Creative Projects: A Few Ideas And Tools!

Every now and then you run across some really useful tools, or fascinating trends, that can help you with your operations.  Six months later you may forget about these tools, or they may be replaced by something better. (Hey Facebook, remember MySpace, or Friendster? You’re on top, but the clock is ticking!) So, before they become obsolete, here’s some interesting stuff and a few creative ideas about how you can use them. First, let’s first look at a couple of trends, and then look at the resources:

Cloud Products: A very, very big trend is to have Cloud based applications. We’ve talked about this in the past.  A true Cloud product runs from a browser (such as Internet Explorer or Chrome) and leaves virtually no files or software on your computer. That means that your data and your configuration are “out in the Cloud”. Why is this important? Because it means that you don’t need any specific computer. For example, if you want to look at your AOL, Yahoo or Gmail you can use your office computer (if
it’s not blocked), your home computer, your iPad, even your smart phone. As more applications become cloud based, you are freer to access applications even when you’re away from your “official” computer. Within corporations, IT departments are looking at ways to have more of your applications running on centralized servers rather than your desktop to ensure that data is always backed up and computer upgrades require minimal work.
Use: Now that it’s summer time, senior executives will spend time at the beach, overseas
on a vacation, at their summer home, etc. Usually the IT team has to field a lot of calls about the executive who has been separated from his computer and needs to get to an application. This is a great time to print up a short guide for executives on how to access your firm’s cloud applications (or frequently used non-firm applications that you support). 

Portable Products: Sort of a red haired cousin of the Cloud. For people who
move between different computers, these programs are designed to have low system requirements and run without leaving any data behind on your computer. How would you run them? Probably from a flash drive, one of the cheap little USB drives that you can hang off of your key chain. Load up your drive with applications, and then just plug this into whatever computer you use. Since it leaves nothing behind, you can be “relatively) safe using someone else’s computer.

  • Use: If you team uses portable applications, it is another option that allows
    freedom from being tied to just one specific computer. There are quite a few
    promising products in this category, but as the Cloud rises, the hybrid nature
    of portable products seems to be fading. Still, as a niche product it may still
    have some legs.

WhiteSmoke: This is an automated proofreader.  It you just hit a hot key and it analyzes content, and recommends changes. It works with just about any application by hitting a hot key. I find that all “artificial intelligence” products offer a combination of surprisingly insightful advice and unbelievably wrong comments. WhiteSmoke is no exception. However, when it’s wrong it’s always obvious, even if English is not your primary language, and you have a less than perfect grasp of English grammar. However, when it’s
right, it’s very good. In the hands of someone who spends a lot of time writing (I use it for this Blog) it’s excellent in making small corrections and pointing out alternatives. Microsoft Word, for example, corrects  misspelled words, but Whitesmoke is both corrects the spelling AND looks at the context to tell if it’s the right word or phrase. WhiteSmoke is partially a Cloud tool, it is installed on your computer, but it goes to the Cloud to analyze your writing, presumably because the process needs a lot of processing power or it monitors and analyzes which recommendation users except so that it can learn and improve itself.

  • Use: If your group produces documents of any kind, this is worth looking at. If you produce a lot of documents and you would like to produce a more standard
    product, having a tool like this that checks the same details can be very useful. Back in April I wrote a Blog (“Is Quality Control A Waste of Time?”) that explained how various quality control processes (such as proofreading) can absorb massive amounts of resources. By putting a tool like this in the hands of document editors who generally produce high quality work, you can vastly  improve turnaround, reduce costs, and possibly further improve quality. ( ) 

Information is Beautiful: Not an application, but a Blog site. It provides examples of
exceptional and unusual graphics. Usually these are business graphics, representing data, but doing so in a way that uniquely delivers a point. All sorts of graphics are shown, and there are links to a variety of sites that give you more detail about the graphic, and sometime even tools or techniques to help produce them.

  • Use: This is a fantastic resource for anyone who runs a document, presentation or graphic service. It now only provides excellent examples of creative graphics, but the sites these images come from provide a back story to the graphics that may spark interesting discussions with your clients. ( )

Instant Article Wizard: Well, it makes articles. Instantly. Originally, this tool was created to easily produce content to feed internet sites. It contains several tools. One tool uses Google to collect information (whatever quantify you want) on any subject you choose; you then determine the characteristics of the article you want, such as the number of paragraphs and the number of words. A second tool parses this information and standardizes the grammar so that it reads as if your “article” had a single author. The next tool, changes the wording in the article so that individual sections are not identical with the original, thereby circumventing any issues of plagiarism. When it’s done, you have a very readable and reasonably well researched article.

  •  Use: Any research or library group receives requests for background information. Data Source such as Thomson Financial provides Tools to collect and produce reports and article like documents, but sometimes the data you want is in the “unverified” world of data that Google accesses. If this is the right source of data, and you want to write a quick overview on a subject, this is a great way to save some time.  If you want a one or two page overview on a subject, this software produces quite readable documents. ( )

Digital Identity Calculator: If you support a legal firm, consulting firm or an Investment Bank (as well as other highly paid services), the reputation and standing of the
firms billable professionals greatly influence the amount of business your firm can bring in and the rates you charge. But how do you measure reputation? This tool is a great start. Essentially you Google someone, look at the results, fill out a few data fields based on the result and get a graphic that maps the volume of hits versus their relevance. You can produce a report in about 2 minutes, or you can supplement this with other information to develop a “reputation” rating. The methodology might vary from department to department, but this might be a very valuable product for the head of a revenue producing department… especially if it addresses how to increase reputation. This might be launched by any of these groups or by a combination of: Corporate Library, Marketing, or HR.  ( )

And that’s a quick roundup.  This is an eclectic collection of tools, but I hope that it gives you a few ideas about ways to add value to your organization. And that’s my Niccolls
worth for today!

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