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My basic rule of thumb is that I want any tool to be free (or at least affordable) and also relatively glitch-free and easy to master. My third requirement is that I want some assurance the organization involved won’t disappear, especially if they are hosting my efforts and therefore might take all my hard work with them and leave me hanging.
Using those criteria, please consider experimenting with these gems:
- Scribd.com (see sample below) – People hate clicking away to view slow-loading PDF files. Scribd instead allows you to display PDF and ePub documents in a scrollable frame embedded directly in your page or post. Once you register, you can upload any document for which you own the copyright or which is in the public domain. Scribd generates an HTML embed code for you and also hosts the document for you on its site. Scribd prompts you to describe and tag your posts. That can be frustrating when you are in hurry but spending the time to tag always pays off. I also recommend searching the site first to see if someone else has already uploaded your document. You may also find other documents that others have contributed that might make sense for your site. (Note to WordPress users: Don’t take the first embed code you see. Go to the final place where your document is posted, click on the Embed icon at the top and look for the WordPress link on the popup screen. The WordPress-friendly code is much shorter. Paste it into you post using the Text, not Visual, view.)
- Ease of Use: 5 of 5 (simple and reliable)
- Cost: Free
- TimelineJS – One of the things that the mainstream media often does poorly is provide people the background and context they need to understand complex or longstanding issues. Timelines are a great way to offer people a visually engaging history lesson. TimelineJS creates stunning multimedia timelines in which you can embed images, videos and documents, working directly in a Google-based template (created by Zack Wise). My only concern is that the template is stored on the Verite website, not yours, so you must depend on their site staying online. Michigan Radio used the tool to create a comprehensive timeline on the events since passage of Michigan’s medical marijuana law in 2008. (Click here to view the MR timeline.
- Ease of Use: 3 of 5 (the tool is reliable and straightforward but it takes time to learn)
- Cost: Free
- Storify – Want a quick way to assemble a story based on breaking news? Storify is an amazing tool that lets you mix your own original material (text, images, etc.) with social media material generated by others, from YouTubes to tweets. Assemble your article from these various options and Storify provides you an embed code for your site, as well as displaying your Storify on their site. This Storify of Buttercup, the duck with the 3-D-printed prosthetic foot, highlights the virtues of the approach. Text, images, YouTubes, tweets. The whole ends up being much more than the sum of its parts.
- Ease of Use: 4 of 5 (an intuitive tool that is constantly being improved)
- Cost: Free
- Soundslides – A slideshow of images set to music is great way to tell a visual story. (This presentation was assembled from images I took at a local parade, set to music written and performed by my husband and his band.) Soundslides is software that you install on your hard drive. Once installed, you are greeted with two buttons – one to upload your JPEGs and the other your music file (MP3s work great). You can upload as many images as you want, but Soundslides says the optimization works best up to 200 images. Depending on the version, you may be able to create a show without a music file. The program adds an auto-dissolve between the images, and you can adjust the pacing of the show by adding or subtracting images or changing the length of the song. You can caption the images, add a headline and insert credits. To use the show on your site, you must be able to upload or FTP the exported files to your server. (Note to WordPress Users: This link takes you to a Soundslide WordPress Utility that generates HTML you can paste into a WordPress post. This is what the same parade slideshow above looks like when using this utility.)
- Ease of Use: 5 of 5 (pretty much idiot-proof)
- Cost: The free trial version leaves an ad for Soundslides on your project. The basic version is $39.95 and plus is $69.95.
- Ustream.tv – The opportunity to do a free, live webcast once a week – if only for 10 minutes – is irresistible. Bill Castanier and I do a weekly hour-ling radio show on the local community college station (LCC Radio WLNZ 89.7 in Lansing, MI). We also do a simultaneous live webcast through the Ustream.tv site and also through an embed on our Lansing Online News site. LON is our experiment in citizen journalism. The free version also allows us to archive a number of our shows on the Ustream.tv site. When we get too close to capacity for the free version, I go into our stack of videos and use the simple “Upload to YouTube” option to archive copies there. While Livestream and the new live YouTube (through a Google+ hangout) have their own virtues, I like what Ustream.tv gives me for free, including the downloadable Producer software that makes it incredibly easy to broadcast and record shows. I would recommend buying the Logitech Pro 9000 Business Webcam. It runs off your USB and offers incredible quality. It has a stabilizer function that is amazing at the current $89.95 price.
- Ease of Use: 4 of 5 (remember to download and use the Producer software – it makes life easy)
- Cost: Free. The paid version offers things I drool over, such as multiple cameras, but the free version also allows people to comment on the site through social media.