Top 5: Invaluable Web Tools for Bloggers and Online Journalists

[Image: Zoomzum]

[Image: Zoomzum]

Web tools are essential for bloggers and online journalists, whether for generating traffic, sharing articles or enhancing your skills. There are numerous free tools on the web that are invaluable for these writers in order to make their posts, and websites, the best they can possibly be. Here are my picks of the best of these web tools:

Google Trends

Sometimes it can be so difficult to decide what is newsworthy enough to be written about. Whilst I’m a firm believer that as long as you are writing about something that interests you it will be worth it, publishers don’t always think in the same way.

Google Trends allows the user to not only see the “Hot Searches” in their country of choice; it allows them to see the most searched terms on any subject of their choice. This is a great way of seeing what subjects are of interest, and will potentially bring traffic to your website, and what trends people are interested in at the moment.

Google Alerts

This goes hand in hand with Google Trends but is of more use to the a subject-focused journalist. For example I have alerts set for Film, Literature, Music and Television as they are the subjects I enjoy writing about most.

You can set alerts to be emailed to you however frequently you want (with broader topics like mine I would suggest getting updates less frequently).

With Google Alerts, the best articles of your subject of choice are sent directly to your inbox so you are kept up to date with trends and interests.

Dropbox

I tend to work using numerous devices, so it can be really frustrating keeping track of a master document. I’ve had bad experiences using USBs in the past and as I frequently use my tablet for editing, the Dropbox app is a great find.

Dropbox is user friendly and simple to use. It creates a folder to save documents in on the computer, which is then synced to the tablet’s app. When using a different computer, documents can be accessed by logging in online, making work accessible whenever and wherever needed.

Bitly

Sharing posts is a great way to drive traffic to your blog, especially when you can use social networking websites, like Twitter, to reach like-minded people. However, with a limited amount of characters to use, it is often essential to shorten URLs in order to be able to say everything that needs to be said.

Bitly not only shorterns URLs, it allows you to organise URLs into bundles to save, and share, all over the web. Once links have been shared, you can go back onto bitly and get their stats– when they were clicked, the location of the viewer and the referrer of the link.

Codecademy

Whilst many blog hosts don’t require knowledge of HTML and CSS, it’s still a great skill to have as an online writer. Codecademy offers simple lessons on Web Fundamentals (as well as many other programming topics) in an easy to do format.

Instructions are relatively straightforward, with hints available when needed. The layout of the website is great, you enter the code you’ve learned into the box on the left and it appears in a result tab next to it.

As well as teaching the fundamentals of coding, it offers productive tutorials that can be applied straight to the user’s personal website, such as the design of a button.

 

Whilst these may not suit all writers, I’ve certainly found them to be useful. Are there any tools you would suggest for an online journalist or blogger?

World Book Day: My Most Memorable Books

Today is the annual event made for avid readers like myself – World Book Day. It is the biggest celebration of books and reading in the UK and Ireland and whilst when I was younger it was an occasion to dress as my favourite fictional character, it has since become a time when readers recommend new books to read via social media.

In celebration of World Book Day, I have decided to look back on the most memorable books that I have read throughout my life:

Harry Potter and the Philosophers StoneHarry Potter

I would think the Harry Potter series would appear on most “life in books” lists. The series is so timeless that it can be read over and over again (in fact I’m half way through re-reading the books again now). Whilst J. K. Rowling may not have the most sophisticated style of writing, she created a world that is loved by children and adults alike.

The characters are all unique, intriguing and relateable and as a child I wanted so much for Hogwarts to be real. The best thing about the series though is that it doesn’t shy from more negative themes that children need to learn about – loss, neglect and danger.

 

A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange

I originally read Anthony Burgess’ classic ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for my A-Level English Literature coursework and immediately loved it. It was the book that introduced me to dystopian novels and I loved the fact that the themes of the novel were prevalent in modern culture.

When I discovered that the characters all used their own language in the book, I initially thought I would struggle to follow the narrative but I found it easy, perhaps due to the influx of modern day slang terms.

The best element of the novel though, in my opinion, has to be the main character, Alex. You want to hate him, he commits vile crimes and is extremely narcissistic but he is the definition of an anti-hero because in the end you actually root for him to turn his life around.

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ is another one of my favourite dystopian novels. It is set at a fictional boarding school in East Sussex where children are raised being taught the importance of being fit and healthy. It is revealed that the children are clones being raised to provide organs for “normals”.

The novel follows friends Ruth, Tommy and Kathy throughout their childhood at the boarding school, as they move to the “Cottages” a residential complex for young adults and eventually, when Ruth and Tommy become ‘donors’ and Kathy becomes a ‘carer’, looking after those who donate.

The narrative is completely captivating and emotionally heartwrenching. The book has a film adaptation, directed by Mark Romanek, which is extremely faithful to the novel.

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels has become my new favourite book series. Again, set in a dystopian future the narrative follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen from Panem, a post-apocalyptic version of North America. Each year, one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts of Panem are selected at random to compete in the The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is a televised event in which the selected participants are sent to fight to the death in an arena all in the name of entertainment for the rich that live in the Capitol. After her sister Prim is selected at random, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the event.

Collins’ writing style is absolutely fantastic and she keeps you captivated on every page. The novel is carefully written in the way that there is a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter and you just want to continue reading.

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky’s ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is the last novel I read that made me feel emotionally vulnerable. The epistolary style of writing puts you straight into the mind of the main character, Charlie. By writing in first-person in a series of letters, Charlie is honest and doesn’t hold back. He is extremely easy to empathise with and you end up putting yourself in his state of mind.

This novel also has a faithful film adaptation, with the script adapted by Chbosky. I’ve already written about an article about both the book and the film on this website already. Check it out here – Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower – From Page to Screen.

So there are my favourite books – are any of them your favourites? Which books would be on your lists?

The Best of ‘Gavin and Stacey’

Gavin and Stacey

L-R: Rob Brydon, Melanie Walters, Ruth Jones, Joanna Page, Mathew Horne, James Corden, Alison Steadman and Larry Lamb

Be warned, this post contains spoilers from the show ‘Gavin and Stacey’

Gavin and Stacey was a huge hit when it started back in 2007 and marked a new era in UK comedy. The show, written by James Corden and Ruth Jones, was critically acclaimed and a commercial success.

The show told the story of the romance between Gavin (Mathew Horne), from Billericay, Essex and Stacey (Joanna Page), from Barry, Wales. It follows key moments in their relationship, from their first meeting to getting married and starting a family.

Their relationship is heavily contrasted to their best friends Smithy (James Corden) and Nessa (Ruth Jones) who end up having  a child together, despite hating each other.

Other characters include Gavin’s mum, Pam (Alison Steadman) and dad, Mick (Larry Lamb), Stacey’s mum, Gwen (Melanie Walters) and Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon).

With the recent announcement that the show was to be remade for American television, re-titled Friends and Family, I couldn’t resist looking back at some of the best moments of the series.

Gavin meets Gwen and Bryn for the first time

After a miscommunication with Stacey, Gavin travels down to Wales to make things right. He is met by Gwen and Bryn who assume he is a Jehovah’s Witness and don’t let him get a word in edgeways.

 

Smithy’s Best Man Speech

Smithy spends the majority of the episode telling anyone who will listen he’s written an amazing speech. Having heard Gavin’s emotional declaration of love to Stacey, Smithy is too overwhelmed to talk. The speech is featured in the book From Barry to Billericay… and it is indeed a corker.

 

Mick’s going to be on the telly!

The gang are all excited because Mick is going to appear on the news. They are all cheering for the new “local celebrity”, despite the fact it is because he found a dead body. Bryn even describes the moment as the best day of his life… until the report comes around and Mick is only seen saying “well it’s the last thing you expect to find when you come into work in the morning”.

Mick Gavin and Stacey

 

The Barn Dance

Bryn decides to organise a Barn Dance for Gwen’s birthday and invites all of the gang along. He is surprised to find Gwen doesn’t have that many friends and ends up inviting people he knows she doesn’t even like. Bryn and Nessa put on a surprise performance of Islands in the Stream before being interrupted by Stacey’s brother Jason, who has a strained relationship with Bryn due to an undisclosed event that took place at a fishing trip.

 

Oh Doris, Where’s the Salad?

Gwen’s next door neighbour Doris was an absolute scene stealer. She had many standout moments, from flirting with Gavin, taking home toyboys (including Noel from Hearsay) and singing along to The Smiths. Her best, and arguably most iconic moment came in series 3, when she was tasked with making a salad for baby Neil’s christening party.

 

The House of Fun

The gang have a drunken night at Pam and Mick’s house which is just hilarious. There are so many things that make this clip amazing – Dawn falling over, Pete’s general drunkenness, Smithy’s reaction to Pam smoking, Mick coughing and Gavin then imitating him, Pam suggesting shots, the conga line and Nessa and Mick swapping tops. It almost makes you want to get drunk with your parents…

 

Pete and Dawn renew their Wedding Vows

Pete and Dawn decide to use song lyrics as their vows – they decide to recite Coldplay’s Fix You and Michael Jackson’s Ben. Pete is having trouble reciting the lyrics without elongating them as if he was singing the song and Smithy takes his job of giving Dawn away a little too seriously. If you can find them, the outtakes from this scene are hilarious.

 

Nessa’s Wedding

As you can probably guess, Nessa’s wedding day was as far from traditional as you could imagine. There was no white dress, she wore the boots she wears everyday and she traveled to the church with Stacey in a trailer attached to her dad’s car. The episode saw cameos from Noel from Hearsay and John Prescott, who had previously been alluded to being one of Nessa’s past lovers.

There are so many great moments in the show, I could probably list 20 more easily! What are some of your favourite scenes?

Top Five: Social Networking Pet Peeves

When utilised properly, social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, can be incredible networking tools. However, lately I so often find myself typing out status updates or tweets then deleting them because I begin to think “who actually cares about this?”

When I was at university, I was constantly using Facebook and Twitter to plan my social life but as I grow older, I find myself using social networking sites for personal reasons less frequently. Even more so, if I want to communicate with my friends I find myself doing it privately through direct messages.

In the past, I’m sure I did many of these things that I see as an annoyance when I log onto my social networking sites – something I cringe thinking about now – but here are my top five social networking pet peeves:

1. The ‘I’m desperately attention seeking but don’t want to talk about it’ status updater

The sole purpose of social networking websites is to be able to actually socialise online, so when people update their statuses with depressing ambiguous statements, usually relationship based, they should expect sympathy, right? I’m sure you can imagine the kind of scenario:

“Can’t believe I fell for it again!”

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t want to talk about it”

I always find myself screaming at the computer screen “If you don’t want to talk about it, why are you putting it on your Facebook page”

2. The Constant Updater

I have a few regular offenders of this one, especially on Facebook, where I’ll log on and will have to scroll down a few times until I get to a post by a new person. One day, I decided to count the amount of statuses one of my Facebook friends had updated in one day, it was 10. Most of them were complaining (see above) and very few generated discussion.

My initial thought was “surely if you’re going to update your status that often, you would go on Twitter” but I think that also goes against the essence of Twitter, but then I find it so much easier to press the ‘unfollow’ button than the ‘unfriend’ one.

Then there’s the tweeters who like to spam celebrities. As long as you avoid following people with band names/members/albums in their @ name, you should be safe.

3. The ‘I think I’m famous’ updater

Yes, I’ve probably only seen this one once, but I think it’s the most shocking. When did we become a part of a culture where we feel so self-entitled we think everybody cares about our relationship? Most people dread the moment at the end of the relationship where their status changes on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single” but others apparently embrace the moment.

Once, I genuinely saw someone make a full blown statement on their status update that would probably be a step too far for a Hollywood couple divorcing after thirty years of marriage. I remember the phrase “we amicably split and no third parties were involved” being used. Is it really necessary? Does anyone other than your closest friends and family need to know the reasons for the split, or lack there of?

4. The ‘non-consistent’ updater

I get so annoyed when people just update with what they think is most socially accepted online, especially when their opinions are inconsistent on different networking platforms. It often comes along with drastic weather, such as snow, so I’m bracing myself for these updates this weekend.

Along with snow, comes the two types of status updater – the lover and the mocker. Whilst some embrace the weather, taking photos of their surroundings, the others mock these people with updates including:

“Wow, don’t even need to look out the window, everyone is taking photos of snow”

“Never knew what snow was until I saw pictures of it on Facebook”

The thing that got me the last time it snowed though, was someone who I followed on Twitter and was friends with on Facebook was clearly just following the crowd. He was posting photos onto Twitter all day, yet mocking people who did the same thing on Facebook?

5. The ‘I should have paid more attention in English’ updater

Users of social networking sites take note:

  • A Sentence Shouldn’t Look Like This – the first letter of each word does not need to be capitalised in the body of text.
  • ‘Your’ and ‘You’re’ mean different things, so do ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’.
  • ALL CAPS SENTENCES ARE PRETTY HARD TO READ AND MAKE IT SEEM LIKE YOU ARE REALLY ANGRY!
  • Text speak is ridiculous, write in full sentences.

As I’ve said, I’m sure I’ve done some of these in the past, but I think there are some things mentioned here just aren’t what social networking was made for. What grinds your gears when you log onto these social networking websites? Feel free to comment below.

Follow me on twitter – @rachelmacgregor

Top 5: Christmas Entertainment Releases

I’ve, surprisingly, found myself to be organised this year and have got my presents already – mainly because my family are all advocates of the “tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you” scenario – but I know how difficult it can be to buy for people when they don’t know what they want themselves.

At the request of a reader I’ve compiled a selection of, what I believe to be, the best entertainment releases just in time for Christmas.

1. Dynamo: Magician Impossible Series 1 -2 – I was fortunate enough to be working in the UKTV offices during the launch week for this incredible series and all the staff were talking about how amazing Dynamo is. I knew little about him before getting the opportunity to watch the first episode on a lunch break and I have been obsessed ever since. It is often the case with magicians that you suspect how they do their tricks or put it down to impressive camera skills, but I can honestly say I have no clue how he does any of his tricks. There are numerous celebrity appearances on this show including Travis Barker, Rio Ferdinand and Ian Brown.

Dynamo Magician Impossible Series 1-2; £18.85

Dynamo Magician Impossible Series 1-2; £18.85

 

2. Jack Whitehall Live – It’s no secret that I adore Jack Whitehall. I’ve seen him live twice now and found him to be absolutely hilarious. Sometimes his middle-class persona can be perceived as self-righteous but he certainly seemed to be very grounded and humble when he agreed to do a Q & A session for me. I suspect we may have heard some of the jokes on this dvd from his panel show appearances, but that’s to be expected. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this one myself.

Jack Whitehall Live; £13

Jack Whitehall Live; £13

 

3. Far Cry 3 – Fans are already coining this the ‘Game of the Year’ and it’s clear to see why. The game really focuses on what should be included when focusing on open-world gameplay. Set on a lawless island, the lead character, Jason, and his friends are kidnapped by pirates. Jason is able to escape but must work to rescue his friends. Outside of missions, there’s an array of activities to complete, including taking over outposts and radio towers, collecting memory cards and hunting (not for the squeemish).

Far Cry 3; £39.97

Far Cry 3; £39.97

 

4. The Dark Knight Rises – Rounding up Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was a critical and commercial success when it was released in July. The film follows Batman as he c0mes out of retirement to stop the militant  Bane from destroying Gotham City. The film also features the brilliant Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway.

The Dark Knight Rises; £10 DVD, £12.50 Blu-Ray

The Dark Knight Rises; £10 DVD, £12.50 Blu-Ray

 

5. Playstation Move: Sports Champions 2 – Last Christmas, my family found ourselves playing the first Sports Champions game in our down-time. It’s incredibly fun and with an array of different activities, can keep you entertained for hours. This new edition includes six new events – golf, boxing, bowling, skiing, tennis and an updated archery mode.

Sports Champions 2; £12.99

Sports Champions 2; £12.99

Top 5 – Movie Trailers of The Superbowl 2011

So last night was the American Super Bowl. My twitter feed was full of complaints about Christina Aguilera’s Star Spangled Banner slip-up, football stats (which to be frank I didn’t understand at all) and my favourite part – the release of new movie trailers.

Any readers of this blog will know I am a huge film fan and there was a total of TWELVE new trailers released during the game. Here is a list of my five favourites.

1. I Am Number FourI am so excited for this film. I’ve been following it since the release of the initial teaser trailers and posters and think it looks great. It is based on a book about an alien who is being chased and, of course, develops into a love story. I’m so glad Alex Pettyfer is getting the recognition he deserves in Hollywood and he’s sure to be on you screens frequently as he is set to star in no less than three films this year.

2. Super 8The long awaited trailer for the J.J Abrams and Steven Spielberg collaboration is full of intrigue, excitement and strange happenings. With the tagline “Next Summer, It Arrives”, I’m certain this film will be a definite hit.

3. Captain America: The First AvengerThere’s a huge hype in America about this film and after starring in The Fantastic Four, I think Chris Evans can definitely pull off playing Captain America. If the trailer is anything to go by, I think this could make Evan’s profile huge.

4. Transformers 3: Dark Of The MoonThis is a definite upgrade from the previously released trailer. Although it still doesn’t give much information as to what the plot will be and how Megan Fox’s character is being written out, it’s made me even more excited for the release of the film.

5. Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Before seeing this trailer I didn’t know whether this franchise could live on without Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, however, I’m now more convinced that it will be a hit, especially seeing some of the other old cast members are still in the film. The plot looks hilarious, but I do feel apprehensive as to whether I will like this film as much as it’s predecessors.

Top 5: Christmas Gifts For Her

Following yesterday’s post of the top five Christmas gifts for him, I thought I would follow up with a similar list of entertainment gifts suited for women.

1. Sex And The City 2 – This years top cinema release shows the four glamorous New Yorkers travel to Abu Dhabi. It’s a must have for any previous fan of the series. It is due for release on 29 November.

2. Twilight: Eclipse – Whether she’s on Team Edward or Team Jacob, there’s no mistaking the fact that most women love the Twilight saga. With the release date of 6 December, the latest installment of the film series is available just in time for Christmas.

3. Cheryl Cole: Through My Eyes Book – A must have for any fan of Cheryl Cole. Labelled as the nation’s sweetheart, this official book includes exclusive new photos and behind the scenes moments of her solo career so far with commentaries by Cheryl herself.

4. Playstation Move: Singstar Dance – The new game that features the best of previous Singstar games and Just Dance allows players to sing and dance at the same time and features video playbacks and special effects. Note – Requires Playstation Move.

5. Cuddly Microwavable Dinosaur – A very cute microwavable toy that can be heated in the microwave in two minutes. With hints of lavender in it, it makes the perfect gift in this very cold winter.

All gifts available on play.com