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Fishing for Web 2.0 Gems, Not Laundry Lists

I think I have a new mode of developing my workshops and presentations, which of course, does not involve crafting it way ahead of time– but rather than doing my planning, and taking my best shot at it, I am now just tossing out some half baked ideas, picking up feedback/suggestions, and asking people to look at half done wiki pages.

Call me lazy (I do), but I think in this realm, that there is a severe contradiction and pitfall of one person being “experted” in such a fluid, moving, organic, ever expanding at a rate exceeding the speed of light (last one was hyperbole), thing such as web 2.0 (whatever that is). No one can, no one. If they say they are an expert, put on the liar detection goggles.

For my upcoming October trip down under, of course folks are asking me to be such an expert. From an american galaxy far, far away… What I see when I scan for resources are hitting poor audiences over the heads with a giant, logo colored stick — the usual mega laundry list of “Arent These Cool Things to Do On The Web:


Don’t get me wrong- Big Lists are great resources, references… but let’s say, I want you to help me write a poem. Do you just toss me a dictionary and say, “Look at all these great words! Just use them!”. If I want to visit an exotic part of the world, do you bing me with a map and say, “Just pick a country!”.

My hunch is for someone new to web tools, leery of using web sites, mildly skeptical, just hitting them over head with a pile of web sites is not very effective.

My approach is going to be perhaps two pronged -one is to demonstrate some perhaps subtle lesser known things one can do with well known web tools (e.g. annotating images with notes in flickr, building a podcast set in, using the for: tag in, tracking your name or web site in Google Alert or technorati…) and second, to highlight a few web 2.0 tools that may not be so tech-crunched or well known, but ought to be of interest to educators. And n be able to say why…

So I appeal to you, blog readers, to give me an idea of some web tools (who gives a hoot if they are”2.0″ or not, I am not mired in definitions), that you find very useful but perhaps are not so widely known. I’ve asked via twitter, but here, I can really go beyond my 140 character speech.

What might I mean? Well let’s say:

  • I love the ease of adding books to LibrayThing – which I am guessing is well known, but is it used a lot by educators? Hard to tell- they have an incredible range of features that happene when you tag your books, the Suggester and the UnSuggester are great.
  • Need an inspiring or reference quote? Thinkexist as is WikiQuote (the latter along with WikiTravel are great to highlight that there is more to wikis than WikiPedia.
  • – incredible levels of social networking based on music tastes- fine for m usic fans but a great illiusttration of web 2-ness
  • I always characterize 43Things as well known, but it seems like a blip on the education scope. Its use of tags, networking, connecting to other web services exemplify a lot of web 2 goodness.

What are your own secret gems? Let me know, I’ll share, I’ll give you credit, I’ll bring you opals (just kidding).

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Scribd ( is one of the best web tools for English Language Learners to use for language development. They can write a few sentences, a story, or an essay; easily upload it to Scribd, and, then, within seconds, have its text-to-speech capability read it back to them. Plus, it’s hosted there for free.

    I’d also vote for Imagination Cubed ( It’s a free web application that has an incredible number of uses. Students can create original designs, do scientific work (my students have drawn models of the solar system), write text, draw pictures for inclusion in online stories. The urls can then be emailed and posted, and remain hosted at Imagination Cubed. Even better, when you visit the design, you see it as it was being created (in fast-motion), so can almost see the student’s thinking process.

  2. I don’t know what Web 2.0 is anymore, and you have the storytelling/slide and audio sharing/etc thing covered, but the apps that I have been using lately that seem to pique interest are (none of them are too obscure so I’ll leave it to you to find the obvious links):

    lingr for instant, no-login-needed, web-based real time chat/backchannel, etc this is being picked up like free money by instructors

    bubbl for collaborative brainstorming

    etsy always really interests people who have no idea that there are newer things out there than ebay and amazon– the DIY culture’s intersection with web2 is something I find interests a lot of people

    right now I am working on something regarding “rehabilitating” web video using tools like Mojiti and Chime.TV to do more than just drop videos in

    trailfire is fantastic for ed– scott leslie is hot on this one too

    wayfarer or one of the other mapping tools

    and finally, for me personally, CommentPress may just be a blog plugin but it stands to solve about 10,000 vexing requests by faculty to do work on text with their students

  3. I’m a fan of Google’s Book search to find quotations, or just to find sentences with specific words. I thought it was well known, but every time I’ve shown it to someone I’ve gotten either the “Wow thats neat” look, or the “Wow you spend to much time doing things online” look.

  4. This is just the amazing sort of stuff I was hoping for- in just 4 comments I have now maybe 15 tihngs to check out, and I had maybe heard of, at most, 2 or 3 of them.

    Thanks (and keep ’em coming!)

  5. Dunno if this fits what you’re looking for, but I find Lifehacker to be a constant source of ideas — both new and old — of how to fix and to do things. It’s the “Heloise HInts” for the technical crowd. Plus they deal with atoms and bits.

  6. is awesome. is the greatest music site ever, much better than (and they recently added a social component, though I don’t feel I need it).

    of course, (I hate myspace with a passion beyond passions).

    I like for my to-do lists. is a great web-based feed aggregator. It’s how I ready your blog and every other blog I subscribe to.

  7. Thanks George and Alisha- Yes, Lifehacker is in my reader, and I am plundering form thre, along with TechCrunch, Mashable, Programmable Web, Read/Write Web, O’Reilly, etc. But I’m not looking for sites that *talk* about great tools, I want the tools themselves.

    And I am looking for the less obvious ones, hence the “gems” – Facebook, Bloglines are like feldspar or quartz- a ubiquitous mineral you cannot help but stub your toe against where ever you go. I’m looking for the Akaganeite, Picropharmacolite, the Fluorapatites!

    But pandora is good, I forgot that one- music sharing sites are among the first to deploy social networking schemes, and I’ve not been as immersed with them as some of my audiophile colleagues,

    RememberTheMilk is worth it just for the cool name and design!

    Thanks- keep ’em coming, the rarer, the better!

  8. Another under-the-radar site that I use a lot for keeping class information organized socially is It’s most useful as a personal information manager — it has a calendar, a contact manager, to-do lists, etc., plus some simple filesharing and blogging capabilities. A little like 30Boxes but without the hype and the super-sleek “2.0” look & feel. Airset is also useful in that it makes it very easy to set up groups of contacts and to integrate mobile communications with the website.

  9. I think it’s important to recognize the vast difference between Last.FM and Pandora… one is based purely on idiosyncratic social connections, the other mostly on a pre-defined set of musical characteristics. I much prefer the quirky recommendations of Last.FM for most of my own purposes– I love the interesting connections that PEOPLE make rather than the similarities in various musical aspects such as tempo and instrument types– Pandora would never relate Ben Folds to Jens Lekman, though to me and others there is an obvious similarity that is not captured in Pandora style definitions.

    But I like both, and it is a particularly interesting contrast to discuss with people when it comes to different methods for organization and fodder for connections.

  10. Thanks Chris- it helps to have someone with direct experience with the music sites; it strikes me there is room and place for both modes. Imagine if we were to switch “music” and changed it say, “Algebra” or “Art History” and sought some system that made recommendations based on a person affinity or one based on some ingrained connections (grade, sequence, etc). Are we open to a “I lke both” with edu software? I’m not arguing, just trying to test the leap.

    JD- flickrCC is very cool- and regardless of your definition of “web 2.0” it strikes me as in- especially since flickrCC goes beyond the discovery level tool like flickrlilli- it allows you to take a found image, put into an editor (not the easiest per se to use), but you end up being able to create something new/derived. It is not connected to save back to flickr (I really like Picnik )

  11. I absolutely do like both Last.FM and Pandora– for my habits the idiosyncracies of Last.FM are the most fun/useful. For others and other purposes, Pandora is a lot more specific and “accurate” in a way.

    In fact, you are pointing out exactly the analogy I like to make while showing Last.FM and Pandora– I relate it to the whole idea of folksonomy and things like, where connections come in both forms, topical and experiential. Sometimes I want specific links about algebra problems, sometimes I want the things that are more “out.” With music I am mostly “out”!

  12. Hi Alan,
    I just returned from presenting some Web 2.0 workshops at Norfolk State U. I have taken the approach you mentioned of bombarding the audiences with lots of stuff in hopes that they find a few things that they like and can use. I’m amazed how your other comments match exactly what I was thinking on the way home from Norfolk yesterday. Should I continue to show them 30 things off a list of 100, or should I show 6-8 really cool things in much more depth and still give them the list of 100 others in case they’re interested?

    Here is my long list of things:
    which will be updated again with about ten missing links within the next few days.

    Here are a few of the things on that list that I think are obscure enough to not be redundant, yet interesting enough to be useful to various people in different disciplines and different roles:

    MeeboMe chat widget: you’re only shown as being online when you want to be, and no one needs any kind of an account to chat with you. Great for electronic office hours when the widget is posted inside an online course (I’m an e-learning guy).

    Toondoo: I think that cartoon/comic strip creation can be a fabulous creative exercise for just about any class. Have students work in teams and to decide upon the basic idea of the comic strip, and then have each create their own electronic version of that script to see how they compare.

    Yackpack: This has great possibilities for building community through photos, text messages, asynchronous voice messages, and the “Live Talk” button allows you to do just that – talk live synchronously (one at a time, like a walkie talkie) to anyone else in your course who is logged in at the same time. Also great for office hours or group projects.

    Other flickr toys (bighugelabs): I especially like the creativity options of student projects where they have to say something substantial with very few words and a photo, such as cartoon bubbles or de-motivational posters. Mine are not the best because I’m not that creative, but here are some examples.

    Vyew for free real-time web conferencing, share screens, exchange documents, etc.

    BTW, I’m a big fan of the ZOHO suite of tools. I use Google tools also, but prefer Zoho in most cases. I’m of the opinion that Google hasn’t really been living up to their “do no evil” mantra lately, and the guys at Zoho have been great in my interactions with them.

  13. being in the southern hemisphere sadly has some limitations, pandora is no longer able to be used here :(
    I am still grieving.
    There is a Nz equivalent of ebay, its trademe, The difference being the major networking of a small country 40.000 hits daily is huge when NZ is relatively small. The community noticeboard part of this organisation is fascinating. The conversations for computer novices….to the the applications of health self support groups such as cancer sux. Worth a look also is Youthline’s Urge website.
    Are you getting as far as NZ this time Alan?

  14. Thanks to the tip, Alisa, and it not that just little ole New Zealand is knocked out of pandora, it is the region known as “Everywhere but the United States Thanks to Copyright” ( — so it is absolutely off my list. No.

    I wish I could vist NZ again, but I am flying right over- as is, the trip is not long enough tp give Australia is due. So hello to Rangitoto for me!

  15. Oh my, Jordan, now that is some stuff to mine… Ouch! It’s looking like laundry list.. but wait, there are cool things on it.. I am dizzy.

    Actually I am just trying to say “thanks”.

  16. This one’s definitely not Web 2.0, at least not directly. Since I live in a PC environment, I find Photo Story 3 to be a digital story-telling tool with considerable potential and flexibility. It’s also really easy to use. The one drawback is that converting to a universally shareable format presents some challenge. By converting the project file (wmv), however, I’ve had good success doing the conversion so I can share on Youtube and Google Video.

  17. Hi Alan,

    Our team just launched a new online tool that allows you to create and share multimedia timelines. There’s interesting content on there already — bios of the 2008 presidential election candidates, Shakespeare’s life, History of WWI and WWII, etc.

    A few schools and classes are currently using this tool now to create timelines on U.S. and world history, and environmental history.

    I’d love to hear from you with any feedback about our free service.


  18. Funny, I’m coming back to this post again after some time and reflection, as well as a couple of Web 2.0 presentations myself beginning with the ELI Webinar back in January, and I’m thinking how interesting it is to distinguish between two modes I love: the barrage of cool toys recommended by people I admire and respect, and the conceptual scaffolding (or even McLuhanesque “probes”) that try to abstract a bit and get at some commonalities or some underlying characteristics. It’s really a yin/yang for me: the specifics can be a blur without the concepts, but the concepts don’t mean much until you see an example in action. That’s true of education generally (the constructivists will hasten to tell me), of course, but as always, the faster the computer stuff goes–and Web 2.0 goes like a bat out of hell–the faster the cycles of specifics/concepts/specifics/concepts go too. Lately I’ve been going for cognitive/affective parameters–beginning again with that ELI Webinar–and I’m starting to refine the list to where I like it, at least provisionally.

    Clearly this is one heckuva thought-provoking post. Thanks, big dog.

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