Because I’ve spent most of my journalism career writing about technology before Stopwatch Gardener, I’ve been fascinated to see how garden writers and publishers are using tech tools to support their work. If you’re a garden writer who’s already pretty wired, you may already know these tools listed below. I’d recommend them to anybody, especially writers who need to save time and be more productive.
- John’s Background Switcher — JBS is more about inspiration than productivity, but it’s the best way I’ve found to enjoy my thousands of garden photographs. If your pictures are trapped on a computer, John’s Background Switcher lets you dip into them, bit by bit, by using your picture collection to periodically refresh the wallpaper image on your PC desktop. You set the time interval and tell JBS where to look for your pictures; I’ve set mine to refresh every ten minutes with images from my Flickr “garden” folder. And because each new desktop image shows the date, it’s continuously jogging my sense of what blooms when… a great way to improve gardening knowledge by osmosis. Best of all, it’s free software.
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking — This is voice-recognition. Very Star Trek. Right now I’m speaking this into my headset and every word is transcribed on the screen, with about 98% accuracy. Whether you write lots of little e-mails or churn out thousands of words a week, this will save you time. I began using voice-recognition a few years ago when I developed repetitive strain injury from typing, and at the time Dragon NaturallySpeaking was given to me as a journalist review copy. I never did the write-up because I suspected, rightly, that it was always capable of better performance than my struggling old PC could deliver. On my new PC DNS flies along; don’t attempt it unless you have plenty of memory and a microphone-equipped headset that plugs into a USB port. Headsets that plug into your standard microphone and headphone ports are too slow for high-quality voice-recognition. Dragon sells at retail for about £150.
- Google Reader — keep an eye on your favourite garden journalists, blogs and publications by subscribing to their website’s RSS feeds. RSS feeds are just the guts of the stories — plain-looking text and basic images — which are sucked out of the fancy-looking websites for you to read altogether as a simple list of headlines and stories in an RSS reader, like Google Reader. Check your favourite websites to see if they have an RSS feed; or, inside Google Reader, search for feeds by a keyword like “gardening.” A great timesaver, especially for editors who need to keep an eye on everything. The software is free from Google and works with other useful software tools like Feedly for Firefox (Firefox is an excellent free web browser alternative to Internet Explorer).
- Twitter — another free service which is being exploited so well by many gardening journalists and publications, not least The Telegraph, The Guardian, Garden Answers, and in the US magazines like Fine Gardening. Most publications use Twitter to tease and put links to their content on the web. But more exciting is the “crowdsourcing” of ideas that publications like Fine Gardening are doing on Twitter. They regularly survey the Twitter population to get ideas and recommendations about plants and things to do in the garden, to solicit competition entries, and more. FG is well wired: its website’s Pronunciation Guide for Plants, with “hear-it-out-loud” Latin plant names, is perfectly geared towards its US market, where common names rather than Latin names prevail.
How can gardening media in the UK and elsewhere make best use of technology and the web? It’s a question that the blog Landscape Juice, among others, has been asking. As print readerships continue to wilt, the thinking caps will need to go on.