What’s better than free stuff? Really free stuff, no strings attached (or very few, anyway), can be found all over the Internet if you have the time to go searching for it. If you don’t have time to do the leg work (mouse work?), head for the Princeton Public Library, which is holding a seminar on Internet freebies — “Fabulous Freebies for Everyone” — on Tuesday, June 6, at 7 p.m. Yes, the seminar is free.
Free services, free websites, and free downloads are “multiplying monthly at an astonishing rate,” says technology librarian Janie Hermann. She and Bob Keith, the library’s technology training team, are working together to compile a lengthy list of their favorite Internet freebies for the seminar.
The new explosion of free technology is part of a new concept of what the Internet is all about. “In the last couple of years people started to notice that the Internet was changing,” says Hermann. “It began as a way to communicate, a way to retrieve information. Now it has matured into something new. It is a social network, a place for sharing.” In the past people used the Internet as a way to find and retrieve information. Now they are using it to “participate and to share.”
The name for this “new Internet” is Web 2.0. One of the best explanations of this new concept of the Internet can be found at a free site, Wikipedia, says Keith. Wikipedia is a free, interactive encyclopedia that encourages its users to add new entries and edit and update existing entries.
According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 “generally refers to a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and share information online. In contrast to the first generation, Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications than the traditional static Web pages.”
The name came into play in 2004 through a series of web development conferences. Applications that are considered to be “Web 2.0” use a combination of techniques that allow for “social software,” according to the Wikipedia citation, and include blogging, and “wikis.” Web 2.0 “is a buzzword, incorporating whatever is newly popular on Web, and its meaning is still in flux.”
So what great free stuff is out there, on the very much in flux Web 2.0?
Pandora. One of Hermann’s favorite sites is www.Pandora.com. Pandora is a free music website, but it is not a downloading site. Instead it “streams audio,” she explains, so it violates no copyright laws. The site “becomes your personal DJ,” playing a variety of music, which you customize to your own individual tastes. It is an off-shoot of the Music Genome Project, a project that began in 2000 as an attempt to classify music into similar styles or “genes.”
Reading about the project on Pandora’s sites is fascinating, and the site works just as advertised. As you type in various artists, titles, or genres you enjoy, you hear a selection of songs that not only includes the specific artists you have chosen, but also music by similar artists. The result: your own personal radio station, which plays exactly what you want to hear. The free version does include a few commercials. Or for a small fee you can choose to listen without commercials.
OneTrueMedia.com is a website that allows you to create, edit, and share your videos online. Hermann has used the site to make and share videos with family and friends. While sharing online is free, the site also offers other paid services, such as transferring your videos to DVD.
LogMeIn.com. Have you ever been away from home and needed a document on your computer? LogMeIn.com allows you to log into your home computer from any other computer and access the data on it. Keith is particularly fond of this site, he says, because it allows him to log onto his mother’s computer and help her out of difficulties when she calls him for tech support.
“It saves so much time when you are trying to explain what to do on a computer to someone on the phone,” he says. With the LogMeIn.com software he can “take control” of his mom’s computer and show her exactly what needs to be done. Again, while you can access a remote computer for free, there are additional charges for software that allows you to download the information to another computer.
Wikipedia. Located at www.en.Wikipedia.org, this site really illustrates the meaning of Web 2.0. This interactive encyclopedia is available in several languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Polish. It invites readers to add new entries or update existing entries with new information.
“The Encyclopedia Britannica on the Internet is an example of the original web,” says Keith. “Wikipedia is an example of Web 2.0.” The term “Wiki” means “quick” in Hawaiian, says Keith. Wiki is actually a type of server software that allows users to create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. In other words, anyone reading the web page is able to log on and make changes to it. In theory, this means that a “Wiki” encyclopedia is never outdated because users will constantly update the information. The site also includes many obscure references not found in a traditional encyclopedia.
Of course, there is always the problem of incorrect information being added, says Keith, but the site also includes a special database so that “older” pages are not lost and can easily be uploaded again by the site’s webmaster.
Del.icio.us. This is a website with an interesting concept. It allows you to place your list of bookmarks to favorite places on a website where it is available to be shared by others. The site has several advantages, say Keith and Hermann. First, if you want to access your favorite sites from another computer, at the library, for example, you can log into www.Del.icio.us and find exactly what you need. You can also use keywords to search other people’s bookmarks and find out their favorite sites. This allows you to find other sites similar to your favorites that you might not have known about.
This type of sharing of information is exactly what the Web 2.0 concept is all about, says Keith. “It’s just about using the architecture of the web in new ways.”
GoogleEarth. This free website pulls up satellite images of almost every place on earth. “The information has been on the Internet for years,” says Keith, “but it was hard to find it. GoogleEarth takes that information and makes it quickly and easily available. It makes it transparent and easier to use. Web 2.0 is about making life easier.”
These are only a few examples of the vast number of free websites available on the Internet. Everything from systems tools to image editors to word processors to just plain fun sites are out there for the asking. Hermann and Keith promise to divulge more of these great sites at their seminar, and they promise more “Technology Talks” on subjects such as creating your own blog and sharing photos online.