Week 6: Online applications and tools

This week you get to choose what you explore.  Please pick three of the following applications and tools to explore further.  Feel free to do more than this if you want to.  Remember to blog about your experiences!

1. Personalised homepages

2. Mobile phones

3. Web browsers

4. Google documents

5. Toolbars

6. Widgets

7. Mashups

1. Personalised homepages

Personalised homepages (also known as start pages or personal portals) allow you to create your own web page/s.

They are made up of a number of customizable pages including a main ‘home page’ where you can add blocks of content (known as flakes, widgets, gadgets or modules depending on which one you use). This could be anything from your Facebook account to an email account to a newsfeed from your favourite television station. They can be personal, or you can make them publicly available to other people.

If you have the technical skill you can even write gadgets/widgets/flakes to put into yours and other pages.

The fun (and quite useful) thing about these is that you can collect together some/all of the tools you have learned about/used so far in the Learning 2.0 programme into one place, for example your RSS feeds, your Flickr photos, your Facebook account, your email account. They can be used for your own personal online information, for information focussed on a particular group of people or as a public facing website.

Examples of well known personalised homepages include iGoogle, Netvibes, Pageflakes and MyYahoo.

The new look BBC website now looks very like a personalised homepage. Examples of libraries using personalised home pages include the Dublin City Libraries Pageflakes page and a Netvibes page from Cambridge University Medical Library at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Also very popular are the creation of flakes, widgets. modules or gadgets that people can add to their own pages such as Deakin University Library’s widgets you can add to your own Netvibes pages.

Choosing which one to use is the fun bit. This is usually determined by what you like the look of, and which other web services you use. For example if you use loads of other Google services, then iGoogle may make the most sense. Each of them has a different look, with the basic features being very similar.

Take a look at Exploring Netvibes, Pageflakes and iGoogle or 13 Personalized Hompages Compared, Feature by Feature for a comparison of some of the different options.

For info on the use of personalised homepages by libraries try Creating a librarians info portal with Netvibes and RSS, Pageflakes as a personal learning network portal learning and research and Riding the Waves of Today’s Online Web Tools

2. Mobile phones

You may wonder why we have included mobile phones in the online tools and applications section of the Learning 2.0 programme.

As mobile phone technologies develop further and mobile phone service providers provide more affordable mobile broadband, they become more likely to be used for internet browsing, in addition to more traditional uses of text messaging, picture messaging, taking photos and listening to music.  This will also have an impact on how we provide services to our staff and students. Many of the tools we have talked about during the Learning 2.0 programme can be accessed via your mobile phone, though often there is a pared down version of the desktop/web based application. The plus is that they are portable, practically everyone has one and costs are going down.

See The Q12008 UK Mobile Trends Report for what is happening in the world of mobile phones.

What they can currently be used for:

  • To create content & upload it
  • Surf the net
  • Sending text/picture messages
  • Keep a calendar/diary
  • Take/store photos
  • Listen to podcasts/music
  • Phonecalls

What we should be thinking about – both now and in the future?

  • Use of current mobile services (e.g. text messaging)
  • Use of mobiles as browsers (iphones, new blackberry, new phones)
  • Idea of delivering services/content to mobile phones

To find out more about the relevance of mobile phones to libraries and the services they provide, see the 2008 Horizon report. Possible uses of mobile devices (not just phones) in education is also worth taking a look at. Finally,
Imperial Library del.icio.us links on mobile phones and library examples has practical examples.

3. Web browsers

Many people use Internet Explorer (IE) as this is the browser that comes with Windows.  However it is worth noting that there are a number of other browsers out there that are better/different alternatives to IE.

Each browser has it’s good points and bad points – often it comes down to personal preference and how much flexibility you want.  See Web Browser Reviews from Consumer Search for a good overview of the main browsers available. or the Wikipedia entry on Comparison of web browsers for more information than you ever wanted to know about browsers

The joy is that it is possible to customise your browser so that you get the most out of it.

Internet Explorer 7

The latest release of Internet Explorer is definitely a huge improvement on earlier releases.  See http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-vista/discover/media/videos-and-demos/ConfidenceVignettes.asx for a video overview.  See Microsoft Add-Ons for information on how to customise your browser.


Is a customisable open source browser from Mozilla.  See Add-ons and extensions for further information on customising Firefox.

For a quick overview, see this promotional video of the latest release.

See this Screencast – LibEx for staff and students (from Kathryn Greenhill at Murdoch University) – for an example of a Firefox extension that puts the Library into the users space


Is not as popular but a good alternative to the other two.  See their video tutorials for further information on its features.

Bookmarklets are another useful web 2.0 like feature that make your browser more personalised and easy to use.  During the Learning 2.0 programme you will have come across bookmarklets for tools such as the Bloglines Easy Subscription bookmarklet and the del.icio.us bookmarking buttons

Finally, you can find loads of examples on Web browser extensions from the Library Success wiki

4. Google documents

One of the key features we have mentioned about Web 2.0 tools is the fact that they use the web as a platform.  Rather than you having to download software onto a particular pc/laptop – you can access them anywhere, any time.

Google documents is a basic word processing, spreadsheet and presentation package that you can access via the web.  You do not need to download it – you can access it as you would your email or RSS reader.  It enables you to upload and work with Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents and other file types as well as download them back into the various programmes.  It is great for collaborating with people in different places.

Watch this video for an overview of Google documents

5. Toolbars

A toolbar is a horizontal or vertical row of icons/buttons that enable you to easily click on/link to features of a particular programme, service or tool.  It sits either within the programme, such as your browser or floast at the the top or on the side of your screen.  The most obvious toolbar is the one that is located along the top of your browser/programme screen.

You can customise toolbars within your browser or programme, such as Firefox or IE or you can download or create toolbars for a variety of resources, for example the My Athens toolbar.

Customisable toolbars are becoming more popular, and libraries are using them more to get into the user’s workspace.  For more library related toolbars than you ever thought could exist, see the Library Success wiki toolbars and extensions

See this video for best Web 2.0 toolbars

6. Widgets

The term widget has a variety of meanings depending on where it is used.  Basically, a widget is a piece of code that can be embedded into any html page that allows a user to do stuff.  For a simple explanation of what a widget is, see What is a web widget? from Widgets for Web 2.0.

See also this great 5 part video series on widgets

In the Learning 2.0 programme you will have encountered widgets in web applications such as WordPress and Wetpaint.  As you may recall, they enable you to display content from other sources, such as embedding a YouTube video on your wiki page or you may have added widgets to your Word Press blog to enable the display of recent posts or your blogroll.

The Library Success Wiki has some information on widgets.  See also the Imperial Library del.icio.us tag widgets for some links to examples of widgets.

7. Mashups

Put simply, a mashup is what you create when you take data from various sources and put them together.  A very popular current use of mashups is integrating some kind of data with Google maps, for example creating a map of the location of restaurants in your area.

For a good overview, see the Wikipedia entry on mashups or this blog entry from Show us a better way which is a competition being run on ways to re-use publicly available government data.

YouTube also has a good visual overview in this video

The fun thing about mashups is that you do not have to be an expert programmer/developer to build them.  There are a number of tools available to create mashups including Yahoo Pipes and Google’s Mashup Editor to name a couple.

See the Mashup Awards for the best of what’s out there on the web and the Talis Mashing up the Library competition for some library related examples.


One response to “Week 6: Online applications and tools

  1. Can we please have a printer friendly version of this site. I print the week’s task and find that could do with a version where the headings and side bar have been removed. This got me from a 10 pg printout down to five after copying and pasting.

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