Yeah, yeah – go ahead – call me a pretentious prick.
Truth is, most of us don’t really ‘use’ the internet. We all check mail, IM/Orkut and Google when we are looking for a piece of information, but for most that is where the use of the internet ends.
In my case internet is a chronic condition now – fortunately or unfortunately. I probably spend atleast 50% of my time on the internet.
So from a diseased man – here’s a bunch of top-of-the-mind things which can be useful to everyone – both to be more productive through the internet and to use the internet more productively. Long post – apologies.
1. RSS Feeds: Ever noticed these icons on a lot of sites? Or maybe these: . Wondered what they were? Until I had used RSS feeds, I found these intimidating at worst and intriguing at best. A preliminary investigation would not reveal much except that they stood for ‘Really Simple Syndication’ (Wha?)
All that changed when I hit upon a nifty website called Netvibes, where I really saw how RSS feeds work. To understand RSS consider Google News: If you break it down, it has some content (headlines + corresponding news stories) and some formatting (the Google logo and the colors). What RSS does is that it helps you separate content from design and in turn makes that content portable – thus I can access the content (as a Google news RSS feed) from a different platform (typically a feed reader like Netvibes).
As an example, look at this page from my Netvibes account. Some blogs which I otherwise used to read on their respective URLs – now appear all in place – always updated – and allowing me greater choice and flexibility.
So, while they may look a little geeky to the uninitiated, trust me RSS Feeds are the most amazing way to get content and information you consume from a wide variety of sources in the most efficient way.
[ A thought: There are reasons why RSS has not hit the mainstream – a) RSS links break the traditional weblink behaviour. When I click on a link I expect to be “taken” somewhere – not reach a rather intimidating page which looks like this . This is changing with ‘Subscribe’ links which redirect to a bunch of readers – but still exist on a fairly large number of sites b) No easy way of embedding an RSS feed onto my blog or website – like the way I would with a YouTube video. I think that would be quite cool.]
2. Google Cache: You googled for a page. It exists in the search results but you get a ‘Page Not Found’ error upon clicking the link. Did you ever notice the Cached link at the bottom of a search result? That is where Google will give you a snapshot of the page when it indexed it.
I remember using it to find Thomas Cook contact details in Delhi when the site was down.
Search the Cache specifically by doing cache:URL (Remember you can only search website URLs though – not keywords.)
3. Use Firefox: Firefox is a browser which can truly help you use the internet more productively. I love Firefox for three main reasons: a) Tabbed browsing: It decreases clutter on the taskbar and keeps things organised b)The Search Box: An easily extensible search box which lets me search Google, Wikipedia, IMdB, Dictionary.com (and anything else you want) without actually going to the websites. c) Extensions: Small tools which extend the utility of your web browser. If you know about them > please recommend some cool ones to me, if you don’t, trust me once you have started using them, there is no way you will ever think twice about using Firefox. Two of my favorites are the Down Them All! – a download manager and Screengrab – a useful alternative to Print Screen.
[Bonus: Keyboard Shortcuts for Firefox. “Ctrl + Left-Click”: Opens a link in a new tab; “Ctrl+Tab” and “Ctrl + Shift + Tab”: Move between different tabs; “Ctrl + L”: Go to the address bar; “Alt + Down Arrow” in the search box: Lists all available search engines.]
[On IE7: By the way IE7 has copiously copied from Firefox – so for those who have moved to IE7 you pretty much have all of the above. The Extensions are called Add-Ons but for some reason don’t work as well. I couldn’t get the IE web developer toolbar to work and FlashGet – a download manager -doesn’t work very well either.]
4. Use Wikipedia Better: You’re sniggering aren’t you? Who doesn’t use Wikipedia?
Everyone does, but there is a lot of concern over the autheticity of the information – and it is quite valid. There are several incidents to support this concern. Then you have school kids referring to Wikipedia for practically everything – which can be a bad trend especially if they don’t realise that some of that information might be incorrect.
So, what do you do? Read intelligently and read critically. a) Let Wikipedia be your first port of call, get a primer and then check out the associated links on Wikipedia or Google b) A quick look at the Discussion page often tells you what’s going on with an article.
5. Amazon Search Inside!: There are so many books I wish to read – but that will never come true, because of a) too little time and b) limited availability. For those of you who don’t know this, you can read book excerpts for tons of books on Amazon – a good 5-10 pages for most books. Makes it easy for you to separate the wheat from the chaff and get a “quickie” for books you probably won’t be able to read. Here’s an excerpt from Fooled by Randomness – an absolute must-read.
That’s it for now.