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Five Cool New-to-me Tools I'm Using

By Sree Sreenivasan | March 7, 2011 1:30pm

By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Editor

In these DNAinfo.com essays, I tend to focus on big-picture thoughts on services like Facebook (my collection of Facebook columns) and Twitter (my collection of Twitter columns) and the state of the media ("Five Things I Learned from #Egypt, #Libya").

But today, I thought I'd write about the little guys: new-to-me tools and services worth checking out. Each is small, simple and offers a glimpse into new technology ideas.

RAPPORTIVE: If you use Gmail, this is a free extension you have to get. Not using Gmail? This just might be the reason to switch. Here's how it works: Rapportive adds a pane of social-media info about a person whose email you are reading — their Facebook posts, their tweets, their LinkedIn updates. It gives you context about the person and a glimpse into his or her world, what they are working on, etc. You can download it and use it with Firefox, Safari or Chrome.

SHOUTKEY: I love Bit.ly as a URL shortner (see "Thoughts on Bit.ly and Lessons from Its Success"), but here's something a little different. While Bit.ly gives you a permanent short URL, Shoutkey gives you a temporary shortened URL that's meant for shouting across the room. Here's how it works: Say you want to share with a colleague a page you are looking at on your computer. You could just e-mail the link, or you could cut-n-paste the long URL into a box on Shoutkey and choose how long you want the new short URL to exist (you can choose from 5 mins to 1 hour to 12 hours to 24 hours). It generates a new link that starts "http://shoutkey.com/" and puts a simple English word at the end. So all you do is shout to your colleague, go to "Shoutkey.com/applesauce" (or whatever).

HY.LY: Facebook is about to change the way the Pages (i.e., business-related section) works, but there will always be a need for the "welcome" tab (or landing page) that explains what your page is about and to encourage people to "like" your content (and, therefore, get regular updates from you). You can learn how to code a welcome tab yourself, or you can use Hy.ly to make one for you. Here's how it works: You go to Hy.ly and it will walk you through the process of creating a simple landing page. You pay via credits, which you can earn by "liking" some of its other products or by paying a low fee.

See how I'm using it at Facebook.com/sreetips (and choose "Welcome" if it doesn't show up right away).  

ANIMOTO: Audio slideshows are fun and compelling, but can be hard to put together. That's where this service comes in. Here's how it works: By going to Animoto.com, you can select a set of pictures off your hard drive or Facebook or Flickr or Picasa or SmugMug, and then set it to licensed music of your choosing and create something special and unusual. You can then upload it to YouTube and elsewhere. Thirty-second videos are free; longer videos are $30 a year. I made the following video in seven minutes, including the time it took to upload to YouTube: a look at an Al Jazeera taping at Columbia Journalism School.

Web2PDFconvert: It's a web world, but there are still times when you want a nice print out of something you are looking at online. But with a proliferation of Web 2.0 sites, sometimes the printed version doesn't come out well. This service solves that problem. Here's how it works. Go to Web2PDFconvert.com and put in a URL and it will create a free, instant PDF that you can download. 

Of all the new-to-me sites, the one that got the most buzz over the last month is one I am not using or testing, but I can't but mention it here. It's called BreakupNotifier.com for Facebook and chances are you have heard about it already. If not, here's your chance to figure it out on your own.

What are some new tools we should know about? Post your comments below or on Twitter @sree.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.