Facebook adds hashtags to compete with other social networks

hashtagA few weeks ago, Facebook announced that it was working on a way to integrated hashtags into its platform. Already a successful feature on Twitter and Instagram, the change would bring Zuckerberg and crew into the world of random and unnecessary links. Sure, some are helpful and even relevant, but when scouring Twitter, the majority of hashtags consist of a string of words that may or may not be spelled correctly. This is the world that Facebook wishes to join.

Once implemented, Facebook’s hashtags would link similar conversations, just as its counterparts do – or so their announcement said. However, unlike Twitter, Facebook has always been a somewhat private website; how will privacy locked-account owners react to these hashtags? Or will theirs even work? Will open accounts’ entire conversations be linked? There are still several questions in the way of logistics. But in theory, many are wondering if this is a necessary, or even a smart move.

Pros and Cons

Since the blowup of social media, Facebook has reigned as king. They have the most users, the most recognizable features (likes and tags, etc), and they even allow other accounts to post through their newsfeeds. Have a Twitter account? Link it to Facebook for maximum exposure! And so on. But now that Facebook is adapting others’ tactics, it’s hard to say whether they’re still on top, especially when the move doesn’t exactly fit into their platform.

Now, to conform, the site is spending thousands of hours and dollars on development, while raising questions along the way. And all to adapt to a trend someone else made popular.

As for the hashtag itself, only the future can know if it’s here to stay. It could easily die out just as quickly as it came to power, or forever change the way the public used the pound key.

It’s likely that Facebook sees this change as a move in popularity. “Everyone else has it,” they say. “Now we have to have it too.” Sure there will be less confusion as to exactly what the hashtag is, does, or when it can be used – though some will inevitably still use it emails, videos, or when speaking. But for the social media population not obsessed with hashtagging every other word, we’re questioning your motives, Facebook. I don’t see the value in stealing others’ mediocre ideas.

What happened, Hulu?

hulu logoAfter years of watching illegally obtained TV shows, I still remember the excitement I felt after the announcement of Hulu – a website to stream current TV seasons for free. No more downloading shows (along with viruses), no more recording shows on VHS tapes, and no more wishing that TiVo existed in the Midwest. It was an event that would change the way we watched TV forever.

Or so I thought.

Five years and an infinite number of changes later, that’s not exactly the case. Not only do users have to subscribe (at $7.99 a month) to watch shows that are a certain number of days old, free shows are only accessible via computer. That means internet capable TVs, tablets, and smartphones all cost extra for the same services. This would seem somewhat reasonable if more shows could be seen for free, but now an increasing number of programs require a Plus account, even for the newest shows. (TV shows are generally listed the day after being aired, with only a few available at a time. The older an episode, the less likely it can be seen for free.)

And how many of us have time to watch entire shows at our computer? Sure we can hook up our computers to our TVs, but the quality is never as good, and without a mouse the interactive ads just seem silly.

Double Jeopardy

The plot thickens when looking at Hulu’s owners – Disney-ABC Television Group at 32 percent, Fox Broadcasting Company with 36 percent, and NBC Universal Television Group at 32 percent. As the owners of programs being featured, these major network companies are re-earning from their content. Because they own the rights, it would be easy for them to post shows for free. Web traffic would be through the roof and they’d make a killing on ads – after all, they show tons of them.

But instead of offering up this incentive, they charge a monthly fee. That means if you already pay a cable bill, you have to pay twice to see the same content on the go. Three if you just happened to forget to DVR a show; how many times can we pay for the same access?

It’s likely we are years away from this universal one-fee-meets all access, but we can dream, right? Maybe with enough opposition, Hulu can return to its former glory, which is to say free. After all, if Netflix taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing a group of angry consumers can’t accomplish. Complain on, folks.

Wi-Fi Etiquette: When is it appropriate to ask for access?

coffee mugWhen it comes to logging in online, there are a number of rules – usually unwritten ones – to follow. From where web access can be “stolen” to how long its ok to sit in a coffee shop, we’re all victims to this ever-changing trend. But because there are no set laws, it can be hard to know what’s kosher and what’s pushing your barista toward spitting in your next chai latte. To get the best of both worlds, consider the following the next time you log in.

A better option to stealing your neighbor’s Wi-Fi

Despite all the questions we may have, there are a few instances when it’s clear-cut, for instance, stealing your neighbor’s internet by hacking their password. Sure, if they leave it unprotected, that’s their loss, but when we have to resort to illegal activity, it’s best to pass.

However, secret option three can also be used; just ask your neighbors for their access code … and offer to split the bill. It may slow down the speed some, but for those with minimal net use, it’s a great budget-friendly solution.

When you’re visiting a friend, leave the password requests to a minimal. Generally hosts will offer up such info, especially long-term guests. But when checking game stats in a single evening, or wanting to Facebook after a dinner party, stick to your mobile network’s web access instead.

Public Wi-Fi

Other protocol to avoid comes into play in public. Places like the library usually offer free online access and expect nothing in return (though they may limit your time). But as for coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and cafes, that’s not the case. Customers are expected to make a purchase of some kind before hopping online.

However, if you plan on eating lunch, but want to check your email first, who says you can’t use then buy? (This isn’t a grocery store, after all.) So long as patronage of some kind takes place, it’s fair game. That means you shouldn’t re-use McDonald’s cups to look like you purchased a drink, and don’t bring in your own snacks, and especially don’t bring your own power strip and personal heater (I’ve seen it). If it’s free service you’re looking for, the library may be more your speed.

Conclusion

No matter how often we log in to Wi-Fi access points, there are a number of instances to come up each and every day. Be sure to follow these universal rules to stay online and in good terms with each router owner.

The internet is overpriced

the internetThe internet is something we all need. It’s our communication, our source of purchasing, browsing, or even our livelihood. No matter what it costs, we’ll continue to pay the fees so we can access all that is the World Wide Web in a convenient manner. Whether through computer, tablet, or smartphone, we are hooked.

But how much money is too much? Are online companies cashing in on our virtual weakness? Knowing that we need this access, they’re jacking up the speeds along with the monthly prices. But how long will we continue to pay?

In an ideal world, Google will have provided free internet to the world. While this may seem far-fetched, it’s a process that’s already begun to take place. (Google Fiber is currently only available in Kansas City, though expansions are in the plan.)

Second best-case scenario, we share internet with our neighbors, splitting the bills. (But in this case, there would be no “peak hours” to slow service down, and routers can reach all corners of the house.)

Finally, we’re left with the status quo: either paying an outrageous monthly fee, or buying a $4 coffee for a day’s worth of service. And while service is expensive either way, there’s much to be said for the convenience of having internet in your own home.

This, however, is where the companies get us good.

“Because they can”

Take a look at your most recent internet bill and its break down of fees. If you have service for a cell phone provider, chances are you’re paying a monthly “service charge” just for owning a hot spot. Averaging $20+ per month, this fee accounts for no actual internet, just the ability to access it. Other companies may charge a rental price for routers, or a maintenance charge – even if you already own the router. Additional fees can occur from overage charges, sign-up fees, cancellations fees, set-up expenses, or even when accessing at the “wrong” time of day.

Rural living generally offers up the most added fees, whether or not the area is hard to access. Because cable access or broadband isn’t readily available, these residents are subject to strict pricing options and fees. For instance, satellite internet allots a certain amount of usage, half of which can only be used during the middle of the night. Unless a night owl, that means you’re paying for twice of what you can reasonably use.

However, until we find a reasonably priced option (come on, Google, dig faster), internet providers will continue to overcharge for their services. And we will continue to pay.

Skype is getting worse

“Can you hear me now?

“Is that any better?”

“How about now?”

In recent times, the above three phrases are heard frequently emanating from various rooms in our apartment, where my wife and I both work as full-time freelancers.

Skype is an essential part of both of our respective businesses. We do work for clients in various countries, and being able to interact with them by phone at a low, predictable cost is essential if we are to live and work where we do – in a sunny apartment just minutes from the coast of Portugal’s Algarve.

Skype is, on the face of it, perfect for us. It provides us with London telephone numbers, which shield our physical location and make it inexpensive for UK clients to contact us. Skype also offers a range of all-inclusive call packages allowing us to call clients abroad without bankrupting ourselves.

Skype - Not what is once was?
Skype – Not what is once was?

Or at least that’s the idea.

For reasons unknown to us, the incidence of poor quality Skype calls seems to be on the increase. Now, as a techie, I know that we have a good, fast broadband connection with low latency. I also know that nothing has changed at our end since the days when we could use Skype with only very rare quality problems.

Yet, for some reason, it now seems that (more often than not), people are having trouble hearing us. Usually, this only happens for 10 seconds or so, before a high quality connection returns, but in the meantime we have to go through the whole “can you hear me now?” routine.

When I’m chatting with my mother in the UK, this is acceptable (while still infuriating). After all, I’m able, thanks to Skype, to spend hours talking to her at a very low price. It’s not, however, good enough when working with clients, especially prospective new clients. Sometimes it takes new clients some convincing that our geographical location is irrelevant. If our first few phone conversations keep cutting out, it doesn’t really create a good initial impression.

So, despite a long and happy relationship with Skype, I’ve felt forced to start investigating alternative Voice over IP services, and it’s a shame because when Skype works, it works incredibly well.

Sadly though, until I find a suitable replacement, I’ve had to switch back to a very old-fashioned strategy: If I’m calling an important client, I walk into the study and pick up the landline phone. The bills are unwelcome, but so too would be the loss of a paying customer.

Google releases the Chromebook Pixel, designed for high-performance cloud computing

pixel chromebook

When manufacturing cheap personal computers, designers have to make trade-offs between processing power, memory and other computer components in order to strike an economical but workable balance. The balance, clearly, is a delicate one and any solution that eliminates the need for one of these components is highly welcome.

Google Chromebooks are such solutions that do away with the need for huge hard disk spaces by storing whatever you do on the cloud. The latest Chromebook, the Chromebook Pixel, is an amalgamation of the best hardware, software and design to come up with the next generation gadget suited for power users who have already fully adopted the cloud.

The Visual Display unit has the highest pixel density than any other laptop screen on the market. Packing 4.3 million pixels (239 ppi), the display delivers sharp text and vivid colors over an extra wide view angle. In addition to this, the screen comes with touch support to sate the need to touch the close-to-real HD images it displays. Organizing tabs and photos and other edits happens swiftly and easily with the swipe of a finger.

To support the grueling demand from long hours of use, the Pixel comes in an anodized aluminum alloy cover giving it a sleek and durable surface. To keep the outward appearance of the design, vents and screws remain hidden while the full-range stereo speakers fit snugly under the backlit keyboard.

To increase precision, a glass etched touchpad, finished using laser technology, is all you need to move the cursor about on the Chromebook in case you do not want to use the touch screen. With its 720p webcam and three strategically placed microphones designed to eliminate noise, you can now comfortably do your video conferencing in noisy environments.

Powered by Intel Core-i5 processor, anything you decide to do, from loading Web pages to changing apps is almost instant which is exactly what users with no time to spare expect from their devices. With its top-notch Wi-Fi range and dual-band support with optional Long-term Evolution (LTE), you can be sure that accessing your cloud-stored data just got easier and more fun.

google-chromebook-pixel-laptop

The Chromebook Pixel comes with one terabyte of Google Drive Cloud storage and 12 free GoGo Inflight Internet passes allowing you to store as much as you can and access it while on the go without having to pay more, at least for a start.

With all the favorite Google products just a click away, the Chromebook is definitely a workable solution for those who are already in the cloud computing bandwagon. Thanks to Chrome OS, you will no longer need to wait for the computer to boot up. In addition, you will need no maintenance. To sum up the whole package is a built-in virus protection that self-updates once every few weeks.

The Chromebook Pixel is available for purchase on Google Play in the US and UK. The Wi-Fi version retails at $1,299 with the LTE version retailing at $1,449 which will be available in the US come this April. High-end users who need a device that incorporates tablet functionality and cloud computing services now have something to smile about with the Chromebook Pixel.

ISPs vs. the cloud: Which email provider should you use?

email_featThese days, the average internet user has two options for email service: an address through his or her internet service provider (ISP) or use one of the numerous email services available on the internet (Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud, etc.). Which one should you chose? Well, there a benefits and negatives to both, and that is what this article is about.

Let’s start with reliability and service. I have used both types of email accounts, and reliability is a toss up. Companies are inevitably going to have technical issues and email will go down at some point.

What is more important is the service you get to restore your email. With an ISP account you should have access to tech support and through this support you should be able to determine if the problem is on your end or the provider’s end. If it is on your end the support tech should help resolve your issue – that is what you a paying for, after all.

However, if you are using email through a free service like Gmail, you are pretty much on your own for figuring out your problem. This is when you search the forums or call a knowledgeable friend or relative. Most of these free services do not have support. Apple’s iCloud does have support, however it is not immediate. There are email services you can pay for, if you wish, and that should give you similar, if not better, support than your ISP. If you are paying for your email provider and not getting support it might be time to move on.

The biggest reason, in my opinion, to go with an internet email service over your ISP is stability. People change internet providers all of the time. If you are using an email address from your provider, that address goes away when you cancel service. This means emailing all of your family and friends with your new address, changing login and contact information on sites that use that account, and losing any emails in that account that your do not have saved on your computer. If you use a service like Gmail or Yahoo and you change your ISP your email address does not change. It stays right where it is with your emails in tack.

Of course, if you are technically able to, you can set up your own personal email server. Then you are responsible for the reliability and you are your own tech support.

So what should you choose? That is really up to you, and the information in this guide should help you make a better decision. Just be aware that there are options out there and you can always change.

Super Bowl advertising and its effect on tech sales

GoDaddy Super Bowl commercialWho else was horrified by GoDaddy’s commercial from Sunday’s Super Bowl? Meant to show the versatility of their company, millions were forced to watch two ill-matched people loudly kiss. For too long, and with awkward, unpleased faces. To GoDaddy, this was a way to mesh two very different entities, “smart” and “sexy.” (Though no one knows what the latter has to do with web hosting.)

Two days later my four-year old website (GoDaddy hosted) fell off the face of the internet. And they couldn’t fix it. I first spoke with a very helpful male employee, who offered a slew of helpful, albeit wrong options. And then I spoke to a rude, female employee who flatly said, “We don’t fix that; no one can help you.” And also, “There’s no one I can transfer you to.” Coincidence?

The company had its best sales day ever after the Super Bowl, but could the commercial have actually hurt GoDaddy? (If not the ad itself, surely their efforts to embody said commercial will.) Somewhat offensive to the computer-minded brains, if taken the wrong way, GoDaddy could lose a huge portion of their business. And if anyone should understand not to bite the hand that feeds them, it’s an internet-based company. Sure, dropping GoDaddy would mean re-hosting, re-domaining, moving, and launching websites with new server space, but hey, they’re nerds, they can handle it.

In contrast, Best Buy’s Amy Poehler appearance had users wanting to hop out of their recliners and purchase a new external hard drive, tablet, smartphone, or anything else that warrants a visit to the techie store. The commercial was smart, clever, and didn’t have viewers debating whether to cover their eyes or ears.

The Age of Tech?

The rest of the Super Bowl, however, was noticeably free of electronic-themed commercials. Advertisers must think the only football fans are truck-driving, beer-drinking, in-need-of-insurance Americans. To some end, it’s probably an accurate demographic. But in the age of constantly growing technology and where the commercials are more popular than the game itself, it’s downright surprising that more tech and/or internet-based companies weren’t represented.

Whether or not these commercials will have a long-term effect on GoDaddy’s sales is yet to be seen. However, if their services continue to reflect this overall “sexy” vs. “smart” theme, it’s likely they’ll do the damage on their own.

Dropbox Links: A New Way to Share Dropbox Files

As the realm of cloud-based file storage grows in popularity, so too does the needs of its users.  The people of Dropbox understand this, and are always adding new features to improve the experience.  (Never heard of Dropbox?  Don’t worry, we here at Techerator have you covered.)  This time around, Dropbox has added a simple, yet worthwhile option to enhance the user file sharing experience, and it’s called sharing links.

Yes you heard right; Dropbox is allowing users to share links now.  Here’s why: Originally, files and folders on Dropbox were shared with others via an internal “share” button.  This means that they were shared and synced only between Dropbox users.  But now with this new share link function, a file or entire folder can be sent out and accessed by anyone who has the proper link.

The Link Sharing Process

The link sharing process begins by logging into one’s Dropbox account through the browser, the file explorer program, or the mobile app.  Select a file or folder for distribution and click the “Share Link” option.

dropbox share link

A pop up box asks for intended recipients and a message to send to them.  Note that this sharing function is not limited to email; Facebook and Twitter sharing are also supported.  Once complete with composing a message, click “Send” to…well, send the link out into the world.

dropbox sharing

dropbox email

Once the recipient clicks the Dropbox link in the sent message, the file or folder that was shared should appear and provide full viewing access regardless if they have a Dropbox account or not.

dropbox view link copy

Features of the Shared Link

A few options exist to the user for viewing/using the shared Dropbox files and folders.  The standard method for file viewing is through the web browser interface.  Photos, videos, and even Microsoft Office documents can be clicked and previewed with little effort.

download files from link
Share the file again (the chain icon thing) or save it to your computer (the cog icon thing)

If the recipient decides they need a shared file beyond browser viewing, Dropbox allows them to either pass the link along (note that each file in a shared folder has its own personal link as well) or to download the file to their local machine.

Conclusion

File sharing no longer has to be difficult.  Thanks to Dropbox links, there’s no more messy file compression, no more large attachments for emails, and most important of all: no more USB thumb drives.  Just link and send it out.

Astrid is a near perfect to-do list for both iOS and Android

Logo_Astrid-320Calendars for 2013 are still fresh off the printing presses, and even though we are only a few weeks into January, I suspect that most people’s New Year’s resolutions are being broken by the minute. I started with six, but unfortunately they are being picked off faster than zombies on the Walking Dead. So, in order to keep the three resolutions I have left, I needed to do something drastic.

Get. A. To. Do. List.

Yes, an actual to-do-list. I’ve avoided them for years – but in order to stay productive during the year it was my only option.

In my despair I download Astrid, a to-do-list app available for iPhone, iPad and Android. And to my surprise, the app was fantastic and the best thing to ever happen to my productivity.

Astrid has a smooth and efficient design, and is easy to use as well. The app is a free download, but also offers a premium service for $4.99 a month or $39.99 a year, which offers file storage, voice recording, and document backups.

But don’t worry; it’s not essential that you fork over your hard-earned cash for the premium service, because Astrid is still a fantastic app even if you only use the basics.

iPhone-personal-list

The app has a simple and sleek design that lets you compile a standard to-do-list with the traditional boxes to check mark a completed task. You can also input tasks with specific dates and times, in order to remind you what needs to be done. One great feature about the app is that Astrid will categorize your tasks into four separate lists: tasks that are late, due today, due this week, and tasks that have no due date. You can also categorize your tasks under home, personal, shopping and work, or even customize the categories to fit your needs.

iPhone-shared-list

Another fantastic feature offered by Astrid is the ability to connect with friends or family on Facebook and share or assign tasks via the app. My wife and I use a shared to-do list, which makes running our busy household so much easier, and, to be honest, fun. I went from despising to-do lists to actually enjoying using them, and now consider Astrid to be an indispensable app on my iOS devices.

One area where Astrid has come in handy is during my workouts (which, by the way, were one of my New Years resolutions). The app sends push notification reminders when it’s time for me to workout – but where it really comes in handy is by sitting in my ‘late’ box if I do not complete it on time. It irks me to no end to see a workout that I have skipped sitting in the ‘late’ box.

iPhone-speech-to-text

There are so many features on the app that I might have missed a few, so here’s a quick list of all the features that Astrid offers.

  • Cloud sync with push notifications
  • Voice recognition
  • Share tasks and list over e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter
  • See friends’ public tasks and give them encouragement
  • One-time or repeating reminders
  • Add notes and set priorities
  • Calendar integration
  • available for both iOS and Android devices

Overall I love Astrid, and have become completely addicted to using to-do lists. It may also be the best productivity app I have used in a while. If I had to rate the app I would give it a 10/10, and call it a must have for anyone looking to increase their productivity and get their lives more organized. It’s also a great way to keep your New Years resolutions on track. Astrid is a great app and I highly recommend it.