New Toys: Sprout, Quotably, Picapp
"It's still in beta." I remember how arcane and esoteric I thought that sentence was when I first learned it years ago. These days, it's so common, even kids know what it means.
Three new web sites, some in beta, some not, have crossed my radar this week. They are all fun to play with and may be just what you're looking for.
Consider Sprout. Sprout is free. It's all about adding what they call "living content." The living content can be slideshows, RSS feeds, videos, and several other items.
There's a big "Get Started" button on the home page that will take you straight into the Sprout Builder. There are a few templates you can select, and a blank slate for a DIY Sprout. You can play around with it and see if it looks useful without registering. When you decide to save, you must register and wait for a confirmation email to complete the save or to publish. The Sprout, if you finish, save, and publish, becomes a widget that you can post on your blog or website.
I played around with it two or three different times before I ended up with a widget I thought would be useful to me. It took me that long to figure out the way the Sprout Builder worked, what was changeable and what was not, and to decide which template best suited what I wanted to do. For the one I finished and published, I used an RSS feed on each of several pages, called the Sprout "Read My Blog Feeds" and stuck it on my vdebolt.com site.
The best thing about the Sprout widget is that if I go back to Sprout at a later date, make changes to my widget, save and publish, the changes automatically appear on the page where I put the Sprout. I don't have to change any code already on my site or my blog. The biggest problem I had was that the number of pages and menu buttons for any of the templates is not editable. (At least, not that I could see.) I liked the Personal Sprout template, but only needed four menu buttons and couldn't seem to remove the extra button/page, so I ended up using the Cause Sprout to make the widget on my personal site.
Jane, at Jane's eLearning Pick of the Day, recommended Sprout before it was even in the public beta stage in her article Sprout Bullder. She said,
With Sprout, you can create sophisticated and dynamic interactive content in three steps.
Sprout has a range of features appropriate for both novice and advanced users, resulting in quick and easy creation of sophisticated multimedia content.
I'm not sure I think it's as easy as she forecast it to be, but it's certainly a promising tool for bloggers.
Quotably is fairly new, but not in beta state. It's a third party app that uses Twitter. If you enter a Twitter username in the form at Quotably, you see threaded conversations for that person.
Quotably is most helpful when you are trying to make sense of a series of Tweets and see all sorts of other Tweets thrown into the tweet stream. For example, here's a thread for QueenofSpain (aka BlogHer's Erin Kotecki Vest)
It's also helpful because, although I follow QueenofSpain, I don't follow several other people who were in on this thread. Without Quotably, I would have missed their brilliant contributions to the conversation.
According to TechCrunch, where I heard about Quotably,
The service is easy enough to use - just tell it a Twitter ID and it will show you threaded conversations that involve that person. You can also view a RSS feed for any Twitter user by simply adding “.rss” to the end of the Quotably URL, such as quotably.com/techcrunch.rss.
Picapp is a source for photographs about current news. The photos are free and legal to use on your blog or web site when you write about current events.
The site has both promise and problems. First the bad news. I tried it and discovered that the photos won't work on a Wordpress blog. BlogHer CE Megan Smith also tried it and actually wrote to Picapp about the problems with using the images on certain types of blogging software. They responded that they were working on it and pointed her to the Forums. Yesterday, the site was down nearly all day. I almost left it out of this post because of that, but it's back today.
There may also be some question about the origin of the photos as reported in Thoughts of a Bohemian in Picapp - Picmess.
Apparently Picapp is having some hiccups. As per many posts in their forum, Picapp has been supplying non authorized images to bloggers worldwide for free.
Apparently Getty was supposed to only put their wholly owned images via the Picapp service. That is images either produced by staff photographers or bought outright. But by some API fluck ( that is the official version, at least) images from commissioned photographers also appeared.
The good news is that, once they get the bugs out, you'll be able to find appropriate photos about topics you may want to blog about. The site provides you with some code, including a script, to paste into the spot where you want the photo. The photo is then served from their (we hope reliable) server, with a link back to the picapp site. Kristen Nicole at Mashable, said,
The result is a searchable database of images from the likes of Getty Images and Corbis, which can then be embedded onto your site. Choose the image size you want, and grab the code. PicApps places a fairly non-intrusive advertisement over the image, and some sponsored links. The good thing about services like PicApp is that it provides a perfectly legal option for self-publishers out there.
Here's a picapp photo of Bill McKibben, who rocked my world at SXSWi.
Should you ever want to write about 350.org, you can add this photo to your article. And the fact that you see it answers the question as to whether or not picapp will work with BlogHer's Drupal blogging tools.
Have fun playing with these new toys.