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Archives: October 2009

7 Essential multimedia tools and their free alternatives

Why spend money on expensive multimedia tools when you can use comparable alternatives for free? They may not be an exact replacement, but how can you argue with the price?

Free: Splashup

Photoshop may be the industry leader when it comes to photo editing and graphic design, but Splashup, a free online tool, has many of the same capabilities at a much cheaper price. Splashup has lots of the tools you’d expect to find in Photoshop and has a similar layout, which is a bonus for those looking to get started right away. Splashup isn’t the only free online photo editing program, check out this list of 20 more.

WEB DESIGN: Dreamweaver
Free: KompoZer

Looking to create your next web site without paying big money for programs like Dreamweaver? KompoZer, a free web design program available for immediate download, is great for both novice web designers and professional webheads who need more advanced editing features.

VIDEO: Final Cut, Adobe Premiere
Free: iMovie, JayCut

Many video editors, both novice and professional, use iMovie to create professional-looking videos and an amateur price. The program is included on modern Macs as part of the iLife package and has the basic features editors need as well as few advanced extras such as detachable audio and image stabilization. JayCut is an online video editor that lets registered users upload and edit their video for free. You can even add photos, audio and effects to your project. The final edited video can be shared on the web or downloaded directly to a computer.

AUDIO: ProTools, Adobe Audition
Free: Audacity, GarageBand

Audacity is a comprehensive audio editor with many of the capabilities of its costly competitors. The program, which is available for a free download lets users record and edit everything from simple audio tracks to complex professional work. GarageBand, which is included on modern Macs along with iMovie and iPhoto, takes a simple approach to audio editing and has the added capability of creating enhanced podcasts with photos, chapter markers and more. Find even more free audio editing programs here.

SLIDESHOWS: Soundslides
Free: PhotoPeach

Until recently there was no other slideshow tool that could compete upload Soundslides’ flexibility and easy-to-use interface…until now. PhotoPeach lets users upload and order photos using a drag and drop interface, upload an MP3 audio file from a computer, add captions for individual photos and embed the final slideshow anywhere on the net. All this is familiar to anyone who has ever used Soundslides, but PhotoPeach offers all this and more for free, making it a strong substitute for Soundslides.

Free: Effect Generator

Effect Generator, a free online tool, lets anyone create common Flash elements such as slideshows, graphics, and embedded videos. Once you’ve created your effect the generator emails a link where you can access the Flash file you created. The layout differs from Flash and takes some getting used to but is a great alternative, especially for those just starting to learn Flash.

WORD PROCESSING: Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
Free: Google Docs

Many of the programs and tools on this list are substitutions for existing program. With Google Docs, you’ll never want to touch Microsoft Office again. The free online tool lets anyone with a Google account create documents, spreadsheets and presentations as well as share the document for collaborative editing or viewing. Google Docs is accessible from any computer with an internet connection or you can work offline or download your finished work directly to your computer. You can even upload your existing documents into Google Docs.

Also on 10,000 Words:

21 Free online photo editing tools
Where to find free sound effects and royalty-free music
How to edit your video online for free or cheap
How to create, edit and embed audio for free
Essential multimedia tutorials and resources for do-it-yourself training

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How Alfred Hitchcock can make you a better storyteller

Alfred Hitchcock, director of classic films like Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Rear Window, used innovative storytelling and filmmaking techniques to craft some of the most unique and captivating movies in the history of cinema. You don’t have to be a filmmaker to steal some of Hitchcock’s techniques, though. His unique approach to storytelling transcends media and can be applied to online and multimedia storytelling as well.

Let the characters tell the story

Some of the most interesting scenes in Hitchcock movies aren’t the action sequences, but rather the dialogue between characters. The playful banter between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, for example, is as intriguing, if not more so, than some of the action sequences. The conversations between Hitchcock characters can be long, but are never dull or boring. If you have a quote, an interview clip or an interesting exchange that makes your story compelling, include it to give the story more life and bring more intensity to the narrative. Think about the parts of your footage or interviews that are the most interesting and try to edit your story so they stand out. This technique applies to text and audio as well as video.

Don’t lay all your cards on the table

In online storytelling and web design, it is a commonly held philosophy that the most important information should be placed high on the page or at the beginning of an audio or video piece and that the visitor should be aware of exactly what they are about to experience. In most circumstances, this notion holds true, but it can also create an unintended effect: if the online audience knows exactly what to expect from the story, video or interactive project at the start, they may have no incentive to continue reading. In Psycho, for example, the audience knows they will be watching a Hitchcock thriller. However, what begins as a heist movie quickly turns into a murder mystery. The twist keeps the audience glued to their seats in anticipation. Your story should also be upfront about the content, but have a few twists and turns to keep the reader or viewer wanting to know more.

Stories should be a glimpse into people’s lives

In Rear Window, the audience feels as much of a Peeping Tom as Jimmy Stewart does looking outside his window because the story is told from the main character’s perspective. The audience knows what he knows and learns what he learns. Take your readers or viewers along for a ride by putting them in your subject’s shoes and make them feel like they are learning something new by reading, watching or interacting with your story.

Create something unique that others will imitate

Many websites and blogs, including the one you’re reading now, are full of examples of innovators who are advancing the web with new storytelling or visualization techniques that others in turn look to for inspiration. It is up to you to step outside of the proverbial box and create the next innovative technique that others will copy. Hitchcock is now famous for his simple, yet unique, “dolly out, zoom in” technique that has since been copied in films like Jaws, Goodfellas and Poltergeist. What storytelling technique will you be remembered for?

Audio and video should be equally captivating

In The Birds, one of the most dramatic and intense parts of the movie is the sound of the birds chirping and squawking before or during the attacks. In some scenes, the sound of the menacing birds are the only audio element heard during the scene. To make your audio and video stories more compelling, record and include ambient or natural sounds that illustrate the scene more than visuals alone can convey. Hearing the sounds of children laughing is much more interesting than someone describing children’s laughter. The sound of gun shots will grab the audience’s attention more than words ever can.

On the other hand, Hitchcock once said that a good piece of film is one that can be watched without sound and the audience can still understand the story. Don’t let the audio component of your video be a crutch. Make the imagery compelling on its own which can also draw the viewer further into your story.

Special effects shouldn’t be too special

Special effects play a role in many of Hitchcock’s films such as the rotoscoped avian attackers in The Birds, or the looming Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (actually matte paintings blended into the real-life sets). As impressive as they were for the time, these special effects never distracted from the story or the action. Along the same line, your online presentations may include dazzling features such as Flash elements or fancy web design, but they should not distract from the story or content.

Also, Hitchcock directed more than 30 black and white films — including Rebecca and The 39 Steps — before directing his first color film in 1948. Don’t let newfangled tools and technology distract you from the core elements of storytelling.

Everything won’t be immediately popular

Several of Hitchcock’s films were instant hits at the box office when they were first released. Vertigo, which is now one of Hitchcock’s most famous films, didn’t become a real success until it was re-released in theaters in 1983, 25 years after it was first released. It is now considered a classic film and is a favorite among both audiences and critics. In the same vein, your online story, website or multimedia project may not be a success or garner high traffic numbers at its initial release, but if it’s good then the audience will find it and it can become popular long after it is first published.

Keep the story simple

Web visitors have notoriously short attention spans, so don’t give them any reason to click away from your story. Great stories, like many of Hitchcock films, are intriguing from beginning to end. Eliminate boring or useless information because as the famed director said “What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits cut out.”

Also on 10,000 Words:

Seuss-isms: Dr. Seuss’ thoughts on writing, creativity, and innovation
8 Online tools to help improve your writing
9 Telltale signs of amateur video
Albert Einstein: Wise words from a wise man

7 Unique and innovative maps

Throwing a few markers on an interactive map? That’s so last year. The next generation of online maps or bigger, bolder and incredibly detailed. They provide a unique service to the viewer and push the envelope of data visualization and the distribution of information.

1. Away We Go

This map created to commemorate the 2009 movie asked music fans to plot their music-related memories on an interactive map. Submissions can be browsed by artist, track or location and when individually selected, an audio clip of the mentioned song appears adjacent to the map.


This Google maps mashup plots recent 911 calls on an interactive map with color-coded markers to differentiate between active and closed calls. The map is currently available for the Seattle area only, but plans are in the works to create maps for other cities.

3. FluTracker

The FluTracker map uses clustered markers to indicate cases of swine flu around the world. Users can zoom in for incredibly detailed information on each case. Various charts that detail the daily and cumulative growth of swine flu cases appear below the map.

4. Where is the Money Going?

The latest trend in online mapping is visualizing government data on a map. This offering from, an official website of the US government, indicates where money intended to stimulate the economy and create jobs is going. There are a number of custom controls and clicking any point on the interactive map gives more detailed data for the area.

5. The Geography of Jobs

We all know the global economy and job market has been in the toilet for awhile. This Flash-animated map makes that point much clearer by illustrating jobs gained and lost since 2004 with big, scary red circles.

6. BillMaps

Find out who voted for what U.S. Congressional bill using this site that plots votes or the bill’s sponsors on a map. Maps are available for a long list of current and past bills.

7. Trendsmap

Twitter’s trending topics are a great way to find out the most discussed topics on the entire site, but Trendsmap lets anyone find the the most talked about topics from any area all over the world. Users can click on the mapped topics to view recent tweets on the subject from a particular area and a chart indicates the topics growth in popularity over time.

Also on 10,000 Words:

10 Mind-blowing maps (and 3 ways to create them)
5 Ways to take your map mashups to the next level
5 Ways to create a Google Map in minutes
Visual and interactive guides to the economic crisis
7 Innovative ways of visualizing the news

10 Ways to make your editor love you

1. Show up on time to meetings

Sure it only took you an extra five minutes to grab that cup of coffee or send that last email, but if you show up tardy to meetings you look like a slacker. That scowl your editor is shooting your way? It’s reserved especially for you.

2. Suggest your own stories

Editors love ambition and consistently coming up with great ideas is a sure way to impress them.

3. Ask for their input before the story runs

Don’t wait until the moment you hand over your story to ask for your editor’s input. Often these consultations can generate great ideas or angles you may not have thought of yourself.

4. Refer to their award-winning story

The rack of Emmys are Pulitzers on their wall? Ask them how they got those stories and any techniques that would translate to your story. After all, they didn’t earn them for nothing.

5. Create memos

TPS reports suck but many editors seem to have an affinity for memos and emails that keep them updated on the progress of your story. Also, a well-crafted memo can save you awkward face time later on.

6. Keep your copy clean

Writing that is riddled with spelling or grammar mistakes is a sure way to incur the wrath of your editor. Keep them on your good side by giving your copy a second look before you hand it over.

7. Fact-check your stories

Any editor worth their salt will inevitably ask where certain information came from. Be ready for this with explicit answers and a list of your sources. And for the love of all things holy, don’t say Wikipedia.

8. Meet deadlines

Consistently submitting stories hours or days after they were due is the surest way to drive an editor to the brink of madness. If your project will be late, let the editor know ahead of time or, you know, just try to make the deadline.

9. Don’t cry when your copy is cut

It’s okay to fight for your work once in awhile, but editors exist for a reason: to trim away some of the unnecessary or redundant parts. Nine times out of ten, your story will be better for it.

10. Buy them a beer

Editors are people too and enjoy the occasional informal social gathering. Let them know you appreciate them and they’ll appreciate you back.

Thanks to Lisa Pickoff-White for her help in crafting this post.

Also on 10,000 Words:

Editors: 10 ways you annoy your staff
6 Newspaper sections rendered obsolete by the web
10 Ugly truths about modern journalism
12 Things to tell your tech-impaired editor