Monday, July 9, 2007

Web 2.0 Backpack: Web Apps for Students

Office Replacements

There's no software package I used more in college (or today, for that matter) than Microsoft Office. But who wants to plunk down $150 on office software? You're in college, after all, and I'm sure you can think of better uses for your cash. 5 years ago the alternative was Sun's suite, Corel's Wordperfect (still not free), or a handful of even less developed offline tools. But now there are a large number of impressive web apps that can handle your academic needs. The cream of the crop are below.

  • Google Docs & Spreadsheets - One of the more developed online office tools, Google only offers a word processor and spreadsheet, though there have long been rumors of a presentation tool (and recent acquisitions by the company would suggest that they are likely true).
  • Zoho Office Suite - Zoho is one of the most complete online office suites, offering more tools than you'll even find in Microsoft Office's student and teacher version.
  • gOFFICE - No frills gOFFICE has a very familiar look and feel.
  • ThinkFree - ThinkFree can replace Word, Excel, and Powerpoint with its suite of online apps, and they offer downloadable versions of their software as well.
  • EditGrid - EditGrid only does spreadsheets, but does them very well.


More and more students are bringing laptops to class. Owning a laptop is a requirement for all first-year undergraduates at the University of Denver, for example. The proliferation of portable computers means that note taking doesn't have to happen with a pad and pen. The following web apps will help you take and organize your notes.

Mind Mapping

Now you have your notes, you need to put them together. The following mind mapping/flow charting tools will help you get your thoughts in order so you can go from raw notes to polished dissertation.


So you've got your notes, and you have them all mapped out and organized, but you still need to fill in some blanks. There are a number of online study aids that exist to help you find the answers you need.

  • Wikipedia - Wikipedia should probably never be used for serious academic research, but it is a great "jumping off point." I often use Wikipedia to get quick background info on unfamiliar subjects and point me in the right direction for more in depth study.
  • Yahoo! Answers - When searching the web fails, someone on Yahoo! Answers may be able to show you were to find the information you're after.
  • AnswerU - AnswerU is like Yahoo! Answers for college, sadly not the most academic of sites, but you could certainly try your luck.
  • SparkNotes - SparkNotes are (mostly) free, online CliffsNotes for a large number of books. They also do test prep, mathematics, science and a number of other subjects. Of course they can't really substitute for actually reading a book, but they can help you if you're having trouble figuring out Emily Bronte. (And it turns out that many CliffsNotes are now online for free as well!)
  • Google News - Google News, especially with their new archive search, can be an invaluable research tool if you're researching a recent historical or current event.
  • - Free online study guides for science, math, language, and business topics.
  • - When all else fails, hire a tutor.


With all that online studying you need a way to keep track of what you've read. Online bookmarking tools are a great way to do just that.


Why study alone when you can get help from a friend? There is power in numbers.

  • Facebook - The quintessential college network can be used for more than just planning parties and dating. Facebook can be used to keep in touch with classmates, share and discuss notes, and create study groups.
  • Stikipad - A collaborative wiki service that you can use to keep track of group notes on a project.
  • Backpack - All your notes, lists, and ideas in one shared space.


Juggling your class schedule, extra cirricular activities, study time, and social life can be a challenge. The calendar apps below might help.


What college arsenal would be complete with out a calculator?

Other Tools

  • EasyBib - A tool to take the pain out creating a bibliography.
  • OttoBib - Enter the ISBN of a book, and automatically have your bibliography entry created in MLA, APA, Chicago, BibTeX, or Wikipedia style.
  • Zotero - A Firefox extension that lets you "collect, manage, and cite your research sources" from within your web browser.
  • Google - Google really is the killer research app. You can do simple math, currency conversion, get answers to questions (like "what's the population of albania?" -- it's 3.6 million), search the text of books, look at satellite maps of the place your studying, and of course, search the web. Just check out all the stuff it does. (And all the stuff it might do in the future.)

Friday, July 6, 2007

20 Tips for More Efficient Google Searches

For millions of people, Google is an indispensable search tool that they use every day, in all facets of their lives. From work or school, research, to looking up movies and celebrities to news and gossip, Google is the go-to search engine.

But instead of just typing in a phrase and wading through page after page of results, there are a number of ways to make your searches more efficient.

Some of these are obvious ones, that you probably know about. But others are lesser-known, and others are known but not often used. Use this guide to learn more about, or be reminded of, some of the best ways to get exactly what you’re looking for, and quickly.

  1. Either/or. Google normally searches for pages that contain all the words you type in the search box, but if you want pages that have one term or another (or both), use the OR operator — or use the “|” symbol (pipe symbol) to save you a keystroke. [dumb | little | man]
  2. Quotes. If you want to search for an exact phrase, use quotes. [”dumb little man”] will only find that exact phrase. [dumb “little man”] will find pages that contain the word dumb and the exact phrase “little man”.
  3. Not. If you don’t want a term or phrase, use the “-” symbol. [-dumb little man] will return pages that contain “little” and “man” but that don’t contain “dumb”.
  4. Similar terms. Use the “~” symbol to return similar terms. [~dumb little man -dumb] will get you pages that contain “funny little man” and “stupid little man” but not “dumb little man”.
  5. Wildcard. The “*” symbol is a wildcard. This is useful if you’re trying to find the lyrics to a song, but can’t remember the exact lyrics. [can’t * me love lyrics] will return the Beatles song you’re looking for. It’s also useful for finding stuff only in certain domains, such as
    educational information: [”dumb little man” research *.edu].
  6. Advanced search. If you can’t remember any of these operators, you can always use Google’s advanced search.
  7. Definitions. Use the “define:” operator to get a quick definition. [define:dumb] will give you a whole host of definitions from different sources, with links.
  8. Calculator. One of the handiest uses of Google, type in a quick calculation in the search box and get an answer. It’s faster than calling up your computer’s calculator in most cases. Use the +, -, *, / symbols and parentheses to do a simple equation.
  9. Numrange. This little-known feature searches for a range of numbers. For example, [”best books 2002..2007] will return lists of best books for each of the years from 2002 to 2007 (note the two periods between the two numbers).
  10. Site-specific. Use the “site:” operator to search only within a certain website. [ leo] will search for the term “leo” only within this blog.
  11. Backlinks. The “link:” operator will find pages that link to a specific URL. You can use this not only for a main URL but even to a specific page. Not all links to an URL are listed, however.
  12. Vertical search. Instead of searching for a term across all pages on the web, search within a specialized field. Google has a number of specific searches, allowing you to search within blogs, news, books, and much more:

  13. Movies. Use the “movie:” operator to search for a movie title along with either a zip code or U.S. city and state to get a list of movie theaters in the area and show times.
  14. Music. The “music:” operator returns content related to music only.
  15. Unit converter. Use Google for a quick conversion, from yards to meters for example, or different currency: [12 meters in yards]
  16. Types of numbers: Google algorithms can recognize patterns in numbers you enter, so you can search for:

    • Telephone area codes
    • Vehicle ID number (US only)
    • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) equipment numbers (US only)
    • UPC codes
    • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airplane registration number (US only)
    • Patent numbers (US only)
    • Even stock quotes (using the stock symbol) or a weather forecast regarding the next five days

  17. File types. If you just want to search for .PDF files, or Word documents, or Excel spreadsheets, for example, use the “filetype:” operator.
  18. Location of term. By default, Google searches for your term throughout a web page. But if you just want it to search certain locations, you can use operators such as “inurl:”, “intitle:”, “intext:”, and “inanchor:”. Those search for a term only within the URL, the title,
    the body text, and the anchor text (the text used to describe a link).
  19. Cached pages. Looking for a version of a page the Google stores on its own servers? This can help with outdated or update pages. Use the “cached:” operator.
  20. Answer to life, the universe, and everything. Search for that phrase, in lower case, and Google will give you the answer.

More info:
For more on Google’s search syntax, see this guide, and this one.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Cool site optimization tools and tips

This is a partial list of SEO tools used by myself, and some great SEO's that I know... These are worth checking out if you're into SEO. There are a couple of obvious ones, and a few you might not have heard of.

Google Sitemaps (let Big-G know what files are on your web site)

Microsoft's Search Engine and directory submission tool

Sweet Directory Manager Tool

Nice directory of SEO tools

Awesome backlink analyzer

Free/paid press releases

Article Submission

Couple of miscellaneous SEO pointers, as of 2005-11-07. Gotta put the date, because these damn rules change all the time!
1. Put your keywords first in the title of your document. Not at the end...
2. Always make a sitemap and submit it to G. It's easy, it gives a green light for Google to put your pages in their directory.
3. Recipricol links are quickly becoming an outdated method of getting site popularity. Instead of spending your time trying to get recipricol links, spend it submitting to directories, press releases, and article distribution - getting one way links with good link text.
4. Keep your link building campaigns going - don't do a big push and then forget about it. G watches how fast links are generated to your site. If they're generated too fast, G will assume that they're spammed out - unless they keep coming at a steady rate - then they'll assume that your site is bad-ass and everybody always wants to link to you. And that's a good thing.