About five years ago, there were a number of free services that launched enabling anyone to create a digital toolbar. We experimented with one of the early providers, Conduit, to develop one specifically for multimedia journalists. On it, we offered a hand-picked selection of RSS feeds we thought every journalist should read, several how-to guides and tipsheets, a list of conferences we recommended, lots of resources and web tools for journalists and much more. We updated the toolbar frequently and made it available to everyone, for free!
In order to use the toolbar we created, it had to be downloaded as a browser extension in Firefox or Explorer. Over time, we found this to be a slight barrier for our users, who were weary of downloading something new and installing it on their own. A number of media organizations also experimented with toolbars and found the same results.
Years later, several new players have entered the toolbar market -- but thier offerings have been tweaked so they're more user-friendly. The major difference this time around is that rather than existing as a browser add-on, these new toolbars live on individual websites. They require little or no technical knowledge, they're free and now they include rich social media options. Below I'm featuring two for you to try:
You may already be familiar with Meebo as a social networking tool, but now there is a Meebo toolbar. Features include:
- Custom Buttons: Add buttons for your favorite RSS feeds, for Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and more.
- Instant Messaging: Users can bring their current Meebo instant messaging account to your site and access their network.
- Metrics: Track how people are using your toolbar with a personal stats dashboard.
Wibiya is a newer player and one that I think is more customizable than the other offerings. (In fact, we've recently installed Wibiya on both the Webbmedia Group and Knowledgewebb websites.) Wibiya features:
- Custom Buttons: Add any number of social networks, also choose how you want them to appear on your toolbar.
- Widgets: Wibiya offers lots of embeddable widgets, including video chat, weather and so on.
- Your Links: Add additional buttons to designate recommended links and pages on your website or on external sites.
- News Feed: Create your own RSS-fed news feed for others to follow.
- Message Your Visitors: Easily add update messages or personal notes, which will automatically display when a visitor comes to your site.
- Translation: Your visitors can translate your content into lots of different languages if you install the "Translation" widget. I tested it by translating the Knowledgewebb site into Japanese, and I found it to be about 85% accurate -- not bad!
- Metrics: See how long visitors have stayed on your site because of the toolbar, track where they're clicking and more.
Amy Webb is a digital media consultant and head of Webbmedia Group, LLC. She has also launched Knowledgewebb, a new website for multimedia training. You can also follow Amy on Twitter and Foursquare. Webbmedia Group is a vendor-neutral company. Any opinions expressed about products or services are formed after testing, research and interviews. Neither Amy Webb nor Webbmedia Group or its employees receives any financial or other benefits from vendors.