Category Archives: Tech

Beating Facebook’s Bots – How To See The Content You Want

If you’re not a marketer, you might not know this, but Facebook is hiding things from you.

I won’t bore you with the details (search online for  “page likes” and “Facebook algorithm” to hear the small business howls of protest), but Facebook has changed the way they serve information to your newsfeed.

What does this mean for you?Even if you have ‘liked’ a page (say a local business or a charity you support), you won’t see all their posts in your newsfeed. You’ll have to remember to click on their link to see their page and all their posts.

Which kind of defeats the purpose of the Facebook newsfeed, don’tcha think?

How To See What YOU Want To See

There is a really easy way to customize your news feed so that you see ONLY what you want to see, and you see EVERY post.

But it does require a couple of clicks.

(Another advantage is that you can corral all those quirky blogs you like to read but keep forgetting to check. Using the method below, you can have them all served up to you on one page, every time they update. No more ‘losing’ favorite voices online!)

Introducing FEEDLY

I use Feedly to slurp content from all my favorite sites and let me read them all in one ‘news feed’ at Feedly.com.

Here’s what it looks like:

Feedly home

Say What?

The Short Story: You’ll have to train yourself to check another site as well as FB every day,  to get the content you want. But it’s worth it.

The Slightly Longer Story: Behind every blog is a stream of code called an RSS feed. (It stands for Really Simple Syndication, and its a way your browser can slurp all the content you want into one place. But no, you don’t need to know any code.)

You tell Feedly what sites you like to have updates from, it slurps the content in, turns it into a pretty News Feed, and you turn up and read it.

(Yes, there’s an app for your phone.)

Yes, you’ll have to check Feedly as well as FB, but the upside is that you won’t have to scroll through all the pictures of puppies and the political outrage of your casual acquaintances, unless those are the kinds of sites you like to read.

How Do I Use This Magical Service?

1. Go to Feedly.com and sign up.

You can use your Google account (if you have one) or your Facebook account, if you really want to hitch your wagon to the FB star.

2. Enter the address of the webpage of a blog/organization you care about.

Feedly will find the RSS feed on the page, if it has one. (Most sites use blog software for their news and updates, so it probably will).

For example, to see all the updates on this page, you can just type in ‘www.julieduffy.com‘ and it’ll subscribe you to this blog. To see every post from my StoryADay May challenge, type in ‘www.storyaday.org‘ and it’ll pull up that blog.

3. Subscribe

Feedly Add Content

See that little green button that says “+Feedly”? Click it.

4. (Optional) Put Things In ‘Collections’

A collection is like a folder, in old money. (Or a ‘directory’, if you’re really old). This is optional but something you’ll appreciate once you have more than a few subscriptions.

When you click “+Feedly” it will pop up a little window like this, which lets you add the site to an existing collection or create a new one.

Feedly collections

I have some collections called things like ‘art’, ‘blogs about life’ and, not surprisingly, ‘writing’.

5. That’s All, Folks

Ok, it’s not all. There are lots of things you can do, like change the way you view the page, download an app, integrate Feedly with IFTTT and Evernote and suchlike, but for now? That’s all you need to do.

How To Find The Addresses of Pages You Like on Facebook

Go to your Facebook Pages feed in the sidebar (and yes, you could just train yourself to do this everyday instead of using Feedly, if you’re happy to keep suckling at the warm Facebook teat and are reluctant to emancipate yourself from their whims).

Click on the name of an organization you like. Click their ‘about’ page and look for their website address.

A Disclaimer

Many organizations have fallen into the trap of using only Facebook for their updates. Now is probably a good time to send them a note saying “hey, I’ve subscribed to your blog in my RSS Feed reader. Please remember to update the blog as often as you update Facebook, so I don’t miss your news”. You’ll be doing them a favor, helping them assert their independence!

Some Sites I Follow

The Happiness Project

XKCD

PostSecret

ZenHabits

Ali’s African Adventures

 

 

All-Edition Books One Step Closer?

Ever since I’ve had my Kindle—or perhaps more precisely, since they introduced the kind-of-crappy and disproportionately controversial text to speech feature— I’ve been longing for a day when I could be reading my book in the house and then get in the car and listen to the audio version, which would, like my Kindle, pick up from where I left off.

And now, Jeff Bezos has apparently been peeking inside my head again, because lo! What did I find on the Kindle edition page for “Happier at Home” by Gretchen Rubin, but this little tidbit?

VersaText from Amazon and Audible

OMG!

My Reading Nirvana

When Audible came along and offered audio books at an accessible price in digital format I jumped, LEAPED, on that bandwagon. (Seriously, the Audible booth at the New York Book Fair in 1999 was down the same neglected side alley as that of my then-company Xlibris. Two guys huddled in the Audible booth looking lonely, and I dashed up to them to tell them I was a fan and a subscriber and to thank them for the service. They looked a little non-plussed, but I was happy!). The only flaw I ever saw with audio books (beyond the cost, which had made them a library-only possibility for me until this point) was that sometimes I didn’t want to listen, I wanted to read. But at least picking up a $6 paperback duplicate was a realistic options, so hey.

Long before ebooks were a reality I was frustrated with paper books’ inability to remind me where I left off or help me find the first instance of when “Piotr” turned up in a book I hadn’t picked up for a while and how he fitted into the story. Then along came the PDF and the Palm Pilot and the Jornada with their proto-ebooks, complete with search function.

Then came my long-term love, the Kindle, to make ebooks (and the process of buying them) work properly.  Much as I fell deeply, passionately in love with my precious Kindle, I almost immediately hated it for making me want to read ALL THE TIME. I started to fantasize about the day when I’d be able to put down my Kindle and hop into the car, or stand at the sink washing dishes, or fold laundry, and have my story read to me while I couldn’t be staring at the page. The crude Text-To-Speech function hinted at a better world, but scared the pants off the people who look after authors’ rights (since selling the audio book rights to your work is such a lucrative side deal for authors and publishers, and deservedly so. There’s a lot of work in a good audio edition).

I always suspected Amazon would come up with a better (and fairer) solution. I even said the fateful words, “I’d be willing to pay a bit more for access to all the different editions. Seems reasonable.”

The Price Of Wishful Thinking

In this case, the price is, well, double the price of the Kindle edition of the ebook. But that’s bound to change as the idea catches on. I think a ‘bundled edition’ price, closer to the traditional trade-paperback price might be where titles from big publishers settle. But even now, the Kindle and Audible editions together (which, by the way, sync up with each other, so you can keep going from where you left off in either device, just like I wanted!!!!!) is slightly less than the list price for the hardback.

I’m bouncing in my chair a little.

I’m such a fangirl of Amazon. I know the Author’s Guild is deeply wary of them, publishers barely tolerate them and other booksellers see them as evil incarnate, and I understand all these things. But as a reader and a lover of books and someone who is interested in the progress of literature over tradition, and yes even as a writer, I am THRILLED that Amazon keeps coming up with ideas that are designed to delight the reader. It’s not a common concern within the book industry as a whole. I’m sad to say that, but I’ve been inside and I’ve never seen anything that has lead me to believe I’m wrong in saying it. Apart from Amazon.

So thank you, Mr Bezos. We are obviously book-brain-twins and I’m glad you’re in business.

Change The Appearance of Your WordPress.com Blog

You’ve got your new blog. Now you want to decorate, and make the space your own; I get that.

When I made my first website back in the dim-dark days of 1996, I had to learn about HTML and Hex values and the ‘table’ tag; and all kinds of barbaric things like that.

Luckily for you, lots of designers are out there today creating beautiful themes that you can hang up, ready-made, or customize with your own artwork.

The Simplest Way To Change Your Theme

From your dashboard, look at the left-hand sidebar and find “Appearance”

Click on that, and then on “Themes”.

You’ll be take to a page full of gorgeous layouts and colors. In fact, there are pages and pages of them, so scroll through them until you find one you like.  Under the screenshot of the theme you like, click on the ‘preview’ link.  A pop-up window will show you how your blog (with your words, even!) will look, dressed up in that theme. If you’re lucky you’ve chosen a free theme. If it turns out you have expensive tastes, you can either pay the designer for their premium theme, or you can close the little window and go back to browsing until you find a free theme you like.

Once you find a theme you like and have previewed it with your blog, look in the top right of the preview window. There is a link saying ‘Activate theme’. Click it.

Now, when you visit your blog you’ll see the new theme.

Searching For Themes

If you know you want a blue theme, or one that lets you upload your own background art or header, you can use the search box (on the right side of the themes screen) or even better the “Features Filter” link. The more options you ask it to find for you (Custom header, custom background, custom colors, one sidebar, two sidebars etc.) the more likely you are getting into Premium Theme territory (i.e. you’ll have to pay money), I recommend playing around with a few free themes before you buy one. Look for themes with “theme options”. These will give you menus that allow you to check boxes to change the color of your background or titles etc. If you really can’t find anything you love in the free themes, by all means go shopping.

Blogging With WordPress.com Series

 

 

Change Your WordPress.com Blog’s Subtitle/Tagline

Along with the sample first post and the sample first comment, WordPress has an annoying habit of putting an automatic subtitle on all new blogs.

It reads “Just Another WordPress Blog” and looks like this:

Now, I’m a fan of WordPress and all, , but I don’t really want that as my subhead.

To change the subheader, go to your dashboard and look at the menu on the left hand side.

One of the options is “Settings”. Click on that and then, if necessary on “General”.

You’ll see something like this:

Just Another WordPress Blog Settings

There, on the second line is the offending “Just Another WordPress Blog” in the space for your tagline. Either come up with something better, or just delete it.

Don’t forget to click the “Save Changes” button at the bottom of the page, then go and check out the front page of your blog (by clicking on the blog’s name in the black, navigation bar along the top of the browser window.)

Ahh, doesn’t that look better? And speaking of looking better, you’re probably going to want to customize the look of your blog. More about that in Changing The Appearance of Your Blog.

Other Settings

While you’re in the settings menu, why not open up the other options and see what’s available to you? You don’t have to change anything now, but the more you blog, the more you  might start to hear about things you want to do on your blog. This settings menu is a good place to root about when you’re ready.

You might want to have a look at ‘discussion’, which is how you control how comments are handled on your blog. It might be best to start out with all comments needing to be approved by a moderator, of you can leave the site the way it is, and change the settings if you start having problems with spammers.

Also, if you find the box for entering your blog entries annoyingly small (I do), click on the Settings > Writing link. Change the ‘size of the post box’ option from 20 lines to something more comfortable.

Blogging With WordPress Series

Posting To Your WordPress.com Blog

Now that you are logged in to WordPress.com, you are either staring at the dashboard

wordpress.com dashboard

or the New Post window.

From The Dashboard

To post a new entry on your blog, look at the left-hand menu. Hover over, or click ‘Posts’. This expands the menu. You’ll want “Add New”. Click it.

Posting Your Entry

I know there are a lot of boxes and buttons and general stuff on the page, but all you need to concentrate are the two at the top middle of the screen.  You can make friends with any of the other areas of the ‘new post’ page as and when you want to. But really, you might never need them, so don’t worry about them now.

In the top box, right under the “Add New Entry”, type a title for your post.

Underneath, type your entry.

Yes, it’s that simple.

Visual or HTML?

The main blog entry box has two tabs on the top right. One says ‘visual’ and one says ‘HTML’.

Unless you’re a code monkey or want to do something fancy, just let the box stay on ‘visual’. This will give you a nice little row of buttons that let you use bold, italics, bullets etc. If you’re feeling fancy, clikc on the last button in the row (the one that looks like a series of dots) and a second row of buttons will appear. These let you designate a paragraph as ‘paragraph’ text or ‘Header’, and includes the styles built into your theme (more on that in another article). To create the header for this section, for example, I put the cursor in the line “Visual or HTML?” and then used the drop-down box to select ‘Heading 1’).

None of this is essential, though and you can cheerfully ignore it all. Just type and I won’t think any less of you!

Save Draft & Preview

Over in the right sidebar, there is a box named “Publish”. In it you’ll see three buttons: ‘save draft’, ‘preview’ and ‘publish’. There are some other entries in there as well, but you can happily ignore them too, for now (unless you want to keep your entries private, in which case you’re going to have to introduce yourself to the “Visibility Public Edit” link).

I do, however, encourage you to make good use of the ‘save draft’ and ‘preview’ buttons. WordPress.com says it saves your entries as you type, but there’s nothing as reassuring as hitting that ‘save draft’ button after you’ve written a particularly profound paragraph.

The ‘Preview’ button will allow you to see your post as it look on the blog (to a reader). It opens in a new window, so your editing window is still open, underneath. This means you can flip between the two of them, correcting the inevitable typos that don’t show up until you see the post on your blog.

Publish

When you are happy with your draft, hit the ‘Publish’ button. Your post will go live. You’ll be brought back to the post editing window (where you just wrote it). If you want to see the live post, click on the ‘view post’ button just below the blog entry’s subject line.

Category

This is a little more advanced, and certainly not essential, but you might want to make your posts easier to find by organizing them in categories. Believe me, it may not seem like a big deal now, but it is really nice to be able to link to all your articles on ‘recipes’ at once.

If you do want to assign a category you can do it right from the ‘new post’ page, as you’re writing the post. Below the publish button, is a box marked ‘category’. At the bottom of the box is a link: “+ Add New Category”. Click that. Type the new category name and click the ‘add new category button’ (you can ignore the ‘parent category’ option for now).

Some basic category suggestions to get you started (you can always add to these and change them):

  • Personal
  • Recipes
  • Kids Stuff
  • Travel
  • House
  • School

Tags Vs Categories

  • Imagine your blog posts as a pile of printed-out pages. If you wanted to organize them, you might put all your posts that contain recipes in a file folder marked recipes. This is what ‘categories’ do for you.
  • Within the file folders, however, you might have sticky notes poking out of the edges with things like ‘cakes’ or ‘steak’ or ‘pasta’ so that you can quickly find the right ones. These are your tags.

You don’t have to use tags, and they certainly don’t have to be consistent or boring, but it can be fun to go back in and click on ‘firsts’ and pull up all the entries that had to do with the first time you (or your kids) did something. If you tag your posts (put commas between tags) then pulling up that ‘firsts’ tag, for example, will pull all the entries you’ve tagged that way, no matter what category (file folder) you put them in.

Finishing Up

There are many other options on this screen, but for now, this is all you need to know. Go forth and blog!  (and if you have questions or used this advice, please leave a comment below and I’ll come and visit your new blog).

Blogging With WordPress Series

Logging Back In To WordPress.com

So, you’ve set up your first WordPress.com blog. Congratulationss!

Now, How Do I Get Back To My Blog?

Well, if you haven’t been away from your computer or haven’t logged out it’s as simple as going to wordpress.com. There, at the top right of the screen you’ll see your username and a user icon in the black bar along the top of the browser window.

user log in wordpress.com

 

If you have been logged out, you’ll see this instead.

wordpress.com log in screen

Just enter your username and password (you do remember your password, don’t you?) and the little logo will appear in the top right of the black bar (as in that first picture up there).

Hover your mouse over the username/icon and you’ll see a drop-down box that looks like this.

wordpress.com log in box

At the bottom of this box, you’ll see the WordPress logo and the name of your blog. Here you have two options:

  1. Click on the name to see how your blog looks to readers
  2. Hover over it and select from the menu that pops up. You’ll probably select ‘new post’ to, er, make a new post; or  ‘dashboard’ if you want to change the settings or work on your ‘about page’

(if you end up creating a second or third blog, you’ll see more blog names, like in my picture above. Just click on/hover over the one you want to work on today.)

Blogging With WordPress.com Series

 

 

 

So You Want A WordPress Blog?

You want a blog, and lots of people recommend WordPress, but you’re are finding it all a bit confusing That’s fair, because the blogging tools are quite powerful and have LOTS of options built in.

Happily, you can start small with a basic blog (ignoring most of the options on the screen to start with) and I’m going to show you how:

First, we’ll decide whether you want/need a WordPress.com or WordPress.org site.

Secondly, I’ll assume you’re going for the WordPress.com option and walk you through that.

WordPress.com or WordPress.org

or Do I Need Webspace Of My Own?

If you simply want a space on the web to call your own, post your thoughts, maybe put up some pictures, then you’re probably a great candidate for a WordPress.com account.

WordPress.com is hosted by Auttomatic (the company that makes it)  meaning:

  • It is free
  • You don’t need to buy webspace
  • You don’t need to know anything technical

With a WordPress.com blog, you can not monetize your blog (i.e. put ads on it or sell things from it). If you want to make money on your blog, then you need to think about buying web space and downloading the (free but kinda complex) blog software from WordPress.org.

What If I Start Small But End Up Wanting To Make Money Blogging?

As you grow and gain experience, you may ‘outgrow’ your WordPress.com blog and its limitations. The good news is it is relatively simple to export your WordPress.com blog and import it into whatever platform you end up using. For personal blogging, however, WordPress.com is probably going to suit you fine, possibly forever.

Getting Started With WordPress.com

 

First you’re going to need a username.

Go to WordPress.com and click on the “Get Started Here” button.

Get Started Here button

This takes you to a page where you can sign up for your blog.

Sign-up Page at WordPress.com

Choose a name for your blog. Your address will look like this “http://blogname.wordpress.com”. If you care, and don’t mind spending $17 a year, you can use the drop-down box and register a unique domain for your blog (so, for example, this blog’s address is “www.julieduffy.com”, no mention of ‘wordpress’ anywhere). Unless you’re building a brand or really care about being seen as tech-savvy, save your money and just fill in a blog name. You can change it later if you change your mind.

Your username cannot be changed, so don’t pick something you’re going to hate later.

After you’ve chosen your password and told them your email address, you can ignore everything else on the page. Scroll down and click “Create blog”. Don’t sign up for the upgrade yet. There’s no need. (Try before you buy!).

 

The first page you’ll see after sign-up looks like this:

after sign-up at wordpress.com

What’s all this about? It’s about confusing you, that’s what. Not really, but it is WordPress trying to be all ‘social network’ and encouraging you to find other blogs to follow. That’s probably not why you’re here right now. You just want to blog, baby! So ignore all this stuff.

Instead, click on the header that says “My Blogs” (yes, confusingly, you can have multiple blogs associated with your username – say you want one blog all about your Troll doll collection and another about your experiences as a back-packing county & western star). When you click on “My Blogs” you’ll be taken to a page where you should see the name you chose for your blog. Click on it.

Now you are at the WordPress Dashboard. Next time you log in, this is where you will go, and it is the heart of your blogging set-up. It’ll look like this:

wordpress.com dashboard

You’ll need to get to know your dashboard but the good news is that, for now, there are only a few parts that will concern you:

Posts

Pages

Appearance

But before we even worry about them, there are a couple of things you should do straight away.

First Things To Do

Click on the place where it says “1 post”, right in the central area of your screen. That will take you to a page like this:

hello world

Click on the title of your first post that the WordPress folks have helpfully placed on your blog. (It’s called “Hello World”.). As well as telling you how to add a new post (we’ll get to that in a moment), it offers you your first look at the window you will see whenever you want to add a new blog post.

first post on wordpress.com

Start by deleting “Hello World” and entering your own title.

Then delete all the text and type your first post. (it doesn’t have to be ground-breaking or even intelligent. Just type anything.)

Now you have a choice. You can make your post go live, by clicking ‘update’ (over on the right) or you can instead click on ‘preview’. This will open a new window and show you what your blog looks like. It’s going to look pretty boring as you haven’t dressed it up yet, but don’t worry about that yet. You can choose a theme and update the appearance later.

Once you’re happy with your changes, hit ‘update’ and you’re up and running.

Blogging With WordPress.com Series

Things you are going to want to do soon:

  • Logging Back Into WordPress.com
  • Post your next blog entry
  • Change the subtitle of your blog from “just another wordpress blog” to something smarter (or nothing)
  • Change the appearance of your blog (select a theme)
  • Customize your ‘about page’
  • Get to know your dashboard better
  • Learn how to upload pictures

[links to these articles will go live as I write them.]

StoryADay Blog in Amazon's Kindle Store screenshot

How To Publish Your Blog For Kindle

Kindles aren’t just for books. People also subscribe to blogs on their Kindles. It usually costs around $1.99 a month (the price is set by Amazon) and is a great way to offer your content to all those people who woke up to find Kindles under the Christmas Tree/Menorah/Festivus Pole. When they subscribe, every new post you make is delivered to their Kindle (no need for them to remember to check your blog!). You are paid 30% of the fee Amazon charges.

Register With Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Program

It is cost-free and simple to register with Amazon’s Kindle Publishing program. If you do not already have one, you will need to create a vendor account, which is different from your regular Amazon account.  Read through the terms, because you are agreeing to obligations on pricing, content, timing and termination details. You will agree to terms for both the US and European markets.

At the end of the registration process you will be given a Vendor ID and Amazon will have all your payment details. You’re in business!

Add A Blog

Amazon Kindle Publishing Dashboard Screenshot

When you have finished registering you will be taken to you dashboard. Click the “Add A Blog” link on the top right hand corner. This is where you fill in all the information that will let both Amazon find the posts from your blog and send them to your readers’ Kindles.

Filling In The “Add Blog” Page

Find Your Feed

If you aren’t familiar with RSS and feeds, don’t worry. Most blogging platforms (not to mention Twitter and Facebook) use feeds to distribute your content. It’s usually easy to findGo to your blog and look for the RSS symbol (possibly in the address bar of your browser) and click on it. It will take you to a page that has an address something like “http://yourdoman.com/feed”. Copy that, and paste it into the first box on the Add A Blog page. Click ‘validate feed’ to make sure Amazon is looking in the right place for your blog.

Enter Blog Information

If your blog didn’t have a snappy title before, now’s the time to give it one. Your blog is going to be competing with thousands of others for Kindle readers’ attention. Just calling it “Julie’s musings on writing” isn’t going to cut it. In fact, you might want to add a tag line too. (for example, the blog I listed is my Story A Day blog, aimed at creative writers. I use a tagline there that addresses a  ‘pain point’ for my potential readers — aspiring writers who wish the could write more: “Write Every Day, Not “Some Day”.

Blog Description

Make your description snappy and to the point. Tell the readers what they are going to get out of paying for your blog every month. What concerns are you addressing?

Screenshots & Logo

Upload a couple of pictures, one a screenshot of your blog and the other your ‘masthead’ or logo. People are extremely visual, but remember that most people reading on an actual Kindle device are only going to see these things in black and white. Try to keep the contrast high and the images clean.

Website Info

Very important: enter your website address! You want  your new fans to be able to find your website, don’t you? You’re not going to get rich selling Kindle blog subscriptions (unless you get insanely popular) so the whole point of publishing here is to expand your reach. Let people know where to find you!

Category & Keyword Information

Category and keywords are going to be very important in helping people find your blog.

If you don’t know what keywords to use: steal.

Go to a successful blog online that covers the same topics as you. From your browser’s toolbar select View / Page Source of View Source. A whole bunch of HTML will open up in a text window. Don’t worry too much about it. Just look for the line that says “meta name=”keywords” and then you’ll be able to see what that site is using. Take your inspiration from that (don’t actually steal. That was a joke.)

Language & Frequency

Select your language and tell Amazon how often you’re going to post. Be conservative (you can update it later). If you are new to blogging and/or the sole author on your site, don’t promise daily posts. Unless, of course, you have an airtight plan for how you are going to churn out seven awesome posts a week.

Almost Done

At this point you can save your work and generate a preview of how your blog will look in the Kindle store. (This takes a few minutes, and is optional)

If you’re happy with how everything looks, press “Publish” and wait the 48-72 hrs they say it’ll take to get you set up in the store (in reality it took less than 24 for mine to appear).

Tell People About Your Blog

Kindle blogs are listed by category. Within each category the default view is “most popular” blogs at the top.

Your blog, on its first day, is not going to be there. You’re going to have to tell people it’s there, so they can subscribe and help you move up the charts.

To find your blog: Go to the Amazon store and search for “Your Blog Name” and the word “Blog”. This should bring you to your blog’s sales page.

StoryADay Blog in Amazon's Kindle Store screenshot

Copy the address (use an affiliate link if you like) and then go forth and promote.

Good luck!

Should I Buy A Kindle 3?

Another generation of Kindle is here, Kindle 3 and now you’re asking yourself,

“Should I buy a Kindle 3?”

With the new, wi-fi only Kindle 3 priced at only $139, how much longer are you going to be able to resist? (The Kindle 3 wireless version, with free 3G connectivity AND wi-fi, is still $189. The new version of the larger Kindle DX is $379)

What’s New With Kindle 3 And Do I Care?

Have you read my Kindle FAQ, yet? If you have basic questions, start here.

High-Contrast Screen

The big thing that caught my attention about the Kindle 3 were the words:

“All-New, High-Contrast E-Ink Screen, 50% better contrast than any other e-reader”

If I’m totally honest, I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed with the contrast on my Kindle 2. The page seemed a little greyer than on my original Kindle and I would have loved just a bit more contrast. It never bothers me when reading in natural light, but under poor light conditions it made a difference.

They’re touting ‘new, improved fonts’ too, which is always nice.

Faster Page Turns

You really do adjust to the flickery, eInk page turns, but making them “20% faster” is no bad thing.

Double The Storage Space

I’ve never had a problem with my Kindle becoming too full because I archive books (send them back to the Amazon server) once I’ve finished with them. Slurping them back into the Kindle is a matter of a minute or so.

Some people might like to have all their books right on the device all the time, however. With the new “wi-fi only” option, too, having your books on the device makes sense, in case you aren’t within wi-fi range when you feel a desperate urge to re-read last summer’s hot thriller.

Smaller Body, Same Screen Size

Anything than makes the Kindle easier to slip in to a pocket or handbag is a good thing.

Less body also means a lighter Kindle, although I already thing it’s a great weight.

I just hope the new, smaller body still leaves somewhere to grip onto without covering the screen in smudgy fingerprints.

Quieter Turn Buttons

This is a wonderful thing for those of us who like to read in bed while someone else is falling asleep next to us. I’ve been accused of something close to Chinese Water Torture while clicking my way through a book some evenings….

Enhanced PDF Reader

Kindle 2 had PDF support added as an after-thought. This one has an enhanced reader with dictionary look up and the ability to make notes and highlights.

PDFs are always going to be at war with progress, however, as they were created to fix a page-design to a certain format and new technological interfaces are all about reshaping content and delivering it how the reader (not the author) wants it presented.

However, if you do read PDFs on your Kindle, it’s certainly be nice to make notes and highlights.

New Web Browser

If you don’t have a smart-phone and you don’t have an iPad or another way to easily access the web while away from your desk, this might excite you. It certainly excited me when I got my Kindle…but then I got a smart-phone and never used this function on the Kindle again. Still, nice to see they’re working to improve it.

There are two versions of this new, dark-grey Kindle available:

The all-singing, all-dancing download-books-anywhere version for $189 and

The slightly less flamboyant Wi-Fi-only

Does “Wi-Fi Only” Mean And Will I Hate It?

So I’ve been talking about this “wi-fi only” feature on the cheapest Kindle.  What does that mean?

Well, on the other Kindles, you use the cell-phone network to download books directly to your Kindle. You don’t need a plan or anything: Amazon has a deal worked out with Sprint and they pick up the cost (or the publishers do…but that’s getting too far behind the scenes. All you need to know is is you get free access to the Amazon store wherever you are, as long as you are in range of a cell tower).

“Wi-fi only” is going to be more restrictive. Like the early iPads, these Kindles will only connect to the store if your home has a wireless network (can you browse the web from your laptop on the sofa? Then you probably do) or if are in a wi-fi hotspot (like a McDonalds or a Starbucks or one of the zillion other places that offer Wi-Fi to entice people to come and hang out there).

So, you won’t be able to download books as you stroll down the street.

You will have to find and  access an open wireless network

BUT

  • If you are doing most of your reading at home, or have easy access to lots of wi-fi hotspot
  • If you don’t care about downloading books wherever you are and can probably wait until you get home to do it
  • If you want to save $50 on the device and buy yourself five books instead…

This is a great deal. Buy it now!

iPad Review: Using the iPad as an eBook Reader

Let me be upfront right, er, up front: I love my Kindle (s). But I was intrigued by the iPad because it was so damned new and sexy and multifuction and did I mention new and sexy?

I had used my iPhone’s Kindle app as a portable ebook reader, for those times when I didn’t feel like lugging my Kindle along with me, and it was more than fine.So I was worried.

I was worried that the iPad was going to be really great and pretty and that my Kindle(s 1) were going to end up sitting on shelves looking like really expensive white bookends.

The iPad IS Really Sexy

There is no denying this. When you turn on the iPad and that gorgeous display lights up and things start whooshing, and the colours are crisp and the text looks good, it is hard to imagine how the Kindle stands a chance against it. I wasn’t sure I even wanted it to.

When I opened up the iBooks app and saw the truly gorgeous (colour) rendition of AA Milne’s The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh I was torn between admiration and regret. How could my beloved eInk compete? So does it?

Using the same rating system I used in my review of the Kindle 2, here are my thoughts on using the iPad (version 1) as an ebook reader:

THE REVIEW

KEY

:(  A Bad Thing

:|  No strong feeling either way

:)  A Good Thing

:D  A Very Good Thing

:( The Weight and Feel

From an eBook reader’s perspective: it’s quite heavy and hard to hold in one hand. There is no way to really hold it centered in one hand and not obscure some of the text. (Kindle 1 had a similar problem in that it was tough to hold it in one hand and not accidentally press the ‘next page’ button). And that rounded back has to go, but that’s a complaint for a different article.

After having used this for a week or so, I’m finding it increasingly hard to hold for long periods. If you are a voracious reader, like me, the last thing you want is something that makes you want to put the book down (it’s why I don’t like hardbacks, to0)

:| The Size

I am undecided on this one. On the one hand, you can see bigger and better books on the iPad, and you can turn it to the landscape view really easily2. But it’s big. It’s not as portable as either the Kindle or the iPhone, and it doesn’t sit easily in one hand.

:( Backlighting

I read computer screens all the time and I wasn’t sure I really bought the whole “backlighting strains your eyes” thing until I had my Kindle. It doesn’t really register as eyestrain, but after a (long)  while staring at a computer screen, iPhone screen or iPad screen I start feeling headachy and sick.

I simply find that I cannot read for as long on a backlit screen as I can with paper or my Kindle. I start wanting to put the book down. And that makes me sad.

:( Readability In Daylight

Aargh. One of the things that really wowed me about Kindle was that when you walk into a patch of sunlight, the text on the screen become EASIER to read. This had never happened on my phones or on my camera LCD screens, so I just wasn’t expecting it. But it is gorgeous in the daylight. Not so the iPad. It is a nice, bright screen in indirect light, but, like any other backlit screen it makes me squinty-eyed and frustrated in daylight. And the fingerprints? Oh, the fingerprints.

:( Touchscreen

Don’t get me wrong, for other applications, the touchscreen is a miracle of technology, a joy, an absolute delight and it warms the cockles of my little geeky heart.

But on an eBook reader?

No. Just no.

While turning pages feels a lot more natural when you can swipe them the way you might with a magazine page, the accumulation of fingerprints on the shiny screen drives me to distraction. I’ve bought a bunch of microfibre cloths and I’m working with my therapist 3 and maybe it’s just me, but I have to say:

A touchscreen on an eBook reader is not the go-to technology.

Unless you’re talking about…

:D Interactive Books

This is where the iPad is going to kick ass, change the world and spawn a new age of creativity and progress.

I know, I sound like an Apple fanboy, which I’m really not.  But the interactive books are new and intuitive and delightful. (And expensive, but you know what? A lot of work goes into them. And a lot of licensing fees!)

The free  Toy Story interactive book is gorgeous, and contains both audio and video clips from the movie, as well as video games (GAMES! In a Book! Heavens!). You can read it yourself or have it read to you. You can read it in your kid’s bedroom at night with no other lighting (This is where my objection to backlighting on an eReader falters. I love this. I’m always battling my urge to keep the lights low at bedtime, with my urge to be able to see what the hell I’m reading). You can give it to your kids who can’t even read yet and they can play, read, learn words. And OK, these interactive books have existed for a while, but usually tied to the computer. Interacting with them on the iPad is just about perfect.

This is, I think, where the real sea-change will happen. This is where the iPad will sing and book publishing will change. Books in the future will have all the interactivity, and none of the clunkiness of websites 4 It’s entirely possible that words-on-the-page only books will eventually go the way of silent films (still loved by a few devotees but regarded with tolerant bemusement by most).

:| The Various eReader Apps for iPad

You should go here to read actual reviews of the various iPad book apps, but always bear in mind that new apps will come and more books will be available and any opinions I voice here will be outdated by the time I push “publish”. I’ve only used the Kindle app and the iBooks built-in one.

:| Availability of Titles

For now, there isn’t a vast availability of titles outside the mainstream bestsellers list. Finding kids’ books and older books is almost impossible, but this will change. For now, the Kindle has, of course, a much better selection, but even that isn’t perfect. But if you’ve ever had anything to do with the publishing industry you’ll know that they’re still living in mourning for the Roarin’ 20s and it’s only in the past couple of years that some younger publishers and agents have started using that new-fangled thing they call email. The pressing need to capturing their backlists and convert them to readable, manipulable data files was met by the publishing industry ten years ago with the kind of uncomprehending indifference shown by the people of Pompeii as their friendly neighbourhood volcano began to seethe and rumble. Even now, I suspect it’s only because Google said, “to hell with you then, we’ll do it”, that the publishers have pulled out any stops at all. And when Amazon launched the Kindle, then B&N (who they all hate and fear) launched the Nook and Steve Jobs started sniffing around, things started to look serious.

The Bottom Line

For an avid reader 5, the Kindle is hands down the best device for now 6.

It is light, it is portable, it is easy on the eyes and the hands, you can annotate books AND share everything across various platforms. It is an absolute pleasure to read for hours and hours, in daylight or indoors. It emulates the traditional reading experience and improves upon it (inbuilt dictionaries, annotation, bookmarking and highlighting without destroying the book, hands-free page turning 7, on-the-fly indexing, searching and on and on). There are lots of titles available.

For whizz-bang and a taste of the future, get your paws on an iPad and have a look.

FURTHER READING

Debbie at Inkygirl.com has collected a bunch of iPad/vs eReaders reviews in this article.

I purposely did not read these reviews (apart from the apps one) until after I’d written mine. I’m off to see who agrees with me…

  1. Yes, I got versions 1 and 2! OK? But I don’t do manicures and expensive hair treatments or shop for clothes much, so gimme a break
  2. But not too easily. It has a hardware button on the side that you can flip if you don’t want the screen to rotate every time you shift in your chair. Nice feature!
  3. Not really
  4. Oh for a time-machine to go back and tell 1996-me that I would one day find hyperlinks on a super-fast fibre-optic connection ‘clunky’!
  5. who lives in the North America or Europe and doesn’t mind if the illustrations aren’t in colour
  6. This doesn’t mean it won’t go the way of Betamax and who-even-remembers-the-name-of-the-competitor-to-BluRay, of course. Sob!
  7. As long as the luddite publishers haven’t turned off the Text-To-Speech function in that title