Category Archives: Primers

Learn how to connect with others interested in heritage preservation using digital tools

RSS and Aggregation: The web you want, where you want it

We’re all hearing stories about how newspapers are obsolete and print is dead. But what’s taking their place? After, all the big attraction of newspapers is their scannability. We humans have become accustomed to absorbing a world of timely knowledge, at a glance.

At the dawn of social media,  RSS (or really simple syndication) was THE way to monitor new content. It still has real value for those curating content for others in a specific niche. To put it in a nutshell, RSS solutions bring the web to you, your way. No clicking. No searching. No fancy formatting. Very little ad clutter. Just the text from your favorite sites along with relevant media. This technology continues to be a better choice for folks who want to actively control the type and quality of information they consume, rather than the passive experience of clicking on what shows up in your social media stream. It defines thought leadership, as opposed to following And the important thing is, it is indeed really simple. Here’s all you need to do:

Step 1: Get An RSS Aggregator

Google Reader was the king of RSS readers until 2013 when Google discontinued it. Using RSS in 2014 and beyond will mean are more ‘social’ experience rather than mere information consumption. The heir-apparent to Google Reader is Feedly due to its similar functionality, but Flipboard is a good choice as well for folks who like more visual experiences in a mobile environment. Bloglines refines the concept a bit with its focus on local blogs, news and events (a good option when you work in place-based heritage). Your reader is just a holding pen for all the information that will come from each site you subscribe to.

Step 2: Learn to recognize a site that offers a RSS feed

Most modern websites have RSS built in, but heritage organizations seem to be lagging behind in this regard. You will most likely recognize a RSS-enabled website by the square icon with a cone-shaped design in it. Usually it’s orange. This orange RSS button could be in the web page itself, but you know for sure by looking at the address bar of your browser. If the icon, or the letters RSS show up along with your website’s address, all you have to do is click the icon to save it to your preferred reader.

If your favorite site doesn’t have RSS, you still have options for monitoring changes to websites.

Step 3: Take stock of your web bookmarks.

Remember all those really cool sites you bookmarked in your browser thinking you would get back to them? I didn’t think so. It’s often the newest, shiniest websites that seem to get the most attention, often at the expense of more established sites that have a backstock of useful information and experienced authors. Go back and take a look at these sites. If they still seem relevant, try adding them to your RSS reader. You can also check the websites of your favorite print publications.

Step 4: Learn how to scan

The beauty of RSS is being able to immediately identify whether an article is something you 1.) are not interested in, 2.) just want to scan, or 3.) want to read thoroughly. Generally, your reader loads a few articles at a time. And items appear one after the other on your page. The length of the post within reader is set by the owner of the website providing the feed. While Web 2.0 netiquette expects that articles be fed in their entirety, some sites provide just a summary or headline. By using an RSS reader app like “Reeder” you can literally thumb through your feed entries.

Step 5: Share what’s useful

When a webmaster establishes an RSS feed, it is often with the help of a program like Feedburner. This embeds a variety of sharing options into each post that goes into the feed. Usually this appears in the bottom of each post. Feed readers also generally include easy options for sharing entries to social media services like Twitter.What you certainly will see is your Reader’s built-in options for sharing. Here’s a screenshot of the sharing options for a post in Feedly:

Feedly entry sharing options

Click the image to read more about what the icons mean for sharing. These options allow you to share the article without leaving your Reader or even losing your place. You can “star” an article or add a keyword through the tag feature for easy sorting later on. When you use “share” it gives all your shared items their own page, that other people can subscribe to. Congratulations, you made your first RSS web page! Of course, you can still e-mail the article if you just have to. Or you can mark “keep unread” so the article doesn’t go away as you continue to scan the articles below it.

Additional Resources:

Featured RSS icon by orangejack on Flickr

“What does RSS mean” graphic by Brajeshwar on Flickr

Originally published August 2008. Updated Jan 2014

 

 

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A primer for expanding your heritage circles on Google Plus

When it first opened as an invite-only social space, Google Plus made a splash, to the tune of an estimated 10 million users. As an early invitee, I was a fan, seeing great potential in its particular abilities to serve the needs of the heritage crowd online. In the time since it’s launched, Google Plus has certainly suffered some missteps. However, if you’re looking to connect with the right folks in real time while enhancing your SEO profile (useful for place-based heritage orgs) with Google, this is still a platform to consider.

G+circles teaserOne of the things that’s been missing in social networking is an elegant and simple way to hit the right audiences with your content. That’s left lots of people creating multiple accounts, reining in their opinions, or feeling like they’re spamming others who don’t share their interests. Twitter lists get you halfway in that they can readily be monitored and shared publicly. Facebook groups allow collaboration, but are fairly closed. Google hits a middle mark with Circles, which allows you to categorize other Plus users into one or more areas, and then post content to the appropriate group(s) of folks. Like Twitter you can follow and categorize people without them being obligated to follow you back, unlike the Facebook button and friending scheme.

If you’re uncertain about who you might talk to when you get to Google Plus, I have a list below of the public profiles of a few folks in my “Heritage Friends” circle. These folks are cultural heritage enthusiasts or professionals. This is a “charter” list of profile links for the earliest adopters, but I’ll break it down further as more people in the discrete areas of interest sign up.

  1. Jim Wald, historic preservationist at Hamphire College
  2. Lynne Goldstein, Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State and an archaeologist
  3. Kate Theimer, of ArchivesNext
  4. Eric Kansa, of OpenContext
  5. Sabra Smith, of My Own Time Machine blog
  6. Nancie Ravenel, conservator at Shelburne Museum
  7. Daniel Cull, conservator at Musical Instrument Museum
  8. Vincent Brown, blogger & media producer at Talking Pyramids
  9. Jennifer Souers Chevraux, museum consultant at Illumine Creative Solutions
  10. Susan Hazan, The Israel Museum
  11. Richard Salmon, conservation engineer
  12. Graeme Daley, historic preservation advocate
  13. Simone Gianolio, archaeologist
  14. Mike Gushard, architectural historian
  15. Nelson Knight, Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program Coordinator
  16. Paul Allen, Ancestry.com founder
  17. Paige Roberts, public historian, archivist and urban planner
  18. Fran Ellsworth of the FamilySearch Community team
  19. Amanda French, Center for History and New Media
  20. Bernie Frischer, University of California
  21. Nicolas Laracuente, archaeologist
  22. Iain Davidson, archaeologist
  23. Ethan Watrall, Michigan State University
  24. MT Bale, archaeologist
  25. Thomas Palmer, historic preservationist
  26. Ian Hadden, genealogist
  27. Jennifer Palmer, field archaeologist
  28. Lisa Louise Cooke, podcaster and producer of Genealogy Gems

I have about 100 people in my heritage friends circle. While you’re checking these folks out you should check out their circles as well, which are sure to be expanding. You’re likely to run into someone who shares your interests. If you’re a heritage advocate, please feel free to share your profile link in the comments. And feel free to connect with me there as well. My profile url (with my shared heritage circle) is https://plus.google.com/+JeffGuin/posts.

I think there is great potential to use the Google Plus Hangouts feature for an informal feedback version of the podcast to talk about applying the principles explained by the folks we interview here. Google is now allowing folks to stream hangouts-on-air to their YouTube pages as well, which establishes the feature’s relevance beyond simple social networking capability. Let me know if you’re interested in taking part.

Other features for heritage content discovery is the hashtag exploration feature. For example, you can search for “archaeology” and end up with an aggregation of all the latest results in a link (and page) that looks like this: https://plus.google.com/explore/Archaeology. Just substitute with any word representing your area of interest! Between “Explore” and “Circles” you can build a pretty effective blogger dashboard for social media outreach. How do you think Google Plus stacks up against other social networking tools?

Related tool:

Teaser image from Flickr

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Heritage-DIY: What I learned the hard way about home digital preservation

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The door to the storage area of our house (which included our holiday decorations and other heirlooms) reveals the flood water line in our home in 2006. A lot of memories were lost, but we learned some lessons too.

 

In October 2006, I was away on a business trip when a freak 150-year flood event destroyed the contents of my family’s rural home. Facing an oncoming five-foot wall of water, my wife had little time to consider our possessions. For all the things we lost that day, I still feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for having married someone who (first) had the presence of mind to survive an epic disaster with a two-year-old in tow, and (second) managed to save our scrapbooks and photo albums in the process.

I’ve heard of many stories like that. In the moment of choice, we instinctively cherish photographs as windows to another time. An instant reconnection to faces that fade in memory as they (and we) grow older and pass. The world’s wide-scale shift to digital mobile photography makes capturing these memories easier. It also makes them harder to preserve.

Inventory

If you haven’t done it already, it’s time to take stock of your photo collection–digital and print–and get them into a trackable inventory. My suggestion is to simply grab a sheet of paper and list the places where your photographs can be found, and the major themes and events found there. Keep in mind, your photos could be anywhere from traditional photo albums to hard drives, Facebook, or (if you’re like some people I know) still on your camera’s memory card after several years.

Cull and Label

When you have a complete inventory of what’s available, it’s time to focus on what’s important. Chances are, your life is cluttered with images that are low-quality, unflattering or lacking any memory of their significance. Pick the very best photos from your collections and start giving them context. This means “tagging” them with words and names that mean something to you.

Tags can be used in variety of ways. Collect major themes into directories/folders on your computer’s hard drive. These could be named something like “birthdays” or it could simply be organized by year. Tagging also extends to the names of the files. The point is to make them searchable for the concepts that are important to you. If you take a photo, and never see it again, does it really exist?

Diversified Digital Systems

Pick a good photo management application. Most now have the ability to automatically recognize and categorize faces. Something free, open source and cross-platform like Google’s Picasa may be the best way to start. Your local library likely sometimes offers free classes in digital photography and photo cataloging programs, so be sure to take advantage of those opportunities. Many of these programs can upload to online photo sharing sites like Flickr as well, so take advantage of that secondary backup option!

These software programs will allow you to add as many tags as you like and embed that information in the image itself, so your images will still be searchable even if you switch to another program, or upload them to the web.

Just remember, photos are meant for sharing! The more places you have your important photos, the better the chance that they survive into the future. It’s okay to save them on your hard drive but be sure to back up your entire collection on DVDs about once a year.

Print is NOT Dead

For the best of the best, it’s still important to have prints made. All things being equal, a print on professional-quality photo paper will outlast digital storage every time. My digital photo collection contained on an external hard drive did not survive the flooding on my house, but I was able to piece most of it back together by scanning in our surviving photo albums, and using DVD backups and web tools.

So how do you handle personal image cataloging and storage? Know of any tools (perhaps online) or techniques that could be widely used?

 

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlef70/5676576994/sizes/s/in/photostream/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlef70/5676246631/in/photostream

Interested in heritage podcasting? Here are resources I use that can help get you started

Devices like the Edirol R-09HR, the Snowball USB mic, the Zoom H2 and the iPhone offer a wide variety of options for recording quality podcasts and oral histories for just about any budget.

Sometimes recording a podcast or oral history can be more intimidating than the interview itself. After all, the final product is a tribute to the person you are interviewing. Technology for capturing audio has become simpler and easier to use in the last few years, but sorting out which instruments produce the best results is not as obvious.

I’ve recorded more than 100 hours of interviews in the last year alone. Most of these were heritage related and shared on the web. I’ve learned a few things about recording media (mostly from trial and error) and thought I’d share a few of my recommendations for equipment that will help you record a high-quality product that is suitable to archive (Note: some of these are Amazon affiliate links).

If you have an iPhone, you potentially have pretty decent recorder already. Just download the 99 cent app called “Recorder” from iTunes and you have a device that can capture almost any conversation. Face-to-face interviews are easy, but what makes this app so special is that you can purchase minutes inexpensively to record phone calls to land lines as well. The resulting audio is mediocre, but in cases where you don’t have direct access to your interviewee or the ability to chat with them online, this is a terrific solution.

One of the most popular portable digital recorders on the market is the Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder. I’ve recorded many interviews with this flexible device. The H2 can be used on any standard tripod and comes with attachments that allow it to stand  up on a table for group interviews, or be used as a handheld mic for standing “reporter-style” exchanges. Its chic “old-time radio” design is  unfortunately offset by a cheap plastic casing. But it produces very good sound and is easy to use. At less than $150, it strikes the right balance between price and performance.

For $100 more, the Edirol R-09HR High-Resolution WAVE/MP3 Recorder is my personal choice for audio recorders. In fact, mine goes with me just about everywhere. It’s a tad smaller than the H2 and has a more understated casing of black with silver accents. It doesn’t have any fancy attachments and runs through batteries a bit more quickly  than the H2. So why do I prefer it? It records sound beautifully. Few other portable products come close. The better your sound, the more flexibility you have in sharing it.

Both the Edirol and the Zoom H2 use AA batteries and record to SD Flash Memory Cards. Both come with USB cords to download your recordings. The Recorder app on the iPhone will actually save recordings on the phone or online, giving you a web link to listen to the file, download it, or even share it.

If you would like to record directly to your computer, $70 will buy a pretty decent microphone that hooks into your USB port. Early on, I used the Blue Microphones Snowball USB Microphone (Brushed Aluminum), which has a cool form factor and records well enough for  most folks. I recommend these for quick voice-over work since a laptop and large microphone will likely intimidate most interviewees.

If your interviewee has a webcam, Skype is a great option for recording interviews and provides a more personal connection than a phone call. I’ve interviewed folks from Australia, Scotland, Hong Kong and Naples on Skype with excellent results. Call Recorder is the gold standard software for recording Skype conversations on a Mac. Pamela is its equivalent on the PC. Both are inexpensive downloads, and great for recording conversations with the kids and distant relatives if nothing else.

Whether you choose the  portable or direct methods of recording, you will ultimately need software to edit your files. Fortunately, some of the simplest software options are free. Audacity is an open-source program that runs on Macs and PCs. Garageband is a program that comes standard on most Macs. Each of these products let you “see” the soundwaves in your recording to edit extraneous noise and even out tones.

If you have questions about these products or others for recording your interviews, or would like to start your own heritage podcast, feel free to contact me.

 

Using Wikis to collaborate for heritage

heritagewikis

What can a wiki do for you?

I’d like to thank Jeff Guin for asking me to write a bit about how to get started with wikis and how they can be useful to folks interested in cultural heritage. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to write about a technology I find so useful and flexible.To introduce myself, I’m one of two objects conservators working at Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. You can learn about some of what my colleagues and I do through our slideshows on Flickr. I created two small wiki projects, Pemulen TR-2 and Social Media 4 Collections Care and contribute very occasionally to Wikipedia.

What’s a Wiki?

smccThe term “wiki”, derived from the Hawaiian word for “quick”, refers to a website created with software that allows a group of people to create and edit the site collaboratively. Every change is recorded. If something didn’t go as planned, a wiki page can be reverted to a previous state, if desired. Most wikis have two areas where administrators and members of the wiki can add text: content areas and discussion or comment areas where users can pose questions or make observations about the content. Some wikis are designed such that content areas and discussion areas appear as separate pages while others have discussion areas positioned under the content areas.

MediaWiki is the open source software created for the best known wiki, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. With more than 91 thousand contributors working on over 17 million articles in 270 languages, arguably it has become a first stop for getting information on just about anything.Anyone can improve existing articles or create new ones, as long as the input meets the Wikipedia community’s criteria for notabilityand neutrality. A help page, “Advice for the cultural sector” includes suggestions for introducing yourself to the community and suggestions for getting started.

Examples in Heritage

The project “Wikipedia Saves Public Art” provides new users with even more help getting started. Project members created a welcoming tutorial for beginners who want to participate in this project to document public art within Wikipedia but need to know the basics of how to use WikiMarkup and get some guidance on the Wikipedia culture. Additionally, a resource page with links to their article template, style guide, and image guide provide new users with helpful tips for creating a successful reasonably respectable first article. I know because I’ve used it myself to create an article about a sculpture on a college campus.

But perhaps you’re looking to share your observations about a particular material or aspects of your original research. While this information could be incredibly useful to others, it does not fit within Wikipedia’s criteria for inclusion. There are wikis that where these advicecultseckinds of information might be more appropriate. Two, both built using the MediaWiki software, have been funded by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Preservapedia and the American Institute for Conservation’s Conservation Catalogs Collaborative Knowledge Base. Preservapedia is a source of information for those working in historic preservation and is open to anyone with an interest. AIC’s wiki is intended for professional conservators and was based initially on the Specialty Group Catalogs, written compendiums of information on specific topics related to the preservation and conservation treatment practice, though resources beyond the catalogs are now being added as well.The wikis allow the catalogs and other resources for the conservation community to be updated easily by their editors and to link related articles by different specialty groups to enhance collaborations among the disciplines. Placeography, a project by the Minnesota Historical Society where contributors can share information and memories about structures and neighborhoods, also uses MediaWiki for its software.

There are other, simpler options if you’d prefer to collaborate with even smaller groups. PBworks and Wikispaces, are two hosted software options I’ve worked with. Both companies offer users the opportunity to create at least one wiki free of charge and offer a variety of feature upgrades at a monthly rate.There are many other wiki software options.Some are hosted, others would need to be installed on a server.

Getting Started

To get started on a hosted wiki, you need to open an account on one of the sites. The sites have straight-forward, menu driven editing tools. You don’t need to know HTML or WikiMarkup, the code thats used to format Wikipedia, to create something functional quickly. In addition to text and links, most wiki software also permit inclusion of uploaded files and others have modules to include images, video, slide presentations, calendars, audio clips, RSS feeds, instant message discussions, maps, and polls hosted on other sites.

Administrators can control what sort of visibility the wiki has to the general public and what sort of editing rights members of the wiki hold. Administrators may choose to hide their pages from search engines and only allow access to members that they invite. Thus they can be used as internal organizational documents, such as disaster plans or long range planning documents.

Alternatively, wikis can be made available to search engines to allow for public discovery and administrators may allow anyone, even those who choose to remain anonymous, to comment on or edit the contents of the page, if they wish. Some sites also allow more refined control of user privileges. While some wiki members may be allowed to edit the content, others only may be granted privileges to read and not edit or only be allowed to comment in discussion areas, if the administrator desires.

Wikis can be used by multiple authors or content editors to collaborate on writing projects or presentations. The Pemulen TR-2 wiki was initially created to allow me and two Shelburne Museum conservation fellows, Rachel Penniman and Laura Brill, to develop a presentation that we gave at the Wooden Artifacts Specialty Group’s session at the American Institute for Conservation’s 2009 annual meeting. When Rachel had moved to another state for a job, the wiki allowed us to share documents, images, and ideas as we planned our talk. Now that the upnextpresentation is over, the wiki is a useful way to share and discuss what we learned with others who weren’t able to attend the meeting and is a place to continue to update what we’re learning about the polymeric emulsifying agent.

Wikis can be platforms for events. The Institute for Museum and Library Services used the Wikispaces site to create UpNext an online discussion that ran over 10 weeks, March-May 2010, exploring the future of museums and libraries. Facilitators framed and posed questions on ten pages and members of the wiki were invited to discuss those questions and raise new ones on the Discussion pages of the wiki.

Although not an exhaustive list by any means, I’ve collected more examples of how wikis are being usedby museums and others interested in caring for cultural property and links to articles about creating wikis on Social Media 4 Collections Care. If you’ve got a favorite heritage-related wiki that you’d like others to know about I hope you’ll share it here or on socialmedia4collectionscare.wikispaces.com

Photo teaser composed from the following sources:

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/tbc/2686689745/
  • http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gutza_Wikipedia_logo.png
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/gordontour/2560211231/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/nojhan/3204073130/
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Social Networking for Family History

37680_411454183511_735493511_4853948_3330011_nAbout ten years ago I visited my local Family History Center to do some research and I got to talking with the center’s director about a recent discovery I had made.  She was so taken with what I had found that she exclaimed, “that’s such a genealogy gem, you really need to share that with other genealogists!” She asked me to jot down the steps I had followed on a piece of paper which she promptly posted on the center’s bulletin board.

As I stood there looking at the scrap of paper hanging by a thumbtack, I thought to myself, “there must be a better way to network with other genealogists and share this kind of information!”

Fast forward to early 2007 when my kids gave me an iPod for my birthday, and my discovery of podcasts.  It struck me like a thunderbolt – my virtual bulletin board! I had found my medium for sharing ‘genealogy gems’ at last! (Hhmm, that’s a catching phrase…) A month later I published my first episode of the Genealogy Gems Podcast and I’ve been having the time of my life ever since reaching thousands of genealogists around the world.

There is great power in connecting with other like minded people, and family historians have been at the forefront of capitalizing on that concept.  After all, genealogy is about people, and not just the dead ones!

I’d like to share my personal top ten favorite social networking websites for genealogy in the hopes that you will experience the fun and genealogical success they can offer.

Lisa’s Top 10 Genealogy Social Networking Sites

  1. Facebook – When it comes to social networking, Facebook is king.  And genealogists have come to it in droves, finding long last family, exchanging ideas, and following their family history faves (Follow the Genealogy Gems Podcast at Facebook.)  Take a few moments to look over and tweak your privacy account settings to meet your needs, and you’re good to go.
  2. Ancestry Member Trees – Even with all of the vast genealogical original content Ancestry has added to it’s site over the last ten years, it was Member Trees that hit the jackpot. Even though there are always little frustrations along the way when using Member Trees, they are still a must have for any serious genealogist. It’s a rare family historian these days who doesn’t have a success story to tell about a contact made through their online tree.
  3. Family Search Research Wiki – Wiki has been the buzz word at many a genealogy conference so far in 2010 and it looks like they are here to stay.  Not only does the Family Search Wiki facilitate the world’s brain trust on genealogy information, but it provides a platform for connection and collaboration.
  4. Family Tree Magazine Forum – As a frequent contributor to Family Tree Magazine, I’m well aware that editor Allison Stacy is at no risk of running out of ideas for new articles.  And yet she is sharp enough to know that her readers have opinions too, and at the Family Tree Magazine
  5. Genealogy Blogs – OK, I know that “genealogy blogs” is not one site, but more like a thousand websites.  But it’s the concept here that’s really at the heart of their value to genealogical social networking.  If you’re reading blog posts and skipping the Comments section, then you don’t know how much you’ve missed!  I’ve picked up great tips and found new online genealogists through blog comments.  Blogs come in every genealogical shape, color and size, as do their commentors.  Some of the most visited, and commented on, are Randy Seaver’s GeneaMusings, Eastman’s Online newsletter, and DearMYRTLE.
  6. MyHeritage – When it comes to international social networking, MyHeritage is the place to be.  Not only can you build your family tree, but you can share genealogical data with folks who don’t even speak your language.  There are truly no more barriers when it comes to social networking!
  7. YouTube – Part of the power of social networking is being able to find who shares your interest, and with the power of Google behind YouTube, it’s an important stop on the social networking tour.   YouTube not only sports thousands of genealogy channels (like the Genealogy Gems www.youtube.com/genealogygems) but also thousands of genealogy viewers and the search engine to find them.  Check out who is subscribing to your favorite channels and go check out and subscribe to their channels.
  8. We’re Related by FamilyLink – I admit it, I haven’t added the We’re Related app to my Facebook page.  But sometimes it seems like I’m just about the only one who hasn’t.  In my case it’s just the lack of a roundtuit, but thousands of genealogists swear by it for connecting with family on Facebook.
  9. PhotoLoom – A picture says a thousand words, and Photoloom melds your pictures with your genealogical data, and then gives you the platform to share it with invited family.  This is a “sleeper” gem of a website that you have to check out!
  10. Genealogy Gems – Being the social networking butterfly that I am, it’s no wonder that I always have genealogical connectivity in the back of mind as I add new features to my Genealogy Gems website.  Inevitably when I share a listener question on the Genealogy Gems Podcast, another listener will write in with the answer, and offer to help listener #1. And when I played some old reel to reel tapes on the show asking if anyone could “name that tune” that grandpa was playing, emails poured in.  It still amazes me after three years of doing the show, that there are so many folks out there keen to connect, and ready to offer a random act of genealogical kindness.

Note: you can listen to Voices of the Past’s podcast interview with Lisa Louise Cooke here.

Teaser graphic uses images by Library of Congress and by webtreats on Flickr.

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Promote the Heritage of Your Community with Interactive Google Maps Tours

For me, appreciating the heritage of a site is being able to understand the context of its location and where it fits in with its history. It makes you want to experience that site and imagine yourself a part of history. A good guidebook strives for this kind of understanding. You can do the same pretty easily online mapping programs like Google Maps, with a lot more functionality. I’ll show you how using a Google Map I recently created for the Cane River region of Louisiana, where I grew up.

Admittedly, this is a lot of fun to create but you’ll get the most out of the product by giving some thought to the goals you are trying to accomplish. What do you want this map to do for you and your heritage resources?

An online map can have a lot of really good uses: to drive heritage tourism, coordinate volunteers, and even illustrate a grant proposal. But each of those reasons require slightly different elements and you do not want to overwhelm your visitors with information they don’t need. Once your goals are set, here’s how you get started with the basics:

Step 1: Creating the Map

  1. Go to http://maps.google.com/ and sign in using your login from any Google service (gmail, Picasa, etc). Click “Get Started.”
  2. Give your map a title and description. The title should be a simple description of the site or collective area. Provide one or two sentences in the description that briefly state your area’s claim to fame. You’ll want to include a couple of external links that provide current authoritative information about the area you’re promoting.
  3. Click the “Save” and “Done” buttons and you have a map!

edit button

Where possible, provide a link that includes contact information for touring your sites. If the site is private or otherwise not accessible to the public, note that as well.

Step 2 : Add Your Sites

As soon as your map is named, add several 5-10 placemarks to it right away. This will give you momentum for keeping the project going and spark interest from potential audiences and collaborators. If you have an address, just type it into the search box and click “search maps.” When the location comes up (and do check to make sure it’s correct on the map) click “Save to …” and select your map from the dropdown menu. Press the Save button, and your first item is created!

save to map

That’s the easy way. Often heritage sites in remote areas do not have exact titles, addresses or even discernible zip codes (it happens!). If that’s the case, you’re going to have to locate it using the “Satellite” view in Google Maps. You’ve probably already used this function to find your own house. To enter Satellite view, just click on the button in the top right hand corner of your map. It may take a few moments to load.

navigation

Once you are in satellite view, it’s time to engage in a spy mission to spot your site.

  1. Go to the map you’ve save and click the Edit button. Then simply click and hold on the map to move it in the direction you want to go.
  2. When you’re in the general area of where you know your resources is, use the slider bar on the right hand side of your map to zoom in (+) or zoom out (-).
  3. Grab the placemarker icon (looks like and upside-down teardrop) at the top and drop it on to your site. This will give your site GPS coordinates and place it on your map.

Step 3: Collaborate!

Increase the effectiveness of your map by adding collaborators, which is as simple as clicking the “Collaborate” link at the top of your maps and entering e-mail address of the best folks for the job. Start with a small group of people you trust and explain why your map is important as well as why you are asking them to collaborate on it. In my case, folks from my group have not only added important sites I didn’t know about, but also alerted me to sensitive sites (such as those with active archaeological excavations) where public attention might interfere.

Step 4: Blogify Your Text

Folks don’t want to read a treatise about your site within the context of an online map. Shoot for brief, descriptive and compelling narrative storytelling. In the short term, a couple of sentences is just fine.

By default the descriptions of your map items are in plain text. The rich text method offers ways to hyperlink text as in a word processing program. With your map still in edit mode, do this:

  1. Click the placemark. The info window will pop up.
  2. Choose Rich Text to type in your description text and use the “hyperlink” icon to add urls for related sites.
  3. After your text is in place, click the Done button. Remember, you can always go back and edit or add more later.

Step 5: Embedding Photos and Videos

With your placemarks and written description of your sites, you’ve done the bulk of the work to accomplish your goals. Now for the polish — those little elements that will captivate your end users. This starts with that bedrock principle of social media: embedding.

Assuming you have photos and videos on sites like YouTube and Flickr, here’s how to embed your media in each placemark description:

  1. Open your map and click the Edit button.
  2. Choose Edit HTML.
  3. Find the video you want on YouTube or Google Video. Copy the snippet of code that lets you embed the video into a website or blog.
  4. Paste the snippet of code into the description field of your placemark, line or shape.
  5. Click OK to save your changes.

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Note: There is a bit of bugginess with Google Maps and embedding videos. Many folks have had the experience of the embed code for YouTube videos mysteriously disappear from their placemark info box.

Next Steps: Optimize with layers

Another way to get your videos into the appropriate spot (besides HTML) is to use the Video layer. The Video Layer uses the geocoding in your video and will show up after you input an item’s coordinates into the video settings. The video will pop up as an icon when someone clicks the “More …” button on the map and selects “Video.” This also works with photos and Wikipedia entries! Be aware that this could take several days to show up on your map.

Make Your Map a Heritage Icon

Instead of using the default placemark, you can use icons to jazz up the look of your map or to differentiate types of resources at-a-glance. I used a plantation home, a church, a gravemarker and an old building icon (among others) in the Cane River Map. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Find or make icons that best fits your categories and upload them to a photosharing site like Flickr (what you ultimately need is a url for the image)
  2. Go to your map and click the Edit button.
  3. Click the placemark you wish to replace with an icon.
  4. When the info window opens up, click the placemark icon next to the right of the title.
  5. Click “add an icon” and paste the url for the icon you wish to use. The icon will always show up in “My Icons” from now on.

Notable Use:
The U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation has famously used Google Maps to visually document its Save America’s Treasures, Preserve America and National Heritage Area sites. While maps on this scale can be overwhelming, they do make the case that historic sites are alive and well, and in likely in your neighborhood.

That’s all there is to it! Now you can embed your map into a web page, or share a link to it through e-mail and social media services. Here’s a preview of the Cane River Heritage Map I created. It’s a work in progress, but it’s a great way to help folks experience these heritage resources both virtually and in person.


View Cane River Heritage Sites Virtual Tour in a larger map

Use online photosharing to visually tell the story of heritage resources

It has been said by many that photos say a thousand words. But now, thanks to photo sharing sites, photography has the power to unite people across cultures and throughout time.

There are many different photo sharing sites out there, such as Photobucket, SmugMug, dotPhoto and Webshots. All of which have individual aspects to them that aid in your organization’s ability to share and express ideas. But for the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on the popular site, Flickr.

Flickr

Flickr is an image-hosting and video-hosting website, web services suite, and online community created by Ludicorp and later acquired by Yahoo!. Hosting more than four billion images, Flickr is ideal for you to begin your photo-based heritage-related conversation.

Flickr enables you to share your photo’s story in many ways such as:

  • Title: Your photo’s title is important. It tells readers immediately what your photo is about. Did you host an event or do you want to address an important heritage topic?
  • Captions: Titles are wonderful, but this is where you get to begin the conversation. Captions can be as simple as identify who or what is in your photo to asking those difficult questions.
  • Add people to your photos: Just like you would “tag” your friends in your Facebook pictures, here you can “add” them. (In Flickr, tag means a little something different that we will address in a minute). Adding your friends to photos lets them know they are in them and helps you organize your photos.
  • Tags: This is how people FIND your photos. You can add a title and caption, but the conversation can’t happen if folks can’t find you. Tags can be as specific or as general as you would like, but don’t over tag! You want to make sure everything you tag is relevant.
  • Favorites: This helps you remember photos you like throughout Flickr. While you are searching and participating in photo-based conversations, you can “favorite” a photo to save for later. You can access your favorite photos from your photo stream (and other’s can access YOUR photos that they “favorited” from theirs too!!)
  • Sets or Collections: This works much like categories in a blog. This is your table of contents and helps you organize your photos in a way you and others can find them. The way it works is sets fit into collections. So let’s say you take photos at three events. Each event would have its own set holding the select photos from that specific event. Then you can put all three sets into a collection. Perhaps the collection is titled “events” and so all of your event sets would go there. This just helps viewers find photos they want to see instead of digging through all of your pictures.

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Now adding and sharing your photos can be as simple or complex as you would like. You can upload photos using your phone, through email, from your web browser or from Flickr’s desktop app. You just need to decide what is best for you and your organization.

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Now once you have done all this, you can participate with everyone on Flickr through groups and galleries and MORE! It is about finding where you want your heritage organization’s voice to be heard. Perhaps you want to participate in The Commons and explore snapshots through time with organizations like the Smithsonian and Cornell University.

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Or perhaps you want to be more place-based. You want to work with individuals around you and share your photos. With Flickr Places, you can look at your photos on Flickr maps and view your area.

Or you want to take it a step farther and take your place-based photos and compare the old with the new like the Flickr group Looking into the Past. Here, folks take old pictures and “merge” them with photos of what the places look like now to show the contrast and growth and history.

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Or maybe you want to take it one step farther and add animation to your pictures. Like Flickr user The Surveyor, you want to take the comparison one step farther.

When you are on Flickr, there is a WORLD for you to explore. But before you do it, you need to get your camera out, dig through old photos and get them up there. Because the conversation begins with you!

Have fun and stay tuned to hear how other organizations are using Flickr!

Social Media Planning for Heritage Organizations: Differentiating Goals, Objectives & Tactics

4356276243_6b45e58033_bA lot has changed for heritage organizations since the advent of social media. What has remained pretty constant are the elements of a good strategic communications plan. Social media provides strong tactics for strategic planning, and will probably even change the way you think about communicating. But social media shouldn’t be set apart from the normal strategic communications process.

The key is taking your good ideas and intentions with social media and developing them into more defined goals, objectives and tactics that can be measured for results.

Most organizations start with general goal statements that contain a little of all these elements, but are not quite any of them. As a longtime public relations professional and occasional adjunct professor on the topic, I can tell you the PR planning mindset may seem counterintuitive to your good social media intentions.  I’ll start by giving you a very general rundown of how I plan using a fictional “Clementine Hunter Art Museum.” Your mileage may vary.

1. Goals are extremely general and are rooted in the organization’s mission. They are based on changing your organization’s position in either reputation, relationships or the work of “getting things done.” They are your guiding light, Pollyanna statements about your organization’s perfect world, stated in present tense. This sounds stupid at first, and is surprisingly hard to do, but still necessary to the effectiveness of your ultimate plan. You can’t really measure these.

For example: CHAM is the top-of-mind source among publics who require easy online access to information about the life and art of Clementine Hunter.

2. Objectives are specific, measurable, time-based tasks that support your goals. Usually you have three or more.

For example: “To increase weekly traffic to the CHAM website 30% by the end of the current calendar year through an aggressive Facebook campaign targeted to students at art colleges.”

3. Tactics are the tools that you will use with intention to accomplish your objectives–Flickr, YouTube, direct mail, a poster contest, etc., etc. In this case, we’ll continue with the theme above.

For example:

  1. CHAM conservator will post weekly updates (augmented with photos and video) to the Facebook page on the “journey” of conserving a work of art.
  2. Initiate a Facebook ad campaign with appropriate demographics
  3. Post monthly updates to art college Facebook pages
  4. Facebook video contest — “How is CHAM’s legacy inspiring you?” Winner–museum membership, free print, small scholarship, etc.
  5. Emphasize through semi-weekly updates, photos of the artist and woman as well as trivia about her technique, etc. (Folks want to feel connected to her, and the people  preserving her legacy, not to a “museum.”)
  6. Secure and publicize a “shortlink” name for the Facebook page (e.g. facebook.com/clementinehunterart)
  7. Produce a direct mail postcard advertising CHAM’s website and unique Facebook content.

The critical leap to success depends on your tactics being rooted in larger goals and objectives for the organization. Your organization may have already done this. If not, the more effective and productive method would be a staff retreat, even if it’s just after hours at the museum. It’s an exhausting, but fruitful process. The Hoshin Method (http://www.siliconfareast.com/hoshin.htm) is effective for this purpose.

Just remember, the principles of social media will often engage naturally when you are using the social tools while intentionally remembering who your audience is and what drives them. This will make participation from the staff and publics much easier as well.

Graphic by by Lograi on Flickr

Create your own heritage-themed social network in minutes with Ning


Sometimes the needs of a heritage group extend beyond the simple need to convey information. Blogs and Facebook fan pages allow limited interactivity. But for groups whose members are intensely passionate about a topic, a free social networking site like Ning could be the way to go.

So what is Ning, and who is using it to talk about heritage?

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Essentially, Ning allows you to create your very own Facebook, complete with groups, design customization, forums, RSS capability and individual profile pages that incorporate blogs. There are also multimedia sharing functions whereby members can upload photos and videos.

According to Quantcast.com, an estimated 6.8 million people access Ning a month. Far fewer than Facebook, but you have to consider the quality of communication going on in these sites. Unlike the “drive-by” communication common to Facebook, Ning flourishes when ongoing, intense discussion is needed on a topic.

Compared to other social networking sites, Ning provides the a solid platform for effective, good-looking sites with minimal effort, according to TechCrunch.

There are several general factors to consider before starting a Ning site.

Pros:

  • You have an instant social network with a lot of the functionality of Facebook and your own brand
  • It’s customizable with colors, graphics and typefaces
  • There are a variety of privacy options for the site and for individual users
  • Feature set is continually improved.
  • Ability to track your web statistics through Google Analytics

Cons:

  • Unless your potential membership is highly prolific and motivated, you will have to manage your community intensively to keep the participation level up.
  • Once the information is in Ning, you can’t readily export it to another platform (like a blog).
  • There are hundreds of social sites out there and many folks are fatigued with signing up for them.
  • While Ning is improving, there will still be some instances (like getting a photo to show up in a post) where a rudimentary knowledge of HTML code is helpful.
  • It’s also your responsibility to deal with spambots and members behaving badly.

Participation often comes in waves. This may be affected by a major news item, event or recognition by other sites and blogs. Just prepare yourself for it.

Heritage organizations worldwide have joined Ning to share their values. Here are a few examples:

Natchitoches Preservation Network (collaborative small town heritage site)

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Natchitoches, La., the first permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory, is home to more than 30 organizations dealing with heritage issues. These organizations have long worked together to preserve the town’s historic legacy. While each has had its own website (often several years out of date) and publicity methods, the duplicate efforts wasted the energy of these organizations.

Ning was used to create the Natchitoches Preservation Network site.

The 151-member site uses groups and blogs to keep the community apprised of various heritage events and informs them of ongoing research and volunteer opportunities. Blog posts include anything from Community Cemetery Cleaning Day to thesis project presentations by Heritage Resources Students at nearby Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

The site also makes use of RSS and embedding of other social media to enhance the experience. It includes a virtual library of links from the social bookmarking service Delicious. It also incorporates a Friendfeed group that allows members to add news stories related to Natchitoches heritage from other sites, embedding them on the front page.

Members post photos and videos about events and places around the parish including the a series of “This Place Matters” videos in which individuals explain the importance of their favorite landmarks around the parish.

The site was also used to communicate intern research hosted at the National Center for Preservation Technology an Training during the summer. The interns blogged to the Natchitoches community weekly about the progress with their projects and how the projects benefit them as a community. They then presented their research at the end of the summer during the event “Preservation in Your Community.”

Heritage is more than just ensuring that a place matters, some heritage individuals find their passion preserving more intangible aspects, such as the art of music.

GenealogyWise (Genealogy Research)

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Genealogy is one of humankind’s favorite hobbies. We all want to know what makes us “us.” Not surprisingly, there are numerous genealogy networks on Ning. GenealogyWise is one of the largest. With more than 14,000 members and 3,000 groups, it’s very active. Using its group function, it also includes an interesting method for people to connect: by surname. The groups also tackle specific topics such as dating photos and outdoor genealogy. Nearly 400 videos (many of which are how-tos) have been posted. And to help the large membership connect, the site also holds scheduled live chats.

Museum 3.0 (Discussions on museums in the digital age)

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Museum 3.0 poses the question, “What will the museum of the future be like?” More than 1,600 people from all over the world have joined in seeking an answer to this question.

The forums serve as their discussion board for a variety of topics including the future of the audio tour, new virtual tours on different sites, Twitter as a business tool and museum-related surveys.

Museum 3.o also uses the events function of Ning to promote different conferences, seminars and networking opportunities.

Museum 3.0 also uses Ning’s video and image sharing opportunities to post more than 500 images from different museums and about 50 videos ranging from interviews to museum-related speeches to videos depicting the “Reel Texas Cowboys.”

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But heritage is not something that needs to be simply left to professionals. With social networking sites like Ning, heritage values are now in the hands of the individual.

For some, Ning enables them to research their family heritage and unit individuals globally giving them one centralized place to share aspects of their lives.  The families use their Ning sites to post family photos and videos, discuss family reunions and also research their family trees.

Regardless of the heritage you find important, let it be community heritage or your own family’s history, Ning enables you to share it all globally with folks who share those same values at the click of a button.

The sites we’ve covered are only a sampling of what’s out there. We’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite heritage-focused Ning sites.

 

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