Friday, February 26, 2010

Thing 52. Putting It All Together: Building & Sharing Your iGoogle Page

iGoogle or other personal start pages are great for managing your PLN, but they can further enhance your productivity by aggregating many other parts of your life, too. You can organize gadgets and feeds into tabs or pages on iGoogle by theme or topic. 

Using tabs turns iGoogle into a personal web site, with multiple pages for your interests. You can have a main page with all your productivity and communication gadgets--calendar, email, to-do list, Google Reader or Bloglines, Twitter, Facebook, etc.-- and then other tabs for other parts of your life. So, all your library-related feeds and gadgets can be in one tab or page, while your hobby-or home-related items are on another. Technology can have its own page, and so on.

You know that your iGoogle homepage is visible only to you when you are signed into your Google account, but did you you know that you can share the individual tabs you create on iGoogle? Organizing iGoogle with tabs by topic makes it possible to share all or only part of your iGooge site. By creating a PLN tab or page, you can share it with your colleagues or others. 

Creating Tabs in iGoogle
To create a tab or page in iGoogle, click the arrow next to Home in the left sidebar to get the drop down menu. Then click Add a tab. This box pops up:
Name the tab. If you are feeling lucky, you can let Google add stuff to the page, but you probably want to uncheck that box so you can choose what to add yourself. Once the tab is created, go to Add Stuff and start adding! You can customize the theme of each tab, just as you do on the home page, so each tab or page has a distinctive look. 

Create tabs as you need them for organizing or sharing. All your tabs will be in a list in the order created in the sidebar below the Home tab.

Sharing Tabs in iGoogle
Once you have your tab(s) the way you want them--full of great gadgets and feeds--you can share them with others. In the sidebar, click the arrow next to the tab you want to share in the left sidebar. Then click Share this tab.This box will pop up:

You can uncheck the box next to anything you don't want to share. Fill in the email addresses of those you want to receive your Tab, add a message, and click Send. Couldn't be easier to share all the great "stuff" you've found.

So now that you understand the basics of setting up, organizing, and maybe sharing parts of  your iGoogle page, it is time to think about what else belongs either on the front view of your page or behind some of those newly created tabs. 

What Should I Add?
Thing 51 showed you how to find gadgets and feeds by searching the Add Stuff pages, but since there are thousands upon thousands of gadgets, here are some ways to narrow your search and a few recommendations for cool gadgets. 

To view and add the newest gadgets to your page, click on Newest under Sort by on the Add Stuff page. If these gadgets aren’t your speed, try clicking on Hottest or Editor’s Picks

Google News is becoming a favorite customizable, news-source aggregator. This gadget is helpful because it is fully customizable and all news sections appear in separate categorized tabs. You can specify national, state, and local news. Users can simply click on the tab that interests them to get set up. In your initial set-up of Google News, you have the option to add only the topics that interest you. You can click on a + sign to indicate which subjects or topics you’d like to add to your Google News page. This allows you to manage the flow of your news sources from the get-go. For a recent Minnesota event, Buffy Hamilton (The Unquiet Librarian) put together a helpful libguide titled, Harness the Power of Google News
    • How about a book gadget! Some favorite gadgets for book lovers include: My Google Book Search Library, Book of the Day from Google Book Search, NPR Topics: Books, London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books. For others, search for book, literature, or another term of your choice for more.
    • A search for library returns a wide range of feeds and gadgets, including gadgets for catalog searches (WorldCat or Hennepin County Library, for example) or the Librarian's eLibrary, a custom Google search for resources from the American Library Association. 
    • Search iGoogle Showcase to track down the iGoogle pages of celebrities and modern thinkers. It may surprise you! You may also get ideas for some fun or professional gadgets to add to your own page. 
    • Add a gadget for your favorite websites. Simply track down a few favorite websites and their URLs. Then in your iGoogle page, click on Add stuff. Next, click Add feed or gadget. Copy and paste the URL in the provided space, and click Add. If the website allows feeds and updates it will go through without a hitch and will be added to your iGoogle page. If you select a website that does not allow automatic updates or feeds, you’ll get a message stating that it cannot be found. At that point, try looking for the site’s RSS feed instead. 
    • To-Do gadgets are great! Go to Add stuff. Search for To Do and choose from the list. Once you’ve selected the one you prefer, add it to your iGoogle page. Now you have a place to store all of the “to-do” items that you normally would have put on post-its or in a scheduler. This also will bring you back to your iGoogle page often–which is a good thing if new feeds are consistently being updated on your page.
    • A Facebook for iGoogle gadget is also pretty handy. A few users have complained of errors here and there, so it may be a bit fussy. Work with it for a while and see how it goes. You can always make adjustments to your settings or preferences. 
    • There are gadgets to add your Twitter feed to your iGoogle page, too.
      There are new gadgets rolling out every day! We’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities. Be sure to check out others at your leisure. They’re all available by clicking on Add stuff and then selecting Gadgets.

      Staying Current with Google
      There is no doubt that by the time this newsletter goes live, there will be new Google news. At the moment, most everyone is wondering when Google Caffeine will become available and whether they will like the new way that Google search results are served up. The recent rage (and controversy) is all about Google Buzz. Released 2/10/10 in its beta form, Google Buzz is available directly through Gmail. Here’s a short video from Google, introducing users to this new social networking tool. 

      How to keep up? The Official Google Blog will help you stay current with all things Google!  Add it as a favorite RSS feed to your iGoogle page and you won’t miss a beat!  

      Don’t be afraid to help your boss, administrator, or students in setting up an iGoogle page. They will think you are a genius. A customized homepage allows you to feel in control of the amount, types, and flow of interesting information. 

      Your PLN and customized homepage allow you to learn and explore at your own pace; it’s anywhere, anytime learning. Even in tough economic times, we can keep adding to our own personal learning!

      Google Mobile Apps 

      Here is a final challenge…set up your phone with your Google applications. You will see iGoogle, Google Reader, Google Calendar, and Google Docs among an uber list of other great possibilities. Go here for more info. Now, you are productive on the go, too!

      Did we miss your favorite gadget? Got another favorite customized home page tool you want to rave about? Post your favorites or other iGoogle reflections in the comments area below.

      by Kate Bessey & Patricia Post, CMLE
      Ann Walker Smalley, Metronet
      Image Credit: Don Solo

      Thursday, February 25, 2010

      Thing 51. It's An Avalanche! Managing Your PLN via a Customizable Homepage

      As all of this information comes at us through our PLNs, how can we organize it so that we can avoid becoming buried? And, how can we actually boost our productivity? As mentioned in Thing 28, many professionals now set up a custom homepage (or a personalized profile/start page) where they can access all of their accounts, social networks, information feeds, and contacts in one central location. My Yahoo!, Pageflakes, NetVibes, Webwag, Protopage, & iGoogle are some of the leading customizable homepages.

      Each of these customizable homepages has something unique to offer.  For example, iGoogle is praised for its ease of integration and no-frills usability, whereas PageFlakes is noted for its appearance and functionality.  Due to the sheer popularity of iGoogle, it has emerged as the front-runner of customizable homepages.  If you already have an iGoogle page, you may be surprised at some of the new possibilities for your page. For both iGoogle newcomers and long-time iGoogle users, read on for the latest on iGoogle.  

      If you already have Gmail or another type of Google account, you can easily start your iGoogle page using the same log-in information that you use for your other Google account(s). Conveniently, iGoogle will effortlessly link-up the Google services you already use!

      If you don’t have an iGoogle account, you can get started here. This video details the process behind setting up an iGoogle account.

      If you need a bit of an iGoogle brush-up, here’s a quick video called iGoogle: a Mini Product Tour that should bring you up to speed. 

      If you’d like iGoogle to be your browser’s default homepage (recommended), access this link for more information.

      Once you’ve created your essential iGoogle account information, you can now start customizing iGoogle to your specific needs and preferences. Many new iGoogle users start with choosing a theme for their iGoogle page. Remember, this is your start page, and you want it to be something you enjoy viewing! Whether you choose birds, swirls, your favorite model or actor, polka dots, or something else is really up to you. Google has even made Artist Themes available; this video shows off a few popular ones. 

      You’ll also want to start adding specific applications and gadgets to your page. Gadgets are defined by PCMag Encyclopedia as “mini application[s] that reside on a computer desktop or personal home page, typically found in the Windows environment. Gadgets provide a myriad of functions, including customized news and stock quotes, calendar, dictionary lookups, cartoons and games.” Here is a brief overview of how to add and edit gadgets on your page.

      RSS Feeds and Your iGoogle Page
      One great feature of iGoogle is its ability to allow you to add RSS feeds directly to your iGoogle page.  Having a hard time remembering what RSS feeds are?  Refer back to Thing 3 from the original 23 Things on a Stick Program.

      Are you in a bit of a rut with your current RSS feeds? Consider looking around for something new.
      •    Do a blog search in Google. This search will limit search results to bloggers talking about what you are interested in.
      •    Use the Bloglines search tool. Use the Search for Feeds option in the pull-down menu to locate interesting RSS feeds.
      •    Look at LibDex for library blogs worldwide.

      You can view your RSS feeds two ways on your iGoogle page, so take a minute to think through the options. You can have the feed go directly onto your iGoogle page, or manage the feed inside of your Google Reader. Either way, when you open your iGoogle page, your feeds will be there waiting for you!

      To view an RSS feed directly on your iGoogle page without clicking into any gadget, follow these instructions. This is a good option if you want to pounce on new posts of a few select feeds. So, be careful to only add your favorites, and know that you can always edit how you set things up. Do this:
      1.    Navigate to the blog or website you are targeting for a feed.
      2.    New tab, login to your iGoogle page.
      3.    Click on Add stuff towards the top right side of the screen.
      4.    Click on Add feed or gadget, located underneath the Narrow by category column.
      5.    Insert the RSS feed URL of your choice (from step 1 above).
      6.    Click Add.
      7.    The RSS feed should now be added directly to your iGoogle page.
      8.    Click on Add stuff to start the process again.

      Now, for the second possibility! The power of using Google Reader is in its ability to compile and organize all of your RSS feeds, and hold them together for when you have time to go to one place to get caught up on what’s new. No more navigating to site after site looking for news, let this tool do the work for you. For a refresher on Google Reader, skip on back to the original 23 Things program and read the section on Google Reader. If reading isn’t your best way to learn, check out this handy video. 

      Extra tip…We love the new Google Toolbar!  
      It makes it even EASIER for you to add RSS Feeds to your iGoogle page or Google Reader account.  *You may want to get permission to install the toolbar from an administrator or from technical support at your library.*  Once the toolbar is installed, if you’re visiting a site with an RSS Feed icon, simply click on the button and a prompt will appear asking if you want to add the RSS Feed to your iGoogle homepage or to your Google Reader page.  So simple! 

      The time investment to set up or fine tune your Reader will be a huge productivity booster, we promise! And, you will be able to demonstrate that you are current and up to date on what’s new in library land.

      As time goes on, you’ll be surprised at how your PLN grows and connects you to a larger world of people interested in things that interest you, too! Your expertise in setting up and monitoring your RSS feeds is one of your greatest tools for awareness and professional/ personal growth. Getting them in one place will make it even easier to keep up. Thing 52 shows how to use iGoogle tabs to organize your PLN--and other parts of your life.

      By Kate Bessey & Patricia Post, CMLE
      Gourd Avalanche by: BenoƮt Derrier

      Tuesday, February 23, 2010

      Thing 50. Personal Learning Networks (PLN)

      Twitter, RSS Feeds, email, web conferencing, social networking… Oh my! Developing and maintaining professional connections through a personal learning network in our fast-paced, virtual world may often seem like a daunting task! The key is to focus on the role these and other Web 2.0 tools can play in our professional lives. Instead of having to rely solely on face-to-face communication, telephone calls or conferences, it’s now possible to meet and discuss professional topics with our colleagues from the (relative) comfort of our desks! When it comes down to it, in many ways we can actually SAVE time and money by conducting the majority of our professional development interests online. So, let’s hunker down and focus on what we mean by a “Personal Learning Network” (PLN).

      What are PLNs?
      A Personal Learning Network or PLN can be defined as a collection of resources (whether human or virtual) that provide learning and developmental opportunities. In the past, Personal Learning Network typically referred to the people, goals, and connections that made learning a possibility. Take a look at David Warlick’s article on the beginning of Personal Learning Networks and the Stephen Downes blog post “Origins of the Term ‘Personal Learning Network". Buffy Hamilton has created a great video highlighing the professional use of PLNs by librarians across the country.

      Increasingly, the focus for PLNs is harnessing the power of Web 2.0 tools. With tools like RSS, Nings, & Twitter, our PLNs are expanding beyond immediate personal interactions to encompass the communities of library and technology people online. We can connect and converse with friends and colleagues from around the world with a click of the mouse. It’s really amazing when you think about the possibilities!

      With this increased accessibility and communication, the key is … keeping the information we create, send, and receive current, accurate, and useful. Of course, what’s important to one person can be meaningless to another. So, it’s really up to you to determine who you will “invite” into your PLN. It’s yours, so take it and run with it!

      Developing your PLN
      Regardless of how long you’ve been working in libraries, it’s safe to say that there’s always something new to learn. Every day there’s a new tool, gadget, widget, feed, etc. being released. Admittedly, some have the same basic function or purpose, while others are entirely new and unique. So, the question remains, how will you keep yourself informed and on top of new trends?

      I bet many of you may be thinking “With my PLN!” Remember, a PLN can consist of both face-to-face interactions, as well as through online communication. We have to be actively engaged in both, and allow them to feed off each other. For example, perhaps our colleague down the hall is an expert in creating and hosting webinars; so, we should absolutely look to them for guidance when we’re creating a webinar of our own. With our current budget woes, going to face-to-face workshops is often not possible. However, it’s still important to keep learning and to produce our best work possible. By digging a little deeper, and doing our research, we will uncover scads of information in addition to our co-worker’s guidance and expertise.

      So, if we have some face-to-face connections already developed, what are some online communications that we can include in our PLN? Start by thinking about the Web 2.0 tools you’re already using. Nings, wikis, blogs, podcasts, RSS Feeds, Voice Thread, video/web streaming, Flickr, Twitter—these are all social networking tools that allow for sharing, networking, and collaboration between friends and colleagues. If you’re already using them, they’re already a part of your PLN. How convenient is that?! Next, think about tools that you haven’t used or those you wouldn’t initially consider as part of your PLN. A social bookmarking site, like Delicious, is a great example. While traditionally Delicious isn’t used to converse with people, you CAN use it to explore a mentor or colleague’s bookmarks. This would be a convenient way of identifying new and useful websites to explore.

      If you want to expand your PLN, here are some places to start:
      There are hundreds more. Be warned; it is easy, as you know, to be overwhelmed with information!

      Can you identify your PLN? Try thinking about all of the key players in your PLN; it’s amazing, isn’t it?! Do you find that the key players in your PLN are online? If so, you’re in luck!! Thing 51 is all about organizing our online influences. 

      Do you have an online resource you want to tell the world about (or at least your librarian colleagues)? List them in the comments area below!

      By Kate Bessey & Patricia Post, CMLE
      Image Credit: Cobannon