A Second Life in Second Life

So I’ve recently done a section on virtual worlds in my Open University module (My Digital Life), and a lot of it was about the use of Second Life in the realms of education, business and pleasure. It got me thinking and intrigued about the place again. Many years ago I tried logging in, but my old PC simply couldn’t handle it, and my foray into the world died before it even started.

By the end of the section, I had succumbed to curiosity. Armed with my more powerful Linux laptop, I signed up again, got a new avatar, and I entered the world at the OU’s remaining island (Deep Think).

I didn’t meet anybody while I was there, which was probably a good thing. It gave me a chance to wander round and get a feel of the place undisturbed. But more importantly, I had major problems using the edit avatar menu, and on several occasions I inadvertently ended up butt naked. Being alone certainly saved my avatar’s blushes.

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I’ve called my cat Mor’du

After my wander, I went and visited the International Space Flight Museum, which was actually pretty cool.

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I went back a couple of times, mainly to tweak my avatar’s look. I also visited another museum, namely the Museum of Natural History of Vienna, where I looked at dinosaurs, and managed to get trapped under the floor. But again, I didn’t see anyone else.

Do I think I’ll be going back to Second Life? Probably not. But it’s handy having an avatar if a get-together is ever on the cards.

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RSS Romance

So this week was another below average hours study week for my university course, and I did just over 10 hours. However, this week was an introduction week to HTML, CSS, and RSS. HTML and CSS I’ve done before, via Codecademy (a site with free programming courses), so although the introductory theory was new to me in places, using it was not, and marking up text was not a new and scary undertaking.

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It was the RSS section that came as a bit of a revelation. Now, I have dabbled in RSS before; MANY years ago. I forget the program I used for it, but I have a feeling it’s now defunct. For those who don’t know, many online news sources provide RSS feeds of their articles. They tend to be found via the orange wi-fi-like symbol above. Whenever a news article is added, the RSS feed gets updated through the use of XML (a kind of organisation-specific html). Then, using a News Reader, you can gather theses different feeds together in one place, sort them into different topics, and use them to keep track of recent news and articles. Back when I was using RSS feeds for the first time, not many outlets used them. it took a lot of Googling to find relevant RSS feeds, and in the end, I gave up using them. These days, most respected outlets provide RSS feeds, or so I found out via this weeks study, and with that revelation, I’ve fallen back in love with RSS feeds.

For part of the in-module assessment, I had to use a News Reader, and add the BBC’s technology RSS feed to it. I went with Feedly, as this seems to be the top Reader out there. It was a short and simple task, but raised the question: What other RSS feeds are there out there, and would they be useful to me? Turns out, it’s a lot, and yes.

So why are RSS feeds important to me? As someone who maintains several social media sites for herself (both for her marine biologist persona, and her sci-fi novelist persona) as well as one for the marine charity MARINElife, and sources articles for the Aquarium Welfare Association, being able to hunt for suitable news stories effectively is important. Up to now, I’d basically been using Google’s personalised news sections, and searching which articles had been added within the past 24 hours. This, of course, was a bit limited, as well as laborious. Now, using Feedly, I can grab the RSS feeds from appropriate sites, including several scientific journal sites, and quickly run my eye over them for any new posts. I can even add my personalised news sections from Google. Once done, I can mark the articles off as read, and they won’t show up again in my feed. A total time saver!

This, along with the prevalence of RSS feeds from sites, makes for many more post options. Some sites break their feeds down into topics. Some sites even allow you to create an advanced search, and then save the results as an RSS feed. Both of which making for a more relevant feed in News Reader. I spent a fun few days scouring websites for their feeds, and plugging them into Feedly….

So now I have a new quiver in my bow with regards to social media strategy and content curation. See, the Open University teaches you stuff.

This week I do my first proper assessment; a dreaded TMA. Fingers crossed that I get a good mark.

I put a call in about my OU pencil case. It hasn’t even been sent yet *frowny face*.

Google’s Digital Garage – A Review

It all started with Facebook winning the war with Adblock. The sponsored posts and ads that I didn’t want to see cluttering up my feed came back with a vengeance. How I rolled my eyes, after all, it’s bad enough that Facebook keeps changing my feed back to ‘Top Stories’ without having to wade through, what I consider, irrelevant tat. However, one advert kept popping up repeatedly in my timeline that piqued my interest, that being the one advertising Google’s Digital Garage.

What got me intrigued was that a) it was about marketing and the web, and b) it was free. I’m always up for a bit of free training, and as I wanted to learn more about SEO and the like for both marketing my novels, and for gaining extra skills in the realm of social media with the hopes of getting a job, I decided to have a look.

Briefly, the Digital Garage provides “free tutorials from Google on everything from your website to online marketing and beyond. Choose the topics you want to learn, or complete the whole online course for a certification from Google and IAB Europe.”

I signed up using my Google account, after which it asked me some questions about my online needs. Using my answers, the site formulated my personal learning plan, picking select modules from its selection of 23. For me that was 9 modules. Each module came with 3 to 6 videos, which were, on average, about 3 minutes long (overall they ranged between 3 and 6 minutes long).

After each video was a short quiz, and each module ended with a longer quiz. Once I’d watched all the videos, and passed all the quizzes for my selected modules, all the rest of the modules became unlocked, and I could work through them to gain a final certificate. Which I did….

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The videos were easy to watch, and each module can probably be completed in less than an hour. So basically, if you do a module a day, the whole course will take less than 23 days. The quizzes were pretty simple, but if you got any questions wrong you could take them again until you got 100%. The ease of the quizzes might seem a bit of a cop out to some, as basically you can keep trying the answers until you get full marks, but to be honest, the video content is the more important thing.

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My completed Digital Garage modules

I have to say, I genuinely learnt some new things, had a few aha moments, and made a load of notes. Now, not every module was relevant to me, for instance, creating a mobile app is probably not something I’ll need to do, but the seeds of knowledge are there should I ever work for a company that might benefit from one. I’ve gained a bit more knowledge about web content, keywords, SEO, and becoming more visible on the web, which as an indie-author is important. Starting up my blog again has been as a direct result of doing the Digital Garage.

Would I recommend doing the Digital Garage? Yes. As I said, it doesn’t take long to do, even if you only do an hour a day, and your online strategy may benefit from the information provided in the videos. To be honest, you have nothing to lose in doing it. And once you’ve completed it you get a nice certificate that you can show off on the likes of LinkedIn.