Monday, February 14, 2011

Online Photo-Books: Mixbook

I remember an advert from Kodak from a few years back, which highlighted the importance of taking photos of special occasions and events in our lives, as to cherish and treasure the moment forever. Nowadays of course, getting hold of a camera and taking photos is a tad easier than it was in those days; and the emphasis has shifted from actual photo-taking to photo presentations. How are we going to store and share the photographs that we have so lovingly taken? How can we embed them in an innovative and interesting way on our websites or blogs for others to see? On this blog I have often dealt with online applications whose purpose varies from sharing photos (Slide, Animoto, Flickr...) to applications which help us edit pictures online (Picnik, Picasa...). The application which we are going to view today, Mixbook, allows users to create interesting online scrap-books with their favourite photographs, essentially creating embeddable online books for sharing or printing.

Getting Started

As with other Web 2.0 applications, the first thing to do is sign up: go to, and click on Sign Up at the top right hand side of the screen. Take note of your username and password, click on Sign Up and the system will automatically log you onto your welcome screen and dashboard. You will immediately be able to (if you wish) upload a profile picture and get started on your work. You will immediately be able to see a menu on the left hand side of the screen, plus a number of icons on top.

From the left-hand side menu, you will be able to access your works in progress by clicking on My Projects. Your Mixbook friends, with whom you can interact can be found by clicking on My Friends. All the photos uploaded on your various Mixbook projects can be accessed by clicking on My Photos. Finally, by clicking on My Inbox, you will be able to access, reply to and send messages to your Mixbook friends.

Creating your first Mixbook

To start your first Mixbook, click on the Create icon on the top of the screen. You will be able to set up your project by giving a name, description, category and tags. In the creation stage, you will also be able to make your project private, viewable only to your friends or public (that is entirely up to you) and also invite contributors who can edit the Mixbook together with you. Inviting contributors is especially useful if you are engaging in project work and you have more than one person working on the same project at the same time. When you are satisfied with your settings, click on Create Mixbook. You will then be able to choose from a variety of different size-templates with which to create your project. (Do not worry that these appear with price-tags attached: there is no charge for simply creating online, the charge only applies for when one needs to order the actual printed books).

Choosing Themes, Styles & Layouts

After choosing a the size of the album, you can then select themes according to the photographs you are going to use: choose between general themes and themes linked to special occasions such as birthdays, holidays, seasons, educational and kid's themes. Browse through the themes by scrolling down the Themes Menu on the left; you will get a preview of each theme in the central canvas, to give you feel of what that theme looks like. When you choose a Theme, you will notice that at the bottom of the screen, there is a tick next to Give me a book that is almost done option at the bottom of the screen. This option will enable you to work with a pre-prepared book of 20 pages, and you can keep, edit and delete the pages to suit your requirements. This is especially recommended for beginners who might be unsure of the options on offer from Mixbook and especially so if you are using the application for the first time. To start on your first Mixbook, select a theme, make sure that there is a tick next to Give me a book that is almost done option at the bottom of the screen, and click on Choose Theme. This will give you some time to familiarise yourself with the application gradually.
(N.B. Some people however like experimenting and are keen to to start projects from scratch. In that case, untick the box next to Give me a book that is almost done and click on I don't want to choose a theme in order to create your blank project. You will then be presented with a blank, 6 pages long book, and you will be able to add photos, stickers, captions, and choose themes and colours as the project progresses).

Adding Photos to your Mixbook

There are various ways in which to upload pictures onto your Mixbook: you can either grab them automatically from another social networking site, such as Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and PhotoBucket. Or you can upload them the old-fashioned way: by browsing your hard disk or removable media (pen drive, flash card) and upload them directly to Mixbook. To grab photos from an online repository, click on the appropriate icon (the blue "F" for Facebook, the blue and pink coloured bubbles for Flickr, etc); or click on Upload to access photos which are stored on your computer. The wait time will depend on the size of the photos being uploaded and the speed of your connection. As soon as your photos have been uploaded, you will be able to drag the photos into your Mixbook. (You will notice that if you have used a pre-loaded theme, there are already boxes where you can drag and drop your pictures. If on the other hand you opted out of having a theme, you will be able to drop your pictures practically anywhere).

Editing your Mixbook

After filling in your Mixbook with photos, you might also want to edit it in other ways, such as adding captions, stickers, changing colour schemes and adding and removing pages. Each photo in your project can be resized, sent to front/back flipped, rotated and edited (basic editing such as B/W and Sepia effects are available). This is achieved by clicking on the photo, whereby a small editing menu will appear underneath it. You can also edit the pre-loaded captions by clicking on them and a similar editing menu, this time for text and sporting various font settings, will appear. Adding extra captions/text is possible by clicking the Add Text tab at the top right hand side of the screen.

From the menu on the top left hand side of the screen, you will also be able to change the page layout, theme and colour scheme of pages. So even if you had chosen a particular theme/colour at the beginning of your project, if the effect is not as desired, you will be able to edit accordingly. Another feature is that of adding Stickers to your photos or page to create some interesting designs. Once again, the stickers can be accessed from the menu on the top left hand side of your screen.

Finally, you can also change the number of pages/location of particular spreads etc. This is achieved through the Timeline underneath each project canvas. You are able to Add a blank page, Duplicate or Remove a page from the timeline by clicking on the appropriate Page Tools at the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

NB Remember that, at any time during the building of your Mixbook, you will be able to add contributors to your project. Simply click on the icon Add Contributors on the top menu to add more people to your project.

Save and Share Your Mixbook

When you are done editing your Mixbook, you will be able to save it online, share it with your friends and even embed it in your favourite website or blog. Click on the Save button on the top menu, and exit your Mixbook by clicking on the window's red close button. You should be re-directed back to (or if you don't, simply type in the address bar on your browser). Make sure you are still logged onto Mixbook and click on My Projects tab on the left hand side of the screen. Locate your project and click on its thumbnail (do not click on edit). Drag the sidebar to the bottom of the screen, find the About this Mixbook box, and copy and paste the embed code onto your favourite website or blog. Alternatively, you can just share your project's URL by either copying and pasting the project's Internet address onto an email, or else by clicking on the email to a friend button on the left hand side of the screen. From the About this Mixbook box, you will also be able to add additional contributors, should you wish to do so at this stage as well.

This is an example of how an embedded Mixbook looks like in a blog...I have kept this very short of course, but you can add as many pages as you like to your project:

Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book

Sites to remember:

Smile: It's a Smilebox Creation!

I remember a time when I was pretty young, when taking a photo was a rather stately affair. We only had a small camera which produced tiny squarish photos, you had to change the flash light often and developing photos was rather costly in itself. A far cry from today: you can say that nearly everyone owns a camera or at least they are able to take pictures and videos using their phones. Traditional photo developing is a thing of the past: photos can be easily printed off at home, and of course, one may also choose not to actually make a hard copy of one's photos, but use them creatively to create an interesting slide-show or collages to be shown on a computer. The Internet is rife with free programs that enable one to make impressive photo presentations with the mere click of a button. Today we will explore Smilebox, an animated PhotoAlbum, Scrapbook and Slideshow creator, which allows very creative use of media by allowing users to browse through different designs and create some impressive digital presentations.

Getting Started

To start using Smilebox, go to and click on the Get Started Icon on the bottom right hand side of the screen. You will be able to download a small programme (under 7MB) that installs itself on your computer and and which will allow you to use Smilebox on your computer. You must also provide a valid email and create a user name and a password so that your work will be stored under your profile online. There is no confirmation email to check and click; once you submit your details you will be able to use the application. Thereafter, when you wish to use Smilebox, you do not have to open your Internet browser (although you must be connected to the Internet); simply click on the Smilebox icon that will appear on your desktop after installation.

Browsing Designs

Smilebox offers literally hundreds of design combinations to choose from and work with your photos. You can choose designs by either Theme (bottom of the screen: choose from themes such as Holidays, Special Occasions, Birthdays, etc) or by Format (Collages, Slideshows, Photo Albums, Invitations, etc.) You can take your time to browse through the different themes and formats which best suits the work at hand. Below is a table of all the possibilities:

As you can see from this table, the possibilities are, quite literally, endless.

Examples of Smilebox Creations

Although there are so many different things to do on Smilebox, all tasks across the different themes follow a certain pattern: that is, uploading a photo or video on to form an Online Album is no different from uploading media to create a Greeting Card. What changes is not the method, but rather, how your audience will view the final product.

Let's assume you have a set of photos that you want to group together and share with your friends or colleagues. First, you may click on Browse by Format on the bottom right hand side of the screen, and choose the format which mostly suits your needs (for example, Collages). You will then immediately be prompted to choose a Design for your collage - some more suitable to certain events than others, for example, you can find designs suitable for holiday pictures or for more formal presentations. You can also sift through the designs by sorting them by name, format, number of photos, style or newest first. Once you choose and settle on a design, click on Personalise to download and be able to edit it.

Once the design has finished downloading, a template will open up for you to edit. If there is any text, you will be able to click on the textbox and delete or edit the text as you wish. You can add your own pictures or videos by clicking on the Get Photos or Get Videos at the bottom left hand side of the screen to browse through your hardisk or removable media and upload resources onto your Smilebox project. The pictures or videos can be then dragged directly onto the design template to create your collage. From the menu on the right hand side of the screen, you will be able to make changes to your design, such as increasing/decreasing the number of photos used, your layout, font styles and colour schemes. You can also choose to add some music to your creation to make it more lively.

When you are finished editing, click on the Save button at the top right hand side of the screen; Smilebox will automatically save your creation in the My Smilebox Creations folder which the is automatically installed in the My Documents folder. Then click on the Preview button on the top menu to be able to look at your creation before finalising it; if you wish to make any changes hit the escape key, but if you think your creation is ready for sharing, click on Share, Print or DVD button. You can share it for free online by sending the link as an email (Email your creation) or posting onto your favourite blog or social networking site (Post it on Facebook, Blog or Web). Printing or saving your creation to DVD will require additional subscription to Smilebox Club (no fee is incurred for online sharing though).

To embed it online for free, click on Post, choose a name for your creation, choose a repository (Blogger, Wordpress, Facebook, etc) and click on Continue. Remember to also choose the Basic Design if prompted, which allows for free sharing of your creation. Wait for the code to be generated, then copy and paste the code onto your favourite Blog, or, in the case of Facebook and Twitter, log onto your respective account and your Smilebox will be uploaded automatically. For example, to upload my collage on this blog post, I have asked the programme to generate the Blogger code by clicking on the orange blogger logo on the top left hand side of the screen, and copied and pasted the code in HTML mode.

Click to play this Smilebox collage
Create your own collage - Powered by Smilebox
Customize a picture collage

As I said before, the process to create an animated collage can be applied to all the other types of creations and designs: be it a Photo Album, a Scrap-book or a Calendar....The system is the same throughout: chose your design, upload the photos, drag them to the template and change the template accordingly. And that is the beauty of Web 2.0 applications: once you find your way around one, with a bit of thought, you will be able to navigate your way through the others...
Happy creations!

Sites to Remember:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's write a story: Storybird

Children all love a good story. They like to discover, to listen, to read. And in the course of their classroom lives, they might also be asked to produce stories of their own, either on an individual, group or classroom basis. Teachers use stories as lesson starters, to enhance listening and reading skills and to engage their students. And if the students get to use their imagination a bit and create stories of their own, so much the better.

Storybird is a service that uses collaborative storytelling to connect students and teachers around the world. Two (or more) people create a Storybird in a round robin fashion by writing their own text and inserting pictures. They then have the option of sharing their Storybird privately or publicly on the network. The final product can be printed, watched on screen, played with like a toy, or shared through a worldwide library.

First Steps

To start your first story, go to, and click on Sing Up to create your accounts. Students can click on the Kids Click Here sticker, and they will be asked to register using their parent's email. After registering and subsequent log in, you will be taken to your Storybird Dashboard, where you will be able to take a look at both your published and unfinished stories, and also at your Reading List. This is because the application will let you browse through other people's stories and select any number to add them to your list.

You, Create, Read

Your Storybird dashboard is divided into three broad areas, accessible through the top left :
  1. You: This is where you can find your work: what you started, published or were invited to. Your reading list is also accessed from here;
  2. Create: This is where you let your creative streak loose, and get inspired by art and explore the available themes;
  3. Read: Finally, this is where you take a look at others' published Storybirds, and add them to your reading list.
Creating your Story

To start creating a new story, click on Create and you will have the option to start browsing through the Artists' Story Art, Take The Challenge or Explore Themes. You will be able to use the different artwork to create a Storybird of your own.

Artists' Story Art: Browse through the different pictures created by artists from all over the world. Your will be able to "like" - by clicking on the Heart icon, and share your favourite artists by email, Twitter or Facebook. Some artists may have created artwork about different themes, too. At the bottom of the screen, you will also be able to preview any Storybirds who have used the artwork you are viewing. When you an artwork that you can work with, click on Start a Storybird with this art at the top right hand side of the screen, and then on Jump In to start

Take The Challenge: Every month, Storybird launches a themed competition, which is usually sponsored by a third-party (for example, the December 2010 competition is sponsored by Cheerios, the popular children's breakfast cereal). Users have to create a Storybird according to a pre-set theme and thus enter a competion. Even if you are not interested in enrolling in these competitions, in this section you will be able to view other people's entries and perhaps get inspired about your own project.

Explore Themes: The artwork uploaded by others is naturally tagged for ease of reference. In this section you will be able to browse through all the tagged categories instead of by individual artists, and hence you will be more able to find what you are looking for if you have something specific in mind.

Working Together

After you have chosen your artwork, you will be able to start working on you own story by clicking on Start a Storybird with this art. You will be presented with a blank canvas, which you can fill up with the artwork scattered all around the page. To fill your page with an illustration, click on the picture you require and drag it onto the page. Note that the illustration will not fill up the whole of the page: a textbox will automatically be created so that you will be able to fill in some text too. Page navigation can be found at the bottom of the screen: click to Add or Delete a page, or Previous Page/Next Page to navigate from one page to the next.

You will be able save, share or publish your Storybird by clicking on the menu on the top right hand side of the screen. Click on Save to safeguard your work; on Menu>Invite Someone to invite collaborators; and on Menu>Publish This Storybird to make your creation available online to others. After you have published your story, you will also be able to share it online with others through blogs or websites by grabbing the Storybird's embed code and copy and paste it onto your platform. Currently, Storybird code is accepted by most popular platforms accepting standard HTML code, such as Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr and Ning. Below is a Storybird created by my friend and collegue, Jeannette Cardona:

Whilst you can use Storybird with your own class, to create a classroom-based story, the straight of the application lies, of course, in the ability to share your creation with others and allow others to add to your own story, to create a collaborative project together. The only drawback I encountered in Storybird seems to be that you are unable to add your own drawings to a single story; however, if you are so inclined, you can apply to be a contributor here:
Sites to Remember:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prezi: An Innovative Presentation Application

When one thinks of presentation software generally, the thought tends to drift immediately to PowerPoint, within the MS Office Application Suite. While one agrees that PowerPoint has its merits, it is not the beginning and end of all presentations: there are various other applications available which can do an similar or an even better job of presenting your work. gives a whole list of alternatives that can be used and these include Google Docs, Ajax, Thinkfree and Zoho. (The full list can be accessed online at One such free, web based presentation application is Prezi.

Prezi is a web-based presentation application and story-telling tool. Instead of using the traditional slides which come one after the other, Prezi gives the user a single canvas which can be filled with words, pictures and videos. The user can fill up the canvas as he or she desires; then, one has to create links from one "item" to the next, to create a free-flowing presentation. The result is a non-linear presentation, where users can zoom in or out of a visual map. The end result can be quite stunning visually. Prezi also allows multiple users to work on the same presentation (by email invitation), making it an excellent collaboration tool.

The video below explains in brief what Prezi is all about:

Getting Started

To start using Prezi, you need to first create an account. Prezi offers three types of accounts: Public, Enjoy and Pro. Public is the only free service available, and apart from allowing limited online space, all presentations created will be visible and searchable by other Prezi users. On the other hand, Prezi offers special student/teacher licenses, which give an immediate upgrade in storage of 500MB. This is possible by registering to Prezi with an email account which can be traced back to an educational institution, such as teacher's .educ and .gov accounts. After you register for the first time, you will be asked to log into the email account you have used when registering and click on the confirmation email which is automatically sent by Prezi.

Your First Prezi

To start your first Prezi, go to to, log in using the email you have registered with and your newly created password, and click on New Prezi on the top right hand side of the screen. You will be presented with a new window where you can input the title of your Prezi together with a short description. After this is done, you will be able to start working. Your screen should look something like this:

  1. A huge white canvas, with the words Click anywhere to add an idea in the middle of the screen;
  2. The transformation menu on the top left hand side of the screen;
  3. Save/Print/Exit menu on the top of the screen;
  4. Zoom in/out menu on the right hand side.

To start writing, click anywhere (litteraly) and start typing away. A text box will automatically open and your will be able to write your message. The text within each text box can be changed in an autonomous way. After you have entered your text and clicked on Ok to save it, you will be able to access it again either by double clicking and re-opening the text box, or else by clicking once and opening the Transformation Zebra.

The Transformation Zebra - Move-Scale-Rotate

The transformation Zebra is a dynamic menu system used by Prezi. By clicking once on the word or item of choice, it will open up and allow you to zoom in, out, delete, duplicate, bring an object to the front or relegate it to the back of the canvas. By moving the scroll button on the mouse, you will be able to zoom in or out of the text box; by clicking on the "X" you will be able to access all the other options. The Transformation Zebra is pivotal to the correct usage of Prezi.

Adding onto your Prezi

Of course, adding textboxes to Prezi is only the beginning of the journey. Click on the transformation menu on the top left hand side of the screen, and choose Insert. From here, you will be able to insert pictures, videos (from your disk or from an URL) or draw shapes with the freehand drawing tool.

To insert a picture or video from your disk, click on Insert > Load File. A standard file browsing window will open, from which you will be able to select the desired file. Alternatively, to add video content which is already online to your Prezi, click anywhere on the canvas to open a text box, and copy and paste the URL of the desired video from YouTube or any similar video repository.

You can also change the fonts and colours of your presentation. Click on the transformation menu and then on Colours and Fonts. You will be able to change the way your presentation looks; however for the moment this is limited only to about 10 templates.


Of course the most important feature of Prezi, which puts it ahead of its game, is the ability to create paths between your words, pictures and videos. The path will determine the order of the information being presented. One can also zoom in or out of specific words and pictures by using Frames.

To create paths, simply click on the transformation menu, and then on Paths. By clicking on each individual item - text, picture, video - you will be able to generate the order in which the items will appear on your screen one after the other. Numbers will appear on each newly created path so that you can tell at a glance which item will come after which. If you wish to delete a path, simply drag the path (where the number is written) out of the text box, video or picture.

If you wish to zoom onto a specific parts of the text, you may also create frames by clicking on the transformation menu and then on Frames. You will be able to select specific parts of a picture and zoom in directly onto it by creating a new path for the frame.

Saving and Downloading your Prezi

As soon as you have finished editing your Prezi, you can preview it by clicking on Show from the transformation menu. When you are happy with the results, click on Save on the top menu, and then on Exit. You will be taken to the Prezi dashboard.

From here, you have several options at your disposal, which are accessible from the menu on the left hand side of the screen:
  • Edit Prezi: to edit your existing presentation;
  • Save a copy: to create a backup of your prezi;
  • Download: to download a copy of your prezi for offline viewing - however, bear in mind that if your prezi contains online material, such as videos from YouTube, they will not work without an Internet connection;
  • Delete: to delete a prezi from the online repository (make sure that you have downloaded it for future use first).

Collaboration with others

Like other Web 2.0 tools, Prezi allows great collaboration between groups of people who will be able to work together on the same presentation. You will be able to get a link and share the Prezi by email, or embed it onto your website or blog. But best of all, Prezi allows you to invite editors to work together with you on your presentation. Click on Get Link to get your presentation's link, on Embed to grab the code and or on Invite Editors to invite your collaborators to work with you. You will be able to work hand-in hand with your colleagues or friends on this innovative presentation software.

Sites to remember:


Examples of other free, online presentation software:

NB I would like to thank Franco for teaching me how to use Prezi, and Jeffrey for having the patience to repeat :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Online Publishing: Issuu

Web 2.0 has changed the way that ordinary people look at the Internet. In the times of Web 1.0, the Internet was read-only, static, authoritarian: and most importantly, it was only the people who knew how to who could upload and share their information online with others. This has of course changed with the advent of Web 2.0 and a more collaborative, user-generated content web. Along the years, a number of online media repositories - some of course more popular then others - have sprouted on the Internet: for example, YouTube and Vimeo for online video sharing; SlideShare for presentations and documents; Picasa and Flickr for sharing photos, etc. The list is ever-growing, and the trick is to find something that not only works well for you, but, in the case of educators, works well in the classroom as well. Today I am going to take a look at Issuu, an online service that allows for realistic and customizable viewing of digitally uploaded material, such as portfolios, books, magazine issues, newspapers, and other print media.

Getting Started

The first step is, of course, registration: log onto and click on Sign Up Now. It will allow for quick and easy registration, and then it will immediately allow you to find other users in your contact list who are using Issuu as well. This will allow even easier sharing of your documents with your friends. You will also be asked whether you want to view the introdoctory videos to get you started: here is the very first one which I have embedded here:

Uploading Your publications

Uploading a document on Issuu is relatively as easy as adding or sending an attachment by email: simply click on the Upload Document icon on the top right hand side of the screen, and then on Browse to choose your file. You will also be prompted to enter the title, description, keywords, and to choose a URL for your file. You can also select the document type, the recommended audience, language and target area. Other settings include whether or not the document will be public or private, and whether comments or ratings are allowed. Only after those details have been set will the system allow you to upload your document (which it does rather speedily). After uploading the document, you will be taken to My Library.

My Library

My Library is the place where all your uploaded documents will be featured. They will appear on
virtual Shelves and you will be able to organise and move your documents around on the different shelves.

The menu on the left hand side of the screen will help you to organise your work, and your friends' work, in a way that is easily recognisable for you. This is because Issuu, being a document repository and social networking site, allows you to add "friends", join groups and follow other people's updated publications. There is also a handy internal mail which you can use to communicate with your Issuu friends.

From your library, you can also grab the relevant links and embed codes in order to be able to embed the document into a website. In order to do this, follow these simple instructions:

  1. From your Home Page, click on My Library.
  2. Choose from your shelves the document you would like to work with.
  3. Click on Embed on the top right hand side of the screen. Choose the type of code you want to work with - HTML, Blogger, Wordpress etc.
  4. Scroll down and customise other settings, including layout, size, colour and theme, whether you want icons to appear on screen, whether your publication will be flicking automatically from one page to the next, etc. As soon as you are happy with your settings, click and copy the Embed Code itself from the top right hand side of the screen.
  5. Paste the Embed Code onto your blog or website.
Below is a simple tutorial about My Library, and how to organise your publications and embed them onto any website:

Visitors to your website will be able to either flick through your publication on your very website or blog; or else they can choose to be re-directed to your Issuu profile, and look at your other work, too.

Your Friends and Other Publications

The scope of Issuu is not only to upload your favourite publications for ease of sharing: you will also be able to browse through what other persons have uploaded. Publications are categorised and tagged for ease of reference. You will be able to browse through educational, inspirational, and many other types of publications by clicking on the Publications tab on the top left hand side of the screen. By adding your friends as contacts, you will be able to follow what they are uploading themselves and communicate with them through the internal emailing system.

To start using Issuu, go to and create an account. Get publishing :)