N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

WARNING: Distractions Ahead!

Everyone needs a little distraction, especially writers, who spend too much time in their own heads. I’ve been upfront with you about my distractions, mostly World of Warcraft (aka WOW) and television, but there are other ones out there that are a lot more fun and interactive. Let me give you a little rundown…

1) Photo-sharing Websites: Things like Flickr, Photobucket, Snapfish, etc. In case you aren’t familiar with these names they are sites that allow you to upload photos for friends and family and strangers to view at their leisure on their own computer. Basically, you give out the username like candy and watch the comments on your snaps add up. There are groups on Flickr that you can join to catch more strangers’ photos of things you are interested in. My groups consist of Fire and Hawaii and Photo Contest groups, and I have a lot of fun checking them out and being inspired by the talent out there. This is also a great place to develop and train your photographer’s eye. Look at the groups and ask yourself why one picture you don’t really like is popular, while another that you love is not…try to figure out how you could recreate the same picture and even more how would you make it better. I must admit, quite a bit of my disposable time happily goes down the Flickr drain.

Under this I’ve got to include a shout out for my latest happy discovery…Adobe Photoshop Express (beta). This sweet little page will let you log into Flickr, PhotoBucket, Facebook, and Picasa EDIT your photos and re-upload them onto the sites they came from! This means no more waiting for Flickr’s editing software to load and no more pulling pictures back off the web to give them a good spit and polish! What a beautiful thing! What a beautiful, beautiful thing! I encourage everyone putting photos out there on the web to check this site out. Oh, and no worries about the TOS (if you’ve heard about the controversy) they’ve changed the wording and now it reads much better than it did…still not perfect but much better. With that being said, I would urge you to get a Flickr or similar account and only use the Adobe Photoshop Express page for editing.

2) Aggregators: Google Reader is my favorite, but I’m sure you could find others if you looked. These are RSS/News Aggregators that will pipe updates on the pages you have subscribed to into a page that will allow you to look at them all at once. Thus, I’ve got my personal friends and my local news and my favorite authors and my publisher blogs all in once place to be accessed when I log in. Woot! I adore my Reader and take a look at it most every day! Now I don’t have to worry about missing things or check day after day for an update…if it happens my Reader has it! The best part, there doesn’t have to be and RSS feed on the page for Google Reader to follow it, stick a webpage url in the “subscribe” box and there you go…anytime that page is updated you will be notified.

The page basically looks like email, with unread items bolded with the number of unread items for a particular page or section (you can create sections, that’s how I get my friends separate from my authors). Click on what you would like to look at, and if there are too many click on “mark all read” and it does just that. Fun stuff, I’ve got to tell you. Give it a try.

3) Social Networking Sites: Places like Facebook and MySpace have gotten a lot of coverage in the news over the last few years, and most of it has been bad (cyberbullying, inappropriate content, etc.) but underneath all that is a pretty fun place to visit. Social networking sites give you a place to develop your profile: with fun applications (think text-based games with cool graphics), photo albums (if someone tags your image in Facebook it is linked to your profile), and easy upkeep you can’t really beat it for getting your face and name out there for others to find. Take a minute to round out your profile by pimping your website, telling people what you are doing, and listing your interests. Then send some Facebook email and look up long lost (or maybe not so lost) friends to add to your account. Next thing you know you’re back in touch with the college friend you wish you’d never lost contact with (Hey Katie!) and keeping tabs on your family (*waves to my niece Alyce*).

4) Microblogging: For those of us with not much to say (or too much) there is always Twitter. It is blogging software that limits entries to 140 characters (including spaces). It’s a great way to let people know how the day is going, or if you get the right software, that you have updated your blog. It is simple and free to use, just like all the other stuff in this post. You simply need to sign up for an account and bang you are ready to tweet to the world. There is a very poor search engine you can use to find friends, but good luck getting it to work. I suggest culling the list of the friends you do find online or putting a shout out in your blog posts and see who picks you up (My username? NRBrown). Tweeting has taken the nation by storm, and unfortunately the infrastructure of the program is not advanced enough to cope with its raging popularity…still, we all use it and love it even if it does stick at times.

I think the best description of Twitter comes from Lore Sjöberg of Wired.com, who himself is a rabid Twitterholic. He says, “(Twitter) ends up being too short for interesting topics, while remaining way too long for boring ones.”

And that’s about it.

These are not only a great way to give you a few seconds of distraction from the raving inside your own mind, but it’s also a great way to: make more friends, find great blogs, mine ideas, celebrate creativity and generally be social on a virtual level.

I’m using most of these and having a great time doing it. I encourage you to get out there and dig through some of these way cool distractions to find some you might like.

Or if you are already using these and know of some other way cool gadgets, comment here and let me know! I’m always looking for the next cool web application!