Karenne and All...
I'm not a stranger... see? Just busy!! I found something I want to share because it's helper for our readers, and our authors, too.
I'm a computer contractor in my second line of work and I was cruising a tech news site (one of several) when I found a great service.
http://www.conduit.com is a community toolbar creator.
We set up the bar for Midnight Showcase, to include the information on our books and shopping (like cafepress and our other merchandise) but in there we have links to our authors home poages, blogs, message boards, blogs and myspace pages, our friends- like Lucan Wolf and playgirl TV, and a whole lot more. I've had a BLAST setting this up and it's growing in leaps and bounds.
Basic services with the toolbar include, searches (powered by Google) a group chat room, customizable weather, customizable email notifications for the main web services (regular Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail) and a pop-up blocker.
Additional benefits: it's a basic browser function to "Hide" the toolbar so the users don't have to keep it up in front of the children on a home computer. I gave instructions on how to do that. If a user has several bars- say another publisher uses the service, or an author, they can display the bars they want when they want them with the same hide functions and the browser won't get crowded. The bar has preset buttons to include basic programs like Office, Paint, Calculator and Notepad, which the user can add in the options.
RSS feeds can be set up easily- that is growing on our list. We can also send announcements through our own News Feed.
I'm impressed- and that is tough to do. The only information asked of me was during the set up, and they have to know where to send mail if the user clicks "Contact us". It NEVER asks for personal information from our readers that use the bar, and the only report I see is how many users we have. Everything on our bar is centered around Midnight Showcase.
Even better-- no ads, no redirects, no pop-ups, no spyware (I've scanned and I spent a week scrutinizing this service!) no adware, no funny business, no personal information asked of the users. Nothing.
It works for Firefox and Internet Explorer, Windows 2000 or better... but not MACs (I'm looking!). The chat room can be a little slow if I am running other applications and windows, but who wants to worry about graphics and edits when we are chatting?
Our bar is located at: http://www.midnightreaders.media-toolbar.com/ We designed our "Midnight Bar" to be fun and useful so that any and all links to us are handy.
I'm sure if I was this pleased with a service, so would others.