Free services alert you when your website goes down [I just Googled]

What I Googled: free website outage alert system

Why I Googled it: I tried to visit my website (this one) to write a new post when I realized I couldn’t access the site (admin or otherwise). I then checked the other two domains I host, both of which were also unavailable. I checked downforeveryoneorjustme to confirm that it was truly down (which it was).

After I submitted a ticket to my web host, I realized that as a responsible website admin, I should have a way to know if the site is experiencing issues before my visitors find out.

What I found out: There are several services that will monitor a domain for free and alert you if the site becomes unavailable. I found the following:

  • Basic State (http://basicstate.com). Free account includes 10 “credits” for domain monitoring. Each domain you set up uses 2 credits for 15-minute incremental monitoring with email alerts. Other features, like SMS and more frequent check intervals, also require credits.
  • Pingability (https://pingability.com). Free account includes monitoring for a single domain for a total of 750 checks (quick math: 24 hourly checks for 31 days equals 744 checks). Email alerts only.
  • Pingdom (http://www.pingdom.com).
  • Site Down Alert (http://www.sitedownalert.com). Free account includes monitoring for a single domain every 30 or 60 minutes with email alerts.

The takeaway: I decided to try Basic State first since the service offers the most flexibility for free.

One thing to keep in mind if you choose to use a domain monitoring service: be sure to use an email that isn’t tied to your website. When I first configured my services, I used the email address associated with my website. Which means, in the event the site goes down, no mail will get through either. Whoops. I quickly realized my mistake and changed the alerting email address to my Gmail account.

Use Feedfliks for advanced Netflix account management

If you’re not a Netflix subscriber, you either don’t watch movies or you enjoy endlessly browsing the local movie rental place for DVDs (that ultimately aren’t available) and racing the clock to return it before late fees start to accrue. For the rest of us, the mail-order and streaming movie service has risen to become a staple of media consumption.

Yet, despite an impressive DVD collection, an improving streaming catalog available from TiVo DVRs, many Blu-ray players, and iOS devices, the options for managing your media queue are underwhelming.

Enter Feedfliks, a companion site that fills in nearly all of the gaps of account management. Offering a full-featured free account option as well as a paid premium account option, Feedfliks gives you a data-rick peek into your account as well as email alerts.

Your dashboard lets you see if you’re getting the most out of your account. This can help you decide to go with a cheaper account (2 versus 3 discs out at a time, for example) or encourage you to return your DVDs more quickly.

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Connect Twitter to Socialcast [how to]

Yammer and Socialcast are two services that provide Twitter-like capabilities based on corporate email addresses. The idea is that you can communicate in short messages that are accessible only to individuals within your organization. Using groups, you can reproduce your organization’s workforce structure and augment communication methods like email, phone, and chat.

The advantage to these services is that colleagues within an organization can converse asynchronously and share ideas that, if shared publicly on Twitter, could result in a loss of intellectual capital or business opportunities.

I currently use various hashtags to repost from Twitter to Facebook (#fb), LinkedIn (#in), and Yammer (#yam). In this way, I can post to multiple platforms, depending on which circles I want to share content. I haven’t determined the appreciable differences between the two platforms, but to adequately test Socialcast, I needed to find a way to connect my Twitter account.

I was surprised not to find instructions on the Socialtext site. It took a bit of searching, but I came upon a post on getsatisfaction which provided some bare-bones instructions. Based on those instructions, I created this detailed tutorial.

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Is anybody reading this? Tweak your WordPress home page to get better traffic data. [Part 2 of 2]

This is part two of a two-part series on improving WordPress blog traffic statistics. In Part 1 I explained how to set the RSS feed settings to drive users from an RSS reader to your site. In Part 2, I explain how to use the “more” tag in WordPress to drive users from your home page to the specific post.

Many WordPress blogs are set up to show a few to dozens of full posts on the blog’s home page.  This seemingly makes it easier for readers to read the last several posts without adding another “click” to dig deeper into the site.

But if a user scans through the posts, reading some and ignoring others, there is no way to indicate which posts he found useful. By tweaking your WordPress home page, you can dramatically improve your website traffic statistics.

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Is anybody reading this? Tweak WordPress RSS settings to get better traffic data. [Part 1 of 2]

This is part one of a two-part series on improving WordPress blog traffic statistics.

If you blog for any reason beyond self-reflection (i.e., talking to yourself), you’re probably interested in how many readers you get. You may be a professional blogger looking to gather data to garner sponsors or advertisers or you may blog on a social enterprise platform and are looking to “demonstrate an ROI” for your blogging efforts (these are the folks I work with). Either way, one simple tweak of the WordPress subscription (RSS) settings can dramatically improve your website traffic statistics.

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Improve Firefox’s spell check feature

One of my favorite features in Firefox is the built-in spell checker. Two recent tips I learned are worth noting to improve the power of this feature.

Change the way misspelled words appear.

The default red squiggly underline for misspelled words is often too subtle for me. So I really like this tip, courtesy of downloadsquad. To change the indicator to something more obvious like a solid double-underline or

  1. Type about:config in the Firefox address bar. If it pops up an alert, tell it that you know what you’re doing and proceed.
  2. Search for ui.SpellCheckerUnderlineStyle. If you find anything, skip to step 4. If your system is like mine, you found nothing. That means you have to add this configuration value. Right-click any where in the whitespace of the window and select New > Integer.
  3. Enter ui.SpellCheckerUnderlineStyle to create a setting by this name.
  4. Set the value of this setting to one of several options: 0 for no highlighting, 1 for a dotted line, 2 for long dots, 3 for a single straight line, 4 for a double underline, and 5 for a squiggly line (the default).

This setting doesn’t require restarting Firefox. It’s effective immediately, so open another tab and test each style to see what looks best.

Remove mistakenly added words from the Firefox dictionary.

I frequently customize the Firefox dictionary by adding new words that I know are spelled correctly but aren’t in the default word list. This is as easy as right-clicking on a word flagged as misspelled and choosing “Add to Dictionary.” Unfortunately, sometimes I do this too quickly and add a word I shouldn’t have. Thankfully, Lifehacker published instructions on how to remove misspelled words from your Firefox dictionary:

  1. Open your application data folder. On XP or Vista, go to your Start menu and hit Run (or just press Windows-R) and paste in %APPDATA%MozillaFirefoxProfiles; on your Mac, navigate to ~/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles.
  2. Find your profile folder, which by default should look something like something.default.
  3. Inside your profile folder, find the file called persdict.dat and open it up in a text editor.
  4. Find the misspelling, delete it, and save the file.

The Reality of Social Networking [make sure your kids see this video]

I’m one of the last people to raise the paranoia flag, but as a social networking enthusiast and social software trainer, I have a certain obligation to investigate the privacy issues around such web sites. Recently, I’ve been talking with folks, reading, and thinking a lot about privacy.According to a colleague (and a character in the latest episode of House), privacy as we define it today is “a recent invention that started with urbanization.” In other words, when we all lived in small communities, personal and family privacy was impossible; everyone knew everything about everybody else.

Now, we can go from our house to the garage to our car to the garage at work to our cubicle…and reverse that in the evening. Hence, the “expectation of privacy” most people have come to demand. With the advent of social networking web sites, blogs, Twitter, and the rest of the read-write web, we have seen this model challenged, however. Technology has enabled us to broadcast aspects of our lives in myriad ways.

I think social networking sites offer the potential for everyone to maintain and develop relationships they would not have been able to before. But I also have four kids who will only know an internetworked world and “Internet of Things” (hey, I encourage all of the kids to play with my iPod Touch and get on the Web…under supervision, of course).

But allowing children – or, in many cases, parents and grandparents – free reign on these sites without helping them understand the implications of their action is irresponsible.

Leave me a comment after you watch the video about how you protect yourself and your friends and family online. And you may want to revisit your Facebook privacy settings just in case…

Cleaning up your Friends and Fans in Facebook [tutorial]

In a previous post I detailed how to go about setting your Facebook privacy settings. A question I received from someone who went through that post was “How do I quickly view and edit the people I’ve friended and pages I’ve become a fan of?”

That leads us to today’s post: How to quickly unfriend people and unfan pages in Facebook.

The truth is that Facebook hides this (intentionally or not) very helpful function. To access your list of Friends and Pages, select the Edit Friends option in your Account drop-down menu in the upper right:

Next, select either Friends or Pages under the “Lists” heading on the left navigation menu (for this tutorial, I chose Pages, though the page listing your Friends works the same way):

Finally, to delete the page, simply click the X. You can also add the page to a list of individuals you’d like to be able to know that you’re a fan of that page. (Note: I tried this and it didn’t seem to work. Hence why I’m not devoting more attention to it here.)

I mentioned lists/groups in my previous post and I’d be willing to expand on this idea if someone asks…

Happy Facebooking! Let me know in the comments if this helps!

Firefox 3.5 Cheat Sheet [tech help]

As a social software trainer, I am always on the prowl for free resources that I can use in the classroom. Recently, I began to teach a short class on how to get the most out of the Firefox web browser. I scoured the web looking for a cheat sheet that I could hand out to my class participants, but the ones I found were either poorly formatted visually (in my opinion), out of date, or contained more information than I felt a “cheat sheet” should.

So I decided to create my own! I included functions I felt were essential for most users, grouped similar functions, and made it as visually appealing as I could using PowerPoint 😉

Download the PDF and let me know what you think!

Find your liked items in Google Reader

I use Google Readera lot – and recently I’ve found that I’m taking greater advantage of the “like” and “share” functions. As I understand it, like is basically a “thumbs up,” whereas share lists that post in the Reader accounts of those following you. Cool.

But I realized today that I had no idea how to retrieve the items I had liked or shared. After some Googling, I found the answer that I share with you now…

Expand your All items

Click “Your stuff”

When you click Your stuff, you’ll see the following show up in the main panel:

If you click the “You liked ## items” link, it will reveal all of the posts you marked as liked.

Share anything

While it’s not exactly relevant to this topic, you should also note the “Note in Reader” bookmarklet that you can add to your browser’s bookmark toolbar. When clicked, this will allow you to share any web page via Google Reader – for example, with your network of followers (in Google Reader) or using third-party applications and plugins (like the one I use on this site to republish my shared items).