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Quix: a bookmarklet to rule them all!

Quix logoThere are a lot of wonderful webapps and they all have a number of ways in which you can interact with them. Generally it happens via a bookmarklet, which is essentially a piece of javascript giving your browser a group of instructions on how to perform a sequence of activities like adding a bookmark, posting a tweet or a blog post, and so on.

I still remember the first time I installed one of them: the Delicious bookmarklet. Wonderful: I am surfing the web, I find an interesting website, I press the bookmarklet and “wow! The magic happens”… without leaving the page, I see a smaller window prefilled with the page url, the page title and the possibility to add some words of description and some tags as well. In no time my bookmark collection grew to more than 500 entries. And, by the way, I still use it!

Since then, I subscribed to other great services, and practically each one of them has its bookmarklet to help you perform the core actions of the webservice itself (to name a few: twine, diigo, wordpress, posterous, remember the milk, …). Too bad, the bookmarks bar soon became so crowded that I had to create a “share” folder in which I placed all the bookmarklets with the result that one of their main benefits (one-click access to some features) was frustrated.

A couple of days ago I discovered Quix, a new little app that basically acts like a meta-bookmarklet. All you have to do is installing the bookmarklet (by dragging it on the bookmarks bar) and you are all set.

The Quix bookmarklet

Clicking on the Quix button you are presented with a small window in which you can perform a number of actions. For example you can perform a google search typing g and the word you want to search, or you can invoke the delicious bookmarklet by typing db (while on the page you want to bookmark), or you can post the page on posterous by typing p (while on the page you want to post).

Quix window

You have to learn a little bit of lingo, because you can interact with many web services and each one of them will have its dedicated key, but typing “help” in the box will bring you to a page with a listing of the commands you can use. One of the coolest thing is that you can integrate it with your browser of choice and assign a shortcut to invoke the Quix app directly from the keyboard.

And obviously, for the geeks out there, you can create your bookmarklet. All you have to do is learning a bit of syntax and add it to the Quix code using the extend page.

Ain’t it cool?


Skitch: a free screen capture tool for Mac

When I (happily) switched to Mac some months ago, I had to find a proper replacement to the set of software tools I used to rely on in a Windows environment. It has not been painful but I must say that I missed very much FastStone, the freeware screen capture tool that I also reviewed in a previous article.

Recently, while I was looking for a wireframing tool for a web project I am involved in, I had the chance to test a lovely piece of software named Skitch, an image sharing and screen capture utility, that really impressed me for its user friendliness and pack of features.

If you want to test it (highly recommended) you have to sign up for an account on the Skitch’s website, and download the desktop client. The application consists of a small resizable window and all the tools you will need are placed on its borders under the form of buttons and toolbars.

You can load an image into Skitch via the menu or simply by dragging and dropping it into the main window. The image can then be annotated, edited, saved and shared with your friends via the Skitch’s website or through another webservice (like Twitter, Mobile Me or Flickr), a discussion forum, an email message, an instant message and so on.

But where Skitch really rocks is when you need to take screenshots.

Using your mouse and the command, option and shift keys you can easily snap the entire screen or a portion of it, a window or the Skitch’s window itself. You can also take snapshots through your webcam and then save the image locally or on your Skitch web account in the desired format (jpg, png, gif, bmp, svg, tif, …).

The images and screenshots can be easily resized simply by dragging one of the main window’s corners and cropped by dragging the image’s borders. Clicking on the “drag me” tab placed on the lower border of the application window you can drag the image and drop it practically everywhere: in a mail message, in a chat window, in an open document, on the desktop, ….

Your Skitch account can be easily configured to post images directly to other web services like Twitter and Flickr and you will also have a maildrop address in order to post images by any device that can send an email. The images can be sent directly to your Twitter account (with the image URL automatically converted in a tiny URL) if you send them to maildrop_address+twitter @ skitch.com (read here for more details).

Through the history button you can access directly the images and screenshots you saved both on your hard disk and web space.

Skitch is developed by a team of smart people led by Cris Pearson and Keith Lang two of the original founders of Plasq (the company that developed Comic Life), and it’s Mac only software. If you want a freeware screen capture tool that can work in a Windows environment you can try FastStone or, for a set of features similar to Skitch, Jing (Windows and Mac).

For deeper feeling of Skitch’s look and feel and feature-pack or simply to see it in action, take a look at the introductory video.

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Springwise: Food For Entrepreneurial Minds

Springwise logoSpringwise is an Amsterdam based independent firm focused on innovation and new business ideas. Since 2002 (when it was founded by Reiner Evers) the company scans the globe for the most promising business ventures, ideas and concepts ready for regional or international adaptation, expansion, partnering, investment or cooperation.

Their full color free newsletter is delivered weekly to more than 85,000 business professionals and entrepreneurs living in more than 120 countries around the world. They claim to be the first company providing such a service on a global scale.

The idea behind the site is really smart and simple: providing food to entrepreneurial minds.

Springwise is built on spontaneous contributions coming from a global network of more than 8000 business and marketing-savvy “spotters” living in, or traveling to, more than 70 countries.

When they find something of potential interest, all they have to do is submitting a short story by e-mail or through a specific form in a dedicated website, providing some basic information like the name of the spotted product (or service), a short description, the related website url (if any), the country in which the company is located and the reason why the spotter believes this product (or service) is unique.

Every time a contribution is accepted, the spotter is rewarded with 10 points that, once reached a minimum 50-point threshold, can be converted in gifts like Moleskine notebooks, iPods, videogames, books, digital cameras, downloadable music and many others you can find on the gift gallery page.

Joining the Springspotters community is free. It seems that you can also submit spots on-the-fly, through the Springwise website, without having to register or to sign in, but in this case you will not be able to gain points or to access the history of your past submissions (both accepted and denied) and your points balance.

Springwise Ideas by Topic

In addition to relying on the Springspotters’ network, the guys at Springwise scan about 400 online and offline business publications per month.

As a result, Springwise’s idea database is really huge. Literally packed with smart ideas from all over the world categorized in many different topics like automotive, eco & sustainability, education, entertainment, fashion & beauty, government and non-profit, marketing & advertising, ….

Every idea can be printed, mailed to someone or commented.

A (minor) area of improvement for the site could be the indication of the number of ideas under each topic. But this is really a minor issue.

This site can really be a great source of inspiration and is definitely worth a bookmark for teachers, students, business journalists, wannabe entrepreneurs, or more simply if you are interested in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

But there’s even something more.

When you have a continuous flow of information submitted by a network of thousands of people in more than 70 countries, and an editorial staff scanning lots of business publications on a monthly basis, you have a good level of knowledge of what is going on in the marketplace, of what is working well and of what, ultimately, people want.

This is where Trendwatching comes in.

Trendwatching is Springwise’s sister company, focusing on finding out the most promising consumer trends, insights, and related hands-on business ideas. Their monthly briefing is delivered to more than 135,000 business professionals in more than 120 countries.

You can access the briefings for free but you have to pay if you want the full 2008 Trend Report which includes presentation slides, videos and other extras.

(Just to be clear, we cover Springwise because we think it’s worth-a-wow but we are not connected with them and we don’t earn money doing this. We probably should, …but this is another story!)


We all have a digital camera. But did you ever try to print your best digital photos at the store down the street? It can be quite expensive!

Today one of the blogs we are following (MakeUseOf.com) is covering PrintRates, a service that will help you in comparing online digital photo printing services in order to save money without sacrificing quality. It works like Campusi, the book search engine that we covered in a previous post.

PrintRates is a price search engine. You just have to define the number of digital prints you want, the paper size, your preferred delivery method and hit the Search Prices button. In the example below I am searching prices for 150 prints on a 4×6 paper with the cheapest delivery method.

PrintRates Input Form

Your search will result in a list of online stores matching the given criteria. In this case it seems I am saving up to 49.72$ which is the difference between the most expensive and the cheapest service in the list.

PrintRates - Output

If you click on the more info button, you will be sent to a page where you can order your photos from the selected printer but also read a profile of the company, post a review or send the page to a friend.

In the screenshot below I selected the first store listed in the previous result page (the cheapest offer) by clicking on the More Info button.

PrintRates - More info

As you can see, the summary shows that the store has been reviewed 12 times and is rated 4 out of 5 on both quality and service, that your photos will be printed on “konica” paper and that there is a coupon available. Hitting the Print Now button will take you directly to the store homepage.

In addition to reading the reviews made by other customers, you can post your own review and add your own ratings. You can always contact other reviewers and discuss with them via the site forum. The site also provides a good list of articles on more or less technical issues about digital photography.

In addition, if you need to buy a new camera or some accessories, there is a store section in association with Amazon.com.

We think that this site is a really useful resource if you are looking for cheap and reliable online digital photo printing services.

Too bad, the service is now available only for US and UK residents and is comparing only 53 online digital photo printing stores (33 in the US and 20 in the UK). This means that the calculation of the potential savings is taking into account a very limited number of offers.

The site also lacks an “about” page where you can take some more info on the company behind the project and their development plans. So we don’t know if they will add more stores and more countries in the near future.


A Nice Screen Capture Freeware Tool

Are you looking for a fast, easy and reliable screen capture freeware tool? You will like FastStone Capture.

The first name that comes to mind in this field is SnagIt. It’s very powerful and packed with interesting features. But it’s not free, you have to pay 39.95$ for a licensed version, which is quite a high price if you are not planning to use all of them.

Recently, the guys at TechSmith made available the download of a full-licensed previous version (7.2.5) for free (with the possibility of upgrading to the latest version at half the price), but the offer expired on Jan 7th. Too bad!

The latest version (5.9) of FastStone Capture is now shareware (30 day free-trial and 19.95$ for a lifetime license), but you still can find easily the freeware version (5.3). I’ve been using this tool for several weeks and I must say I’m really satisfied. It’s easy and reliable and I’m seriously considering an upgrade to the paid version.

Let’s take a quick look at its features.

First of all the download size is minimal (only 1.3 Mbs) and it will run on systems equipped with every version of Windows, at least (!) 256 Mbs of RAM, 5 Mbs of hard disk space and a mouse.

When you run the executable you will see a floating Capture Panel (that will hide itself automatically when you enter in screen capture mode) with a collection of icons.

FastStone Capture 5.3 - Capture Panel

The meaning of the icons is very intuitive: you can capture the active window (Shift+PrtSc is the hotkey), a window or an object (Alt+PrtSc), a rectangular region (Ctrl+PrtSc), a freehand region (Shift+Ctrl+PrtSc), the entire screen (PrtSc) or an entire scrolling window (Ctrl+Alt+PrtSc). The hotkeys provided are the default ones, but you can customize them (as well as many other things) in the settings window.

FastStone Capture 5.3 - Settings

I found particularly useful the Scroll Refresh Time option. Increasing this value (the default is 50 milliseconds) will be of help when capturing an entire scrolling window if you notice that the capture engine cannot keep up with the scrolling speed (blank lines in the screenshot).

As you can see below, another interesting feature is that you can easily define from the Capture Panel where the screenshot you are taking will be sent, as well as other things like the possibility of defining a caption, an edge or a watermark image or if you want to include the mouse pointer in the screenshot itself.

FastStone Capture 5.3 - Output

The included image editor is fast and useful for basic image editing purposes.

When FastStone Capture is minimized in the tray area, it will use very few resources (only 480kb) and you can always access its features from the menu that will be opened with a right-click on the tray icon.

FastStone Capture 5.3 - Menu

From the same menu you can launch the Screen Magnifier and the Screen Color Picker that can also be added to the Capture Panel via the Settings window.

As I was saying before, FastStone Capture is no longer available as freeware software starting from version 5.4 but the features I showed in this article are all included in the freeware version.

The shareware version offers a number of enhancements like more edge effects, an enhanced screen magnifier, the possibility to send the screenshots directly to Word and Powerpoint, the possibility of capturing multiple windows and objects as well as multi-level menus, and a lot more. But if you are looking for a screen capture freeware tool the 5.3 freeware version will do a great job.

Highly recommended!

(and just in case you are wondering …no, WorthaWow is not affiliated with FastStone, TechSmith or any other website cited in this article, meaning that if you download this software we will not make money).


Campusi.com: the book price search engine

We’ve just found a site where you can find the best price for a book you’re looking for on the internet: in fact, Campusi.com is a real book price search engine. To use their own words:

We search over 200 online bookstore prices to find you the best deal on any new & used books and textbooks.

Actually, they do even more. Let’s take for example “Business Dynamics: System Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World”, by John D. Sterman. This is a book on how to build system dynamics models to help you dealing with business issues… The subject is not so important: I’ve picked this book just because I know it’s very expensive and to show how much you can save by using Campusi.

Here’s the book’s cover.

The image above is linked to the Amazon product page. If you want, click on it and take a look at the price… $154.06 + shipping!

Now let’s search for this book on Campusi.com.

Campusi book price search engine form

Just type the book title (business dynamics) and the author’s name (sterman) in the search form, and click on search. Below you can see a partial screenshot of the search results, showing all the books matching the given criteria.

Campusi book price search results

As you can see, the first one is exactly the item we were looking for, the second is the same book without the CD-ROM, the third (not shown in the shot) is an old edition, the fourth is the instructor’s manual. There is also a fifth item whose the title is exactly the same as those of the first one… We will come back on this soon, but – for the moment – let’s click on the first one to compare the prices for the exact item.

Here’s the result:

As I mentioned before, Campusi actually does more than simply comparing raw prices: they show many things like conditions, shipping costs, taxes and – most important – they give you available coupons.

Then they calculate the actual cost you have to pay to buy an item from a given vendor! The image is not very clear, but the cheapest ‘new’ item costs $103.73, which means that you can save almost 33% on the regular price. However, if you don’t mind having a brand new book, you can buy a used item from Amazon UK for just $80.05 overall, saving 47.5%!

Now, saving 47.5% on the regular price can be already considered a very good deal, but you can save even more! Let’s take a deeper look at the fifth result of our original research:

The book is exactly the same with the CD-ROM. The only difference is that in this case we are buying the International Edition that is a PAPERBACK version. This means that it will be much cheaper! This can be verified by clicking again on the ‘compare prices’ button.

Here’s the result.

As you can see, the cheapest ‘new’ (paperback) item sells for $71.88!

If you consider the original price of the book ($154.06), this five-minute-research on the Campusi book price search engine, helped you save 82.18$ (53.34%).

Really amazing. And it’s completely free!


CommonCraft: The Art Of Explanation

I know a lot of smart people complaining about the fact that they don’t have time to keep up with all the news and developments in the Internet world. They know that the web is full of wonderful sites literally packed with useful information. They feel as they are missing a lot of opportunities. And they are!

When someone asks me how can I always be so up-to-date (it’s not completely true but it’s their perception and I’ve built a sort of personal brand on this) I simply explain that my secret weapon is an RSS feed reader: a software tool (or a web service) that every day allows me to check dozens of interesting websites in a fraction of the time that I should spend visiting them individually. To be completely true, this is only one of the tools I use, but it’s the most important one. The one I couldn’t live without.

That said, it’s not so easy to explain how an RSS reader works and why someone should use it without going into too-much technical details. Especially if your friend is an Internet novice.Some months ago, I found the CommonCraft website. They are a small consulting company focusing on the production of short, simple and effective videos to explain apparently complicated issues.

Here’s the video they produced about RSS. It’s called “RSS in Plain English

Since the day I discovered their website I always refer my friends to their work. Their paper-and-whiteboard format (paperworks) is simply amazing! Definitely worth-a-wow!

Other issues they covered are: Wikis, Blogs, Social Bookmarking, Social Networking, Photo Sharing. Google hired them to produce videos on Google Docs and Google Maps for Mobile With My Position. Other companies did the same.Some of the videos have been translated, transcripted and/or subtitled. More details on the CommonCraft Show page.

Check their work. They may become your secret weapon.


Multiple Gmail Login Switcher

I’ve tried this little Gmail Login Switcher tool this morning and I must confess that it really made me happy. It allows you to instantly switch among all your Gmail accounts without having to log out from the account you’re logged in and then re-log in to the other account (very annoying if, for any reason, you have to check your email frequently).

Actually what this script does is replacing the “Sign Out” link located in the upper-right corner of the Google services with a drop-down menu. From that menu you can select one of your alternate Google accounts, and it will immediately logout and login to the other without any other user intervention.

Even if, once installed and configured, using the tool doesn’t require any particular ability, the installation process can put in little troubles the average internet user. Then, let’s show it in details.

Gmail Login Switcher Requirements

First of all, you must have all the following things in place:

Firefox. Sorry, the tool only works on Firefox. If you are still following the Explorer, listen to me …leave it alone, join the Fox crew and don’t look back: it’s free, smarter …and you won’t regret it!

The new version of Gmail. If you are still using the old version, you will have to switch to the new one. It’s easy: login to Gmail and click on the “Newer version” link on the upper-right corner of the page. Then logout and repeat this operation for each of your Gmail accounts.

gmail update to the newer version

Greasemonkey extension installed. This will probably sounds a little exotic for most of you. Don’t worry: Greasemonkey is a Firefox add-on that “allows you to customize the way a webpage displays using small bits of JavaScript” – just to use their own words. Well, install it and forget it! Go to the Greasemonkey homepage , click on the ‘install’ button, confirm that you want to install the add-on and restart Firefox.

At this point you will see a little monkey face on the status bar (lower-right corner of your Firefox window) greasemonkey active icon If the monkey looks sad and grey greasemonkey inactive icon , click once on the icon to activate.

Installing the Gmail Account Multi-Login script

Now that everything is in place, you can install and configure the script itself. Go to the script homepage and click on the black button on the right. Once again, Firefox will warn you, but go on. Done!

Configuring the Gmail Login etc.

Now that you have the script installed, login to one of your Gmail accounts and manually add all the Gmail accounts among which you want to be able to switch. To help you to do that, I’ve uploaded a short instructional video on YouTube. Hope this help…

Once finished with adding all your accounts to this Gmail login tool, you will be able to switch from an account to another simply selecting them from the drop menu.

the gmail login tool at work



Free Rice: Defeat Hunger 2.0

Free Rice Logo Three words: simple, addictive, smart!

I’ve been really impressed by Free Rice, a sister site of the world poverty site Poverty.com. The goal of the site is to provide rice to hungry people for free, while providing everyone a free tool to improve their English vocabulary.

It works in a very simple way. There is a word and five possible synonyms. You have to select the correct one and 20 rice grains will be donated, through the United Nations World Food Program, to someone in need. This is made possible by a number of sponsors (you will notice a banner in the lower portion of the screen). The systems keeps track of your performance and adapts the difficulty level accordingly. You have also the option to make your pc remember your vocabulary level and donation level.

Since Nov 28th, the number of rice grains donated for each correct answer has been rised from 10 to 20.


The business model is built on a win-win-win relationship: you give something of value, you get something of value, somebody else pays the bill while getting something of value themselves. The rice grains you help to deliver by playing with the site can make a big difference for the ones who are receiving them. The possibility of improving your command of English can make a big difference for you, in your private life as well as in the corporate world (particularly if English is not your mother tongue). The association of their brands with good causes can make a big difference for companies struggling to stand in an overcrowded competitive landscape.

I tried to play with the site, obviously. I must say it’s addictive. Once started it is hard to stop so make sure to visit the site when you have 5 or 10 minutes of spare time to spend there. It’s worth the little investment.

As Saabira Chaudhuri points out in this article on the Fast Company Blog, there are some lessons to learn for the other non-profits.

First, you must give people a reason to support your cause, other than the fact of feeling guilty for being in the right side of the World. In this case, fun and learning are making the difference. You can have fun while making the world a better place and while making yourself a better person. Not bad!

Someone, and this is a personal note arising from a family discussion on the issue, could feel a little unconfortable with the fact of having fun while someone is suffering from hunger. But I hope you will agree that the two facts are not related. You will have fun anyway during the day. If your moments of relax can be linked to a good cause, this will not hurt. Moreover, it will give some of you a good reason to justify moments of relax that tend to last a little too long.

Another important point is simplicity. Participating in the Free Rice project doesn’t require filling in complex forms or proving credit card or social security numbers. You play, the sponsor pays, the WFP buys the rice. It’s that simple! And this simplicity is amazing from a marketing perspective.

The Free Rice program experienced an exponential growth. From the 830 rice grains collected on its launch day (Oct 7th) to the 187,906,380 collected on Nov 27th, to the 372,369,680 collected on Nov 30th, for a total of 5,306,133,170 rice grains collected so far (including 600 donated directly by me).