The following is a list of online tools, most of which are free, that we found enhance our ability to get critical messages out and keep us connected to the public we serve. Often we find ourselves limited by budgets or staff, but these tools help you navigate around those obstacles. For most, they’re also fun to use. So take a look and play with them – what could it hurt? Oh, and if there’s something you think is particularly useful that you think I should list, comment below!
- Gmail – They offer 7 GB of free storage (more than anyone will ever need), the Google search engine built in to help find emails; you can access it anywhere you can get on the internet – including a great mobile interface for your cell phone and, most importantly, the best spam filtering I’ve seen.
RSS News Readers & Tracking
- Google Alerts – Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. You can monitoring a developing news story; keeping current on another agency or industry; getting the latest on a celebrity or event.
- Google Reader – Google Reader constantly checks your favorite news sites and blogs for new content. You can use Google Reader’s built-in public page to easily share interesting items with your friends and co-workers. It’s totally free and works in most modern browsers, without any software to install.
Document Creation, Collaboration & Distribution
- Google Docs – Here you can make use of a rather robust WYSIWYG visual editor to prepare documents that are shareable in either view or edit levels with whoever needs to have access. With the recent addition of a shared folders feature, it’s even easier to manage collaboration and access among one or several sets of team members.
- Wikispaces.com – Wiki software allows multiple users to collaborate on interlinked web documents relatively easily using a WYSIWYG editor or a lightweight markup language. The most famous example is Wikipedia.com a user-editable knowledge base that has quickly grown into the world’s largest encyclopedia since its founding in 2001.
Social Media Monitoring
- Addictomatic.com – This tool is a consolidated page with search matches across blogs, Twitter, Digg, Flickr and more. Featuring an appealing interface and one-page dashboard, Addict-o-matic is one of the best free tools available for summarizing all your “buzz” in one place.
- socialmention.com – Real-time social media search and analysis. Allows “Social Media Alerts” – Like Google Alerts but for social media.
- TweetGrid.com – A Twitter Search Dashboard that allows you to search for up to 9 different topics, events, converstations, hashtags, phrases, people, groups, etc in real-time. As new tweets are created, they are automatically updated in the grid. No need to refresh the page. You do not need a Twitter account to use this.
- TwitPicGrid.com – auto-updating TwitPics
- Twitterfall.com – Twitterfall is a Twitter client specialising in real-time tweet searches. New tweets fall into the page.
- Hootsuite.com – HootSuite is a popular tool that can be used to manage multiple accounts across Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, Foursquare and LinkedIn. Although HootSuite could be categorized as an account management tool rather than a monitoring tool, I believe it deserves mention here because of its large user base and powerful functionality.
Photo Sharing & Display
- Flickr.com – is probably the most common & popular (used by California OES, LAFD, etc.)
- Picasa – Picasa is free photo editing software from Google that allows you to edit your pictures.
Sharing your best photos with friends and family is as easy as pressing a button. Drawback is that you have to install their application.
- Blogger – This is Google’s free blogging platform, and quite a popular one. Creating your blog with Blogger takes just a few easy steps. In a matter of minutes you can start posting text, photos, videos, and more to your blog. Post as often as you want; it’s free.
- WordPress – You’ll get your own WordPress.com address (like you.wordpress.com), a selection of great free and customizable designs for your blog and 3 gigabytes of file storage (that’s about 2,500 pictures). You can blog as much as you want for free, your blog can be public to the world or private for just your friends.
- Typepad – Same features as above services, however this one costs you money. The advantage is that there is no advertising on your blog. The basic package is about $50 a year, the “Pro” package is about $150 a year. I, honestly, don’t think it makes much sense to pay when there’s great free blogging sites available.
Geographic Mapping Resources
- Google Maps – While many people are familiar with Google Maps for finding directions, users can also easily create custom Google Maps when they need to supply information to the public.
- Google Earth – An expanded version of Google Maps that allows for infinite customization. Fly to any place around the world. See 3D buildings, imagery, and terrain. Customize with editing tools to draw shapes, add text, change view/perspective and integrate live feeds of information such as earthquakes as they happen, etc.
Video Hosting and Sharing
- YouTube.com – It’s Google’s and it’s the most popular place to find video online. Now allows for multiple file format uploads (HD, SD, 720p, 1080, etc). Is probably the best place to park your videos and then embed them back into your website or share them via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Vimeo.com – Allows for HD video content downloading. Might be useful for “pool” footage or releasing your own video to the media so they can use it in the highest resolution (similar to handing them a videotape).
- Blip.tv – This free video hosting service is where I host my videos. It takes care of all the problems a videoblogger, podcaster or Internet TV producer tends to run into. They take care of the servers, the software, the workflow, the advertising and the distribution. All you have to do is focus on creativity.
- Ustream.tv – LIVE video broadcasting for free. All you need is a webcam and an internet connection. LAFD and other agencies are using this to send out live news conferences, events, etc.
- Justin.tv – Another LIVE video broadcasting resource.
- Stickam – A free service that allows you to stream live video over the internet. There is nothing to download and Stickam is 100% free. You can add your player to any of your personal sites and can broadcast your live feed without worrying about using up your own bandwidth resources.
Communications & Conference Calling
- Google Voice – With GoogleVoice (previously called GrandCentral), you can be reached with a single number, answer a call at any phone you want, seamlessly switch phones in the middle of a call, and even know whether a call is important before you take it. They give you a free telephone number. You can conference up to four callers together. Google Voice works with mobile phones, desk phones, work phones, and VoIP lines. There’s nothing to download, upload, or install, and you don’t have to make or take calls using a computer.
- Facebook – Quickly becoming the number one social media website in America, Facebook allows you to connect to family, friends, and colleagues. If you’re interested in creating your own Facebook Fan Page for your organization click here.
- Twitter – Can you communicate messages in 140 characters or less? Millions of Twitter users can and do every single day throughout the world. Twitter allows individuals to easily communicate and share ideas with anyone who chooses to join their network.
- Ning – Interested in creating your own social network for a particular topic, issue, or group of individuals? Ning is the social networking site for you. If you can click and type with in minutes you can create your own Ning social network.
Audio & Podcasting
- Gabcast – A podcasting and audioblogging platform that offers an easy way to create and distribute audio content.
- Phonecasting.com – Your own audio broadcast, where you can easily record voice messages, mix in your favorite music, and share it all for the world to hear. “So easy your grandma could do it.”
- BlogTalkRadio – Using an ordinary telephone and computer hosts can create free, live, call-in talk shows with unlimited participants that are automatically archived and made available as podcasts.
- Audacity – Audacity is free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems.