Monthly Archives: January 2008

ZohoShow – sharing presentations remotely

Last Thursday we ran a briefing for some web development companies interested in working on a project building a collaboration, information-sharing platform for New Zealand community groups. I’m working as project manager for the five national organisations behind the initiative.

I was presented with something of a dilemma as I sat down to organise the briefing. It was easy enough to make a presentation to the people attending the briefing in Wellington, but I wasn’t sure about the best way to involve a company from down south.

My head went all fuzzy when I thought through what it would take to set up a web conference using Skype, a webcam, and all that. I’m sure it’s not that hard, but I didn’t have hours to spare. Somewhat by happy accident I looked into what Zoho had to offer.

Using Zoho productivity tools you can just about run a whole organisation without buying and installing software on your office computers. All the Zoho tools are accessed using a standard web browser on a broadband connected computer. On offer are office tools including a word processor (like Google Docs), spreadsheet and database. They’re also offering less common tools including a business package a akin to an instant intranet (Beta only), a CRM, a wiki, a project planner and more. Most of this is free, though they do charge for some stuff.I thought ZohoShow would be useful for our briefing.

It looks a lot like Powerpoint with a few differences in the way you edit and share, and thankfully, far less options. As soon as I started my first presentation, I saw a button with Remote on it. I found out I could simultaneously share a presentation with anyone who is sitting in front of an internet connected computer while showing the same thing to a face-to-face meeting.

A quick trial over the internet with a colleague sitting just two metres away proved it could work. There is a little chat box so written comments could be exchanged with remote users.

On the day of the presentation we linked by phone with the ZohoShow running in the background. Below is a screen shot of what the screen looked like at both ends. During the meeting somebody asked for a copy of the presentation, something I was easily able to do using a sharing function. The presentation is not publicly available as I shared it with a private list of people.

So how did it go?

Admittedly it wasn’t all plain sailing. A few glitches occurred when I was creating the presentation. I hadn’t allowed a lot of time to seek help from the support discussion forum, nor did I actually read the manual. By using the support available I might have gotten around the (minor) glitches.Frustratingly, I wasn’t able to add the final two slides. I gave up trying as the system refused to accept these slides. It wasn’t critical information, but I can imagine a situation when it might be. I also had problems getting consistent fonts, and 24 slides were listed but I could only see 20. What happened to those four missing slides?

The system seemed fast and responsive for the actual presentation and setting up a presentation to share was quick and easy. I liked the chat box, even if we didn’t use it this time.

Overall, we achieved what we wanted, and people participating seemed happy. I will probably use ZohoShow again, though with more time I would like to try a web conference using a webcam so each party can actually see each other.

If you’re thinking about using free online tools, you might like to read Miles Maier’s article “The Great Web Office Experiment”. Miles supports community groups using ICTs in London and he wanted to to find out just how easy or hard it is to apply online tools to my everyday tasks. He concludes the “ ‘nirvana’ is still some way off and issues around the sustainability and security of using online services for organisational use remain to be resolved.”

I harbour similar reservations, but that’s not going to stop me from trying some of the tools on offer.

Zoho Show screenshot

Update (29 January 2008): Quite unexpectedly and without prompting Ahmed at Zoho has just dropped me a line:

First of all please accept our humble apologies for the issue you had in saving your presentation.

Believe you would have got this issue 3-4 days back. Actually a bug had crept in our previous update which resulted in the save feature showing inconsistent behavior. We have managed to locate the nasty bug and fixed the problem in our update which was out on 25th January. Now you will be able to save your subsequent presentations in Zoho Show without any issues.

CD-Roms are not going away

Don’t throw out your CD-Rom just yet. Last week Nathan Donaldson from Boost New Media told The National Business Review about the popularity of CD-Roms and DVDs for distributing teaching materials.

He is quoted as saying “When we started Boost in 2000 we thought CD-Roms were over and we’d never do them again but it’s turned out not to be the case at all. In the past 10 years I’ve been involved in more than 20 educational CD-Roms.”

There’s lots of reasons why CD-Roms are still popular, including low bandwidth at schools, the technology skills of teachers, and relative ease of duplication.

It’s helpful to hear of developers who understand the needs of clients (including their situation), rather than pushing the latest thing. I think this is at the heart of Boost’s business success.

Nathan has been helping out with the development of the Wellington e-rider IT service as a member the steering group.

See the full story “Demand still high for Boost New’s old media”, 25 January 2008.

Get growing email newsletter

Garden terraces, Clarence Street, 22 January 2008The arrival of Lynda Hallinan’s weekly email newsletter couldn’t have been better timed. Every Friday in 2008 the New Zealand Gardener editor is sending out chatty gardening tips and commentary, along with news, competitions, recipes, and an ask an expert panel.

Lynda has big plans for New Zealanders. This year her magazine has launched “a campaign to get New Zealand growing. We want to encourage every new and novice vege gardener out there to give it a go.”

This campaign follows a year in which the magazine’s editor lived off produce from her Auckland vege garden, plus $10 a week (for more detail see a NZ Gardener’s Blog Diary). She proved it’s possible to grow a enough food for a household and even swap surpluses. More strings are being added to Linda’s bow this year. Homemade wine, a pizza oven and a whole lot more fun are planned.

The language in the newsletter is so, so approachable and the advice easy to relate to. I think this is because Linda is willing to admit the odd mistake.

This is all music to my ears. My gardening efforts come in fits and starts, so I need some encouragement beyond the sheer pleasure of eating my own food. And despite watching both my grandparents and parents grow loads of kai, I’m a later starter at gardening.

In an almost cause-effect chain of events, I’ve dug 160 litres of compost into the garden since last Friday’s email newsletter arrived. With my final terrace now in production, I’ve been able to plant beetroot, brassicas and naughty marietta.

I’d have to conclude based on just one newsletter, it’s effective at inspiring action. With each month’s gardening magazine (thanks to a Christmas present from my out-of-laws) and now the emails, I guess I can expect to be growing lots this year.

Ways of keeping up

One of the hardest things about the constantly changing world wide web, and ICTs generally, is keeping up with myriad new developments. There is no shortage of information available but where to start.

Miraz Jordan suggests one way for community groups to keep up is setting up someone within their organisation as a Technology Scout (see her article “Technology Scout – an asset for every organisation“). This is not about fixing printers or helping with using computer programmes (though the person who is a scout possibly does some of this stuff anyway).

Rather the Technology Scout’s job is to:

“… explore the world of new technologies, especially, but not only, the Internet, and to work out where and how your group should be involved: to scout the terrain and suggest a way forward.”

For the Scout’s toolkit I’ve got suggestions of a couple of radio programmes available for download that are helpful ways of getting a snapshot of technology developments. I actually find it easier to listen to a short programme that prowl around reading websites and blogs.

It’s easy to get overloaded with the technology hype: the shiny, whizzy latest gizmo or software being pushed by companies, however profit hungry altruistic they may be. Search Engine on Canada’s public radio eschews the technology itself focusing instead on culture and small-p politics. The producer’s describe the show as your “open source to all the surprising and significant ways the Internet is transforming our world.” I haven’t missed an episode since it went on air last August.

The redoubtable Guardian Unlimited has just added a Tech Weekly podcast to their website. As well as running news stories, discussion forums and a blog, the online version of the newspaper now has some of the same journalists producing a news and commentary podcast. Unlike the other two podcasts listed, this show is not broadcast over the wireless.

BBC World Service’s have been running their Digital Planet programme for many years. Each week the programme literally tours the globe talking with people involved in projects, telecommunications infrastructure, the latest gizmos, policies, industry, what’s new online, digital divide, community projects and everything in between. It’s a very broad reach. You may have heard their commentator Bill Thompson talking with Radio NZ’s Simon Morris on This Way Up.

Of course Radio NZ features many useful features and commentaries at different times. I’ll try and list them here later.

Somehow I do find time to listen to these programmes each week, though luckily the fast forward button is at my finger tips.

Links

  • Search Engine, CBC (Canada), 30 minute weekly shows, podcast or on demand
  • Tech Weekly, Guardian Newspaper UK, 30 minute shows, podcast only
  • Digital Planet, weekly, 25 minute shows, podcast or on demand

How to … use the internet, by The Listener

I was looking forward to finding out about some new websites when I saw this week’s Listener. “Strike the best sites on the internet” was the bold claim on the cover.

Springing to mind were the 100 useful websites listed by the Guardian newspaper and the annual list of Webby finalists. Perusing both lists are great ways of finding new, creative and innovative websites.

In an online exclusive to supplement a page and a half of text, the Listener list about 40 useful websites. Most are commonplace like Google, NZ Herald and Wikipedia.

Of the rest, only a couple really caught my eye.

  • Newseum website is the online home of the 250,000-square-foot museum of news based in Washington, DC. The newspapers front page collection, from newspapers in 55 countries around the world, is neat. The Press and NZ Herald are among the 630 front pages collected.
  • Joost offers up free online TV – about 20,000 shows apparently. I couldn’t view any of the clips as it takes more modern hardware than my three and a half year old iBook.
  • Quintura is a new search engine which allows users to visually navigate and refine searches using a ‘cloud’ of terms.

Although the “How to … use the internet” article is pretty basic, I haven’t come away totally empty handed.

BTW: as a by-product of looking at the list I found out more about how far the NZ Herald have integrated RSS into their website: you can subscribe by RSS to individual reporters (and much more). This makes it easy to track favourite writers (or subjects, organisation or features) without having to visit the website.