Friday 3 September 2010

A challenge for my techie friends

OK, guys. My head is spinning on this one, and I would value a bit of input from any of my other geek-colleagues.

This is all about my contacts and my emails. Across the years I've come to a few conclusions:
  • I like to have my emails on a local machine-based client (e.g. Outlook Express, Thunderbird or whatever). I check my mails using MailWasher before I start and then bring them in; if I'm away from home, I use webmail to look at the inbox and delete rubbish, but leave it on the server until I get home and it can all go in one place.
  • I enjoy Microsoft Outlook for two reasons only: its ability to act as a source for a mailmerge (vital for Christmas card labels) and the silly, tiny convenience of being able to pick up an address from the relevant button in Microsoft Word when creating a letter or invoice. I haven't used it for email since I stopped working in an office, five years back.
  • I keep a separate Googlemail account for convenience, for an alternative, and for giving out to shops that need it. But when it comes to contact details...
  • ...since getting an iPhone, I adore the ease with which my online address book on GoogleMail synchs with the phone - also, therefore, ensuring I have the whole shooting match in at least two places in case one goes belly-up.
One thing I'm always trying to drum into my IT and decluttering clients is the wisdom of keeping single-source data. You can see from the above description that I'm not following my own dictum here. I've been existing on a complex combination of merges and imports for some while now, and it offends my sense of efficiency.
  • I want to keep my contacts on GoogleMail for keeping in synch with iPhone, but I don't like the GoogleMail interface for emails (yes, I know I can set up POP3 accounts on it, but I don't want to do that).
  • This means that I have to put email addresses into both Thunderbird and GoogleMail when I get them.
  • I like using Outlook for the minor tasks described above.
Now, the challenge:

I discovered Soocial the other day. A very neat system (chargeable, but not excessively) it nearly takes care of this problem - but not quite.
  • GoogleMail and the iPhone are synching with each other already, so I only need one of those sources to store on Soocial. No problems there.
  • Outlook won't synch to Soocial, because it only supports 2003 and 2007, and I'm still using 2002 (Outlook XP) - and I really don't have any other reason to upgrade the damn thing at extortionate cost.
  • Thunderbird seemed to synch to it at first, using a rather complicated plug-in called Funambol. I got the initial set of contacts from there into Soocial, no problem. However, since then it's refused to update again - and when I looked at updating Thunderbird from version 2 to 3, discovered that the Funambol plugin isn't available for that version.
So am I looking for the Holy Grail?
  • Would it work if I replaced Thunderbird with Windows Live Mail - as that's one of the connections advertised as working on Soocial? Any opinions on that one? I only ditched Outlook Express in favour of Thunderbird, some years back, as I was having an anti-Bill Gates strop at the time.
  • Would GoogleMail synch contacts direct with WLM - in which case I wouldn't need to use Soocial as part of the process at all?
  • And do I ditch Outlook completely, and accept that I need to export contacts to CSV at Christmastime to make them the source of a mailmerge?
My brain hurts, and I'm sure yours does now. But if any of those friendly geeks out there can come up with a really good solution, I'd be eternally grateful.

Don't panic!

As we know, Facebook often introduces new 'features', ideas, rules and all the rest. Some are positively beneficial, some less so. However, I'm a bit worried by the amount of warnings that fly around the place about these things which are, in themselves, inaccurate. So this is a quick plea to check it out before you go striking fear into the hearts of all your friends!

The latest culprit is the 'Places' Feature. Put simply, this enables you to post your location to Facebook - if you want to. If you 'check in to a place' using this feature, your location will be displayed. (For anybody who uses FourSquare, it has roughly the same effect - it's your way of saying 'this is where I am right now'.) It doesn't happen automatically "when you are logged in", as this posting puts it:

IMMEDIATELY!!!! Facebook launched Facebook Places yesterday. Anyone can find out where you are when you are logged in. It gives the actual address & map location ofwhere you are as you use Facebook. Make sure your kids know. TO UNDO: Go to "Account","Account Settings", ......"Notifications", then scroll ......down... to "Places" and UNCHECK the 2 boxes. Make sure to SAVE changes and re-post this message!!

This isn't accurate. The only way people find out where you are is if you actively use the Places feature to tag yourself in a place - not whenever you log in to Facebook. And, like all other features, you can choose whether to publish this (if and when you use it) to everybody, friends of friends, just friends or a selected list.

Not only that, but Places isn't yet available outside the USA anyway!! So those of us in the UK can't use this feature yet even if you wanted it.

And finally, following the instructions above wouldn't help in any case, as they would only stop you being notified of other friends tagging your location... it wouldn't stop the tag from happening. If anything, stopping the tagging is more of a security problem, as it stops you being alerted when somebody else has tagged you. [NB: you can also change your settings so that other people can't tag your location. See the link below for this explanation, too.]

For the real story (rather than the run-round-in-circles-panic-knee-jerk version) have a look at this very simple explanation on the Facebook help page.

And next time you read anything like this - before you repost it - please take thirty seconds to do a bit of research. You could save us all a lot of raised blood pressure!

PS: How do you spot something that's likely to be a hoax / inaccurate / deliberately designed to cause panic? In my experience, the more inflammatory the language and the higher the usage of exclamation marks, the less likely it is to be worth taking seriously...