Some Free tools or sites that I find useful

As a technical person during my day job I constantly come up with crazy ideas how to include technology in the alpaca business. Most of these aren’t feasible to implement due to the cost, or just how stupid they really are when I think them through. I do however try new things that I can do for free all the time. Every once in a while something useful comes along. This post I will talk about some of the cool things I am currently using.

Google Chrome: I have been using Chrome since it was released to public beta. It wasn’t ever a terrible browser, but it has some short-commings that made it not be my primary browser, until this week. Google released extensions for Chrome that provide functionality that Firefox has had for quite some time. I don’t like Firefox personally though. I have had bad luck with it crashing and being slow and confusing when I tried it in the past, so that has been hard to get over and get me to try it again recently. I have been a Microsoft Internet Explorer user for years, despite it not supporter standards 100 percent. Every web developer codes their site to work with it, and I don’t surf to very many sites I am not familiar with. I have other precautions in place when I am doing unsafe surfing, but that is for another time. In order for Chrome to finally win my default browser choice I had to go to the developer beta version that supports extensions, but what an awesome product. It integrates my gmail, twitter, and wave updates into the browser. I finally have ad blocking support and there are tons more that I haven’t tried. All of those, great as they are still aren’t what pushed me over the edge though. The one killer extension was Internet Explorer in a Chrome tab. This allows me to use Chrome for everything, but when there is a site that has features not supported or that I want to print with customized header and footer, which sadly Chrome still doesn’t support customizing for some reason, I just open the site in the IE tab and we are good to go. I highly recommend Chrome now. The speed gain I have from using it is also incredible. Most pages load in about half the time, but I am sure much of that is differences in how it loads pages and my slow satellite connection. I can go into details, but most people reading this won’t really care, just know that Chrome is a much faster, smarter browser than IE.

Facebook: I have talked about Facebook before, but I feel it needs mention again. It has allowed me to keep in touch with people in a way I never dreamed of before. I have my blog posts show up there. I get product updated over there for customers to see, which in turn gets them listed in the search engines again. I have been adding little features to Facebook that make it easier on me to keep updated too, like an RSS feed of my products, updates when my blog is updated, and a direct feed to Twitter. I have been using the page to advertise events that we will be attending or having on the farm. Keeping interest going in our progress on getting the mill going. Posting pictures and video of the farm. All to keep people informed, entertained, and maybe even educated. If you aren’t on Facebook yet, I think you are missing an opportunity to keep in touch. If you are on Facebook, I hope you will consider becoming a fan of Fancy Fiber Farm.

Twitter: If you have never used Twitter, it doesn’t make much sense. It took me a very long time to start using it myself because I just didn’t get it. First, why do I care what some celebrity is doing? Second, who cares what I am doing? Well, what I have discovered is that I still don’t care what the celebrities are doing, I do care what other alpaca farms are doing, and other businesses that affect the alpaca industry. People do want to know what Fancy Fiber Farm is doing, as well. When I described Twitter to Kim, she said, “So it is like my wall on Facebook?” Yes, that is basically what it is, but viewable and searchable by anyone on the internet, and people that follow you get updates however they choose to receive them. You can also send direct messages to someone, and resend their tweets. To my surprise, I have made some of the best contacts using Twitter and fully intend to continue using it. I have used software to link my Twitter and Facebook pages so the updates get published automatically. There is good and bad in that, but I think the good out weighs the bad.

Networked Blogs: this is an application for Facebook that simply posts my blog updates on the Fancy Fiber Farm Facebook page. This just saves me some time when I post a new entry.

SocialRSS: another application for Facebook that pulls our new products into the Fancy Fiber Farm Facebook page.

Seesmic Desktop: this is a very cool tool for managing Facebook and Twitter in one interface. I probably won’t be using it much any more though because the Google Chrome extensions have this in the browser now.

Alpaca Social: a site build by alpaca people for alpaca people, they say. It is like Facebook or MySpace but dedicated to the alpaca industry. Not the greatest interface, but functional. Look me up and add me as a friend.

Cattlegrower: just started here this week. I know. The name doesn’t seem alpaca related, but the support several species of animal including alpaca and llama. It is another Facebook/MySpace type site. It is another place to market my animals, products and services.

Openherd: I haven’t taken the time to fully explore the offering on this site, but they do allow me to post information about my animals. I don’t know how long it will remain free, either.

Google Wave: I have this, but I haven’t figured out how it fits with my business needs. I need more people using it for one thing to see it really in action. I have a couple of invites if you want to test it out, let me know. I will get to you as soon as I can.

Statcounter: A free website counter and stat collector. It really works well and in the background to let you know what is going on with your website.

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