The Best Apps for BlogHer '11
As you get ready for BlogHer '11, here are some good apps for your laptop, iPhone, or Android you might want to download and set up in advance. Usually I tell people before BlogHer to remember their gadgets, an extra power strip, an Airport Wireless and extra ethernet cable, and all their gadget chargers. This year I want to talk about software and apps!
1. A VPN client for secure network traffic over open wifi
Image Credit: veesees
It's pretty easy for a curious person to see network traffic, including your passwords, over open wireless. When you're connecting to a web-based email account, or any other site that uses a password you want to protect, you can make sure you're using https, which encrypts your web-based communications to a site.
Since the conference will be using open wireless, you should set up a more secure connection by using a VPN, a Virtual Private Network. Think of it as a private tunnel for your network traffic. I signed up for a VPN account with AceVPN for about five dollars a month. Other cheap or free services: HotSpotShield, PublicVPN, Witopia, and OpenVPN. As an extra benefit to VPNs you can get one that will connect you to servers in various countries, which is quite useful if you're looking for media available in some countries but not others.
2. Apps to connect with other people
Google+ has great potential for conference use, aside from its microblogging functions. Make a BlogHer conference circle and use it to join a Huddle, for an instant conference chat room on your phone. This could be fun for gossip and very useful for planning where to go out to lunch with a group of people! Also in Google+ on your phone, check the "nearby" screen, by looking at your Stream and swiping to the left.
Beluga creates a similar function - instant group messaging from your phone to friends, even ones who don't use smart phones can use Beluga if they can send text messages.
I have an extra non-gadget, non-app related tip for managing contact information at a conference. Carry a paper envelope around with you labelled with the conference name and date. Put all the business cards, postcards, flyers, and stickers people give you into that envelope immediately! Then you can go through them after the conference and they won't get mixed up!
3. Finding stuff in San Diego
For transportation and other crucial infrastructure: TaxiFinder, cab4me, WifiFinder. For public transport, you can click on a bus or rail station in San Diego on Google Maps and get the upcoming departures and links to other transit info.
4. Travel info
Heather Barmore from No Pasa Nada had the great suggestion to download apps specific to your airline. She says, "I use the SWA app at least once a week. Or else I'd never know when my flights are. Seriously." While I've never tried that, I use Tripit. I can email my airline and hotel confirmations to a tripit address, and then all my information slams into my phone in an easy to understand itenerary format. You can also share information about specific trips with other Tripit users.
BlogHer is a conference by, for, and about bloggers! If you're going to be liveblogging you might want to set up a system for note-taking, which could simply be a big text file, a desktop folder for all your BlogHer '11 notes and photos and video, or could be a way to blog better from your mobile device. Right now I'm starting to use Google+ and Picasa, with its instant upload from my phone, more heavily after many years of using iPhoto, FlickrExport, and Flickr for all my photos. Jen Reeves suggested Instagram for conference photos, and says, "There's a small enough group of people in there, you can meet new and interesting people who have iPhones. I plan to take pictures during the conference and tag #BlogHer11 with those pics. Following hashtags inside Instagram is fun!".
Bambuser is amazing for streaming video. Its easy to use and elegantly designed app lets you stream live from your cameraphone, and you can share the link for other people to watch and comment. Some people prefer USTREAM, which also works fine. The WordPress mobile app for iPhone and Android is excellent if you're posting to a WP blog!
For collaboration on the fly, here are a couple of tools I haven't seen used very much in BlogHer communities but that I think you all would love: Pastebin and PiratePad. Pastebin is incredibly useful! You can dump text files in there and share them with anyone or password-protect them and send out a link. This is great for editing and while you could use Google Docs, pastebin is still very useful for on-the-fly document sharing and editing. PiratePad opens a main document window, a chat box, and a list of users viewing the page, so it's ideal for quickly drafting a post with other people. You might want to try it for liveblogging. It's truly awesome for meeting notes or coming up with lists of things to do and action plans.
6. Fun and games
BlogHer '11 is right by the waterfront in San Diego so you might like to know when high and low tide will be! I live on a boat in the San Francisco Bay, so I totally depend on TideApp, an elegant visual graph with the tide heights and phase of the moon clearly marked.
This isn't an app, but I happen to know that just south of San Diego on Imperial Beach, you can borrow a free dune buggy beach wheelchair. If you're coming to BlogHer, love the beach, and have difficulty walking or a family member has difficulty walking, you HAVE to do this… I had the most amazing time at Imperial Beach zooming around in the wheelchair dunebuggy with my son and niece and nephews in my lap.
Backups, backups, backups!
Last but not least! Your top preparation for BlogHer '11 should be… not an app… but a full backup of your laptop and your mobile devices! Go do a back up right now, y'all!
What applications or services are you setting up as preparation for the conference? What do you regularly use while traveling or conference-going? If you want to share more apps or geeky blogging/mobile tips, comment here, or drop by and talk with us at the Geek Bar during BlogHer '11!