Category Archives: Misc.

Save time and money with online meeting tools

If you’re like me, you probably hate attending business meetings. Luckily, a number of useful Internet-based tools can help workgroups schedule and run them more effectively. All of the tools here work within most popular Web browsers, and most of them are available for free or for fairly low monthly fees. The challenge is in understanding which tool suits a particular situation, because not every meeting is held under the same circumstances. Let’s look at some of the differences.

Synch Your Calendars

Certainly the most common situations are those where you want to synchronize a common calendar, such as between someone’s PDA and his Microsoft Outlook desktop, or between a boss’s calendar and an assistant’s. Many services can make sharing calendars between work team members (or even between family members or friends) easier. Both Google Calendar (shown below) and Yahoo Calendar offer free calendar sync, and numerous other products–including Apple’s iCal for its computers and iPhones, along with NuevaSync–work with both services. BusySync and Spanning Sync also can synchronize Apple’s iCal calendars with Google Calendar.

Online Meeting Tools

Let Clients Setup Their Own Appointments

What if you want your clients or any other people not employed by your company to book your time directly? In the long-ago past, appointment secretaries would be in charge of the boss’s calendar and would set up meeting times with pencil and paper. Now you can point clients and outside colleagues to self-service appointment Web sites, such as BookFresh,  Tungle.me or TimeDriver. These sites can display your staffers’ free and busy times, as well as what remaining time “inventory” is available for appointments. They also send out e-mail notifications, and they don’t require any special software beyond a Web browser to confirm the appointment. You can easily adjust the schedule when you are going out of town or are otherwise unavailable, too. These services are available for a reasonable cost: TimeDriver has a free 90-day trial and is $30 a year thereafter; BookFresh offers three different plans, including a free one that allows two monthly bookings. Tungle (shown below) is free for the moment.

Online Meeting Tools

Set Up a Common Meeting Time

How about a situation where you want to arrange a common meeting time for people coming from different companies? A meeting organizer could send out an e-mail notification with a series of possible open times, and ask each participant to check off which of those times work for them. But if you have ever tried to organize this kind of meeting, you know how quickly you can get buried under all the back-and-forth e-mail responses.

The free services SetMeeting.com (from Meeting Agent) and Doodle.com are useful in this respect. SetMeeting.com’s biggest weakness is that once you initiate the process it doesn’t allow you to change the meeting location without canceling and starting from scratch. Doodle, which is less sophisticated and has fewer features, is really more of a polling device to help you find a common time; but you may find it attractive if that’s all you wish to do.

As you can see, there are a variety of simple websites that can be used to enhance your meetings. Now if only there was an app that could make the actual meetings shorter.

 

 

Going Mobile: The Benefits of Running Your Company From a Laptop

Run Your Business in the CloudIt won’t be long before you’ll be able to run a global corporation from an iPad, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Cloud computing allows you to access and manipulate complex corporate software on a relatively simple mobile device. Several leading cloud providers say this approach can be almost 70 percent cheaper than buying and running your own servers. While that percentage is dependent on pricing and several other factors, there’s little doubt the cloud is changing the way businesses are run and how information is accessed.

Running your business in the cloud not only frees up cash, it also shortens your in-office hours, giving you time and space to think outside the box, perhaps using that time to coin a phrase to replace the overused, beaten-to-a-pulp “outside the box.”

So now that you’ve freed yourself from the constraints of your office, what to do with your newly earned mobility? Take in the matinee showing of The Avengers? Fulfill that promise to yourself to spend more time in that old-man bar around the corner?

While saving time and money might be the first and second reasons to turn to the cloud, they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are just a few of the not-so-obvious benefits of running your business in this brave new mobile world.

Crush the Competition

Sure, they’re a nice couple and have been in business for more than 50 years. Customers seem to like them, and who wouldn’t, with their folksy talk and old-fashioned phrases? No doubt about it: They’re a couple of cards.

The problem is they’ve been steadily taking market share, and for that, they must go.

Your new-found mobility allows you to stake out a competitor’s parking lot to gather intel and devise your next foray into espionage. It also allows you the time to find a good lawyer to explain what you were doing in their parking lot at 3 a.m.

Feeling Groovy

It allows you to work anywhere with a WiFi connection such as the Golden Arches or that hippie bookstore. This allows you the creative space to formulate your next great product or service.

Fact: Some of this century’s greatest thought leaders do their most profound thinking in hippie bookstores (in fact, “outside the box” originated in one).

Fact: That’s not really a fact.

Is There Anything Else I Can Help You With Today?

More personal customer service is sure to arise as you embrace your new mobility. Pop in on a customer. See if they need any orders filled or snafus unraveled. After polishing off the last of their donuts and pestering the receptionist, don’t overstay your welcome. Be polite when you’re asked to leave. Be sure to get your parking validated.

Hover ‘Round

Your out-of-office experience will allow you to see how your staff operates in your absence.

Productivity up? Cash rolling in? Chalk it up to your frequent visits to key customers and the savings realized from going to the cloud.

Surely it has nothing to do with your employees being free from your frequent meetings and over-the-shoulder hovering.

In all seriousness, having the ability to run your business while on the go has numerous benefits. Better work-life balance, the ability of resolve problems day or night, and the oft-mentioned cash savings are just a few. Exploring how to enhance your business with mobility is time and money well-spent.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – May 18

How to Buy a Single Share of Facebook Stock

Facebook’s upcoming initial public offering is attracting more than your typical stock traders, and some of them just want a single share, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper said websites that sell single shares of stock have been receiving a lot of inquiries about Facebook stock recently from users who are not usually attracted to IPOs.

“People who are buying one share typically never sell it,” OneShare Chief Executive Lance Lee told CNNMoney. “For the underlying company, it shows true brand loyalty.”

Buying a single share of stock typically costs nearly $40 more than the current trading price due to service fees. Like or dislike?

Cloud Adoption Approaching a Crucial Point

There’s a “tipping point” for cloud adoption, according to the CIO at Google, and it’s fast approaching.

Once that point arrives and companies enter the world of cloud computing, there’s no going back–it will become the standard for IT, according to Ben Fried, the search giant’s chief information officer.

An article in Midsize Insider takes a look at this issue and explores how midsize businesses and their IT fit into this new world of cloud computing. Is cloud adoption only meant for large-scale customers, or will it benefit “mom and pop” organizations? Have a look here.

Multitasking Too Much? Strap This on Your Head

Researchers are tapping into the brain’s signals to ease the downsides of multitasking and information overload, a growing problem in digital lifestyles, according to CNET.

Researchers unveiled the Brainput computer interface device at the recent Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2012), which explores new human-machine interface designs.

A prototype of the device uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to sense changes in brain patterns that indicate a person is multitasking, and a brain sensor is strapped around the user’s forehead in order to more accurately record when a user is multitasking.

An interesting idea, but the sensor looks like a headband straight out of the ’70s American Basketball Association.

 

 

How to share simple databases online

Sharing simple databases onlineIf you are part of a business, sooner or later you want to be able to collaborate on a database with a colleague or customer. In the past, the easiest way to share a small database was to create a spreadsheet and email it to your collaborators. While this isn’t the best method, it has withstood more sophisticated competition.

For many people, the spreadsheet is still one of the most popular low-end database applications. The rubric of a table of rows and columns is easily understood and can easily be used as a way to view records and fields of a database. Plus, you don’t need to design special reports to view your data entries, and you can easily sort your data without having to create data dictionaries or other database structures, just use the appropriate Excel commands.

But emailing attachments can get tiresome, particularly if you have more than one collaborator. Having a specialized service that can share this data makes it easier, and you always have the current version of the data you are working on. Enter the online spreadsheet/database service provider.

Using these online spreadsheet services is very straightforward: you either copy and paste data or take your spreadsheet and upload it to the service, after creating accounts for you and your collaborators. Then you can make changes via your Web browser, no other software is required. Some of the services allow for more bells and whistles. Setup time is minimal; your data is properly protected by the service and safe from harm. And you don’t need to learn any Web/database programming skills either.

Pricing and support

When you decide on the particular service, it pays to read the fine print about pricing. There are discounts for annual subscriptions on most services. All of these services have 14-day or 30-day free trials to get started, so you can get a feel of what is involved in manipulating your data and how easy it is to make changes, produce reports, and receive notifications. TrackVia has a free plan that is a great way to get started with these services.

The downside is that some of these services can be pricey, as you add collaborators or different spreadsheets. Each service has different ways to count actual “users”. For example, if you want to jointly edit the same spreadsheet with two others — that usually counts as a three-user license. But if you want others to just view your data but not change it, these users usually don’t consume additional licenses.

Customer support can be extra too. TrackVia, HyperBase, and QuickBase all include phone support in their offerings, and TrackVia actually emails you automatically with the name and phone number of an account rep should you need additional help.

Distinguishing features

Let’s touch on some of the services’ distinguishing features. First is how they notify you of changes to your file’s content. Some services give you more control over how they will email you when one of your collaborators has made changes. Another feature is publishing your data, if you want to invite others to view it. While this throws all hope of security to the winds, for less-secure information it is a great way to start a collaboration process. Some services can design very sophisticated reports while others show you your data in the familiar grid layout that Excel uses.

Another thing to look for is how each service loads your data: with some, you can upload an Excel file from your hard drive, while with others you have to either import a comma separated file or manually cut and paste your data from your spreadsheet. Why is this important? If you have more than a simple table of numbers, cut and paste will probably not work and you will have some cleanup to do after the import.

Finally, there is the consideration of how much control they give you over the look and feel of your data. Some of the services, such as TrackVia and QuickBase have dozens of pre-built templates to help you get started with organizing your data, such as client contacts, issue tracking, or expense reports. The others you are left to be your own designer.

One caveat: Web services are constantly being changed, especially prices, as the vendors tweak their offerings. This analysis is based on what we saw in mid-April 2012, so do spend some of your own time checking out particular features that are deal-makers or breakers for you.

So what services are available?

Smartsheet.com $16/mo for 10 spreadsheets 3 GB

HyperBase $600 per year for 5 users 

TrackVia.com Free for 5 users and 1 GB, paid plans available

Intuit QuickBase $299/mo for 10 users 1 GB for entry plan

 

 

Tech Tools and Apps That Enhance the Great Outdoors

Tech Tools and Apps that Enhance the Great OutdoorsWho says technology and nature must be mutually exclusive? As the spring season takes root and more of us can’t wait to replace stale office air with the sights and sounds of the outdoors, there are definitely some cool tech tools and apps that make the great outdoors even greater.

While burying your face into the screen of an iPad while hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail seems counter-intuitive (and rightfully so), there are ways to enhance your outdoor experience with some digital assistance. Here are just a few apps and tools to keep handy while exploring your neck of the woods.

For the Birds

Available on Apple’s App Store for just $2.99 for a limited time (it’s regularly $19.99), Audubon Birds: A Field Guide to North American Birds offers thousands of photos of North American birds, and maps of real-time sightings, among other features and interactive functions.

From the developer:

The newly updated Audubon Birds app has all the right ingredients to enhance your birding experience. Now with eBird, you can experience the thrill of locating birds in real time with quick access to recent sightings, locations of notable and rare birds, and maps and directions to all the birding hotspots across North America. The best bird app just got better!

On the Right Track

A recent article in The New York Times discussed the osprey’s dramatic recovery in Queens over the last few decades and a banding initiative that allows wildlife managers and the public to track, via GPS, the movements of the grand birds with 4-foot wingspans.

That’s Knots

For those of us who enjoy the quiet challenge of fishing, the App Store offers a handy app that demonstrates how to tie different fishing knots. Animated Fishing Knots is just 99 cents and is a great way to familiarize yourself with the art and sport of fishing.

Also helpful if you ever find yourself in a Jaws-like situation such as this:

Quint: [talking Brody through making knots] Little brown eel comes out of the cave… Swims into the hole… Comes out of the hole… Goes back into the cave again… It’s not too good, is it Chief? [Referring to Brody's messed up knot]

iHurt

If you’ve ever seen an episode of the Travel Channel’s When Vacations Attack, you know a free-spirited bungee jump can go from “yay!” to “no way!” in seconds.

While there isn’t an app that can turn back time and allow you to go with your initial gut feeling of “this bungee instructor seems kinda distracted, maybe I’ll sit this round out,” there is an app that contains more than 30 first-aid topics, including CPR, bleeding, burns, choking, drug overdose, bites, stings and many more.

iFirstAid will set you back $2.99, but if you need it, it’s money well spent.

From the developer:

It’s simple one-line memory jogging format helps you act fast when you need it most, in a life or death emergency. But heaps of additional detail is always just one touch away.

 

 

How To Select a Backup Service: Start By Identifying What Files You Have

Back up Computer FilesBefore you can choose a backup solution, you have to know what files you want backed up.

In order to decide what files you want to back up, you have to know what files you’ve got on your system as well as various information about them:

What programs and peripherals are creating the files that you want backed up. Where — as in, where on your computer’s storage, or possibly, where on a network storage device — are these files are created and saved to.

It’s possible that the backup utility you use will a.) ask you the right questions, and b.) find the directories and files that you care about. But if you don’t know the answers, you can’t tell the utility what to do and you can’t be sure it’s doing what you need.

What programs and peripherals create files?

It’s easy to lose track of what creates/saves files to the computer.

Every time you use an office productivity application, such as Microsoft Word/Excel/PowerPoint, or OpenOffice, you’re creating, and presumably saving, files.

Other programs and activities that create files include:

o Creating documents on NotePad, WordPad Scanning documents

o Creating PDF files (e.g., “printing to a PDF”)

o Saving web pages Getting receipts from web transactions (e.g., for airline, hotel, car reservations)

o Purchasing or downloading digital media (iTunes and other music, ebooks, video, etc.)

o Using digital media editing programs, e.g., Picasa, Flickr, Audacity

Also, other devices that connect/sync to your computer may create/transfer files. For example, your smartphone, tablet, digital camera, or MP3 player may create files that can be backed up.

Where are the files?

In order to tell a backup service to backup your files, you have to know not only which ones you want — e.g., documents, music and photos you create, but not documents you’ve downloaded — but also where on your computer they are.

On Windows PCs:

“Windows 7 uses libraries,” according to Ed Bott, author and a blogger for ZDnet on Windows and other technology issues. “By default, Documents are stored in the Documents folder within your user profile. You can add a separate location to a library (and optionally make it the default save location for that datatype), or you can change the default local Documents folder to be a location of your choosing.”

On MacOS:

For MacOS users, places in your directory structure that are likely (keeping in mind that I’m not a Mac user, this comes from consulting a MacOS-using friend plus some searching) to have files you may want to back up include:

o Your “home” folder, which is /Users/[yourname] — often abbreviated as “~”, e.g. /Users/grumpy/helloworld can be done as ~/helloworld

o Your home directory includes data for applications, like ~/Music (for iTunes), ~/Pictures (for iPhoto), ~/Movies (for iMovie)

o Bookmarks and other configuration data (as opposed to actual content) created/used by programs, like iCal calendars, Mail accounts and rules, Address Book contents. These are mostly in ~/Library, e.g.

~/Library/Safari/Bookmarks.plist

~/Library/Keychains/

~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook

~/Library/Calendars

o Shared Folders and Public Folder — if you’ve put anything here you want to save.

As somebody still using Windows XP on my primary machine (my new notebook is Windows 7, though), I’m still accustomed to Windows saving to My Documents by default, which in turn by default is part of the top Explorer view of “Desktop” or “My Computer.” My desktop machine has multiple hard drives, and I try to use the C: drive for software, and the D: and E: drives for data — currently, about 250GB of data, including multimedia (photos, video, music).

Even so, my C:/Documents and Settings folder has (after close to four years of using the computer) slightly over 50GB — 50,000+ files in it. Of this, about 14GB are in the Application Data subdirectory, 30GB in My Documents, and 5GB in Local Settings. (For comparison, there’s only about 30GB of software on my C: drive.)

And you may have files to backup from multiple external hard drives, NAS devices and removable media.

Once you’ve determined what files you have, and where they’re located, you’re ready for the next steps in deciding on a backup strategy and selecting a backup solution.

 

 

5 Things to Ask Your Cloud Backup Services Provider

Online backup is a booming industry, with dozens of vendors providing storage in the cloud. The idea is a compelling one: for a few dollars a year, you have immediate and automatic offsite storage of your most critical files. No messing with tapes, making DVDs, or worrying if you have the most current files backed up. But how to get started with finding the right service for you? Here are five questions to ask your potential provider.

1. What does it cost for my backups?

The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to backup and how much data you are talking about. Are you just interesting in saving critical files, such as photographs and documents? Or do you want a backup of the entire PC itself, including program files and the operating system? Now, think about how much data you had on your computers a year ago, and how fast your storage needs are growing. You want to make sure that you anticipate this growth, too. If you are storing lots of photographs, audio or video files, this is very important because these are all big files compared to ordinary documents.

Once you know how much data you are dealing with, you can calculate what your monthly backup costs will be. Some providers offer discounts on annual service contracts too. Some providers offer unlimited space for a fixed fee too.

2. Can I backup more than one computer on a single account?

Some services assume that each account will be setup with a single computer, while others offer the ability to backup an entire collection of PCs. While you are checking this out, also look to see if they support the specific operating system versions of your entire computer collection. Some services don’t support 64-bit Windows, or Windows Server versions, or Macs for example.

3. Does your service save previous file versions?

Many products have the ability to save multiple versions of each file, up to a pre-set maximum that you can specify. This means you can go back in time if you have made a mistake in your work, or saved something that you would have rather not have done. If this is important to you, then consider which services have this feature. Note that some providers will include the space occupied by multiple file versions in their storage quotas.

4. How does my first backup get saved?

The first backup that you make can take several hours or days, depending on how much data you are sending to the cloud and how fast your Internet connection is. But once that chore is done, your incremental backups shouldn’t take too long, and happen in the background anyway. Some vendors, such as Mozy with its Data Shuttle, provide for this by having you mail them (via the postal mail) an actual external hard drive so the initial backup “seed,” as it is called, can be stored quickly. Other vendors have software that create backups locally and allow you to move the backup to another location across the Internet.

5. What kind of support do you offer?

Most service providers offer email-based support but not much beyond that. That is great if you don’t have many problems or are fairly confident and comfortable with using the service. But if something goes wrong, you want to talk to a live person. Some services only have live support during their business hours. If you want 24/7 support, then consider vendors such as Mozy, who offer the service.

 

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – May 14

The cloud helps during natural disastersHow Cloud Computing Helps Weather Dangerous Events

For emergency management, the biggest advantages of cloud computing come down to three words: virtual mission continuity. Cloud computing reduces concerns about whether the data center will survive a disaster, according to an article in the publication Emergency Management.

Businesses and agencies regularlycopy and back up data, but the real challenge is restoring the applications to keep essential services and critical functions online after a disaster. Entire servers, including systems, applications and data can be copied, backed up and be ready to activate in another data center in a matter of minutes.

“The cloud is going to change the whole mentality of emergency management,” said Pascal Shuback, a program coordinator for the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

“Responders can be anyone with connectivity, the public included. We can regionalize our capabilities and create virtual operation support teams composed of the people able to support an event, and it doesn’t matter where they are.”

Robot Cars Pass Driving Test

Autonomous cars have been granted permission to use public roads in Nevada.

After officials from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles rode in the vehicles, dubbed “Google cars,” along freeways, state highways and neighborhoods, as well as the busy Las Vegas Strip, they were given the state’s stamp of approval.

The cars are controlled by computers processing a combination of mapping data, radar, laser sensors and video feeds.

Google is one off several firms racing to develop cars able to drive themselves. It is competing with car manufacturers as well as military firms to develop the technology.

It’s an interesting concept, but let’s hope these Google cars won’t exhibit signs of Droid rage while stuck in heavy traffic.

Apple Looks to Claim iPhone 5 Domain

Apple has filed a claim with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for the domain name iphone5.com.

So far, Apple’s smartphone line has counted up only to the iPhone 4S, but the company is widely believed to be getting ready to bring an iPhone 5 into the world.

While there are no device specifications to be gleaned here, the WIPO filing does at least suggest that Apple is considering the iPhone 5 name for the next iteration of its immensely successful product. Or perhaps it just wishes to take that domain out of play, regardless of what it calls the device.

 

 

Yard sales – A good place for tech bargains

Tech Deals at Yard SalesStore prices for technology keeps getting cheaper — but even the prices you can find online or at retailers forrefurbished and remainder products may be more than you want to spend on some things.

Fortunately, there’s an even better-priced market out there, if you’re a savvy, patient shopper. No, I’m not referring to eBay, Craigslist, or other web-based shopping sites. I’m talking about the live in-person ever-changing marketplace of yard sales, a.k.a. garage sales, tag sales, and flea markets.

With the right combination of luck, timing, and product savvy, you can pick up some remarkable bargains, on everything from parts and accessories to entire systems.

My friend Howard, for example, says he has purchased some nice flat-screen monitors and TVs for $10 or less. (“Why on earth do people let these things go so cheaply?” he asks. If possible, he adds, get the remote — and the manual if they’ve got it, although those are available online.)

Yard sales have the advantage of instant gratification, no shipping costs, and being sure that you’re getting what you expected. The downside, of course, is the possibility it won’t work, and there’s no warranty or refund.

Don’t expect to find the newest products (although you may). Yard sales are where you go for last year’s — and last decade’s — stuff.

For example, you can find “classic-format” flat-screen displays, at $5-25; USB floppy drives for a buck or two; Unopened copies of Windows XP and Microsoft Office for $5-20; and keyboards, mice and USB cables for a buck. You can also find a range of computer desks and office chairs to outfit your home office.

And yard sales are a great place to find spares of niche products that you use, like trackballs, phone-to-audio connectors, adapters of various types, and the like — even if you already have one, stocking up on a spare or two at the right price never (well, rarely) hurts.

If you’re still listening to music through stereo gear, yard sales can also offer great bargains, especially as everybody else is discarding theirs. CDs and movie DVDs often for a buck or less. Good pre-BluRay CD/DVD changers are commonly available in the $2-5 range, good tuners and receivers for $5-20.

Great stereo gear costs a little more, anywhere from $25 to $200. Caveat emptore:you have to know what you’re looking at, and, if you can’t test it before you buy, be prepared for some to have problems.

Some things to avoid, or at least be cautious about: digital cameras and notebooks. Make sure they work. Think carefully before spending more than $15; these items become obsolete quickly, you may be able to do better through store/web remainder bins. The same is true for printers; I’ve given up buying them at yard sales.

Of course, not everything you buy will work. As a rule, yard sale purchases are “as is,” so if possible and appropriate, see if the item is working before you take your wallet out — if it’s an AC-powered device, see if they’ve got an outlet available.

You will, inevitably, buy some things that you decide weren’t worth it, or simply don’t work. But that’s part of the game; you have to decide whether, overall, you’d be better off sticking to the stores.

To know what’s a fair price, it’s helpful to periodically visit a computer store or scan the ads, so you know what new stuff is going for. (And you might do a quick check on the spot, from your smartphone. Be sure to pull the item from the pile so somebody else doesn’t grab it while you’re researching.)

And don’t hesitate to bargain! That’s half the fun of yard sales, after all. My rule of thumb is to offer one-third to one-half of the asking price, and be ready to go one more round after the counter-offer.

Another tip: if you’ve selected three or more items, make an aggressively lower offer “for the pile.” Remember, most yard sale runners are more interested in getting rid of their stuff than getting the most money.

And, of course, after a while, it’s probably time for you to do your own yard sale.

 

 

How to create trust with your online presence

How can online relationships fuel and shape how we interact with our colleagues in the real world? You know, that environment that exists outside our desktops?

Our newspapers and websites are filled with stories about how the nature of friendship has become devalued as we go about connecting on MyLinkFaceSpace et al. But what few have covered is how the online world creates new kinds of communities, and builds trusted relationships that carry on in the real world of face-to-face interaction. This post is how small businesses can enhance their online reputations to build trust in their brands.

Oddly, where I started thinking about this was reading a book from a couple who I have worked with in the past. Now, this isn’t your typical business book with about 10 pages of content and the rest is mostly common sense. Instead, it is a very practical hands-on book on geocaching.

Geocaching? You mean that hobby where people hide stuff in public places and then use their GPS to try to find them? Let me explain. The book, which is called The Joy of Geocaching by Paul and Dana Gillin, talks about what you need to get started, and has some great stories of very involved cachers that the couple met over the course of doing their research. This is where the lessons about online relationships come into play.

There is one story of a woman who traveled to Toronto on a business trip with several colleagues. She left them at the airport, and was picked up by a stranger – with the only thing in common being that both were cachers. How many of us would climb into a car in another country with nothing more than exchanging a few emails? That involves a certain level of trust and comfort that just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Other examples are people that use the Meetup.com site to find people of similar circumstances. And of course there are the online dating sites, too. Crowdsourcing is another. I am sure you could think of other examples.

This use of online connections to prime the pump for a face-to-face meeting happens more and more frequently because we are doing more than just sending emails, or friend requests, or linking to others via online sites. We are sharing a common bond, a series of interests. We are building an authoritative source of content, context and identity. And along the way, we start shaping these micro-communities one person at a time.

Yes, there are people who pride themselves on having thousands of “friends” or who can connect with celebs and CEOs alike. But that isn’t what today’s Internets are all about.

Yes, it takes a village. But increasingly, our villages are formed online and with hyper-specific interests – not just because we share a common street block or elementary school classroom of our children. This is nothing new. The early bulletin board systems were great at this. But what is new is the potency of these relationships, and how quickly they can come to fruition.

Sure, I belong to lots of different communities, some based here in St. Louis, some that include people from all over the world. So take a moment to think about the online communities that you are a member, or should be a member. And see if you can start building some trust.

And if you want to learn about geocaching, go get a copy of the Gillins’ book. It is a good read, even if you never leave the comfort of your home.