There are many different web tools for making free interactive maps, but of the ones I’ve explored, amMap provides the most visually appealing templates.
AmMap is a package of Flash maps that you can easily customize. Change colors, add text or photos, adjust zoom — the options are endless. I’ll warn you though, you need to be familiar with or at least willing to get familiar with some HTML coding to use amMaps properly. (Or at least find someone in your company or organization who is.)
The tool gives you a range of different maps to work with, including individual country maps and comprehensive world maps depicting either countries or continents.
With little HTML experience of my own (and a whole lot of Google searches), I was able to put together this map using data from the Institute of International Education. The map shows the top 10 countries of origin for international students studying in the U.S. during the 2008-2009 school year.
You can download amMap for free from the website. Once downloaded, extract the ZIP files to a new folder and get to work!
AmMap is a product of amCharts, a company based in Lithuania. You can also use amCharts to create clean, well-put together graphs and data charts, including pie charts, bar graphs and scatter plots. Click here for details.
Another valuable resource for travelers on assignment overseas is eDiplomat.
The site includes information on cultural etiquette in more than 40 countries. Entries cover everything from greetings to offensive gestures to corporate culture to dress.
Just for fun, check out the advice on the United States. Here’s a sample bullet point:
- Some Americans are known as “back slappers” — they give others a light slap on the back to show friendship.
Lonely Planet is another helpful resource for traveling. It includes advice on topics from hotels to weather trends for visitors to a variety of countries.
If you’re preparing for an assignment in another country and are unable (or unwilling) to shell out hundreds of dollars for Rosetta Stone, there are other much less expensive (a.k.a. FREE) ways to learn the basics of another language. Even with the benefit of an interpreter, it helps to know at least some of the language yourself.
Language courses from the U.S. Foreign Service Institute are posted online for anyone to access. (See FSI language site here.)
The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute is the government’s primary training institution for diplomats and other foreign affairs workers. The FSI lessons on the Web cover more than 40 different languages. Courses include both text and audio.
For some of the languages, the FAST (Familiarization and Short-Term Training) series appears to be the most useful. Because the lessons are designed for travelers preparing to live and work in a foreign country, the topics covered may be more relevant than those offered by other language-learning courses.
Another good resource is Mango Languages. Courses on the Mango Languages site are designed to provide learners with conversation skills for real-life situations.
The library in my area allows access to Mango Languages lessons directly through the library’s website, so you can learn at home. When you visit Mango’s site, it has a search function for your zip code to determine whether your library has a subscription.
If you’d like to explore more resources for learning a new language the frugal way, check out the site Free Language.
If you don’t have access to Adobe Photoshop and aren’t crazy about your computer’s default photo editor, there’s another program you can use: FotoFlexer.
FotoFlexer is a FREE online tool for editing images. You can crop and retouch any photos you upload to the site, and even add shapes, text and effects.
Digital journalist Mark S. Luckie of the 10,000 Words blog recommended FotoFlexer as an alternative to Photoshop during a session on backpack journalism at the NAHJ convention.
TIP: When you first open FotoFlexer, instead of uploading your photo under “Upload Photo” on the homepage, click “Login” on the right-hand corner, but don’t actually register. Just upload your photo there and start working!
Here’s the before and after of a picture I took on President Obama’s Inauguration Day last year. In addition to cropping, color enhancing and sharpening the photo, I was also able to add a caption and border.
And for that more historic look, the classic black and white:
TIP: The one quirk I ran into with FotoFlexer was saving my edited photos. After clicking the “Save” button on the top toolbar of the edit screen, I couldn’t get the save to My Computer or save to Facebook functions to work. The My Computer save stalled every time I tried it and the Facebook never linked right, but I was finally able to save the photos using the URL/Link option under “Share Photo.”
Once the URL shows up, you can paste the link into your browser to open the photo in a webpage, and then right click, and select “save image as” to save it to your computer.
Publish2 is a free service that enables news organizations to round up links to content from across the Web and share them with their audiences.
The company refers to the practice as “link journalism.”
The idea is to create a newswire of sorts to function as an alternative to traditional newswires. This new kind of wire can link people to information on a particular topic or event from a variety of places, including the less conventional sources, like blogs.
How it works is an organization or individual journalist saves links to material relevant to a particular story or topic and then uses Publish2 to publish those links.
Publish2 also provides a way for news organizations to collaborate, using a distribution system called News Exchange.
Through the News Exchange, newsrooms can create topic-based newswires using their own content. Other news organizations can then subscribe to the newswires or download the stories and other content included in the wire. You can open up your wire to everyone or set limits on which news organizations can have access.
Multiple news organizations can also join together to create a group newswire covering a particular topic.
The Climate Desk is an example of that. Journalists from several organizations, including Wired Magazine, Need to Know on PBS and the Center for Investigative Reporting, created the site using Publish2 to explore the impact of climate change.
If you’re looking for a way to jazz up the online presentation of a feature story, look no further than Wordle.
Wordle is a free Internet tool that takes any text and transforms it into an artistic display. The word clouds generated by Wordle are funky and colorful.
After inserting your text and creating a cloud, you can play around with font, colors and layout. You’re then free to add your word display to your website.
I created the word cloud on the left using a story from earlier this year on the celebration of what would have been Elvis’s 75th birthday. This image is what Wordle came up with after I pasted the script into the site. As you can see, certain words are featured more prominently than others. Wordle’s creators say words that show up more often in the source text will stand out more in the cloud.
**TIP: Using the Wordle embed code on your site will give you a very small image. Wordle suggests using a screen capture program to save a larger image of your word cloud that you can then upload in a traditional format like JPG.