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My Top 5 Tools of 2011

My Top 5 Tools of 2011

Happy New Year!

2011 was a particularly busy (but good) year for me. I finished a WordPress ebook (and then wrote a second edition this month), started and registered an online training company called Novo Learning LLC, and started a new video tutorial project that should be complete sometime in 2012. And through all of this, I managed to juggle 23 websites.

Since most of my work in 2011 was around website development and video production, I thought I’d share my Top 5 Tools of 2011. Here they are in no particular order:

1. WordPress

My inclusion of WordPress will not come as any surprise to those of you who have been coming here for any amount of time. I have moved all of my web development to the WordPress platform. As a result, I have not only streamlined my design and development process, but I have also delivered some great SEO and autonomy to my clients.

I am so impressed with the added features and improvements that come to WordPress with each new update. WordPress 3.3 is better than ever. And no commercial alternative can beat the development and support of the WordPress community.

2. Coda

I’ve been using Coda now for almost 3 years. I don’t know how I ever did website development without it!

The folks at Panic software call Coda “One-window web development”. This is a great way to describe what this software does. If you do any kind of web development work, you need to take a look at this software. In one tool you have a code editor, file transfer utility, source control system, terminal (SSH), website preview, and a resource library for HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP.

Check out this post for a complete review of Coda.

3. Firebug

Firebug is a Firefox browser add-on that allows you to edit, debug, and monitor CSS, HTML, and Javascript live in any web page, right from your Firefox browser. This is really a must-have tool for any web developer.

Although Firebug is designed for the Firefox browser, they also make Firebug Lite for other browsers.

4. Kodak Zi8

This compact little video camera shoots 1080p video with a 16:9 aspect ratio. It can hold up to 32GB of memory (SD/SDHC), has an external microphone jack that records in stereo, and takes 5 MP still pictures. It also has a built in USB arm that lets you upload and charge without a USB cable.

This little camera is a gem, especially if you plan to incorporate video into your online marketing, promotional or educational strategy. I recommend purchasing an additional battery, and two 8GB SD/SDHC memory cards.

5. ScreenFlow

I love this software! Although I do my high-end video editing in FinalCut Pro, most of my online video is edited with ScreenFlow.

Screenflow has an intuitive interface and supports several QuickTime formats and Flash, and also allows for direct publishing to YouTube and Vimeo. In addition to being great video editing software, Screenflow also allows you to create screencasts.

I should also mention Camtasia, which is an excellent video editing and creation software, and has versions for both the Mac and PC platform. Read this review on Camtasia.

SEO Focus in 2012

I will continue using these tools in 2012 and will write about any additional tools I come across in the future. The world of SEO is one area that I will be giving more attention. I just recently came across Google’s Correlate Tool and find it fascinating. I’m still playing with it, but will surely write about it when I understand it better.

In the meantime, have a great new year!

Building and Managing A WordPress Website

Building and Managing A WordPress Website

Here’s a quick promo video I’ve created for the ebook guide I’ve written on building and managing a WordPress website. The guide is geared towards small businesses, but is useful for anyone considering building or redesigning a website.

Top 5 Reasons Business Owners Should Consider WordPress

Top 5 Reasons Business Owners Should Consider WordPress

WordPress is no secret in the blogging world. What may be less known is how great WordPress is as a content management system for regular business sites.

Why Use WordPress To Create A Website?
In my several years of working with business owners to create websites, I’ve encountered two very typical scenarios.

The first scenario is the do-it-yourself business owner who learns just enough HTML to cobble together a website either from scratch or from some template or theme-based site. Typically, the website is just adequate, and maybe not quite as professional looking as expected. “But it’s just temporary until I get the time to really do it right,” says the owner. More often than not, the site is quickly neglected because additions and modifications are just too cumbersome for the busy owner.

The second scenario is the business owner who is willing to spend some money on a web developer to create a site. In this case, the website often ends up costing more than expected. Additionally, the business owner often becomes dependent on the web developer for any future additions or modifications, driving costs even higher.

Both of these scenarios are far from ideal.

If you find yourself in, or contemplating, either of these scenarios, then consider these top-5 reasons to build a website with WordPress:

The WordPress Interface (click to enlarge)

1. Easy Interface (even for beginners)

The WordPress interface is intuitive and easy to learn. Chances are, if you’ve used a word-processor and have browsed the web, you’ll find the interface familiar. Even if you haven’t, spending a half hour in the Posts and Pages areas (which is where you will live most of the time) will be sufficient.

The areas of WordPress’ interface are neatly organized in drop-down tabs along a right sidebar (See A in above illustration.) Text formatting and media placement in WordPress is similar to most modern-day word-processing applications (See B in illustration.)

After creating one or two posts or pages, you’ll wonder why you ever considered any other tool.


2. Large Selection of Themes

The selection of themes is almost too large. As of this post, the WordPress Theme Directory boasts over 1,300 free themes! Now, to be fair, not every one of them is a gem. But there are plenty of great free themes from which you can build a smart, functional business website.

There are also hundreds of commercial themes to choose from. Again, some are much better than others. My experience is that most of the well-designed commercial themes cost $50-$90 for a single license. If you are a website developer and plan to use the theme on multiple sites, the cost $120-$200. This cost will seem trivial when you realize what these themes can do, and how much time they will save.

My advice is to first browse through the free themes at the WordPress Theme Directory, pick 4 or 5, and play with them.


3. Extended Functionality from Plugins

The number of plugins for WordPress is also impressive. While WordPress has built-in CMS (Content Management System) capabilities, it’s the plugins that truly extend this functionality to another level. Like with themes, not all plugins are created equal. It’s especially important to know your plugins well, as sometimes they can conflict with each other and cause unexpected problems.

For most business websites built on WordPress, there are between 10 and 15 plugins that I would consider essential.

Like themes, most plugins are free (though donations are encouraged, and it’s good karma). There are also a number of commercial plugins that address specific needs on a high level.

The WordPress Plugin Directory is a great place to spend some time learning about which plugins do what. Here you can also see how users have rated each plugin.

4. Large Developer & Support Community

WordPress has been around since 2003 and has become the most popular blogging platform in the world. As a business owner, it should be comforting to know that WordPress is likely to be around for a very long time.

Since WordPress is opensource, it has literally hundreds of developers from around the world working on improving performance, features, and security. This is far more developers than are typically devoted to any one commercial software.

WordPress also has a very large and active support community. There have been many times in the past that I’ve gone to the WordPress Forums to ask a question and either discovered the answer already listed, or posted and received an answer within an hour. That’s impressive customer support, especially when you consider the price!

5. It’s FREE!

Any top 5 list about WordPress must include the fact that it’s opensource and therefore free.

Of course, “free” can be a bit deceiving. While it cost no money to download and install the software on your server or a host, it will cost you some of your time. And presumably, your time is not free.

If you’re a true do-it-yourself business owner, then WordPress is definitely the right choice. Even if you’re a dabbler, you may find that you can get quite far in building and managing your own website with WordPress.

A Hybrid Approach
A very common and successful approach to building a business website with WordPress is what I call a “Hybrid” approach. That is, the business owner hires a WordPress expert to come in and install and setup WordPress. Then, the expert spends an hour or two tutoring the owner on the basics. Then, the expert goes away and the owner spends some time playing and experimenting with themes, designs, posts and pages.

Sometimes the owner learns enough to become proficient on his/her own and the WordPress expert is no longer needed. Occasionally, the expert returns for some refreshers, or to tweak one or two things. Usually, from that point on, the owner is autonomous.

I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again.

This is why I’m a firm believer in the power of WordPress for business websites. WordPress is an option that every business owner should seriously consider when building or redesigning their website.

What Does Net Neutrality Mean to You?

It’s been almost 7 months since Bill Moyers has left the PBS airwaves. It was a sad day for me.

I grew up with Bill and his PBS presence. He was for me the rare, insightful voice of reason and balance in a world that my young mind found contradictory, corrupt, and just plain wrong. He found and presented a dialogue that expanded my understanding and tempered my instinct to completely rebel against the status quo. He brought some balance to my perspective.

We need more journalists like Bill Moyers.

This video is from Bill’s second to last broadcast of the PBS series “Bill Moyer’s Journal”. I find it particularly poignant for both of it’s two major topics:

  1. The 2008 Wall Street Financial Debacle
  2. Net Neutrality

It seems that the first topic has been swept under the “collective unconscious” rug by now. And the second topic is about to go the same way unless there is a greater popular effort to prevent it.

I don’t know how to properly emphasize the extreme importance of Net Neutrality to us all, other than to make this post and urge you to view this video. So, please view this video, make your comments, and engage in some dialogue about this critically important issue for our democratic future.


The Power of WordPress Series

The release of my eBook The Power of WordPress: Building a Successful Business Site is near!

As a way to build interest, I have released a free 22-page eBook on WordPress Plugins. In this eBook, I cover what I consider to be the top 10 essential plugins for any WordPress website. Plugins are at the heart of added functionality for WordPress, and understanding how to use them effectively within your WordPress site is critical. I explain what they do, why it’s important, and how to install and configure them.

As many of you already know, I’m a huge WordPress advocate. I now have all of my clients on WordPress sites and they are pleased to have the kind of control and autonomy that comes with a website built on the WordPress platform. They are also realizing added savings by not having to pay me (or any developer) for making additions or changes to their site. This is a win-win situation for the me and my clients. I prefer to focus on the design and creation of websites, and not so much the ongoing maintenance. My clients prefer to have a site built for them that allows them to easily tweak and fine-tune it as their business grows.

In the days leading up to the release of The Power of WordPress: Building a Successful Business Site, I will be adding quick posts to this site on various aspects of WordPress. Please come back and check them out.

In the meantime, you can get the “Top 10 WordPress Plugins” eBook by subscribing on the upper sidebar.

Speaking Words With Dictate

logoI’ve been playing with a new piece of software for the last few days. I’m quite excited about it.

The software is called Dictate, by the folks at MacSpeech. Dictate is voice recognition software for the Mac. I must admit, I’ve played with voice recognition software in the past and have never been very impressed with the performance. I had been reading fairly good reviews of dictate over the last several months, but I still came to it with the expectation that I would be disappointed.

The installation of Dictate was a snap. Once installed, the software takes you through a five-minute reading session to train the software to recognize your voice. Once you’ve done this you are good to go.

My first test was reading a few paragraphs from a book into Microsoft Word. I spoke with my normal voice and at a normal pace. Dictate wrote the words flawlessly. MacSpeech claims that dictate will work with pretty much any software. So my next test was to open Pages and speak stream of consciousness for a dozen or so sentences. Again, Dictate performed without a flaw. I am a hopelessly slow typist, so I was becoming excited about the possibilities .

Next, I opened iChat and began chatting with one of my friends. I was able to bury my friend with several sentences of words in a matter of seconds. My friend was certain that I had overdone on the cappuccinos.

I must say that I am pleasantly impressed with Dictate’s performance. I’m excited to think about all the ways I can use Dictate. As I speak, I am in WordPress and writing  (speaking) this blog post. I will even be exploring the possibility of using Dictate as a way to caption movies. To really use the full power of Dictate, it’s necessary to learn a few dozen commands for things like text editing and movement, capitalization, and punctuation.

As I’m speaking and seeing what is written, it makes me think about the differences between how we think when we are writing on a keyboard versus how we think when we are speaking. I’m experiencing some real differences in my thought processes as I speak aloud the words I wish written. I wonder if Dictate will give my writing style a more conversational tone. That might be a good thing.

The software comes bundled with a Plantronics headset with mic, and sells for about $200.