Say ‘Hello’ to my Nerdy Friend

Walking up to the ballroom that promised a fast-paced, leadership-oriented session exploring “Online Tools and Apps to Increase Productivity and Awesomeness” at the Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, I was a bit skeptical. As a somewhat savvy user of technology, it seems like every time I sign myself up for a session promising information about the latest tech tools, I end up sitting down to a lecture on Dropbox and Twitter.

But I just hadn’t met my new “nerdy best friend” yet. Beth Ziesenis, who markets herself with the self-deprecating four-letter n-word, was presenting the tech tool forum I was about to enjoy. She wrote the book, Upgrade to Free: The Best Free & Low-Cost Online Tools and Apps (TSTC Publishing, 2011), and plans to follow it up with another book soon.

“Back in the day, being nerdy wasn’t cool… but today we’re popular,” Ziesenis said of her chosen nickname. “These are the kind of tools that will set you apart.”

Turns out my early skepticism was unwarranted. I only had significant experience with one of the items Ziesenis described in her presentation, and there were a few I had never heard of at all. I even decided to act on a few of her recommendations. Here are some of my favorite takeaways from Ziesenis’ lively talk.

Generate some buzz

Ever see someone post a funny image with their name or catchphrase in it and wonder how they did it? Well, unless they’re a graphic designer, they probably used a generator. Basically, these generators take your custom text or image and plug it into a meme, art scheme, or element of popular culture. For example, it took me mere seconds to create and download the Weekly Book Scan bling image embedded on the right hand side of this blog entry. There are so many free options in this genre that Ziesenis couldn’t choose a favorite. But she keeps a running tally of the good ones on a Pinterest board (meta, huh?).

See what your site says about you

Ziesenis did share a particularly awesome generator-type site that does so much more than just make funny images from your inputs. At Tagxedo, you can enter your web site, blog, Twitter feed, or any number of online components into the generator and get a word cloud (in a variety of shapes, colors, and designs) that tells you what your site is saying.

“It’s important to do this to find out if your website says what you think it says,” Ziesenis told the audience. Of course, I later rushed to the site to see if REALTOR® Mag Online was giving off the right signals, resulting in the image embedded on the left (click on it to see a larger version, and let me know what you think).

A Foray into publishing

Have you ever clicked on a link expecting information, only to find you’ve involuntarily downloaded an 85-page PDF? All too often, when a person wants to fancy-up a Word doc, they’ll hit the “Export as PDF” button and be done with it.

But with Issuu, you can create browsable, magazine-looking publications that are re-indexed to build up your SEO. Not that Ziesenis thinks you should stop at just one.

“You can put together a whole collection,” she said, showing attendees how the application “allows me to display them as a shelf.”

Got any little-known, yet life-changing tools to share? Let me know in the comment section below.

Meg White

Meg White is the managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine and administrator of the magazine's Weekly Book Scan blog. Contact her at mwhite[at]

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  1. You’re right! She is my new best nerdy friend. Her session was not long enough…