Random Tip #14: Awesome Screenshot (add-on/extension)

I have to go on a tangent for a bit before getting to my random tip, but I’ll try to keep the side-leg motion brief. Not everyone is aware of the ability to “add” features to Internet browser’s functionality. Back in the earlier days of Internet browsers (e.g., Netscape, Mosaic, AOL Explorer, etc.), the average user didn’t have have many options for changing or upgrading browser functionality. In other words, the browser worked the same for every user (unless you had programming skills to make modifications that are well beyond my general knowledge).

Along came Firefox, a browser that offered users the ability to “add-on” functionality through third-party developers who create these tools that enhance your browser’s abilities. One of the first add-ons that I added to Firefox was Cool Previews (no longer available), which allowed me to “peek” at a webpage without clicking it open. Yes, Apple didn’t invent the peek option. I’ve had a variety of add-ons since then, and my favorite right now is Evernote Clipper. But, we’re not here to talk about that. One last point I want to mention is that Google Chrome has a many add-ons (a.k.a., extensions), much like Firefox, though not all the Chrome options are free.

Awesome Screenshot LogoWhile I’ve done several reviews of screen-capture software (e.g., Screencast-o-matic, Jing, and Camtasia), there is a browser add-on that was one of my first add-ons and still available: Awesome Screenshot (here is Firefox add-on). What do I like best about this tool? I can take a screen shot of the entire browser page, not just what is viewable (without scrolling down). While Evernote’s Clipper is good for capturing articles I want to read, there are some whole pages I want to save. For example, if I’m shopping for a new Canon lens, and want to keep track of my favorites, I can keep screen shots as I browse different places online. More commonly, I capture my “home” page for my online classroom’s list of announcements so I can make sure I set the course up the same next term since the content doesn’t transfer one term to the next.

Awesome Screenshot doesn’t require a login if you want to just save the graphic to your computer. You can save it online and share if you sign up; you can store up to 30 images for free online. You can also annotate (i.e., draw on the graphic) prior to saving it. Their blog isn’t updated very often, but it’s available for a few more insights.

I suspect there are other (better) options, but this one has worked for me, so I thought I’d share.

Here are some screen shots of the tool:

Awesome screenshot annotation toolbar

There are the annotation options after capturing the screen you want to save. You don’t need to annotated (just click Done to move on to saving it).

Awesome screenshot save screen

Here is the save screen. You’ll need to be logged in to save it to the cloud.

Awesome screenshot sample

Here is the entire screen capture of a webpage, with annotations added.

Random Tip #13: Usability.gov

As has probably become very apparent by reading my blog, I like free options for educators and professionals. While teaching at a for-profit university, I also had to start seeking resources that were not only free, but also didn’t violate copyright restrictions that would otherwise not be an issue for non-profit universities (i.e., fair use for education/learning). I was specifically challenged when designing a technical writing course that didn’t rely on a textbook, so that I had to either write the material, find library sources, or copyright “free” sources on the Internet. I couldn’t even provide students with a URL to a site that did not give us permission to do so.

usabilitygovOne comprehensive and free to use source is usability.gov. As the URL implies, the focus is on usability testing, which is a cornerstone of effective technical communications. Since it is a government website, I don’t have to worry about copyright issues (which is noted in their About page). The site doesn’t just cover usability, but also design, project management, accessibility, and content strategy. It has templates and tutorials. There’s also a blog, but it’s buried under the Get Involved link (…not good design, by the way). It’s worth exploring the site, but here are a few of my favorite pages:

The site was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, but the content is general enough to apply to almost any field and situation involving design and usability testing. The site is not only for educators looking for “free” content, but I would advocate web designers and other professionals who create content viewed by a large audience review the site for insights. Some of the articles have further links embedded, so you can continue researching topics beyond what is offered at usability.gov; just a caution, though, that not all the external links are active. While the site isn’t as robust as a textbook might be, it’s still good supplemental materials to get a conversation started.