Get Sqwiggling

sqwiggleSo we are all pretty familiar with Google Hangouts and Skype, but it seems there is a new kid on the block. Sqwiggle is an “always-on online workplace for your remote team to work together throughout the day and feel more connected“. Its features include file-sharing, chat and instant video, though it currently can’t support file sharing. Sqwiggle is optimized to use minimal bandwidth throughout the day with even the largest teams and unlike some of the alternatives puts a lot of emphasis on presence, for example it sends photo snapshots throughout the day to keep you connected to your team. There is a useful feature comparison sheet available from the Sqwiggle site.

Sqwiggle in action

Sqwiggle in action

Unlike Google Hangouts it costs (think Skype premium) but then for that cost you get user support. There are some nice testimonials on the site from Zapier, Go Fish Digital, Terracoding, Hippo Education, Gamevy and others.

The team have just released a music video showing you all the places you can sqwiggle from. You have to admit – it is a good verb!

Netbook vs. Tablet: It’s All about Fit

jamieSo which one do you prefer? Netbook or tablet? Or is it horses for courses? Here’s a guest blog post exploring the issues in more detail.

Jamie Lee lives in Charleston, South Carolina, in the US and works for Telogical Systems. He is a full-time tech consultant as well as a writer for eBay (where as Jamie puts it “you can find the world’s best selection of new and used tablets, netbooks and other travel friendly computing devices“). You can catch Jamie on Google+.

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I am a laptop kind of guy. Always have been, and, well, I will be for the foreseeable future. I use my laptop in the office and when working from home. I listen to music on it and it’s my go-to device for business and recreation.

Even though I feel like I have found the device that fits me and the work I do, it’s difficult not to acknowledge new technology in the marketplace that makes laptops look old and clunky — namely, netbooks and tablets. If you are in the market for a small computing device, you may find yourself looking at the options and scratching your head. I know … I have been there. Given that I have used both fairly extensively, I find that, like my laptop, it really boils down to personal fit.

Following is a breakdown of each, along with their pros and cons.

laptopNetbooks: Netbooks are really just smaller, more portable versions of laptops, complete with keyboards and screens. Current models tend to range from 10-inch screens at the smallest to 15.6-inch screens for the largest. Not only are most of them smaller than your average laptop, but they are less expensive. Lower-end models, like models of Acer’s Chromebook series, can be purchased for less than $200, and higher end models can cost up to $1,000. You can buy a popular mid-range device, like the Lenovo ThinkPad or the HP Pavilion TouchSmart, for less than $500.

  • Netbook PROS :
    Much like laptops, netbooks provide a combined screen and keyboard setup, enhanced usability of word processing applications like Word and Excel, and they are intended for more basic tasks – like checking e-mail, browsing the Internet, light entertainment and light productivity – albeit in a smaller package. Given the increase in popularity of tablets with touchscreens, some netbook manufacturers are making devices with similar screens that eliminate the need for a keyboard or mouse. Like tablets, extended battery life for these devices is a plus. If you conduct virtual meetings regularly or use programs like Skype for phone calls, netbooks often provide webcams.
  • Netbook CONS :
    While netbooks are great if you are looking for a mini version of your laptop, including similar functionality and operating systems, size can be a detriment. Smaller devices have tiny keyboards that can be difficult to use. Keep in mind that these aren’t intended to be high performance machines and generally have less RAM (Random Access Memory) and HDD (Hard Drive) space than their laptop counterparts. These performance constraints aren’t a big deal for users who don’t expect a lot from their netbook, but power users and gamers may quickly find that a netbook doesn’t meet their needs.

If you are looking for a device somewhere between a laptop and a tablet, consider a netbook. You will have limited functionality, but a similar look and feel on a smaller scale and at a lower price. Keep in mind the limitations when it comes to RAM, HDD, and graphics capabilities. If you are fine with these aspects, a netbook may just be the device for you.

$_57Tablets: The iPad started a tablet revolution, and these rectangular computing devices with touchscreens and apps galore are only increasing in popularity. Top tablet manufacturers often offer a “mini” version of their primary model, and screen sizes can range from 7-inches for Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD and HDX to 10-inches for Google’s Nexus tablet. Tablets and netbooks are priced similarly, and you can spend anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to nearly $1,000, depending on the size, memory, connectivity, and other features.

  • Tablet PROS:
    Tablets tend to be smaller and lighter than netbooks, and manufacturers are focused on usability and versatility. From the touch screens and scrolling features to advancements like high density display that Apple introduced with its iPad 3, they are great for watching movies, reading books and entertaining kids. While netbooks rely on programs, much like a laptop, tablets allow you to use apps that are easy and cheap to install, and the selection is extensive and ever-growing. You will also find additional functionality in some tablet models, like the ability to take photos or HD videos.
  • Tablet CONS :
    The one area where tablets tend to fall short is productivity. Most don’t have a built-in keyboard, but rather a touchscreen. This can be remedied by purchasing additional equipment, but even then, I find it to be a subpar experience when using word processing software. Like netbooks, size can negatively impact your user experience if you purchase one that is too small.

Tablets are currently the “in” device, and it’s not surprising. They are easy to use and extremely versatile. That said, if you are looking for a device that supports your productivity, or even your creativity, you may be disappointed in a tablet. It is not necessarily that the tablet won’t allow you to do the work or access the programs, but rather you may find it more challenging to complete tasks efficiently on a tablet instead of a netbook (or laptop).
It is clear that a tablet is the best bet for many in the market for a small, lightweight computing device, but don’t make the decision to hastily. It is important to consider what you plan to use it for, as well as your workflow preferences. You may just find yourself sticking with that good old laptop.

Meet me at the Watercooler

I’ve recently had a guest blog post published on the Digital Epiphanies blog about how we at the Open Knowledge Foundation facilitate virtual informal discussion.

I’ve mentioned the Digital Epiphanies Project before when I was interviewed as part of their research. It’s an EPSRC- funded project that is attempting to enhance understanding of the “paradoxical and double-edged effects that new technologies and digital practices are having on work-life balance“.

I’d like to repost some of the thinking in behind my blog post here, for those who missed the original.

As those of you who read my blog will know the Open Knowledge Foundation is probably fairly unique in that it is a truly virtual organization. Our staff sit on 4 different continents and over countless timezones. We communicate primarily using online tools and face-to-face is rare for us.

To support our remote/virtual working we have a suite of tools that we utilize, some are for administrative purposes, such as Xero for expenses and Toggl for timekeeping, others are to help us with our work, such as Google drive for documents and Google hangout for meetings, and Trello for project management.

Watercooler moments

The area that always proves to be the most tricky to facilitate is discussion, especially informal discussion, or the ‘watercooler’ discussions as people like to call them. In the past the term ‘watercooler moment’ referred to a controversial event in a television programme that people would discuss at work the next day. These discussions took place next to the drinks dispenser or watercooler. Being able to discuss those exciting TV moments in a group has slowly disappeared as an activity due to changes in television watching (the rise of streaming services and playback TV), but the need to chat hasn’t. Every organisation continues to need a watercooler.

Prior to my joining the Open Knowledge Foundation they had tried out other IRC chat services. Most had faded by the time I started. People do use things like Twitter and Google Plus but these tend to support discussion with external people, not internal colleagues They’d been trying for some time to answer the question: how do you create a chat space internally?

The current service of choice is Grove.io. Grove is an IRC server that has rich functionality. It gives you archives of your chat history, search, user accounts, channel access management tools, GitHub integration. You can also chose to use the web client or a desktop app, and get notified when someone mentions you by name.

watercooler2

At the Open Knowledge Foundation we have quite a few ‘chat rooms’, some for work team chat, some for cross-team chat for example on community or tech, and we have a watercooler room. The watercooler room has the byline ’100% social chat. No work stuff’. I’d have to say that this isn’t always the case primarily because the boundaries between work and pleasure are pretty blurred for many of us. This is partly because most of us work for an organisation that is fighting for a cause we passionately believe in: the opening up of knowledge. Politics, technology and the state of the world are fair game. However there are cat pictures, silly web links and lunch dates on there too! The quality of the conversation aside encouraging informal chat remains difficult – people are busy and prioritise work activities. Unfortunately, as many of us know, the bonds created by ‘just having a chat’ are those that build better working relationships.

After our last all-staff meet up the subject of social chat came up (again). Suggestions were made that we use a more feature rich platform for our non-work related communications (Diaspora or an inhouse tumblr were mentioned). There seemed to be a reluctance to change platform, but people were all up for social chatting.

So the question isn’t how do you create a chat space internally? It is how do you get people to use a chat space and share a side of themselves that isn’t work facing? Or how do you get people to take their eye off work even for a minute in a virtual organization?

OK, so here are a couple of things that bright sparks at the Open Knowledge Foundation have been doing. One of our team is a DJ on the side and he shares Spotify playlists with us most Fridays. These playlists are great and get us talking. We even ended up with a staff-playlist at our face-to-face event.

Someone else has started a form of virtual Chinese whispers called ‘Eat poop, you cat’ (don’t ask!), which requires people to draw a picture for a sentence. The sentence gets passes along a virtual queue of people and there is lots of silliness involved. We are almost ready to complete our first game, the results hold be interesting and hopefully funny!

We also had a virtual Christmas party in Google hangouts with virtual party hats and real Christmas carols.

These activities can result in more chat on Grove.io and actually give us a much needed break from work.

So what activities and services are you using to make sure that the watercooler remains an important destination?

Children and Technology

Happy New Year to you all!!

I hope you had a great Christmas holiday. We had a lovely time, though it did seem to be very tech laden 2 weeks despite my best efforts to get us all away from computers and gadgets.

My children are really starting to get in to technology now. My youngest son (age 6) got Minecraft for Christmas and so we spent a lot of time trying to work out what was going on!? My husband received 2 Raspberry Pis (bad present co-ordination!) – maybe these offered too much of a busman’s holiday for him because he spent the entire week hiding from the PC and doing Sudoko puzzles…

…it is possible to enjoy yourself without technology over Christmas

…it is possible to enjoy yourself over Christmas without technology.

Anyway, a post Christmas lunch discussion with the in-laws got me thinking about how I really feel about the relationship between my children and technology. So apologies that this post doesn’t directly relate to remote working but I hope some of you find it useful and/or interesting.

My children don’t have a huge amount of technical kit of their own, they share a Wii and the two girls (aged 9 and 11) have an iPod touch each. They all have access to a PC, though we monitor use. They also see laptops, iPads and Macs in action (i.e. they can have a go but don’t own them).

My two girls tend to use their iPods to play games, make movies and listen to music. It is purely a leisure tool, and while they are a lot more computer savvy than my parents they aren’t doing anything ground breaking with their kit. I’d like my children to be rounded individuals who are lucky enough to experience lots of different aspects of life. Although they aren’t very outdoorsy they are pretty in to sport (dance, swimming, tae-kwondo), reading, art, playing, and music. However technology is an important part of life these days so there is no point in running away from it. Both my husband and I work in a tech world and I’d like my children to have good technical skills – these will help them whatever career they choose.

So basically I’d like to my children to use the time they spend on technical devices in a more productive way. Time to move on from Angry birds and in to a good understanding of how technology and computer programming works.

Scratch Cat

Scratch Cat

Last year my oldest started looking at Scratch. Created by MIT it allows children (or adults) to create interactive stories, games, and animations and share them. It does this through teaching the basics of object orientated programming – so children start to learn the concepts behind software. It’s a great tool.

Over Christmas I also stumbled upon Learn an hour of code: “a non-profit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science education by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color“. Over a week in December last year they tried to encourage everyone in the US, from children to OAPs, to spend an hour coding. The site offers some amazing resources including links to a whole set of hour-long tutorials. My children loved the games on Tynker.com. There are also great tutorials available using Light-bot and API Inventor.

I thought it might be useful if I listed some of the other tools we’ve tried out recently or have on our to-do list. I’d also like to mention some great initiatives that have sprung up looking at getting children into programming and beyond.

Kids programming tools

I discovered quite a lot a few of these tools while at the Mozilla Festival last year, here’s a post I wrote about education at MozFest.

  • Scratch: As mentioned before, a great starter tool with some really good tutorials.
  • Chrunchzilla: Has tools for younger kids and teenagers, helps by offering interactive tutorials where kids and adults can play with code, experiment, build, and learn.
  • Robotmind: By programming a robot, students learn about logic, computer science and robotics.
  • Minecraft.edu: Site looking at how Minecraft can be used in schools.
  • Mozilla tools including Thimble (helps you write html), Xray Goggles (grab tool that allows you to hide elements of a web page) and Popcorn Maker (allows editing of video). Hackosaurus has lots of ideas on how to use the tools.
  • Isla: a programming language for children, by Marie Rose Cook, beginner-friendly.
  • Squeakland eToys: An educational tool for teaching children powerful ideas in compelling ways.
  • Waterbear: Based on Scratch but for a variety of different programming languages.
  • Ruby for kids: As it says – a way for kids to learn Ruby!
  • Microsoft Small basic: Some of the examples are a bit complex but there is a nice curriculum to follow if needed

From

From Chrunchzilla

I can also recommend Computer Science unplugged that has a heap of free printable activities that teach computing concepts. We had a go at the binary puzzles over the holiday.

Wikipedia has a list of programming languages simple enough to be used by children – I haven’t tried any of these yet…

Kids programming initiatives

Here are some other code for kids initiatives (quite a few of these ideas came from a discussion that took place on the OKFN discuss list related to gender bias in technology and open data for kids):

  • Make Things Do Stuff: The Mozilla campaign and website aimed at mobilising the next generation of digital makers through kid-friendly events and actions.
  • TechEU: A site that looks at all the learn-to-code initiatives and other noteworthy computer programming education projects across Europe.
  • Code Club: A nationwide (UK) network of free volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11 – unfortunately none near me :-(
  • Prewired: Recently launched club for kids in Edinburgh, inspired by the Young Rewired State Festival of Code.
  • Logo: Foundation to encourage children’s computer skills, US based.
  • Young Rewired State: An independent global network of kids aged 18 and under who have taught themselves to program computers, not really for beginners.
  • Jugend Hackt: Aspin-off of Young Rewired State, organized by OKF Germany – in German.
  • Hackidemia: A global network that designs workshops and kits enabling kids to use curiosity, play, and empathy to solve global challenges. It tends to be more hardware and is beginner-friendly.
  • Hive Learning Network: A New York based learning lab that engages youth around innovation, digital media and web-making – lots of projects and resources.
  • CoderDojo: The open source, volunteer led, global movement of free coding clubs for young people. Utilises dojos as a location.
  • Dwengo: Spin-off of a student group, focuses on promoting learning (adults and children) about microcontrollers / robots.
  • Forum voor Informaticawetenschappen a platform in Flanders started by (mostly) teachers wanting to improve the level of IT-education at school – in Flemish.

So have you got any ideas you could add?

Small-scale Cyber Security

There’s been a lot in the press recently about matters of ‘national security’: think PRISM, Edward Snowden and release of release of NSA material. In fact I saw a great session on ‘Open Data Lessons from the US Shutdown’ at MozFest which covered the culture shift in the intelligence community from targeted surveillance to dragnet programs. All very interesting matters for debate, but here we are talking security on a slightly smaller scale.

elvisElvis Donnelly has written a guest post on what small businesses and people working from home need to know about their own cyber security. Elvis is a father of two who works from home and lives with his wife. He is a voracious reader and likes to keep abreast of current affairs on personal finance, technology and innovation, and takes a keen interest in environmental issues. In his spare time, he loves taking on home improvement projects and considers himself a closet chef.

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When the website of Novice to Advanced Marketing Systems (NAMS) was hacked, the small business had to shut down for six weeks and lose $75,000 in the process and recovery was not easy. NAMS owner David Perdew felt this attack was a “personal violation”. But there is nothing personal when hackers target small businesses. Why? Many small businesses have an online presence that runs on limited IT resources and are often the target of phishing attacks by scamsters, especially those looking to steal financial information of customers. Not just that, stealing passwords, theft of funds or intellectual property and paying up huge fines for not protecting customer information are some of the ways in which your business can be at risk, according to Forbes. Safeguarding your website against cyber-attacks should be the number one priority of a small business owner.

In a 2012 National Small Business Cyber security Study, jointly carried out by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and Symantec, even though 73 per cent of small businesses reported that the internet is absolutely vital to their business’ growth, 88 per cent of small business have no official internet security plan in place. Symantec also reported that a huge chunk of cyber-attacks are directed at small businesses. As a small business owner, you know much capital has been invested in your business. It’s important you also know that it can all vanish in a matter of seconds. Beware, cyber-attacks are increasing!

by Lulu Höller, Flickr

by Lulu Höller, Flickr

A Quick Guide to Staying Cyber Safe

Cyber-attacks do not come with a warning, as seen in the case of NAMS. Why compromise the security of your business with a shaky security plan? Here are a few pointers on what a small business owner can do to improve cyber security.

Train your employees

All employees, irrespective of their designation, should be trained to maintain a secure online system. Infecting a computer with a USB stick or downloading files with malicious content are some of the ways in which security can be breached. Employees must be trained to quickly identify content that can harm a computer as well as given a hacker’s dictionary to understand hacking ploys like phishing, social engineering or know what a Trojan horse is. The National Cyber Security Alliance has some training resources for small business owners wanting to educate employees in cyber security.

Secure your computer systems

Monitor all online activity and make sure malicious content is blocked before it enters the system. Incorporate appropriate firewall settings that will help prevent third party users from accessing your data. Password-protect all computers, online accounts and databases- never leave a computer unattended. Take back-ups of all data. Securing your systems and assets help in lowering your risk of an attack. Limit the access of sensitive information to employees. If your company has a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, make sure you follow steps to ensure these devices do not make your systems vulnerable to an attack.

Get insured for data breach

Insuring your business can go a long way in reducing the risks associated with your business. While many small business owners purchase liability coverage for property, few opt for coverage related to data breach. With cyber-attacks increasing by the hour, insuring your business’ data is absolutely essential, especially if online financial transaction form a bulk of money transfers. Check with your insurer how you can incorporate coverage for data breach in your business insurance policy.

While an insurance plan is a strong safety net that can help a small business reduce the losses that accompany a data breach, it’s best to avoid such incidents by putting in place security systems to prevent such an attack. A report by The Hartford suggests that businesses should develop computer security tools to secure their systems from hackers, especially in the current mobile-oriented business platforms. In David Perdew’s words: “No computer is foolproof“, but understanding how you can be cyber safe can help lessen the risk of an attack to a huge extent. Make sure you are secure today!

Editor’s note: I’ve written posts about approaches to password protection (I now use Lastpass) and have advocated in the past for personal data management. I’d also like to hear from people who have had experiences of losing data in the cloud – I read this post recently on how someone had their entire account deleted by Box.com!

How to Create Your Very Own Home Office

So it’s important to feel comfortable when working and Tom Bowers has written a post for us on how you achieve the ultimate home office. Tom has been working from home on a number of different writing, blogging and magazine projects since graduating from university in 2011. He enjoys reading, writing and, most of all, working from home!

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I’m Tom and I’ve been lucky enough to work from home for the past four years now. Working from home can be a tricky business – with distractions aplenty you can often find yourself doing the dishes rather than answering your emails. In order to get into the right frame of mind to get to work, I found that creating a little corner at home to call your own can really be the key into making your home office a successful one.

desk

It’s all well and good working from home if you already have your own dedicated office space, but what about those of us who have no such luck? I, for instance, have had to resort to working out of my kitchen – with two kids in a two bed semi, there was simply no room for a “proper” home office.
So what can you do? Well, guys and gals, I can sum it up in just one word: improvise. You have to make the most of what you’ve got and try to squeeze out a place where you can work effectively in peace.

If you’re looking for some tips on exactly how to do just that, well you’ve certainly found yourself in the right place. I’m going to say how I’ve managed to fashion my kitchen space into a makeshift workplace and give some generic tips that should help you transform a small area into big potential.

Find a Good Location

Not everyone will be able to stick to each and every recommendation I’m making here – don’t worry about it if you can’t; we’re all tight on space so just try and find the best location you can. The more boxes you tick, the better, but it’s not going to be the end of the world if you have to give up on a few points.

If you’re working from home, you’re going be spending a lot of time in that home office area, so choose a space carefully. First off, don’t skimp on space. If you’re lucky enough to have a guest room, for God’s sake convert it into your office instead of trying to fit into a closet, especially if you don’t often use it.

Also, try and consider the flow of human traffic around you. I quite often have to suffer the kids getting under my feet in the kitchen, but it’s the best solution I could manage, so I have to make do. Minimise distractions – away from the telly is best! – and consider whether clients will be visiting.

Function over Form

It’s a bit of a cliché, sure, but it’s important. It is of vital importance that your furniture serves you well, so look for things that make the most of your space as will keep you comfortable and working effectively.
However, you will also want to avoid the place looking completely soulless. I was lucky in that we had a small dining table in the kitchen, the perfect size for my computer and everything I needed at hand, so I didn’t have to splash out too much on taking the aesthetics away from “boring cubicle“.

Get a Great Chair

This is inarguably the most important piece of furniture in the whole shebang, especially if you’re a keyboard warrior like me. A badly-fitting chair can eventually lead to some pretty serious spine problems, so you want something ergonomic and seriously comfortable.

I’m currently rocking a fancy-looking leather office chair (it was second-hand and a serious bargain in my eyes), so all I need is a fluffy white cat to complete my Bond villain look. I wouldn’t give up my comfy pal for anything, well… except the one addition I’ve lusted after for years – the adjustable-arm Humanscale chair.

Personalise Your Space

This is really important, guys – don’t work in a soulless environment; you’re at home so you have the freedom to tailor your workspace to the exact specs you desire. Make the place look nice and you’ll have a much easier time getting inspired and knuckling down.

Try brightening the walls with a favourite poster or prints – frame them to make them really pop; they’ll look more professional this way too, as an added bonus. One of my favourite things is a photo of the family that I’ve got blown up to poster size and hanging on the wall in front of me. That little familial touch seems to make things easier! So does the kettle being three feet away, but that’s just me…

If you take all these tips into account as best you can when designing your own little home office space, you should have a much breezier time in setting it all up and getting down to work. I know I get a lot more work done than I did before, plonking myself down onto the sofa with my laptop, so you should see some pretty major improvements too!

Tidy Trello

The idea of project management can fill people with dread. Wikipedia define it as “the discipline of planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling resources to achieve specific goals” and most reasonably large projects will have someone on board whose task it is to ‘project manage the project’. Business speak aside project management is the art of ‘getting stuff done’, and not just any old stuff but ‘stuff that you are supposed to be getting done’. Most of us (unless we’ve given up the ghost and spend our days on the sofa watching day time telly!) have to get certain things done everyday, so whether we are actually project managers or not we still need to have project management skills.

Managing tasks, project and time in general can be a little different when you don’t physically go to work or have someone breathing down your neck all day…You need to be both organized and motivated.

trelloThe Open Knowledge Foundation use Trello for the day-to-day management of projects. Trello is a collaborative project management tool that is based around the idea of boards (like notice boards) and cards (like post-it notes on the board). You set up a board for a project and then split it up into areas. To do, doing, done – works for us, but you could go with ideas, pitch, approved, implemented or any other way you want to split up activities. People are invited to the board; you can have as many people on a board as you like and people can be assigned different roles. You then begin to create activities/tasks using cards and can add details to each card (dates, related papers, responsibility, comments etc.). Cards can also be moved around quite easily using drag and drop. If changes are made to the board in anyway people can be notified on the board and by email, and there is also an activity trail. Most of the main features are explained on the Trello tour. Trello reassure users that their data is held securely, details can be brought back if you accidentally delete them and that the service works on many different platforms (phones, tablets etc.). It’s also free – what’s not to like!

Our Trello board for the LinkedUp project

Our Trello board for the LinkedUp project

I’ve been using Trello on my project and have found it to be both intuitive and incredibly helpful. At the Open Knowledge Foundation we store most things in the cloud and use Google docs a serious amount. I find Trello is a great way to make sure I’m linking tasks to documents.

Card on the LinkedUp board

Card on the LinkedUp board

While I’m only using Trello on the project I’m working on other people at OKF use it in much more innovative ways. For example, there is a Trello board to co-ordinate volunteer activities around open spending.

My colleague Anders Pedersen explains how he has “brought on a volunteer blog editor, and the Trello board turned out to be a super useful way to show, that she as an editor has a place where she can manage fellow guest bloggers and where she can see that a lot of other volunteers are doing cool stuff….I am getting increasingly convinced that volunteer management with Trello has the potential, for helping volunteers own and scale their engagement (for those who are willing to do more than mailing list) and for helping “super volunteers” to manage and direct other volunteers who are willing to do more.

Much of the Trello activity is in reaction to email overuse – the result is a much more manageable space.

Often individuals and organisations will suggest new project idea to the OKF. If the project relates to Open Data then we will aim to support those ideas and the OKF also has an Ideas Trello board.

OKF Ideas Trello board

OKF Ideas Trello board

You can request to be a member on the Board and start pitching ideas and suggesting activities.

There are a whole host of Trello features I haven’t even got round to exploring yet, some are discussed on their blog. It all makes project management a lot less scary.

Online Voting: The highs and lows

LinkedUp ChallengeThe LinkedUp project (promoting the use of open data in education) that I am now working on runs the LinkedUp Challenge – a series of 3 competitions: Veni, Vidi and Vici. The competitions are aimed at anyone from researchers and students, to developers and businesses, and require them to design and build innovative prototypes and demos for tools that analyse and/or integrate open web data for educational purposes. The first competition closed at the end of June and the evaluation committee are now deliberating on which is the best submission. We decided that whilst it was great that we had qualified judges to choose from the 22 entries we’d also like the wider community to participate in deciding on a People’s Choice winner. So this meant implementing an online voting process.

I’ve never ran an online voting competition before and in hindsight we maybe should have been a little more cautious (or maybe a bit more thorough) in our approach. But then this was an experiment and hopefully won’t detract from the real judging going on. Anyway you live and learn… ;-)

Initial Ideas

We wanted the general public to be able to vote on submissions and originally anticipated that those who had sent in a submission would be invited to showcase their idea on the Challenge website in any way they saw fit e.g. video, slides, images, text, links to demos. Our inspiration for this was the Jisc Elevator project which allowed people to upload videos along with detailed abstracts. After realising that this would be a big ask and quite a lot of work we decided to stick to using the submitted abstracts. We also debated whether we should allow everyone to enter the People’s choice or restrict it to those shortlisted in the top 8. We decided we would allow all 22 acceptable entries to be listed.

One of the main objectives around the People’s choice idea was to create a buzz around the competition. The developers could get friends and colleagues to “Vote for my submission” which would be good publicity and create interest in the project. Competitors would be encouraged to also use the #linkedupproject hash tag when tweeting.

Requirements

We knew that our coding skills weren’t up to the quick creation of an new online voting service so it was decided that we would use an external service, and preferably a free one! A quick brainstorm came up with the following requirements:

  • Easy to use
  • Randomising of entries
  • Blocking voters after one vote
  • URL links for each entry
  • Ability to add tags

Possible Solutions

I looked at a number of external services to see which would fulfil our requirements. There was no money in the budget to buy in to a service and very little resource effort so we really needed a quick and easy solution. The approaches I considered were:

I was surprised to find how little there was out there that fit the bill. Even appeals on Twitter and badgering people internally came up with very little. Many services seemed geared towards e-voting (for elections) rather than competitions, and most were too big and costly for us.

If anyone does know of any services that offers what we were after then please do let me know!

In the end we looked at two approaches in more detail:

Ideascale

I had actually used Ideascale before as a way to canvas for ideas for sessions at IWMW. It tends to be used for ideas but did seem to fit most of our criteria and worked pretty well except for randomising of entries, though there are different tabs to view entries in different ways, and ideas can be tagged. Most of the text was customisable and it looked pretty good too. It was also possible to create a widget and embed a random idea into web page.

Pros: Free, can have full text and link from abstract, can tag items, voters can only vote once on each idea
Cons: Can’t remove dislike button (have to pay to do that and it looks pretty pricey), need to log in to vote, separate site – though can scale and use for other competitions

OpinionStage

This is a way to embed polls into a blog/website.

Pros: Easy to use and embed, I think you can vote anonymously but it likes to link to social networking sites
Cons: Can’t have full abstracts so people will need to refer to a different page (though could add to the same page as the abstracts), no individual urls for abstracts – so a little bit more tricky for people to push their entry.

LinkedUp Ideascale site

LinkedUp Ideascale site

Decisions and Lessons Learnt

In the end we went with Ideascale, have a look at the LinkedUp Ideascale site (and vote!)

It would have worked really well but there was one flaw in our plan! Voters can only vote once on each idea, which is a good thing, but unfortunately they can vote up or down. As mentioned before we couldn’t remove the dislike button due to cost reasons. The result was that some competitors and their supporters were coming to the site and voting everything down except for their own entry. So despite having had a large number of votes (1258 votes recorded on 8th August) some of the entries actually have negative values. Some entrants have been more aggressive in their voting than others and the result has left some people feeling a little dejected, which isn’t great. One might argue that all’s fair in love and war and that the People’s Choice winner will deserve their prize because they will have worked hard to win it. I personally would have hoped for a little more camaraderie and a little less competitive spirit…

Anyway there is still time to vote. We won’t be announcing the winner till the LinkedUp awards ceremony at OKCon. It would be great to see all entries ending on a positive number! I’ll let you know who is the eventual winner of both the People’s choice and the overall competition.

So I guess the main lesson I’ve learnt is that if we run the People’s Choice vote again we will have to test our system a little more and ensure that there aren’t any loop holes that allow for underhand tactics! Phew! It’s a dog eat dog world out there!

LastPass Saloon

Over two years ago a wrote a post about how I’d had a little mishap with my laptop and my passwords (A Fool and Her Password are Easily Parted).

I was surprised by the number of comments and suggestions made, everyone seems to have their own way of remembering passwords. It’s a problem that many of us were struggling with. At one point in the comments I admitted that despite my scare…

I have to come clean that I haven’t actually done anything about my passwords yet. I’ve looked at a number of online tools (I personally feel that I need something that is available ‘from anywhere’ so KeepPass doesn’t really suit) but all seem to cost, especially if you want something also accessible from a phone. I’m reluctant to pay so I’m now considering other options. I’m thinking that your method might be a possibility. Maybe even a Google doc is a possibility as long as the security is set up properly?

Not much has changed in the two years since I wrote the post. I still have the “written out list of about 250 user names and their corresponding passwords” – though now the list is a lot longer and starting to fall apart. The main action I’ve taken is to photocopy it and store it in a safe place, and I don’t take it out with me on trips anymore!

All a bit pathetic really.

Now I’m working for the Open Knowledge Foundation and leaving UKOLN I have a whole other set of issues – sorting out my digital identity. My colleague Brian Kelly has written this great presentation on the type of issues involved: When Staff and Researchers Leave Their Host Institution. The University of Bath allow us to have at least 4 different aliases and I’ve used them sporadically to register for accounts (though I’ve tended to use my standard email address for the majority). So lots of email addresses (which will soon be defunct) and user accounts along with lots of passwords. It’s a merry mess!

LastPass

Luckily the Open Knowledge Foundation have just gone with LastPass, an online password manager. I’m hoping it’s going to be my salvation. LastPass claim that:

Collectively we lose more than 10,300 hours per year retrieving lost passwords, making new ones or talking to call center representatives about them. And it gets much worse if a password is stolen and misused.

LastPass works using a browser plugin that will learn (and encrypt) your password for all the online sites you use. It will also help you create secure strong new passwords (if you so wish – personally I prefer to make my own). You can import your data from existing services and browsers and you can securely share logins with colleagues. It is an online service, so you need to be online to access it, but then everything is online (hence my recent rewiring.)

LastPass

I’ve only just started using LastPass but I’m hoping the day may come when I can throw away my scruffy bit of paper and move on! Now I just need to visit about 300 sites and change the email address I have registered with…

An Epic List of Productivity Tools for Remote Workers

Arvin BuisingWe haven’t had a guest blog post for a while – so time for an epic one! Arvin Buising has been working remotely for more than 6 years now. He works as a freelance writer and uses lots of different productivity tools to help him plan his day.

Follow him on Twitter at @kudlit.

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Thanks to technology, we no longer have to be trapped in an office to do our work. In this post I’ve tried to come up with a comprehensive list of productivity tools to make your life easier.

Free Storage

Cloud storage makes our data safer and easier to share. Sure, you can store terabytes of data on your hard drive, but when a hard drives fail, as hard drives often do, your data may be lost forever. Below are some free cloud storage services that remote workers can take advantage of.

Dropbox – Marieke has mentioned Dropbox on this blog before but they are definitely the biggest player at the moment. They offer 2 gigs of free storage. But you could actually earn a bigger storage (up to 16 gigabytes) by referring friends.

Mega – If 16 gigabytes of free storage still look small to you, how about 50 gigabytes of free storage? That’s what mega.co.nz offers. Their connection speed is really fast too. I recommend using this free service if you’re transferring a lot of huge files such as images, videos or audio files.

If those are still not enough for you, check out these other free storage services:

That’s more than 100 gigs of free cloud storage space if you register with all these providers!

If that’s still not enough for your needs, you might want to upgrade to a premium account on any of those providers or perhaps get a VPN service. A Virtual Private Network makes it convenient for team members working in different geographical locations to access the same resources via the Internet.

Online Meetings

Good communication is key to a smooth workflow. Sometimes, emails and chats are simply not enough especially if there are several people involved in the projects. Good thing there are a number of free online conferencing tools that you can choose from.

  • Adobe Connect – is a shareware that lets you create an unlimited number of “meeting rooms”. Personally, I don’t think anyone would need that many “meeting rooms”, but I like the fact that it lets you record meetings, share screens with each other, chat and even leave notes.
  • Mikogo – is everything you’ll ever need in an online conferencing tool. You can use your iPad, iPhone or any other device that uses a browser to join a conference. And yes, it’s free!
  • TeamViewer – if someone needs to take full control of another person’s computer then this is the tool to do it. It can do everything Mikogo can do and for personal use it’s free.
  • Google Hangouts – Marieke has recently written about hangouts but it’s still worth mentioning in this list.
productivity

Productivity by koalazymonkey

Time/Task Management

One of the challenges of working remotely is keeping up with the tasks and sticking to schedule. Fortunately there are task management tools that help us be on top of our game.

  • Rescue Time – Are you always distracted by Facebook and YouTube? Rescue Time can help you analyze how much time you spent socializing on Facebook and how much time you spend on actually working. It helps a lot if you get distracted easily. The individual license is free.
  • Google Tasks – This free tool from Google is integrated with Gmail and Google Calendar. You can use it with any device that has a browser.

Project Management

While the above tools are excellent for managing your own time, working together with an entire team remotely is an entirely different story.

  • GanttProject – is a free and user-friendly tool for managing projects. It has an active community around it and you can ask questions on the forums if you get stuck with anything.
  • PHPProjekt – is a suite of applications for communication and management of teams. It features a group calendar, a time card system, a file management system and a mail client. Like GanttProject, it also has an active community.

There are many other open source project management tools available but these two are the well-maintained ones. Commercial project management tools are often better considering the importance of these tools in completing projects.

There are free tools out there that remote workers should take advantage of but in some cases, it makes more sense to use the paid tools.

What’s your best-kept secret tool you use as a remote worker? Please share it in the comment section.