EVERNOTE. The Evernote applications for iOS and Android allow you to manage your notes on the go.

App-y New Year

Mobile exploded in 2012. US consumers now spend 1.8 more times in mobiles apps than on the Web, according to Flurry, a mobile analytics company. Flurry said that between December 2011 and December 2012, “the average time spent inside mobile apps by a US consumer grew 35 percent, from 94 minutes to 127 minutes.”

Closer to home, the Philippines recorded a 326 percent increase in smartphone sales, the fastest growth in the Southeast Asian region, according to research company GfK. The Philippines is also the country “with the highest jump in smartphone market share within a year, from 9 to 24 percent,” GfK said in a press statement last September.

To mark the end of this year of mobile, let me riff on a Pinoy New Year’s Eve tradition by offering you my favorite apps in 12 task categories, in no particular order:

News apps Zite, Prismatic and News.me

NEWS APPS. (From left) Zite, Prismatic and News.me harness social networking connections to match news stories to users’ interests.

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News writing: 5Ws, GPS

When fire broke out in Barangay Tejero late Saturday afternoon, I was dragged to the scene by my wife, who wanted to cover it for her news blog and as trial for the system of Yahoo! Philippines’ foray into local news.

I can no longer recall the last time I covered a fire for news. But it was definitely before mobile Internet became as ubiquitous as it is today. I think it was also before I had a wife who would drag me to a fire scene.

Amid the panic of people trying to save what they could as they accounted for family members and friends, we posted updates through our phones, took photos and videos.

Saturday’s experience taught me a lot about the speed by which the technological juggernaut changes the way we do things, especially in reporting for a quickly-evolving online media landscape.

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Quick review: Article sharing with Facebook, Google+

Google opened to limited testing earlier this week its latest social networking service. Google+. What immediately catches your attention when using the service is its stark simple and yet beautiful interface. It makes Facebook look like MySpace, said blogger Ron Galloway.

Although Google is still actively developing the service (Googlers are directly engaging with users giving feedback on Google+) , I like what I see. So much so that I started campaigning with the running group that I co-founded, the Ungo Runners, so that we could possibly migrate there.

The huddle feature, which I still have to test, makes me drool at the possibility of uses on organizing group runs on-the-fly. It’s mentioned in this review by CNN’s Amy Gahran. But we all know this isn’t likely to happen soon (think of how long it took many of your friends to transfer from Friendster).

One major activity in online social networking is the sharing of articles and Google+ almost does it as well as Facebook. With bookmark services and applications still not supporting Google+ and with most websites still not using the +1 button, you have to cut and paste URLs into Google+.

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Google Docs on Android in Samsung Galaxy Tab

In the cloud? What if it goes up in smoke?

I wrote this column in Google Docs, the Internet search giant’s free online office suite. I thumb-typed a rough outline on an Android device—a Samsung Galaxy Tab—before I finished the first draft on my favorite desktop, which runs Ubuntu Linux, and edited the final piece in my office PC, which runs Windows XP.

All the time that I worked intermittently on this article during free time from desk work, I did not know precisely the physical location of this digital file nor the number of its copies and iterations. All I knew was that it was in Google’s data centers–precisely where I do not know nor care.

Saving digital office files in the correct location is among the first things you are required to learn on the job, whatever the industry or the size of the company. In our newsroom, file location is something seared into your brain the very first day on the job. Unless you saved your article in the designated folder, editors cannot access your story in the modern-day filing tray called The Local Network.

Google Docs on Android in Samsung Galaxy Tab
Writing using Google Docs on the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

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Manny Pacquiao tops RP searches in Google News

Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao hogged local searches in Google News, according to the Google Zeitgeist 2008, the latest of of the web giant’s annual report of popular search terms.

Pacquiao, who recently defeated Oscar de la Hoya, is on the top three search terms, including one that appeared to be a misspelling of his name, for Google News local searches in the Philippines: 1. manny pacquiao, 2. pacquaio marquez fight, and 3. pacquiao diaz fight.

The gruesome RCBC bank robbery ranked 4th while ABS-CBN broadcaster Ces Drilon, who was kidnapped in June, ranked 5th. The phrase “sona 2008” for President Arroyo’s state of the nation address ranked 6th.

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New Google Maps for Mobile tracks your position using cell phone towers

Google released last week a new version of its Google Maps for Mobile application. The release, as with many of Google’s products, is designated “beta,” a label used for software that is still being actively tested and not yet released to the public.

I’ve read about mobile maps applications before, including the earlier Google versions, but I never bothered trying it out because I don’t travel much. In fact my daily travel is such a routine I can tell you what size of potholes are located in which part of the highways in Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu Cities.

Google Maps for Mobile GOOGLE MAPS FOR MOBILE. A satellite photo of Fuente Osmena rotunda as seen through the Google Maps for mobile application running in my Sony Ericsson K750i. Click on photo to enlarge.

But what caught my interest in last week’s announcement is a new feature in Google Maps: it can now plot your location using the cellphone towers of your mobile network. The application then displays a blue dot showing a bigger light blue circle to display your approximate location. That feature is called My Location.

Previously, you can plot your locations in mapping applications if you have a GPS (global position system) device or module. With the new Google application, the software can plot your location via triangulation of your position using the cellphone towers that connect your phone to your mobile network.

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Sun, sand, sea, and SEO

I spent two days last week in the paradise island of Camotes in Cebu for a talk on optimizing news websites for search engines and a training on using WordPress for the staff of Sunnex, the department that runs the Sun.Star website.

I’m the online editor of Sun.Star Cebu, a member of Sun.Star Network Online, and my role on the website is limited to overseeing updating of content for our paper’s website. I am not involved in the technical side of the website operations albeit I send suggestions once in a while. It might not be evident to outsiders but Sun.Star has different departments with different work cultures.

Camotes Island IT IS a testament to Camotes’ beauty that no matter how tiring and energy-sapping it was in the days leading to the seminar, we left the island wanting to come back immediately. Click on photo to enlarge.

For a long time, I’ve had a nagging suspicion that Sun.Star suffers from a Google penalty over something that is a result of a server configuration. I warned the staff about this before but did not have the evidence to back it up. I’d see it to be the case once in while when doing searches but I’ve never before had the chance to raise it to Sunnex.

Last week, I was able to confirm this while doing a search, for my presentation, to show the effect of a particular ‘negative crawling/ranking attribute.’ I don’t think I’m at a liberty to tell what this is but the solution is dead simple and the website should see substantial improvements in rankings and earnings if it’s able to fix this.

Last year, I suggested (and pissed off people who didn’t want “outsiders” to raise suggestions) a particular ad optimization tweak and made a bold prediction—that the Sun.Star website’s earnings will double if they follow my suggestion. I actually encountered resistance on that very simple ad optimization and was verbally abused. The earnings more than doubled since then. For my troubles, I’m now richer—but only in karma points in some online journalism heaven. They didn’t even have to spend for a lousy certificate or consume saliva to thank me for it.

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From Google Video, YouTube to your phone in 3 steps

When I saw Matt Cutts’ video series in Google Video, I immediately wanted to convert the clips to play in my phone, a Sony Ericsson K750i, for viewing and listening in times when I have nothing to do and I’m away from the computer.

Google Video allows you to download MP4 videos and I downloaded a bunch of Matt Cutts videos in MP4 format, thinking it would play in my phone. Wrong. I could hear the sound of the clips but I couldn’t see anything. This suited me just fine as you can understand what Matt Cutts is saying without visual cues.

And then I saw Bob Dylan. I found a bunch of Dylan music videos in Google Video and I was spurred into finding a way to convert the files to play in my phone. I tried converting the MP4 videos using ImTOO MP4 Video Converter to no avail.

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Database down; spirits up

I woke up to a WordPress database error yesterday. The error wasn’t caused by any changes I did to the site but something to do with the server.

I spent hours the night before working on this, a demo of using WordPress to manage a news portal.

With time to kill while waiting for the site to be fixed, I implemented something that had been listed in my “someday” list – customize the WordPress database error message and have the system send you an e-mail when your blog can’t connect to your database. I hate to admit it but I actually enjoyed the downtime as it taught me a lot as well as afforded me the time to play around with something I had long wanted to do.

The hack is surprisingly easy and I enjoyed crafting a database error page that I just might intentionally place wrong config data soon to test my planned addition to the error page.

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A fire, a map, and a WordPress theme

Fire gutted the landmark Plaza Fair building early morning Tuesday. Reports say the fire caused P20 million in damages. The blaze broke out just as we were finalizing the day’s newspaper issue. We no longer had time to include the story in the issue.

But I admit it was tempting to copy Michael Keaton in The Paper-the whole “Stop the press!” bit. Of course you couldn’t do that in Sun.Star Cebu, our printing plant is kilometers away and if you needed to “stop the press” for a late breaker, you’d either have to call or text the plant manager. Somehow texting “stp d prs” isn’t as dramatic as barging into the plant and screaming the words.

The fire was visible from our office canteen, two blocks away (check photos and map below).

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