MOOCs – New Players in the World of Online Learning

One of the greatest benefits of the evolution of the internet is the appearance of the MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses. Want to learn a new programming language? Is your Spanish a little rusty since high school? Want to really unlock the potential of Microsoft Word or Excel? There are a number of new players in the world of online learning. I review each of them below.

Here are six online learning sites that help you learn without leaving your laptop.

Khan Academy

Founded in 2006 by Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, this non-profit now boasts thousands of educational videos covering topics from finance to animation to art history. Each video is about ten minutes long. All resources are available for free to anyone around the world. Khan Academy reaches about 10,000,000 students per month and has delivered over 300,000,000 online learning lessons.


Skillshare proposes a new model for online learning – anyone can sign up to learn and anyone can sign up to teach. Their mission is “Reunite learning with education and make it accessible to every single person on this planet. Anyone can learn anything, at any age, at an affordable cost, anywhere in the world.” Classes are $25 and under and range from advertising to business to design to photography and technology. The most popular class right now is taught by Seth Godin and is titled: The New Business Toolbox: Help Your New Business Do It Right The First Time.


“Education is broken. Come help us build the education the world deserves.” This is Codeacademy’s mission statement. As you’d expect, Codeacademy is all about learning how to code, whether it’s web fundamentals, PHP, JQuery, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, or more. Classes are free and you can start learning something new in about three clicks. You don’t even have to register.

For $25 a month, users can get unlimited access to’s online learning library of over 1,800 video courses covering a variety of subjects. The site’s software tutorials are particularly useful when trying to brush up on a program you haven’t used in a while or learn the particulars of a newly released version of an old favorite.


Founded and run by educational powerhouses Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, EdX features “learning designed specifically for interactive study via the web.” The site currently offers online courses from Harvard, MIT, Berkley, University of Texas, Georgetown, McGill, Cornell, Boston University, and about twenty other colleges or universities worldwide.

Gibbon’s tagline is “Playlists for learning: almost all the knowledge is available on the web, all you need is someone to guide you to it.” In that spirit, you register for the learning categories that interest you and the amount of time you want to dedicate to learning something new each week. Then Gibbon emails you once a week with a playlist of courses. Each course tells you upfront the amount of time that’s required – and it’s usually very palatable at 10 or 15 minutes. The user interface is appealing and there’s no rigid structure. You are part of a learning and teaching community and you can learn and teach at your own pace. Most courses are focused on design and technology.

Email Marketing: Six Steps for Success

Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, recently spoke about characteristics that make products and ideas go viral. According to Berger, there are six STEPPS (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Practical Value and Stories) which, if incorporated, make your concept much more likely to be shared with others. We can easily apply these STEPPS to Email Marketing.

1. Social Currency

According to Berger, sharable information is that which holds social currency and makes us look good to those around us. Too often, marketing emails ask subscribers to share an offer or information in an email communication, yet there’s nothing in that email that would make a subscriber look or feel good by passing it along.

2. Triggers

By Berger’s definition, a “trigger” is something that is easy to remember about a product or idea, helping to ensure it stays top of mind.

3. Emotion

Messaging with an emotional component is more likely to be shared. Every message you send should absolutely stay true to your brand, while remaining focused on your customer. If your subscribers feel like your messaging is all about you, without taking their interests into consideration, don’t expect them to participate in spreading the word.

4. Public

The public component of a successful, shareable program means that it’s designed to show and share with others. While it’s true that not all email content is meant to be shared (think exclusive offers, transactional statements, and other personal information), many elements are designed specifically for sharing. For these, be sure they’re “designed to show.” Format content in a way that lends itself nicely to the channels where you want the recipient to share.

5. Practical Value

Another word for practical value is relevance. If your email isn’t relevant, why would it go viral? Some of the most successful email programs are those that provide practical advice; how-to information, for example, or interesting, random facts. Think top ten lists, or “did you know” messaging. Always consider the practical value your messaging offers your audience.

6. Stories

If you read Berger’s book, he talks about our rich history of storytelling and sharing ideas with others. For email marketing, there are a couple different ways to use storytelling. You could come right out and toss an actual story into an email every once in a while. It could help keep your content fresh and keep subscribers engaged. Another way to look at building stories into your email marketing takes a more holistic perspective: What is your brand story to consumers? Every memorable brand makes implicit promises to consumers across key touch points. And every great brand keeps those promises with every interaction it makes. So, if every email you send isn’t reinforcing your brand story, the absence of that story can inadvertently erode brand value.


Consciously walk through Berger’s STEPPS in your next email marketing campaign and watch for any measurable difference.

My Favorite To-Do List App – Workflowy

It’s the last day of the year – December 31st – and the right time to be thinking about the coming year, goals and resolutions. Generally-speaking, I’m not a New Years’ Resolution kind of guy. I think it’s contrived to only think about resolutions a few days of the year. If you want to do something new or set yourself on a new course, you should just go out and do it. That said, each year I look at the new crop of smartphone apps and web apps that aim to help with resolutions and goals – Wunderlist, Evernote, Writebox, AwesomeNote – and I come back to the same web app I’ve been using for several years – Workflowy.

WorkFlowy is simple. That’s why I love it. It’s kind of like the Kindle vs the iPad argument. What it does superbly is let you create nested lists in a quick and responsive Web app. It reminds me in some ways of distraction-free text editors, such as Writebox and Writebox Mac app, which provide an austere workspace so you can focus and write. The possibilities for how to use Workflowy are infinite, although while testing the app, I wondered at times how people actually do use it, because depending on their stated purpose, the app may be lacking some key features.

There is no calendar and very little in the way of distracting project management features. I use the free version, but there are two different pro versions that let you create longer lists, change fonts, add custom backgrounds, sync with dropbox, or share your lists with team members. (free to $49 per year for Pro)

Basic Features

To use Workflowy, you simply type right on the screen. Enter new text, and it turns into a bullet point. You can add more bullets, sub-bullets (nested items), as well as a note, which appears directly below the attached item in a slightly different font.

You can mark complete, export, share (via a link), duplicate, and delete any item by accessing a little menu by clicking on its bullet, or through keyboard shortcuts. Click on any item, and it opens to become the top level of the page, similar to opening folders and subfolders in most operating systems. A path at the top lets you back out. See the video below to get a better sense of Workflowy in action.

iPhone App as Well

You can take your WorkFlowy lists with you everywhere you go now that there’s also a free iPhone app.


How to Push Blog Posts to Constant Contact

Suppose you have a blog with regular posts and also a Constant Contact email marketing account. Since time is money, whenever you can save time doing a repetitive process, you are essentially saving money. In this case what you want to do is push summaries of your blog posts to a Constant Contact email template to reduce the amount of time involved in putting together a marketing email. I will show you how to do this in a few easy steps.

Step 1: Create a Google Feedburner Account

Go to and set up an account. If you already have a gmail account, just log in with your gmail account and follow the prompts to link the two accounts. Once you are logged in, you will see the following screen:

Enter your sites rss feed link. If we set up your site the link will be

You should see the Congrats! confirmation page. Click the “Skip directly to feed management” link adjacent to the Next button at the bottom of the page.

To complete the initial set up, click the Publicize tab at the top > then choose Email Subscriptions on the left side. From the Email Subscriptions page > click the Activate button located at the bottom of the page.

Step 2: Create Your Email in Constant Contact and Push RSS Feed to Email Template

Go to your Constant Contact account and log in. Find your email template. If you have one you like and use regularly, you can just copy the most recent campaign. Select the area where you want to insert blog content.
Click Blog Content in the left sidebar and enter the RSS feed url from Feedburner.

Then select the blog posts that you want to push from your website to your email campaign. You will see a list of all the blog posts on your website. You can pick and choose whichever posts you want to use.

Then you just need to determine how much content you want in the email. Do you want to use a summary and redirect traffic back to your website? Or would you prefer to give your audience the entire blog in the email. It’s up to you.

When you click submit, the blog posts will appear in your email within Constant Contact. You can then make additional design and content edits. If you don’t like the summary, you can even edit the summary.

Brainwriting – An Alternative to Brainstorming

I make it a habit to visit several websites every day –,, – because I’m a firm believer in learning something new every day. Yesterday I read a fascinating post on Smashing Magazine about brainwriting – an alternative to brainstorming.

Brainstorming is the go-to approach when a group wants to come up with new, creative ideas. However, it has the following drawbacks:

  • Favors ideas generated by loudest voices and alpha personalities
  • Participants might fear immediate peer evaluation or feedback “that’s a stupid idea!”
  • Serial nature of process – only one idea at a time

What is Brainwriting?

Brainwriting is simple. Rather than asking people to yell out ideas (a serial process), you ask them to write down their ideas about a particular question or problem on sheets of paper for a few minutes. Then, you have each participant pass their ideas on to someone else, who reads the ideas and adds new ideas. After a few minutes, you ask the participants to pass their papers to others, and the process repeats. After 10 to 15 minutes, you collect the sheets and post them for immediate discussion.

When to use Brainwriting?

Brainwriting is perfect for the following situations:

  • When you have a really large group. You can’t brainstorm with 500 people, but you could brainstorm by leaving a 3X5 card on each person’s seat.
  • You have quiet people who are intimidated by having to speak in a group.
  • You are working in a culture where staff are anxious about speaking openly in front of management.
  • You have a limited (short) period of time. Brainwriting can be successful with just 10 minutes of time.
  • You don’t have an experienced moderator.
  • You are worried about loud, forceful individuals dominating traditional brainstorming.

How to Conduct a Brainwriting Session?

Here are the basic steps for interactive brainwriting:

  1. Introduce the procedure.
  2. Hand out paper for each person to write down ideas.
  3. Provide a clear and legible problem statement. (You could print out a page with the statement at the top, project the statement on a slide, or write it on a board.)
  4. Describe the timing of the brainwriting (for example, three minutes for the first round, and two minutes for four subsequent rounds) and the process for passing the pages (for example, counterclockwise around a table). A page-passing process that is not clear could undermine the credibility of the method and waste time.
  5. Ask if anyone has any questions about the problem statement or the brainwriting process.
  6. Remind people to read the ideas quickly before entering their own ideas and to feel free to add, modify and combine ideas. Let people know that extra paper is around the room if they run out.
  7. Begin the rounds. Announce the end of each round, and ask people to pass their paper to another person.
  8. At the end of the session, collect the brainwriting pages and post them for comment, additional ideas or review.

There are lots of variations on this process, and it turns out that there are plenty of additional resources on the topic.

Brainwriting Resources

How to Retrieve Lost Software Keys

I’m assuming this has happened to all of us. You decide to upgrade to a new computer and you realize that you no longer have the discs or product information. You paid for the software and own the license. The last thing you want to do is buy new software. So what do you do?

There are two steps to this process:

First, you’ll have to find a place to download the CD image. If this is a Microsoft product, you can probably find this download at

Next, you can use either magical jellybean or produkey.

Both programs are freeware utilities that access your computer’s registry to isolate the keys that you purchased.

Magical Jelly Bean has some other interesting utilities that might be useful in a pinch:

  1. PasswdFinder – PasswdFinder is a neat freeware utility that helps you find your lost passwords. Once installed, it will show you passwords saved by web-browsers, email clients, instant messengers, FTP clients and other programs.
  2. WiFi Password Revealer – is a small freeware utility a small freeware utility which will show you all your saved WiFi passwords. If you forgot or lost password to your wireless network – this tool is for you. It will work on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 (both 32-bit and 64-bit).
  3. MacProduct Key Finder – Mac Product Key Finder is freeware program for recovering lost product keys (or making backup before it’s too late) for software installed on your Mac. This small tool will scan your Mac for installed applications and show your product keys (serial numbers). In two words it is doing same job as KeyFinder for Windows, but in Mac OS.



How to Fine-Tune Your Existing Website for Better Search Engine Optimization

Search is changing. It is now more personal, more engaging, more interactive and more predictive. Search Engine Results Pages no longer just display 10 blue links — they have become more useful and more visually appealing across all device types.

Google’s Hummingbird update in August 2013 brought semantic search to the forefront of these changes. Beginning with user intent and interpretation of the query itself, semantic technology is used to refine the query, extract entities as answers, personalize search results, predict search queries and more — providing a more interactive, conversational or dialogue-based search result.

In order to leverage the benefits of semantic search on your own website, you’ll have to understand how semantic search works at a conceptual level.

1. Optimize for User Intent

semantic-searchGoogle is now using “form based” queries at scale in real time. Take a look at the image to the left. Suppose you are a travel agent. If you do a quick search for “flights from dc to”, you’ll see the most common user search queries for that structure of question in the dc area. Well, let’s say you are in the travel industry and you have offerings that would apply to someone traveling to “chicago, orlando, boston or miami”, (e.g., tourist attractions or some sort of event). You might want to make sure your page content includes that destination (entity or city or airport) as well as activities and items geared toward the interest of your target audience.


2. Align Your Search Engine Optimization with Social Media Campaigns

Identify your social audience and their interests. Write content that covers those interests, your offerings, and the intersection thereof. You can find a great example here, detailing how Virgin leveraged big data to create an interest graph, thereby creating a more targeted content strategy.

3. Make Sure You Leverage Google+ to Its Full Potential

Google+ is critical when it comes to how Google will view your business (and you, too, if you elect to create a profile for yourself). With regard to Google+ for business, here is a great and comprehensive resource from Simply Business.


4. Ensure Your Web Pages Use Structured Data Markup

Paying special attention to HTML markup vocabulary from, as that is recognized by most major search engines at this point in time.

There are several great new tools currently available to assist with the process of adding this HTML markup to your pages, including various WordPress plugins and code snippet generators (including Google’s own Structured Data Markup Helper).

5. Use Standard SEO Techniques

The standard SEO techniques that worked previously are still important:

  • Optimize page load times,
  • Optimize sitemaps and website architecture,
  • Cross-platform optimization

The last one is more important than ever with the rise of mobile devices, especially since sites that offer a poor mobile experience may find themselves hurting in mobile rankings.


How to Secure Your iPhone: Essential Steps

As smartphone theft grows, people need to do all they can to secure their devices. Read the essential steps you can take to secure your iphone and find just what else the industry is, and is not, doing.

According to the San Francisco police department, more than half of the robberies that occurred in the city in 2012 involved a smart phone. This could really happen to you at any time. And while you can go and buy a new phone, all of your personal information now sits in the hands of a criminal.

Preventing Data Theft and Casual Hacking on your iPhone

Lock Code

You can use either a 4-digit number or a longer “complex passcode” of case-sensitive letters, numbers, spaces, and characters. And if you prefer, you can activate a feature where entering a passcode incorrectly 10 times will wipe the phone. The iPhone 5S has the same passcode features, with an added Touch ID fingerprint scanner.

Lock Screen Features

This is critically important. iOS can give you access to some features without entering your lock code. Though sensitive personal information is not accessible, you can use some functions of Siri, such as placing a voice call or sending a text message, as well as reply to a missed call with a canned text message. Though you might find those shortcuts convenient, your handset will be more secure if you turn them off. Go to Settings > General > Passcode Lock.

Similarly, you’ll also need to turn off access to the Control Center and the Notification Center from your lock screen. To get there, go to Settings > Control Center, and Settings > Notification Center.

Tracking and Erasing the Data on Your Phone

Find my iPhone

This feature enables you to track, manage, and secure your phone once it’s missing. To use it, you’ll first need an iCloud account, though you do not need to sync any of your data, like e-mail and contacts, to the cloud. After you’re set up, then go to the iCloud page of your iPhone’s Settings and slide the Find My iPhone toggle to on.

After you sign into your iCloud account, click on the Find My iPhone option.

Once your phone has been stolen, the first step is to sign on to or use the free Find My iPhone app on another iOS device. Once in, you’ll be able to find your device on an Apple map, but only if it is connected to a cellular or public Wi-Fi network (both secure and not). If the phone is connected just to a hidden Wi-Fi network (that is, one that does not appear in your handset’s list of available networks), you may not be able to track it. Other restrictions also apply, but I’ll get to those later.

After locating your phone and clicking on the icon, you can do a number of things. The first is to make the phone make play a sound at full volume for two minutes (even if it’s in silent mode). As this step is more useful if you just happen to lose your phone in your sofa cushions, I’d advise not using it if you’re certain that your handset is stolen. It just won’t do a lot of good except annoy a thief. You also can erase your handset completely, but this step is rather premature. Instead, first try activating Lost Mode as soon as you as you can. Not only does it give you more options for controlling your phone, it also adds a stricter level of security.

Lost Mode

Lost Mode does a couple of things, the first of which is give you more features for controlling your device. To begin, if you haven’t yet secured your device with a passcode (and, really, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t), you’ll be able to select a four-digit simple passcode and lock the screen remotely. At the very least, that will prevent all but the most sophisticated thieves from accessing your personal information. Remember, though, that to make your phone as secure as possible, you should have already deactivated lock screen access to the features I mentioned previously.

The next step is to send a custom message to your handset’s lock screen that can’t be erased. You can write whatever you want, from your name or phone number, to a plea to contact you, to a more colorful message telling thieves what you really think of them. The latter, however, probably isn’t the wisest course of action.

Lost Mode also lets you see a history of your phone’s location over the last 24 hours with points displayed as pins on the aforementioned map. Finally, if all hope is gone, you can erase your device completely. Once you erase it, you’ll lose the ability to track it further, but your lock code and onscreen message will remain.

Activation Lock

Lost Mode also plays a role in Activation Lock, which is a few feature added in iOS 7. Built after Apple users rightfully complained that Find My iPhone wasn’t comprehensive enough, Activation Lock tries to close the loop by preventing a thief from reusing your device after you’ve accepted that it’s gone for good.

Running in the background from the moment you turn on Find My iPhone, Activation Lock pairs your Apple ID and password with the serial number of your handset in Apple’s servers. Your ID and password are then required before anyone can turn off Find My iPhone on your handset, attempt to erase any data (that’s assuming they aren’t stopped by your password), reactivate your phone under a different account, or claim a new phone under your warranty. Activation Lock also remains in place if a thief tries to swap out your SIM card. If you happen to get your phone back and can’t remember your password, you can retrieve it by calling Apple support and properly identifying yourself.

The Bottom Line

Don’t forget that Find My iPhone only works as long as your device is online through your carrier’s cellular network or WiFi. If a thief turns off your phone or manages to activate Airplane Mode you won’t be able to track it. You can send commands to lock the phone, erase the contents, etc., but those commands won’t be carried out until the phone reconnects. The bottom line, however, is that the iPhone has many built-in ways of protecting yourself in the increasingly likely (depending on which city you live in) chance your iPhone might be stolen.

Amazon Glacier is a Dirt Cheap Backup Solution has a great article on Amazon’s new backup solution called “Amazon Glacier”. This new storage/backup solution starts at just a penny per GB per month. Depending on your storage needs, Amazon Glacier  could be the most cost-efficient backup solution you can find. There are some caveats, however. This is really designed as the backup of backups – a place to archive things that you don’t access regularly and would only really need if all of your other backup systems failed. This is because though your data is secure, it is both slow and expensive to access.

Read the rest of the article

How to Update Links When You Change Website Hosts

There’s nothing like being prepared and having the right tool for a specific job. Sometimes you have to update links across a site and all you know is that to do so manually would take hours. One of the post-move (from one host to another) things a webmaster needs to do is make sure all images and links direct properly.

During the move phase the site URL is adjusted to change the location of the website and allow access to the WordPress dashboard, but internal links are not changed which means they may be broken after the move.

To fix internal links and image paths, users can run the Velvet Blues Update URLs plugin after the WordPress move is complete. The plugin makes the process very easy and painless. Here’s how to use the plugin successfully.

Warning: Link structure must be maintained in order for this process to function properly. Example: If during your WordPress move your URL was changed to (without the www), then the new URL in Velvet Blues Update URLs must be entered without the www as well.


It should be noted that changing links on a wide scale like this can be unpredictable. Here are some things to check if your link changes don’t work as expected.

  • You’ve just changed your entire link structure and if none of them seem to be working, empty your cache and reload the page. Then test them again.
  • Updating urls has to be precise. Make sure you entered the urls accurately.
  • If Velvet Blues doesn’t work, try the Search and Replace plugin.
  • If all else fails and plugins won’t work, you can manually edit the database file to reflect the changes. Open the .sql file in a text editor and replace references to the old URL with the new URL. Save and restore the database. Note: Again, you must be precise. Replace the entire URL to ensure it is done properly.