Zoho Mail and Its Limitations For Free Accounts

Screenshot of Zoho Mail

There once was a company called AdventNet that created IT software – network monitoring, help desk ticketing, etc. Eventually they started this fledgling division called Zoho which seemed to me (at the time) like a distraction from their IT business. But Zoho grew and grew and eventually AdventNet changed its name to Zoho. Zoho still makes a line of IT software, but it is their Zoho Suite that more people are familiar with.

Screenshot of Zoho Mail

I’ve always liked their software, though sometimes it has been a bit rough around the edges. Part of this is because they usually offer free versions with a fairly robust featureset for those who only need a few users or to monitor a few systems.

In general I haven’t found these limitations to be too much of a nuisance, but I recently started using Zoho Mail and have been frustrated by the number of features which are only available in their paid version. Granted, the paid version isn’t bad – $28/yr. per user – but it isn’t what I’ve come to expect from Zoho.

I figured it would be helpful for others who are considering Zoho Mail as a solution for their needs to have a concise list of some of the more notable of these limitations…as the 25 free users offer is quite attractive at first glance. Without further ado, here is my list of functionality not available in the free version:

  • Mail Forwarding – Want to setup an email address [email protected] and forward it to [email protected]? You can’t on a free account. (Granted, you can create an email alias for an account).
  • POP/IMAP/ActiveSync – These are all methods of retrieving mail from Zoho’s server and are used by email client software like Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, or Mailbird. (Zoho does have a robust web interface, similar in functionality to Gmail’s, so this is only a deal breaker if you use a software email client).
  • Email Routing – Want to have emails sent to [email protected] routed to a third party helpdesk like Zendesk or Freshdesk? You can’t, it’s a premium feature. (That said, you can probably setup these and other services to access the account automatically and pull the emails).

Besides these limitations, Zoho Mail seems full-featured, the user interface is quite nice, and one can customize things with one’s custom domain rather than having @zohomail.com emails.

What alternatives do you have? At the price of free I’m not aware of many with any robust implementation. I’m luckily enough to be grandfathered into a G Suite account from back in the day when Google was still handing them out for free. ūüôā

The only other completely free solution I’m aware of (at least for a few users) that offers similar functionality to Zoho Mail (e.g., custom domain email rather than @provider.com email) is Bitrix24, but I’ve never personally used them (interestingly, they also have a decent suite of applications and offer a free phone number as well – though it doesn’t appear to come with any minutes, but per minute pricing is cheap). Do you have suggestions for alternatives?

If we look at paid alternatives things begin to open up a bit for us we can add Google Suite, Microsoft Office 365, Rackspace, and so on to the list. Yet Zoho Mail’s prices still seem to be among the best.

Its also worth noting that most web hosts I’ve used (e.g. Bluehost, SiteGround) offer free email hosting as well. These services tend to be fairly full-featured but really lacking in the UI department.

Earn.com A Little Extra on the Side

A Photo of a Clock with Small Piles of Money Near It

 

A Photo of a Clock with Small Piles of Money Near It
This photo was generously provided by Nattanan Kanchanaprat and Pixabay.

(Post Updated: Feb 13th, 2018)

What is Earn.com?

Earn.com is a nifty site where individuals can receive and respond to messages from various organizations and other individuals in exchange for a few dollars. For example I’m a member[1] of a number of lists including:

  • Facebook Users
  • GitHub Users
  • HTML Programmers
  • Instagram Users
  • Pinterest Users
  • Reddit Users
  • Twitter Users
  • YouTube Users

When someone wants to communicate with a certain population of individuals (e.g. twitter users), they can send a message through earn.com which pays x amount for each response. Or if someone wants to communicate with a specific individual they can reach out to that person with a message and an offer of payment for a response.

Why Would Anyone Send Messages Using Earn.com?

There actual use cases where one would want to send a message a groups of users or a specific individual For example:

  • Send a poll to Facebook users providing images of two different potential ads and asking which one would interest them more.
  • Sending out some content to Pinterest users you believe will go viral in hopes that they will pin it and share it.
  • Sharing a link to an awesome new YouTube video.
  • Contacting a CEO of a company you believe will be interested in your product or service.
  • Communicating with a well-known scientist who might otherwise not see your email among the innumerable she receives each day.

The more general the group the less one is likely to get paid per message…but there are also all sorts of niche groups – for example digital currency investors, hackers news users, and so on. I tend to see offers from these a bit more frequently – the cryptocurrency related messages seem to pay especially well.

Is There Any Money In Using Earn.com?

Sure. You aren’t going to get rich off it, but it is fun and provides some extra pocket change.

I’ve been on the site for a while[2] and accumulated around $120 with relatively little effort.

But there is more to Earn.com than pocket change for the occasional message…

Using Earn.com to Monetize Your Email

Earn.com can integrate with Gmail (your choice, I personally haven’t integrated yet). When you receive an email from an individual or organization that you don’t necessarily want to spend time responding to, you can “bounce” the email to Earn.com to gauge how serious they are in their desire to talk to you.

The individual or organization receives a reply email from Earn.com that indicates how much it will cost them to receive a response from you. They can then choose to go find someone else to bother or, if they are really interested in what you have to say or really think their product is meant for you, they can pay up. You spend a few moments replying to their message, pocket the cash, and if it is something you are actually interested in, the relationship continues from there.

Granted, this isn’t something that is going to work for everyone. But if you own a business and are being constantly propositioned by sales people, one way to weed out those who are running through an address book name by name is to charge them a few dollars for a response. They will probably move on to the next name on the list.

Similarly, if you are a public personality of some sort (e.g. actor, author, blogger) and you receive a lot of communications you could choose to charge a few dollars to get a response.

Obviously, this tool could be used poorly. I wouldn’t recommend charging your own family and friends to contact you.[3] And if you are an internet personality I’d suggest not requiring payment for every correspondence. On the other hand, it might be worthwhile to bounce some of those requests for guest posts (or to review a product) to Earn.com to test their seriousness and to make a few bucks.

Bonus: Your Money is Bitcoin

You’ve probably heard the words Bitcoin, digital currency, or cryptocurrency being thrown around on occasion – whether on/in the news or by a geeky friend. You probably also know that Bitcoin is worth a lot of money – I mean thousands of dollars for a single Bitcoin. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way for folks to get Bitcoin without spending a significant amount of money at this point in time (kind of like buying gold).[4] But Earn.com keeps your earnings as Bitcoin. As such your earnings can increase with Bitcoin price increases[5] and you can cash out in dollars or in Bitcoin.

In general I’m not recommending buying Bitcoin at the moment (I’m not a financial advisor, so go talk to someone who knows what they are talking about to decide whether to buy or not) due to the significant price fluctuations occurring (and the likelihood that another technology will supersede Bitcoin), but I would suggest keeping your Earn.com earnings as Bitcoin.

What About Those Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)?

There are tons of companies right now trying to get in on the cryptocurrency boom. Some are for real but many of them aren’t. Of those that are real it is almost certain a majority of them will fail. If you get an offer to buy into an ICO I recommend, in general, not investing. If you decide you really think it is worth investing in, be sure to do your own research and DON’T INVEST MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE!!!!

Closing Thoughts

Earn.com is a fun, free way to make a few extra bucks. It is also a way you can contact individuals (and actually receive responses) that you might not otherwise be able to converse with (e.g. CEOs or blogging personalities). Because your earnings are kept as Bitcoin you also have the opportunity to get into the Bitcoin market at no monetary cost (just a few minutes of your time).

For those who are confused about what Bitcoin is and how it works – don’t worry, I plan on releasing a few articles in the near future on how cryptocurrencies work.

 

  1. [1]You can see my profile at: earn.com/davemackey/referral/?a=aj1r4df6vzgufrio
  2. [2]I don’t recall how long, long enough that I was on it before it was called earn.com
  3. [3]Doing so may result in the loss of said family and friends.
  4. [4]It used to be one could “mine” Bitcoin using one’s computer. These days there are specialized machines mining Bitcoin which make it almost impossible to earn anything significant using one’s own computer.
  5. [5]That is how I hit $120 so quickly….the value of my earnings increased with the increasing price in Bitcoin!

Diigo – Software I Use Every Day

Screenshot of Diigo Highliths

Diigo (a “personal knowledge management tool”) is a browser extension[1] that allows one to collect all sorts of information from across the web in a central repository where it can be easily accessed, shared, annotated, searched, and remembered.

Screenshot of Diigo Highliths
This is a screenshot of some of my Diigo highlights.

I don’t know that I aspire to be a¬†polymath, it is more like I hunger to be one. I consume information¬†in copious amounts and synthesize it together to help me understand the world (and share what I learn). But this presents a great challenge – how can I consume massive amounts of information while not losing what I have learned previously?

The answer is augmentation (along with an acceptance of my finite nature). In the past this might have included a physical filing cabinet, for me it consists of Diigo and a few other primarily digital means.

When one saves a site or article to Diigo, Diigo creates a record associated with that specific page. I then add one or more tags to categorize (create a taxonomy) this record among all my other records.

In addition, if the page includes content I consider to be of important, I highlight it and Diigo saves my highlights as well. It also allows me to add notes to the page. Recently I was reading an article about Thomas Oden and something he said connected with something William Barclay had said, so I added a note about the association.

Sometimes the pages can be summarized in a paragraph or two – in which case I attach a description to the page. I also use the description as a place to remind myself why I cared about this page.

Right now I have 25,361 items in my Diigo. An item is a record which is associated with a specific piece of content (usually a web page). Under many of these items are highlights and notes which help me remember the importance of the content.

I personally pay for their Professional level. It is around $60/yr. ($5/mo.), but I consider it well worth it.

There are some features/enhancements I’d like to see Diigo add in the near future, I’ve outlined my ideas below:

  • Archive.org Integration – Right now Diigo can¬†save a copy of a page if requested, which is great, but I’m wondering if it would make sense for Diigo to integrate with The Wayback Machine and cache every saved page.
  • Implement Hierarchical Taxonomies – Right now tags are a flat taxonomy, that is, no tag is a parent or child to another tag.
  • Separate DB of Trash Links – Right now I tag worthless pages as f-value, so if I come across them again in the future I don’t waste time rereading the material. It would be nice if Diigo maintain a per-user database of trash links and had a small visual reminder when we visited a useless site (e.g., a small trash can on the Diigo button).
  • Acquire / Integrate Zlink’s Better Search Chrome Extension – This nifty little extension lacks transparency about how it handles data, where it is stored, and hasn’t been updated since late 2015, but it offers a number of highly useful features. My favorites are:
    • The ability to vote up or down search results, also to delete search results (thus when one searches for the same term again, one sees customized search results).
    • Customization of search pages with navigation to other sites – e.g., makes it very easy to repeat the same search using another search engine with one click.
  • Expand API – The API currently supports only two methods – retrieve bookmarks and add bookmarks. It needs (at a minimum) the additional abilities of editing and deleting bookmarks.
    • I’d also like to have a way to exclude certain tags / sites from the retrieved bookmarks.
  • Ability to Save Chrome Extension Pages – For whatever reason, Diigo doesn’t seem capable of saving extension pages from Google Chrome’s store of extensions.

 

  1. [1]They also offer mobile apps, but I rarely use.

Setting Up A Development Workstation

What Is This?

I wrote this primarily for myself – sometimes I don’t remember everything I do when setting up a workstation for development purposes…it may be of interest to others.

You’ll note that there are several areas missing from this arena – no build automation, task runners, etc. Maybe I’ll get around to adding them once I settle on some…but in the meantime, this still works for me.

[See bottom of this document for a list of revisions to this document]

Everybody Uses…

Version Control

  • Install¬†Git for Windows¬†for version control, ensure that Windows PATH is selected during the install so that you can use git from the command-line without needing to use Git’s special CLI.
  • I’d recommend also getting yourself a GUI to manage Git. Personally, I prefer that the editor I’m working in provide Git integration, but sometimes this isn’t available – in which case Atlassian’s SourceTree seems to do a good job.

Editor / IDE

IDE stands for Integrated Development Environment. This software offers numerous tools to expedite code development.

Editors on the other hand are much simpler, yet some people prefer them. We’ll look at a few of each of these.

Editors

  • NotePad++ – This is my base editor. The User Interface isn’t amazing, but it works beautifully. Especially awesome when it comes to working with large files.
  • Brackets – An open source project by Adobe, has a number of useful extensions. UI is attractive, I use this one over NotePad++ usually, except for note files (NotePad++ remembers the text you enter even if you don’t save the file) and large files.
  • Visual Studio Code – Another open source option by Microsoft.

IDEs

There are a huge number of options, Wikipedia has a fairly extensive list.

  • JetBrain’s phpStorm – JetBrain makes a number of different IDE’s¬†and unfortunately isn’t the clearest on which IDE one should purchase. phpStorm handles most web-based languages, but lacks a clear emphasis on JavaScript that webStorm has (but which lacks some of the php integration).
    • See Gary Hockin’s Debugging VVV Vagrant Setup with PhpStorm for helpful instructions on integrating one’s VVV setup into PhpStorm for interpreter and xdebug purposes.
      • If you are wondering where your xdebug.so file lives: /usr/lib/php/20151012/xdebug.so
      • And Code Sniffer:
        /usr/local/bin/phpcs
      • And PHPUnit:
        /usr/local/src/composer/vendor/phpunit
      • And Composer:
        /usr/local/src/composer/vendor/
      • And www folders:
        /srv/www/
      • And PHP:
        /usr/bin/php/
  • Microsoft’s Visual Studio¬†–¬†An IDE with a long and venerable history, more recently integrating a number of Xamarin cross-development features into the IDE. The Community Edition is free.
    • WARNING: Depending upon options selected, this installs Hyper-V; if you are running another virtualization technology (Virtual Box) expect to experience BSoD errors. Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience and I am not alone.
    • Supports Visual C++, Visual F#, Python, C#/.NET, Android/iOS.
  • Google’s Android Studio – For the creation of Android apps.

Interacting with Databases

  • You’ll want something that provides a handy way for interacting with databases, in which case I recommend HeidiSQL.
  • If you don’t have a database server currently, you’ll need one. A couple options include MySQL, MariaDB, Microsoft SQL Server, and PostgreSQL.

Virtualization

Image Management

  • You’ll need something to create/edit images with, I recommend paint.net. Despite its connection to a very basic predecessor (Windows Paint), this software can work miracles.
  • JPEGmini – Usually I wouldn’t recommend using lossy means of reducing image data footprint, but JPEGmini manages to offer significant lossy compression without any visible deterioration to the image, unfortunately it only works on jpeg files.
  • FileOptimizer – Offers compression for numerous different file formats in a lossless manner.

File Transfer

  • FileZilla is a good FTP client.
  • However, FTP is a plain-text protocol, so I’d look at using something SSH based like SFTP. In this case I’d recommend WinSCP or built-in functionality in your IDE (phpStorm for example).

Other Tools

  • You’ll also want a copy of ConEmu or another command line interface (CLI). This software is so much better than the default Windows console.
  • A good archive/compression application will make life much easier, and 7-Zip is the perfect application.
  • Hosts File Editor – While it hasn’t been updated since 2011, I find this software extremely handy when I want to make edits to the hosts file. It offers a nice GUI front-end for the hosts file and enables a number of different nifty features not built into the file itself.

Revisions To Document

  • 10/18/16
    • Added location of www pages on Vagrant.
  • ¬†10/16/16
    • Moved VVV under Vagrant.
    • Added link to Louie R.’s article on using Vagrant/VVV.
    • Changed Basics for Developers to Version Control.
    • Added link to VVV Wiki Article about Connecting to MySQL.
    • Added section on database servers.
    • Added link to article on integrating with PhpStorm, location of xdebug.so.
    • Added location of Code Sniffer; PHPUnit, Composer.

jpegMini: One Simple Step to a Faster Website

TLDR;

If you have a website, you should be using jpegMini. It is an amazing tool that decreases the size of (JPEG) image files without decreasing the visual quality of the images.

Why Does the Size of My Image Files Matter?

When someone visits a web page in a browser (ex. Google Chrome or Internet Explorer) the browser downloads all the files associated with that specific page to the local computer. The larger the files, the longer it takes for the download to complete. The web page can’t be fully loaded into the browser until the download is complete.

Most people won’t wait long for a page to load – after a few seconds most will browse to another website that offers the same information faster.

Decreasing the size of your images decreases the amount of data the browser needs to download which makes the page load faster and results in happy people (your viewers).

What Makes jpegMini So Special?

Some of the most popular options for reducing image file size are compressing, resizing, and (automatically) intelligently choosing images. Google has a great article explaining these and other methods of optimizing images.

jpegMini can be used alone or in combination with some or all of the above mentioned options and it will deliver size reduction even after all of the other options are run.

jpegMini uses complex algorithms to reduce the amount of data in the image while maintaining the same visual appearance. Essentially, the algorithms exploit the way our vision works – we don’t see perfectly and thus two similar images can appear identical to us.

Lets take a look at how this works in real life.¬†I downloaded this image of a baby from Pixabay¬†at 1920×1280 pixels. It is 521 KB in size. I run it through jpegMini and the file is now 226 KB – a 55%+ reduction in size! Try comparing the picture I linked to above with the jpegMini optimized file below.[1] Can you tell the difference? I didn’t think so!

Photo of Baby Sitting on Table Optimized by jpegMini

jpegMini is Free / Super Affordable!

You can download jpegMini for free and use it to optimize up to twenty images each day! This is more than enough for most small/medium sites.

If you want to optimize more images on a daily basis or simply express your appreciation for a great product, a license is $20.

There are several other options with jpegMini, most beyond what the average site requires – but these are also reasonably priced.

Do I Have to Be a Super Geek to Use jpegMini?

jpegMini is one of the simplest applications to use ever. Launch the application then drag and drop the file(s) you want optimized onto the application. Wait a few seconds and the files will be optimized and can be uploaded and used just like any other JPEG file on your website.

Conclusion

jpegMini is an awesome application that will help you reduce image size and thus reduce the load time of your website resulting in happy people. The application is easy to use and the price is right – what are you waiting for!

 

  1. [1]This image is smaller than the original image in canvas size. If you click on the image you can see the image at its full size.

Learn To Play The Violin! A Review of Violin Tutor Pro (.com)

Photo of Woman Playing Violin
Photo of Woman Playing Violin
This photo of a young woman playing violin was provided by the generosity of skeeze on pixabay.

I mentioned in my previous post If You’re Hankerin’ To Start Fiddlin’…Or Playin’ Any Stringed Instrument¬†that I stumbled upon a gold mine when searching the internet one day‚Ķthat gold mine is Michael Sanchez and his websites violintutorpro.com and superiorviolins.com. ¬†Superior Violins is the store component of these sister sites and was reviewed in my previous post.¬† Today I would like to introduce you to the educational website, Violin Tutor Pro.¬†¬† Michael Sanchez and Loren Alldrin are co-owners of the Violin Tutor Pro.¬† Together with a talented team of musicians they have constructed a site which makes it possible for anyone with internet access to be able to learn to play the violin at little to no cost.

Their slogan is “your playing is our passion.”¬† When someone is passionate about something the natural inclination is to share your passion with others.¬† These guys are so passionate about playing the violin they work tirelessly coming up with new and innovative ways to teach anyone with a desire to learn.¬† There are many video lessons available on YouTube, from the very beginner lessons starting with how to hold the violin and the bow to advanced lessons involving double stops, single finger scales and lots of advice on developing a beautiful vibrato.¬† The videos are of excellent quality.

There is ¬†a forum¬†section on the website where members (free) can post questions about different topics and receive answers from fellow violinists and/or the staff.¬† Some current topics in the forum are Accessories (discussions about things like rosin, shoulder rests, etc), Adult Learners, Beginner Violin Playing, Advanced Violin Playing, Fiddle Playing, and one of my favorites, Video Feedback.¬† In the Video Feedback section anyone can post a video of themselves playing the violin.¬† ¬†It’s really fun to hear other people play.¬† The staff and other students (some with years of experience playing) will give feedback and tips for improvement.

Just between the YouTube videos and the forum there is a ton of free information that can help you with the violin and fiddle, whether you are just beginning or have been playing for years.

As most of us know private lessons can be very expensive.¬†¬† For the nominal cost of $9 a month Michael is now offering access to structured lessons.¬† Check out the lessons membership page here.¬†¬† You receive organized lessons to help you along each step of the way, guiding you just as a real-life teacher would in what to practice next.¬† You have access to music that can be downloaded for free – this is a huge savings!¬† If you want to take it a step further there are Skype lessons available with teachers from around the world.¬† I took a Skype lesson with Michael a few years back.¬† I’m not very comfortable using Skype, even when talking with my own children when they are out of state or out of the country‚ĶI’m just a bit older and have found it takes some getting used to. ¬†But it really is a remarkable tool.¬† Michael was able to immediately notice things about my bow hold that needed to be improved.¬† He gave me his full attention for the 30 minutes of my lesson and his feedback was very helpful.

So, just as I highly recommend superiorviolins.com if you are in need of a stringed instrument or accessories, I also highly recommend violintutorpro.com if you or your child are looking to begin or continue to master the violin.

 

Conspiracies, Mysteries, Secret Societies – Ohh My!

As a child I somehow acquired several books along the lines of Reader’s Digest’s Unsolved Mysteries of the Past¬†and I always loved these sorts of books – learning about all the things that we can’t quite explain or understand. More recently I read (and reviewed) Man, Myth, & Magic (Vol. 1).

mystery box

More recently I picked up Brad and Sherry Steiger’s Conspiracies and Secret Societies. This volume was an enjoyable read, unfortunately, it lacked the more detailed methodology I prefer when reading these sort of books.

Namely, there is a bibliography at the end of the work but no notes on which articles utilized which bibliographic resources – and the bibliographic resources are quite varied in quality. Additionally, while the Steiger’s indicate they are taking a neutral voice, they oftentimes state things as if they were true and it is unclear whether they are pronouncing known facts or simply explaining the position of those who believe in x conspiracy.

All said, I can’t recommend the book as a reliable reference work, but it does provide a nifty jumping off point to learn about various conspiracies. Just keep in mind that what you read may be fanciful imaginings.

What I really wanted to share in this post is my list of interesting topics from the work – the things I’ve found interesting or would like to research further in the future (this is something I do recreationally). The reasons I am interested in various topics varies just as much as the topics – sometimes I think the idea is plausible while at other times I find the idea so implausible I want to know more about those who dreamed up such and such. Others seem far-fetched but are interesting enough for further exploration…

Topic Note
AIDS/HIV Origins of the disease.
Airship of 1897 What was it? Mass delusion?
Alchemy Predecessor to chemistry, attempted to turn base metals into gold.
Alien Abductions
Al-Qaeda Origins, relationships.
Alternative 3 Was there a 1960’s secret space program that sent a group of our brightest to colonize the moon?
American Protective Association Tried to keep Roman Catholics out of political office.
Anarchists On the Steiners’ list: William Godwin, Max Stirner, Henry David Thoreau, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Noam Chomsky.
Anthrosophy Founded by Rudolf Steiner.
Apocalyptic Millennialism Variety and history of beliefs about the end times.
Army of God Anti-Abortionist Terrorists.
Aum Shinrikyo Means “Supreme Truth” – a relatively recent (1987) cult responsible for terrorism¬†in Japan.
B-25 Ghost Bomber Where did this bomber disappear to after crashing into a river?
Dr. Fred Bell Died after being on Jesse Ventura’s conspiracy show, invented the “X-1 Healing Machine”, etc.

Okay that is enough for one day…I’ll add some more of the topics I found interesting another time.

Meeting in the Middle.

While Sheila and I were dating we lived fairly far apart. I found a really nifty site that helped with this dilemma – its called MeetWays.

All one does is enter the starting address for both parties and then the type of meeting place you are looking for – e.g., a restaurant, library, movie theater, or park.

MeetWays then finds options for you that are close to equidistant between the two addresses.

Meetways Results Screenshot

Dear Spotify

Image of Various Spotify Apps

I’ve been using Spotify for 2+ years now, it deserves a longevity award. It also deserves some sort of honor for being one of the few subscription services I dole out for on a monthly basis[1] – placing it alongside Netflix – and everybody has Netflix.Spotify Client Apps

In spite of a number of other options, including from mega companies like Google and Amazon, I still prefer Spotify. It is entirely free if you don’t mind the ads and the premium account is $5/mo $10/mo.

That said, I do have a few things I’d love for Spotify to incorporate:

  1. Tagging – Playlists are cool, they are like categories, but everyone knows that you need categories and tags (ala WordPress). I like creating playlists – but what if I want to listen to a song on a specific subject? Or what if the song is on multiple subjects? Yes, I can create multiple playlists – but this quickly becomes cumbersome.
  2. Listens – It would be great if Spotify displayed how many times one has listened to a song. I am an explorer – always trying out new bands, new albums – and oftentimes forgetting who I’ve listened to previously and which songs. If I could see how many times I’ve listened to the song it would allow me to more efficiently explore.
  3. Searching Artists, Songs, Albums¬†– I’ve listened to a lot of artists and this list of artists (or songs or albums) can become overwhelming. Sometimes I know I want to listen to an artist that begins with some letter or word, but I can’t remember its name in its entirety, it would be great if I could search only what is in “Your Music.”
  4. Language / Topic Filters – I know that Spotify includes “explicit content” warnings on songs, but I’ve listened to far too many songs that had “explicit content” and weren’t marked as such. This becomes important when (a) one is playing the music in the presence of others who might find the content offensive, (b) one finds it offensive, or (c) one is allowing Spotify to post to one’s Facebook timeline and has an audience that includes individuals of young(er) age for whom such content might be inappropriate.
  5. Shazam Functionality¬†– If I am listening to the radio in the car I still have to use Shazam to find out and save what song I’m listening to. Adding this functionality into Spotify’s mobile app would be huge…especially since Shazam now makes me integrate with Rdio.

Which of these features? Or what other features would you like to see in Spotify?

  1. [1]I no longer pay fro a subscription. I am happy with the ad-supported version. Sure, its a little annoying, but I don’t listen to music enough these days to make a full account worthwhile.

When is Good: Taking the Stress Out of Scheduling

Once upon a long time ago[1] I thought about[2] writing a review of Doodle, an online scheduling tool for simplifying the process of creating meets in which all participants can actually participate.

Recently I had the need to schedule another meeting with a group of individuals who have incredibly conflicting and variable schedules, so I decided to utilize such a scheduling tool again…and, of course, I went to Doodle first…

But I love to explore and curate and find the best way to do x and so I went through my semi-regular routine when evaluating something new I want to utilize[3]:

  1. Google relevant terms like “Doodle competitor,” “Doodle alternative,” “online scheduling tool,” “online meeting app,” and so on.
  2. Go to AlternativeTo and see what alternatives they had to Doodle.
  3. Visit a bunch of these options and review them in a hasty manner.[4]

I visited a number of options like Dudle, DO’ZZ, SelectTheDate, ScheduleOnce, and so on. For various reasons I didn’t settle on any of these…but then I returned to one of the sites I’d written off for aesthetic reasons (it ain’t very pretty): WhenIsGood. After playing around with it a bit I was quite happy and have been using it since.

Let me walk you through its pages and you’ll see how simple and fairly intuitive it is. First we have our dashboard (“your account”).

When is Good Dashboard Screenshot
When is Good Dashboard Screenshot

Its very simply – essentially you see a list of events you have created and you can view, edit, or delete the events. I assume that detach allows one to remove the event from your account (you can use this service w/out creating an account).

Somewhat hidden at the top right you see a link to create a new event. The enter results code is for those who create events w/out accounts – its a unique string that identifies their event and allows them to access it.

I’ve blacked out a few small areas – mainly b/c they had my email address…which is floating around the internet, but I decided not to make any more available than it already is. There are a billion and one ways to get in contact w/me.

Under the events I blacked out the actual links to the events, they are clickable and allow you to view the event.

Now lets say we decide to create a new event, here is what we will see:

When Is Good New Event Screenshot.
When Is Good New Event Screenshot.

It isn’t the most intuitive interface, but if you mess around for five minutes you can figure it out. Note that you can set the length of the meeting, give the event a name like, “My Super Awesome Surprise Birthday Party For Myself.” There is that strange little slider bar above the calendar, use this to make the size of the calendar (not how many days, just its dimensions on the screen) larger or smaller.

But there are really a few more options we need if we are going to create a helpful scheduling event, so we click on Show Options which shows us this:

When Is Good Show Options Screenshot
When Is Good Show Options Screenshot

That is better. Now we can select the days we want to have displayed on our calendar. In my case I was scheduling a recurring event, which When Is Good doesn’t seem to inherently have any options for, so I just chose a week in the future and let people pick off those days, knowing that the event would then recur on a weekly basis.

Now click Create Event and you are all set….Right? Nope. You’ll get an error message, you need to “paint” some time slots. You are the first visitor to your event even before it is created and you get to determine what days/times will even be an option to folks when they view the event. Once you’ve selected your desired days/times you can successfully create the event. You’ll be given a unique URL you can share with anyone else via ¬†any method you choose (email, Facebook, Twitter, hand-written note, whatever). When someone visits this unique URL they will see this:

When Is Good Visitors Screenshot
When Is Good Visitors Screenshot

We could have customized the directions, as to me “painting” times is not very intuitive, I’d suggest something like, “Please click on each day/time slot you are available to attend.”

The individual wouldn’t see all the options I have at the top right, since in this screenshot I’m logged into my account, but at the bottom right they’d have a spot to enter their name and email and send the response.

Now we get to our last screen, the results screen:

When Is Good Results Screenshot
When Is Good Results Screenshot

Now I see the calendar I created with info. filled out by the individuals I invited to the event. The green highlighted spaces are the slots where all respondents are available (I told you, crazy schedules).

Next to each of the remaining time slots are little dots, the dots indicate how many individuals cannot attend at that day/time. If I put my mouse over a time slot it will show me who can/can’t come and if I put my mouse over a name (under responses on the left-hand side) it will show me all the slots they selected as available highlighted in green.

As you can see, it is a functional although not aesthetically pleasing tool. It isn’t entirely intuitive, but its simplicity makes it easiest enough to figure out with a few minutes stumbling around.

Why Not Doodle?

I decided not to use Doodle b/c of the pricing essentially. If you are a business or an organization that will frequently utilize online scheduling – go with Doodle, it has more features, the pricing is reasonable, and it is more aesthetically pleasing…but if this is just an occasional thing, When Is Good will do just fine.

Feedback for When Is Good

Here are a few unsolicited suggestions to the folks over at When Is Good to take their application to the next level:

  • Include dates on your What’s New page so we can tell if you have been working on the app recently.
  • Redesign the aesthetic layout, center the main screen elements, make new event stand out from the rest of the menu options.

Premium with When Is Good

When is Good does offer a premium version at $20/yr. which is around half of Doodle’s lowest paid plan. It adds a few more options, but nearly as many as Doodle. If I was you and willing to pay, I’d go with Doodle.

  1. [1]Okay…more like a few months or years.
  2. [2]But did not actually.
  3. [3]This isn’t normal for items I’ll be using once-off, but I plan on using the scheduling tool more frequently, and imho, it is a lot easier to get people using the tool you want from the get-go than to change to something new half-way…since it oftentimes takes dragging kicking and screaming individuals long distances to get them to use any such tool in the first place.
  4. [4]If I spent a decent amount of time on each site I’d spend my entire life reviewing these sorts of sites…which I don’t have time for…this means, that on occasion, I don’t always, always get the best tool…b/c a tool that I write-off early ends up being the best…Still, I like to think I usually find the best and almost always find a tool that is more than sufficient for my needs.