed for entry-level users to promote your firm and its services.

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