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ConnectCV: Your Resume. Your Job.

People go to great lengths to get a job. It starts with the daunting task of condensing all one’s accomplishments in life to a single document. This entails gathering references, academic accomplishments, and professional achievements. To make matters worse, many employers request that you limit it all to one page. On the other side of the negotiating table are employers. These days it’s been rumored that they get flooded with hundreds of resumes. Sorting through the candidates is an impossible task.

The resume and job search process is and has always been, convoluted. There’s no one single format for a resume and all employers seem to request different pieces of information. What’s more is once your career gets going you continue to accumulate professional and academic experience, all of which needs to be tracked. After a few years it quickly becomes cumbersome.

Behold. A Resume.

Unilaterally solving the resume and job search “problem” is ConnectCV. They provide an online resume builder that allows job seekers to set up their resumes as well as for employers to seek out candidates. They also have a service for educators to network with both employers and students, to help facilitate the introduction of their graduates.

At first glance ConnectCV is nothing more than a location to create an online resume and employers to find them. Upon further inspection however, they offer much more than that. They are set up to track every aspect of your job search, including professional experience, schoolastic degrees, and references. Notably, they also provide the means to authenticate each of these vital pieces of information. For instance each previous employers can be verified via their eVerification system. References can be sent a questionnaire which will be embedded into your online resume through eReference. There’s eLibrary which stores all your career documents. Anything from grades, diplomas, referrals, job descriptions, can all be stored in this central location. Once you’ve uploaded your documents to ConnectCV, you don’t have to go searching for them ever again. Then there’s the eCertificate tool that authenticates your degrees or academic accomplishments. This means potential employers can know at a glance that your degree is valid. ConnectCV is set up to track and validate all the information and materials you need throughout your entire career.

Historically the onus has been on employers to verify that your credentials are accurate. Smaller businesses usually bypass this step and go with their gut instinct. Larger businesses often outsource it. Both employer and employee are given the option to authenticate various items on a resume. This is a paid service, but once something is authenticated regardless of who pays for it, that status remains on your resume. The level of verification is indicated by their resume verification star rating system. This visually indicates the degree to which one’s credentials have been verified, and if any discrepancies were found.

A sample workflow would be for a job seeker to upload all their information to ConnectCV. Once that’s done, they can broadcast their resume out to potential employers that are looking for someone with their credentials. From there employers can contact them for an interview. From the employer side, when they decide to open up a new position, they set up a job posting within their ConnectCV account. From there ConnectCV’s engine will search the web as well as their own database and provide relevant matches. More about that process can be found here. Employers are also provided a web plugin to place on their site, dubbed ResumeLink. This allows candidates to directly email their online resumes.

ConnectCV

ConnectCV has positioned themselves to be the central location for job seekers and employers to connect. For job seekers it’s nice to finally have a place to store all the information needed to find a job. For employers it covers all the bases they need to make quick and accurate assessments of candidates. For educators, it gives them the option to begin capitalizing on introducing their esteemed alums to employers. Schools and Universities already are very useful headhunters, now they can get paid for the service as well. Particularly useful is that ConnectCV is designed so their job seekers can look for jobs both inside and outside their network. So you can send a formatted introduction email, resume WebLink and PDF, and cover letter, to whomever you choose. Equally, employers are provided candidates from both inside and outside ConnectCV’s network.

Finding a job can be a tiring process. It’s the culmination of a lifetime of hard work. Finding good employees can seem like an impossility amidst all the resumes that pour in. With ConnectCV this process can be orchestrated and managed to streamline the job search process.

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AlwaysOnPC: There’s an App for That

We all know Apple has become a mainstay in the computing world. Their storied history includes being one of the pioneers of the personal computer as we know it. Many old time computer guys remember having Apple IIe’s or Apple II+’s as a child. Some of us still download emulators to play abandonware games for them. It makes for nostalgic times.

Fast forwarding many years brings us to the iPhone craze, which has taken the mobile world by storm. People lined up in droves to get the precious device. And what’s the first thing you think of when you think of an iPhone? Apps. Or rather, “There’s an App for that.” These applications can be found on the iPhone apps page and can help with anything from accessing your Facebook account to finding cooking recipes. There’s even an app to turn your iPhone into a flashlight. The number of options is astounding.

But there are some limitations to the iPhone as well. For instance it doesn’t come with a full word processing tool. Or you can’t readily create a PowerPoint presentation. Then there’s the whole issue about the iPhone and iPad not supporting flash. At times iPhone users are faced with the reality that it just isn’t a laptop. Sometimes you want an iPad Office Suite and the functionality that comes with having a computer. Sometimes you just want and iPhone & iPad flash player. As it turns out, there’s an app for that, too.

AlwaysOnPC

AlwaysOnPC is an application that allows you to remotely access a computer that has a full set of software installed. It has everything from an Office Suite, Photo editing, to FireFox with Flash installed. Their virtual machines include over 40 software applications and have all the tools you would typically install on your personal computer or laptop. It gives you the convenience of having a mobile office suite with everything else you need as well.

The biggest issue with using multiple computers is after a while all your files end up in multiple locations. AlwaysOnPC also has DropBox installed, which is a tool for sharing files across multiple computers. DropBox can be installed on many machines and devices, and all the files you place in the box can be accessed from all the other locations. AlwaysOnPC also has a simple upload/download feature allowing you to move files individually from your computer to your AlwaysOnPC app.

AlwaysOnPC isn’t just available for the iPhone. It can also be installed on the iPod Touch, iPad and Droid, as well as the PC or Mac. The most typical workflow will be to first set it up on your local computer and test it out a bit. Once you decide you want the application, it can be purchased for $20USD ($25 for the iPad), and then installed on the mobile device of your choosing. It may be particular useful for the iPad and iPhone, due to all their design limitations. One of the most blatant of these is the aforementioned lack of flash compatibility. Let us take a moment to remember one slumping moment of Apple’s history. Just over a decade ago Apple was in such a sad state of affairs that they needed a 150 million dollar bailout from MicroSoft.  Apple’s war on Adobe’s Flash is well out in the open. The result of it is you can’t readily use flash on their mobile devices. They sure play hardball for a corporation that was once completely flat on their back. As a result you need an app to do something as basic as browsing flash based websites.

AlwaysOnPC Test

So there are two ways to think about AlwaysOnPC. First, it provides access to a secure virtual computer that is entirely your own. Second, it allows you to surf the web like you expected your iPad to, without the limitations imposed by Apple’s technology war. It’s been suggested that favorable public opinion played a role in Apple’s first bail out. I’m not sure karma’s on their side should the need for a second to come along. In the meantime, AlwaysOnPC provides is a tool to make up for the missing pieces, while the big players fight it out.

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QuickFuse: A Tale of Two Grids

Internet start-ups have earned the reputation of being somewhat of a lottery. There was a day when people could come up with practically any idea, put it on the web, and they would make money. Sometimes they made lots of it. Auctions have been going on since 500 BC, yet eBay made billions off them. A general store is a basic staple in every economy, yet Amazon also capitalized off the dot com craze.

Then there are the sites that really didn’t do much at all, but still profited. There’s the Tumbleweed Store, Doggles (goggles for your dog), and my personal favorite, the Million Dollar Homepage. A starving college student built a 1000×1000 grid and began selling each pixel for $1 a piece. Over the course of 5 months he sold all million pixels, earning slighting more than a million dollars. Towards the end the price per pixel was well into the thousands.

The other day I came across a similar grid, called QuickFuse. It has an X-Y axis and the ability to place objects on it. This grid however, isn’t a comedic marketing device. It’s a new and innovative method of creating interactive voice response systems (IVR). To those who don’t know, these are the automated operators you get when calling customer service.

QuickFuse

The QuickFuse application is truly an amazing tool. Having worked with IVR systems before, I know what goes into building them. First you design the call flows. If the customer enters “1” then they get one set of options, if they enter “2”, they get another. And down the line it goes. After a thorough and lengthy design process, it’s then handed over to developers to build. Once everything’s in place, a professional voice talent records the prompts in a clear, friendly voice. And finally, the client changes their mind about one minor detail, and you start all over again. The process can easily run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and is a huge strain upon IT teams.

No longer. QuickFuse’s grid allows for call flow diagrams to be built in minutes. You just click to add the object, type in the prompts you’d like the customer to hear, and connect it to other objects within the call flow. And let’s say the crazy marketing lady with funny glasses wants the whole thing to change. No problem, just drag and drop the objects, reconnect them with a click of a button, and you’re all set up again. Some examples of the available objects are Yes/No branches, Simple prompts, Multiple Choice prompts, and Voice recording, to name a few. It includes everything you need to build highly complex systems. They have variables, databases, branching logic, and APIs to integrate with other systems. The basic usage uses Text to Speech (TTS), meaning, you type what you want the prompts to say, and it will convert it to spoken language. Currently, German, English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese are available. If your language is not on the list you can simply upload or record your own voice prompts. Many users will do this anyway, as they prefer a professional voice talent for their system.

Creating An App

QuickFuse grants you a toll free number upon registration. They also give you $30USD credit to your account. This will get you started while you build the system and service your first few customers. After that, it’s a pay as you go pricing model, with 5 cents a minute for general usage, and $10/month for the toll free line. This is a trivial amount of money compared to enterprise systems.

As I was essentially stunned by QuickFuse’s tool, I attempted to give it a whirl. Within minutes I had a basic IVR system set up. I clicked the test button, entered my cell phone number, and sure enough my phone rang and I heard the system I just created. I can use the app for both inbound and outbound calls. For outbound calls, just upload a list of contacts, and direct QuickFuse to call them and play my application. As it turns out, I’m not the only one taking notice of QuickFuse. More than 10,000 voice apps were created in the first month since launch. Sure, some of them are just kicking the tires. But as a somewhat seasoned software junkie, the tires never felt so good.

QuickFuse built a web application that represents the height of what the internet has to offer. They took a task that is both costly and highly inefficient, and made it simple and cost effective. They include a full set of tutorials and documentation, most of which you won’t need. The intuitive interface works as you’d expect it to. And after reflecting a bit on just how well this application is put together, there’s really only one question remaining. Will the QuickFuse grid, in all its intellectual and professional brilliance, outdo the Million Dollar homepage? For the love of the internet, and all its chaotic glory, man, I sure hope so.

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UserFeel: Getting the Real Scoop

Many stores claim that customers are their number one priority. They come up with money back guarantees, club card discounts, and send a constant stream a mailers keeping you informed about their latest sales. Staying in touch with customers is key to the success of a business. Learning what they like, what they don’t like- these can all help keep them coming back.

In today’s world, many businesses are online. It’s both easier and harder to gather customer feedback. Whereas in a store unsatisfied customers can walk up to the manager and express their discontent, now there’s no person you can talk to. Whereas before they could fill out a card anonymously, now they have a form, or email address. When it comes to online stores, most people will just click on the back button and never return to your site again. Particularly vulernable are shopping carts. There’s a whole science to coaxing the prized Credit Card number out of prospects and getting them over the agony of pressing the buy button. Clients have an inherent fear that the world will collapse when they do.

The world of usability testing is one where you set up controlled conditions and watch someone use your product. In its purest form it consists of a special room with one way mirrors. Professional usability testers will sit behind the mirror so as to not obstruct or influence the subject conducting the test. A representative sample of users will enter the room, test the product, and provide real time feedback about their experience. The concept is that their first impressions and comments during their use of the system are the most valuable. It costs thousands of dollars to conduct these tests. One study I was a part of tested a certain financials website. On it was a picture of a golfer, but this particular branch was directed towards their lower income clientele. The client ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn that poor people don’t feel a sense of connection to the game of golf. (And more importantly, they’re less likely to transact because of it.) Another example of usability testing is from a little known urban legend about Disneyland. It’s been said that when the park was first built they didn’t put walkways in. Instead they observed the natural paths that people walked, and then built the sidewalks accordingly. We’ve all seen examples where this would have been helpful in real life. On college campuses there are many fields of grass with well worn paths on them, outlining the shortcuts that people take. Say what you want about people not following the rules. If clients are in your store or on your website, it’s best to accommodate their desires. If the customer is truly to be number one, then it’s up to the planners to design the paths for them.

That type of feedback is exactly what UserFeel provides. They have a network of testers who will navigate to your site, conduct various operations, and provide real time feedback about their experience. The testers record a video of their screen and spoken thoughts while navigating your site. So if they can’t find the submit button you can watch them search for it for 15 seconds and then give up in a frustrated panic. If they are unable to figure out how to register, don’t think the picture of Donald Duck belongs there, or have trouble searching for items, they’ll tell you that as well. A sample tester feedback video can be found on UserFeel’s site.

UserFeel

As opposed to costing thousands upon thousands of dollars, Userfeel is a clean $39 per test. There are bulk discounts as well. It’s available in multiple languages and is also offered as a white label service. What that means is design firms can purchase  usability tests and include them in their own reports without UserFeel’s brand on it. As an aside, here’s a power user tip for designers. If you ever have trouble convincing the client of a certain design choice, prove to them that that’s what their customers want. Truth be told, many of the user tests I’ve been a part of were to settle battles within offices. One group couldn’t convince the other group of a design choice, so we were hired to settle the matter based upon user feedback. It’s invaluable feedback. When signing up fro UserFeelyou’re prompted to describe the scenario and tasks you’d like tested and various questions you’d like answered. It also gives you option to select gender, age bracket, and level of technical expertise of the testers.

Millions of dollars in lost sales has been attributed to bad site design. What makes sense to designers and developers, doesn’t always make sense to the users they built the site for. If uncomfortable, users flee sites as quickly as they find them.  With UserFeel, you can get an understanding of exactly what’s going through their minds and when. From there you can hone your site to keep your clients, happy, comfortable, and choosing to purchase.

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GetNosy: Forcing People to Behave

We all know someone we don’t like. Sometimes it’s pet peeves that irritate us. Other times they’re just a downright bad person. It could be personality conflict, differing goals, or occasionally you’ll meet someone who treats people very poorly.

Smaller towns are known for their gossip about the residents within. Word gets around fast when someone’s dishonest, unsavory, a drunk, or treats their family bad. If a business is continually ripping people off eventually people start talking about it. They can post negative reviews on Yelp, or they can start a blog about how poor the customer service is. But Yelp is designed primarily for businesses, and blogs or comments may or may not get that much exposure.

GetNosy is a site that allows you to track the bad people you may encounter. They provide detailed anonymous reports about people, email addresses, businesses, and physical addresses. To get started all you do is register for a free account and start submitting reports, or investigating people. The reports are stored by GetNosy and are accessible to others who want to search on that individual or business. For instance, let’s say you have a friend who cheats on their boyfriend. There’s really nothing you can do about it, right? If you confront them they’ll throw a fit. If you tell their boyfriend she’ll most likely come up with a series of lies to keep it going, as well as say bad things about you. But what you can do is submit a bad person report at GetNosy. This will allow anybody she might date to find out what kind of person she is.

GetNosy

GetNosy has a couple of different options. You can submit a report on good behavior or bad behavior. Reports can be submitted based upon a person, an email address, a business, or a postal mailing address.  Another example of GetNosy coming in handy is when a landlord is dishonest. Sometimes they make it difficult to recover your deposit, invade your privacy, or try to change the terms of the lease. So off to GetNosy you can go, and submit a report with their information to record this bad behavior.

GetNosy also has a very helpful daily searching tool. All you do is enter the information for a person, business, email address or postal address. From there it will check daily if new information comes up for it. It’s a useful tool to find out information on someone you’re doing business with, or for when you meet new people online.

GetNosy comes in a variety of packages. Their free service is Bronze, and you have the option to upgrade to Silver, Gold, Platinum, and then Diamond. Premium users  have access to the anonymous email system to privately share their experiences and opinions with other users via private emails. Anonymity is a key factor to GetNosy and all this correspondence is handled safely, without disclosing anyone’s identity. With each package the cost per month decreases, and you get more custom searches per category. The Diamond offering is just $1.91 per month for a full year’s access to the system. It’s also worth noting, all laws are adhered to by GetNosy. Offenders may not like it, but it’s perfectly legal to track their bad behavior online.

GetNosy, brings the small town back to the internet. Love it or hate it, gossip helps protect people from harm. When someone’s behaving badly, it’s to everyone’s benefit to expose that behavior and prevent other people from being harmed. If left unchecked, some people will just keep taking advantage of others. The internet brings this to new levels as people are widely known for misbehaving online. Thanks to GetNosy and their detailed anonymous reports, people now have a recourse to track these bad behaviors, and ensure the safety of others.

GetNosy is now reporting an untrusted connection. Thus, we’re pulling out all links to it.

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Supervise and Protect Your Kids Online: Three Simple Keys

We all know kids are prone to wander. They’re new to this world and are eager to explore. From a very early age parents are tasked with finding ways to channel these explorations for their growth and development. They also are constantly establishing boundaries for their safety and protection. It’s quite easy to recognize a house that has a toddler in it. Once they start walking around everything within arms reach of a three foot terror is bolted down, locked up, or moved to higher ground.

As kids get older they (hopefully) learn to no longer be curious about what laundry detergent tastes like. But just as they overcome these small hurdles they gain the ability to land themselves in even greater danger. Friends from school start having cigarettes, and there’s always the kid whose parents let him do anything. One strategy is to enroll your child in every club, sport, and program available. Don’t give them any time to contemplate blowing stuff up or licking frozen flag poles. Monitoring their friends, and then the families of those friends is critically important in keeping your children safe from reprobate influences. And then comes along the internet. Its unbridled access to every piece of visual and written decadence is virtually unlimited.

And it’s all accessible at the click of a button to your child.

Many tools exist to assist with protecting your kids online. There have been internet providers that promise to only deliver content that is suitable for children. Then there are a variety of software programs you can install to monitor or filter your child’s access to the internet. But understanding the various nuances of how these work and then setting them up correctly can be challenging. Sometimes there are ways to circumvent the system entirely. Or other times the system will be so restrictive you can barely access the web anymore. CYBERminderTM offers a solution to protect your kids online that is both easy to set up, and effective.

CYBERminderTM

Their system consists of USB keys. You just plug these into your computer to indicate what level of access you would like. The first key is the Supervise key. This is for the parent and is used for initial set up. The first time it is plugged in it prompts you to install the CYBERminderTM software. Once that’s accomplished, this key will allow unrestricted browsing access and is for the parents. The second key is the Protect key, which the child will use to access the internet. They are only able to access the internet while using their key, and their content will be filtered. The Protect key comes in three age appropriate versions. The break down is less than 9 years old, 9-12, and then teenager. They all block adult content and gambling websites. The pre teens are also blocked from blogs, chat, social networking sites, photos and video sharing sites, and advertising or classifieds. The under 9s have all the above restrictions, and are also not able to access search engines.

9 to 12 Protect Key

The obvious reason why parents choose to use CYBERminderTM is that everything is controlled by having a physical key. The child has no access to the internet without it. The internet filter is handled by CYBERminderTM; all you need to do is plug in the right key. It also lends itself towards the natural growth steps of a child. As they become more mature and responsible, they can earn a new key and new privileges. These privileges can just as easily be taken away should they start to explore less than wholesome corners of the web.

Keys can be purchased in pairs, coming with a Supervise key and Protect key for the age bracket chosen by the parent. They are currently available for purchase in the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Coming soon is France, Spain, Germany and other European countries. It costs £28.50 for a Supervise and Protect key pair.

Maintaining a child’s online saftety can be challenging. CyberMinderTM provides easy to use USB keys to keep your children protected from nefarious content online. This, combined with a little love and support, will help your children grow to be the young adults you hope them to be.

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AccPal: Money Management Made Easy

Budgets. We all know we need them. They help us monitor what monies come in, what goes out, and how quickly. Hopefully there’s more on the way in, so I’m told. I personally have a patent protected budgeting method. I’ve dubbed it the Ostrich Budgeting Technique, TM. I can’t disclose all the details but it generally consists of not spending a lot of money and not thinking a lot about it either.

To those who have more advanced budgeting needs Excel spreadsheets are sometimes employed. These work for a while but eventually become unwieldy. Quicken or Quickbooks can be installed locally. But then, installing local applications is so last year. Being able to access your critical information from any browser based computer is quickly becoming the norm. Embarking into the field of online expense tracking is AccPal. They offer a complete set of budgeting tools rivaled only by my Ostrich Technique, TM.

AccPal

In their words, AccPal is a free online multi currency personal finance money tracking and management budget planning solution. I may have taken some liberties in the verbosity of my synopsis. Many budgeting software solutions have similar features. After trying AccPal I noted four distinct reasons why their product stands out. (Other than being completely free online personal finance software.)

1) Multi-currency. I deal with various currencies all the time. I never know what denomination people are going to send me money in. Fortunately Paypal takes care of translating it to USD or I’d be totally lost. With AccPal, you aren’t lost. You have the ability to include as many currencies as you like in your budget. For today’s businesses, in particular online ones, this is critical. We can no longer take for granted being able to exclusively deal with local currency.

2) The Shortcut feature. It is a powerful concept AccPal created to replace “recurring” features that other programs have. It gives you macro like access to common transactions. So if you always are creating a similar transaction you can create a shortcut to automate that process to just one click. It also is used to save common report configurations. The most important feature of shortcut is “staying current.” That is, you can create a shortcut and it will automatically update to the current date. This allows for shortcuts to be relevant for all future transactions. For instance, if users have transactions that occur at a particular date of each month, the shortcut can be set to convert the month. If users need to generate a report of certain aspects every month, or every year, the shortcut can be set to always show the most current month or year.

3) Multi-level tags. This alone makes me an incredible fan of AccPal. Almost all other budgeting software tools will utilize a flat organization of tags or categories. So you have to create one category for Groceries, and another for eating out, and another for home delivery. With AccPal you have the ability to accurately represent your expenditures. For instance all these will fit under the category of food, but you can create subcategories for each. It gives you easy insight into not only your overall food budget, but also the breakdown of how much you’re spending on pizza deliveries. You have the ability to make these divisions as granular or general as you like.

4) Batch Transactions. Oftentimes there are multiple expenses associated with a particular event. Let’s say you order something, ship it, store it, and then finally pick it up. Each of these expenses are associated with the same item. AccPal gives you the ability to group them together so they can be edited within the same transaction group. The grouping feature is especially useful for situations when the user needs to split transactions, or transfer money between accounts.

Other AccPals’ features include:

Simple Chart

AccPal is a very powerful and flexible online money management service. For users don’t want any features at all, they can simply record transactions like they normally would balance their checkbooks. If they like, they don’t even need to enter descriptions for each transaction. Due to its flexibility and ability to track multiple currencies, and innovative shortcut feature, it is extensible to both business and personal budgets. Given the nature of it being online, having your budget accessible from any browser is a huge benefit. With a clear view of one’s finances comes the ability to set realistic goals. Once those goals are written down, they are much more likely to be attained. AccPal provides the tool to bring you this clarity. It’s a critical step on your way to future financial success and better money management.

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Zorap: A Site to See

One Site to rule them all, One Site to find them,
One Site to bring them all, and in the internets, bind them!

Nobody likes it when people play favorites. It makes them feel left out or unappreciated. The fact remains though that people have their preferences in everything. An article in Psychology Today acknowledges that parents play favorites, and have a favorite kid. Girlfriends have their favorite ice cream. So I have no qualms about noting that I came across a site that quickly became a favorite of mine. It’s still on its way to going mainstream, but I have high expectations for it. It’s like knowing a band before they become big, or going to High School with someone who grew up to be famous. The only person that made headlines from my High School was the victim of a fairly grizzly murder. I’m not sure that counts.

What does count though is being one of the first to declare a site king- the big kahuna. By now, seasoned SlapStart readers will know what I’m talking about. They’ve been here before. And now they’re back, and ready to hit the web with something that is sure to be a growing trend online. I present to you, Zorap!

Zorap
My first review of Zorap was that they had a wonderful site, but their homepage did little to reflect how interesting it was. It was this hidden nature of their product that caused me to admonish them to make it more accessible. And more accessible it is. Zorap 2.0 is now accessible via Facebook, the most common social network on the planet.

Zorap is your personalized chat room, on steroids. It has all the basic functionality you would expect, including chat and webcam. From there it gives you a shared “room” within your browser, from which you can view content from around the web or from your computer. First you log in with Facebook, then you open a room, invite some friends, and chat, talk, and share content. From the web you can concurrently view movies from Hulu, Youtube, Justin.tv, and your Facebook account. Pictures can be from Google Images or Facebook. If sharing content from your computer you can upload Videos, Songs, Spreadsheets, Word docs, and Powerpoints. Once uploaded each of these are displayed in a series of widgets within the browser. It’s like a shared online desktop.

The applications for Zorap are vast. Most commonly it can be used as a meeting place for friends. I can see long distance relationships being supported by it. You can have your own Zorap room, play some music, watch a show together, all the while being able to talk on webcam,or chat online. Zorap could readily be used for business applications as well. The video conferencing capabilities along with document sharing is great for online discussions or meetings.

Zorap brings it all together in such a way that is comfortable, friendly and inviting. The windows resize and rearrange automagically as you add more content to the page. You can make some large, and some smaller depending on what you want to focus on at the time. The options to bring up content are on the left. By default the chat and search widgets are open, along with the Fan Rooms. These are all portals to your own room. So if I search Hulu for a video, I will first select the video, then invite some friends, and then they’ll all be invited to come watch that with me. If I open up a Fan Room, it will again prompt me to invite some friends and open up a new room. These rooms are based upon things I’m a Fan of on Facebook. With the Chat interface I can Chat via Facebook, Google, or AOL, and invite any of them to share a room online. From there we can start viewing contents, webcams, or whatever we choose. All parties can contribute to the room.

A few comments I’ll make about Zorap is that there’s no taskbar for all the windows. It would be great to minimize certain things completely and then open them up again. If it’s a chat window then it should start flashing to indicate that there’s a new message. The only other major upgrade I have would like would be allowing people to utilize the service by logging in with their Google, Yahoo, or AOL accounts as well. Currently you can only log in with Facebook.  From there I can login to Google or AOL to chat. It would be great if I could log into Zorap with all the major accounts. Allowing people to access Zorap from multiple accounts would open up the tool to more people. In particular, sometimes you might want to chat with someone who isn’t your Facebook friend yet.

Zorap is truly a phenomenal tool, one which will revolutionize the way people meet online. It brings together many tools that we’re familiar with, and does so in such a way that is both fun and useful. I can share documents, conduct phone conversations, talk with friends or family, or any number of cool things. With a few tweaks I predict it to become a staple of the internet. A place where people of all backgrounds will gather for multimedia enriched meetings.

Today we were confronted with the sad news that Zorap is no longer with us. We leave this here as a tribute to its superior vision and implementation of its concept.

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Car Insurance Companies: Unraveling the Insurance Mysteries

I live in San Francisco. To those who don’t know, that means my car has dings in it. Nobody knows where they come from and there’s never been a note that showed up on my windshield. It just gets beat up. Door dings are the most common due to where I park. One special dent on my hood was left in memory of (likely) a high school student, and my bumper has received a friendly nudge or two. Overall it’s doing well. I’ve patted myself on the back more than once for buying a dark colored car. And I’ve been able to keep my insurance rates low.

Seeing as how I don’t drive very much I recently tracked down my insurance agent to figure out ways to reduce cost. We went over the various options, all of which went over my head. After a few minutes of hearing horror stories about hospital bills, I worked a few dollars off the price and went about my business. Suffice it to say, I didn’t know then and don’t know now exactly what coverage I have.

But getting car insurance really isn’t all that hard, or that much of a mystery. There are two things to learn. 1) What are the available insurance options, and 2) what are the companies available to purchase them from. Like all business transactions, it’s good to learn as much information as possible prior to approaching the negotiating table. Car Insurance Companies provides just that. They host an abundance of useful information so you can understand the various coverage options, and they provide a list of companies that are available to purchase from. There’s also the option to contact these companies for quotes or talk to an agent.

Car Insurance Companies

My favorite part about Car Insurance Companies is that you can study up on all the insurance types. They have a Car Insurance 101 page that includes basic information on coverages including liability, collision, comprehensive, bodily injury, and personal injury protection. They also have a page that includes the legal minimum coverage you need to stay above the law in your state. There’s no fault car insurance in some states, cheap insurance for young drivers, information on discounts, to name a few. Essentially everything you need to know prior to contacting an insurance agent.

After perusing the thorough but not inundating information on insurance options, it’s time to begin reviewing the companies themselves. There’s a whole section dedicated to car insurance company reviews. One point of intrigue is the JD Powers car insurance ranking table. This is a handy chart that ranks the customer satisfaction levels of all the major insurance companies. I was surprised to learn that the top four I had scarcely heard of, with Amica Mutual taking the number one spot. Nervously, I looked for my own provider only to find them toward the bottom of the list. Thinking back to my conversation with my agent I wondered if I got the best deal for me, or for her.

Once you’re armed with all the industry lingo and background, you’re now ready to start getting car insurance quotes. Car Insurance Companies provides a portal to do just that. All you do you enter your zip code and it will return a list of providers in your area. Click on as many as you like and it will take you directly to the quote page for the respective provider. And thus ends the involvement of Car Insurance Companies.

The fact that Car Insurance Companies isn’t selling insurance is my other favorite part about it. They don’t represent any one particular provider but rather present them all on a equal plane. They give you the information you need in order to become familiar with the insurance landscape. When you’re ready, you can start meandering your way through the sales pitches, as an informed buyer.

Car Insurance Companies is a great tool to learn about insurance. It provides all the information exactly as you’d like it- as informative text with references to back it up. It’s not part of a sales pitch offered by industry but rather an unbiased source of information to assist people in making better decisions. From the SF dent speckled cars, to those who really get themselves in a situation on the highway, having reliable insurance is a critical choice. Car Insurance Companies will help you make it.

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Inboxharmony: Achieve e-mail nirvana

I recently saw a cartoon in the New Yorker in which a woman held an iPad at an Apple Store, and asked the clerk, “But will it make me happy?”   It spoke powerfully about our collective attachment to technology.  (By the way, the answer is “not really.”)

But it needn’t be just an iPad, or an iPod, or an x-Box to trigger such a question.  It could easily have been email.  Because at the end of the day, despite social networks, iPads, and whatever new technology is around the corner, e-mail is still king.  E-mail is still the language of business.  And, as anyone who’s checked their Inbox 200 times a day or has sifted through 2,000 messages can tell you, e-mail is still an imperfect art and a productivity-killer.  In other words, if you’re trapped in the weeds of overgrown, persistent e-mail, check out InboxHarmony.  It can be your e-mail weed-wacker.

Inbox Harmony

InboxHarmony is a tool to help you and your team better prioritize, allocate, and respond to customer e-mail.  This is important.  I can speak from experience of a mistakenly-overlooked e-mail resulting in lost sales (it wasn’t me, by the way.  It was, err, some other guy.  Mark.)  And in this culture of instant information and instant (un) gratification, customers want responses immediately.  Next thing you know, you’re juggling emails rather than actually working.  InboxHarmony, like some kind of digital Zen mystic, restores a sense of equilibrium to your life.  So let’s see how.

The home page articulates four main pillars of the service: Triage, Collaboration, Control, and Free.  The triaging piece, in my opinion, is the most powerful.  By triaging (aka prioritizing), users can set how urgent a response is, how much work is required for the response, and add supporting information.  But how?  Glad you asked.  InboxHarmony lets you assign “Ticket Attributes” for e-mails.  It can be as simple as “low,” “medium,” or “high” importance.  When an email hits, simply hit the corresponding button.

The collaboration piece is important as well.  InboxHarmony allows you to share the job of replying to emails across your whole team.  And InboxHarmony, being a wise, transcendental shaman, knows what you’re thinking: what about the “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem?  By that I mean the dark side of collaboration: too much access to unlimited information equals further chaos and sorrow.  InboxHarmony is on the case.  Once an e-mail hits your inbox, after establishing a set of potential recipients, you simply click a button notating the chosen recipients at the bottom of the e-mail.  Calibrate the audience as you see fit.

Navigationally speaking, the site itself leaves no stone unturned.  The tour page is robust, rife with screen shots.  I particularly liked the call-out windows on each screen shot.  In fact, I could use even more guidance.  For example, on a page like this, the text at the top tells me what I’m looking for.  I’d also put some corresponding text along with the red call out boxes.  (e.g. “Users” can click “Low” priority.)  In addition, some of the buttons distracted me slightly (e.g. I saw a “wire” button.  While it may not be critical to the page’s main focus, it’d be nice to define what it means.) One other navigational comment: I’m sure InboxHarmony does this, but something as simple as sorting by Task importance – e.g., sort by “Critical” – is worth dialing up, screen shot-wise.

From a Web copy perspective, I’d consciously draw out the areas of integration with similar tools, namely Outlook.  InboxHarmony alludes to this, noting that since the service is synced with your regular client, visits to said client will become unnecessary, thereby saving time.  That’s good – build on that.  In other words, what can InboxHarmony do that Outlook can’t?  Or, conversely, how can they work together in perfect – brace yourselves – harmony?  And, figuring this service is ideal for small-to-mid-size businesses, why is this a step above your average firm’s current set-up?  (One answer: Inboxharmony’s contact management tools – see screen shot below – essentially act as a mini-CRM system, saving time and money; answer number two, beyond mere functionality: personalized and attentive customer support.)

inboxharmony31

Also, let it be known: InboxHarmony requires no complex configuration steps and no local installation.  Simply enter your support email imap account details, add supporters and the service is ready to use.  And I know what you’re thinking: what about cost?  You non-Buddhists, always so focused on money.  Jeeze.  Well, lucky for you, InboxHarmony has a free and paid versions. It is easy to sign up and start getting your inbox under control in 10 minutes.

So, back to our initial, metaphysical question.   I’m no Zen master.  I can’t walk through walls or talk to grasshoppers.  But my logic is thus: life is suffering.  Work, especially, is suffering.  And like it or not, you have to work (you have a mortgage, after all.  And those college loans.)  And your work requires spending time in your inbox, which is in shambles.  So, by organizing and prioritizing your inbox, thereby making you more productive and with more free time to get things done, like, say, dance a dance or paint a painting, will InboxHarmony make you happy?  My answer is thus: at best, yes; at the least, most probably.  Or to paraphrase an old Buddhist adage:

“If a man speaks or acts with a pure inbox, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”