Category Archives: Primers

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

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?


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, 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.


  • 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


  • 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)

Nat Pres

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)


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)

museum 3.0 screen shot

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.”

ning homepage

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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Livestream to bring awareness of heritage resources to the world

by Dylan Staley

Let’s face it: videos are in. With the advent of social video sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, and, video has become a first class citizen on the web. But one of the major drawbacks to video is the time it takes form when the camera stops rolling to when the video is available online for millions to see.

When live television first came on the scene, it introduced a radical idea: the idea that you can watch news as it is happening, live right from your television. You can watch the Presidential Inauguration, the Macey’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or the Time’s Square New Year’s Celebration live, right from the comfort of your home.

With internet media, you can now view these events hours after they have happened, and enjoy the moments over and over again. But, sometimes, you wish you could have seen it live.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the $1,000+ equipment that make a live television broadcast possible. This is where sites such as Qik and USTREAM come in.

Qik and USTREAM, both live video blogging sites, allow users to connect their internet-enabled devices (be it computers or camera-enabled cellphones) to their servers and upload a live video feed, directly to the website. No longer do you need to wait until the event is over, on until your upload finishes, or until the website host finishes encoding your video. Viewers can watch what is happening right now, right now.

The ability to broadcast live without expensive equipment is incredibly useful to those working in the preservation field. In my last post, I described how preservationists can use the microblogging site Twitter to send out text updates in almost real time to their followers, but nothing beats the feel of actually watching the action unfold. Here are some ideas:

  • Museum fans can watch live as conservators work on priceless artifacts, perhaps drawing in new visitors to an exhibit.
  • Broadcasting from an archaeological dig as a major discovery is unearthed.
  • Livestreaming from your community preservation event (such as a cemetery cleaning day) to ignite interest and get more volunteers involved.
  • Raise awareness about the state of cultural resources affected by disaster (see video below)

The only thing you need is an internet-enabled device such as a cellphone, and an internet connection. You will of course need to be aware of the sensitivity and security of these sites when you are broadcasting. You wouldn’t want to attract looters to an archaeological site, for example.

With the websites Qik and USTREAM, users sign up for an account and then follow different instructions on how to set up their various devices to communicate with the internet servers. Users can then subscribe to the live video feed and watch whenever, and wherever, you are broadcasting as if they were right there beside you.

Related Links:

Qik | Frequently Asked Questions Help Center

Mashable | What’s is Mobile Video’s Future?

Mashable | Create Your Own Branded Mobile Video Broadcast with Ustream

Twitter and microblogging: Instant communication with your community

Twitter in Plain English from leelefever on Vimeo.

“What are you up to?”

It’s how we greet friends and strangers alike everyday. It’s also the question behind one of the web’s most popular social networking sites: Twitter. Voices of the Past posts links to its news, along with other community announcements, at So what is microblogging, and what can you gain from it?

Microblogging, a term that refers to the plethora of micro-blog posts on the sites of services such as Twitter, and Tumblr, lets users update their friends (or followers as Twitter calls them) about what’s going on right now. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll be looking at the basic ideas behind microblogging with Twitter. Yes, the first time I heard about it I too wondered who in the world would spend their time on something like this.

Lots of folks, evidently. According to the measurement website Tweetrush, about 2 million “tweets” (a.k.a. posts) are released into cyberspace each day. And in a time when most companies are going to the government for the funds to stay afloat, venture capitalists gave Twitter $35 million it didn’t even necessarily need.

It turns out that most people like the freedom of expression that blogging promises, but aren’t crazy about the commitment. While some of us may enjoy the process of researching and crafting a blog post to stand the test of time, others just want to share their admiration of meal well done or vent their complain about unsatisfactory service. The sentiment is short, sweet and instantly out there for millions to see.

Ease of use is where much of Twitter’s popularity lies. There is no logging into an administrative panel to create headlines, tags and the other components of a blog post. And the interface is immaculate, unlike the chaos of Facebook or MySpace. Type in the homepage box and press send. That’s it. Dozens of Twitter update applications have been built for quick updating via desktop applications and smartphones as well.

Obama on Twitter
Obama on Twitter

More than 250,000 Obama followers on Twitter aided in his presidential victory through spontaneous meet-ups and fundraisers announced through the service. In February 2009, “Twestival” was celebrated for the first time in more than 180 cities all over the world. Twestival essentially began with groups of Twitter users rallying together to support the cause of clean water in developing countries. Hundreds of gatherings were held to raise money for public works projects.

Twitter can be used on a personal level for project management, conference meeting communications, to-do lists, notetaking, job networking, flash focus groups, and getting all the family together at the same time for dinner. It can also be used to aggregate news in an easily accessible way.

But Twitter is merely the delivery platform. It’s up to the users of the service to determine what the conversation is about. Groups who are on archeological surveys can use these services to update their friends and colleagues about their findings almost immediately after the fact through the use of cellphone integration that many microblogging services offer. These services can allow almost real-time communication: something that is virtually unheard of within the preservation field.

After Twitter, a flurry of microblogging services were hatched only to go the way of the dodo. Jaiku, Pownce, Plurk, Brightkite were among the players I remember best from the early days. Today, Twitter commands much of the action, though you can find the current microblogging services reviewed in this post.

Twitter Lists

To me, “lists” are the functionality that make Twitter worthwhile. It takes the firehose of information and contextualizes it. These lists take a while to build, but are worth it. If you are looking for content to get started consuming information on Twitter, here are my curated lists of folks in digital heritage. You can follow these lists with your account or use them to build your own lists. My list “Heritage Influencers” is embedded below with the latest tweets from that group.


5 Ways to Use Twitter for Good

Newbie’s Guide to Twitter

Latest news on Twitter

Heritage DIY: Create and Preserve your Family Tree the Web 2.0 Way

By Dylan Staley

“Isn’t Genealogy Fun? The answer to one problem leads to two more.” – Anonymous

Genealogy, the study of one’s lines of descent or development, is often a tedious task: one must search through hundreds of documents; find certificates of birth, death, marriage, and divorce; and then compile all this information in something easy to read and understand.

That thing is usually a family tree.

Everyone knows what a family tree is. Think back to kindergarten, when your teacher had you draw a tree with your grandparents as the roots, your parents as the trunk, and you and your siblings as the branches of the tree.. It was fun, because you knew these people, and you knew how they were related (and because in kindergarten, family trees actually resembled their real-life counterparts). That’s because it didn’t seem like these people were in the witness protection program.

Tracing back you lineage farther than your great grandparents can prove difficult. By this point, those who actually know who you’re looking for will, ahem, have been put to pasture. It is then up to you to trace your lineage through the paper trail of certificates of birth and death, marriage and divorce, and even immigration records. It’s often too time consuming for the average hobbyist to research find and record all this information.

This is where using Web 2.0, the idea that the internet should be open and collaborative, comes into play. By using this ideology, building your family tree is as easy as asking someone who their mother was. Using a Web 2.0 service simulates having your family around you, and working together to fill out your family tree. As others are added, they become a part of the conversation, adding their input and helping to fill out their branch of the tree. The more people you add to the tree, the more information you have access to. At some point, you realize that you are not alone, and that your family is there to help you.

Geni is a web based family tree maker that is using the idea of Web 2.0 and collaboration to make finding your long lost relatives easier. Geni, built by some of the people that brought you PayPal, eGroups, eBay, and Tribe, allows you to work with your family members on building your family tree. So, you may not know your second great grandmother’s husband’s name, but your grandmother’s sister may know, and Geni provides the platform to allow this knowledge to travel the great distances that often separate families.

Genis Family Tree Maker
Geni's Family Tree Maker

When you add someone to your tree on Geni, you can also choose to add their email address. Then, they will be able to collaborate on their side of the family tree. Just think, if all of your relatives were to map out their family trees up to their grandparents, your tree would grow exponentially.

When you add someone to your tree, you have the option of adding their email address so they can collaborate on your family tree with you
When you add someone to your tree, you have the option of adding their email address so they can collaborate on your family tree with you

Geni also allows you to create complete profiles on any of your family members, including dates of birth, death, marriage and divorce, and other important events; locations of birth and current residence; schools attended and more. Geni provides a simple to use interface that makes genealogy fun and simple (not to mention addictive).

Genis Basic Profile Information
Geni's Basic Profile Information

Geni isn’t only about building your family tree with your family. It also provides ample methods to share other things with your relatives, such as important dates in your children’s lives, photos of the family reunion (that only half of them even bothered to R.S.V.P. for), and that video of your daughter taking her first steps. Geni provides the tools to share what’s important to you with your family, and discover just who exactly that is.

Here are a few other services that use Web 2.0 ideas to build family trees:
Family Mingle

As you can see, there are numerous services designed to help you bring your family together to build a family tree. Sound off in the comments if you use one of these services and why, and any interesting discoveries you’ve made along the way.

See what others have said about Geni:
Lifehacker: Build your family tree with Geni
TechCrunch: Geni’s Quest Toward One World Family Tree
VentureBeat: Geni aims to build family tree for whole world
AppAppeal: Geni Review
CNET: Geni: Finally, Genealogy made easy

Geni Blog
twitter / geni
delicious / geni

Heritage DIY: How to clean cemetery monuments

By Jason Church

Cemetery care and maintenance is undergoing a surge in popularity that hasn’t been seen since the Victorian era. It’s little wonder. Cemetery gravemarkers are at once memorials to those we’ve loved and pieces of art. Caring for them provides a connection to a world before the internet absorbed all of our attention.

Cleaning these monuments properly is the best thing one can do to ensure that they will last for generations to come. And it’s easily done too!

Cleaning stones should always be done by the gentlest means possible. For chemical cleaning, acceptable products are detergents, solvents, surfactants, biocides, and intermittent water misting.  When choosing a cleaner it should be gentle, non-ionic, and have a neutral pH of 7 or one close to the pH of the stone. For example, the pH for marble is around pH10, thus the cleaner may be a pH of 9-10. Never use bleach or salt laden cleaners nor any strong acids or bases.

Glen Whitener showing  Elizabeth Dickey and Courtney Fint cleaning

Soft bristle brushes are required when cleaning stones. They can have natural or synthetic bristles. Vegetable brushes or soft grooming brushes for large   animals are a few that can be found in chain or farm supply stores. All rough or metal edges must be covered with tape to reduce the chance of scratching the stone. Do not use any harsh mechanical devices such as sand blasting, high-pressure power washers, or power tools such as sanders or drills equipped with a wire brush.

After you have chosen your cleaner, make small test strips to try out the cleaner and make sure we’re not going to damage the stone. Select your preferred cleaner. To make the task easier, it is a good idea to bring it in spray bottles or small containers.

Soak the stone liberally with water before applying the cleaner. Stone is a very porous material and will absorb the cleaner. By soaking it beforehand, the cleaner will stay on the surface of the stone and minimize possible unwanted effects of the cleaner. Spray the cleaner on a manageable area and work from the bottom up in small, circular motions. This will allow the cleaner to get into all the crevices. Working from the bottom up minimizes streaking on the stone surface. If streaking occurs, it would be a good idea to contact a professional.

GMCA conference 088

One scrubbing over the area might not be enough and it may take more repetitions, but remember not to scrub so hard that you damage the surface. You may also want to use different brush sizes for different areas. Keep the stone wet while cleaning. Remember to rinse with clean water after cleaning each area and to thoroughly rinse the stone at the end to make sure that no cleaner is left behind.

Cleaning cemetery monuments doesn’t take a lot of time, but the benefits could last for decades. It’s a great family activity to undertake on a nice day this spring. Pack a picnic lunch, some cleaning supplies and share stories of your ancestors with the next generation.

Related links:

NCPTT Flickr Stream

NCPTT YouTube Channel

Jason Church on Linkedin

D2 Eco-Friendly Cleaner

Prosoco Biowash Cleaner

Lifestreaming: Your total web experience all on one page

Note: Facebook officially killed Friendfeed 21:00 GMT on April 10, 2015. This post remains in memory of history’s useful social network.

Ever feel like e-mail is your enemy? Oh sure, that first few months after you first logged in was great. The world was at your fingertips. Then, at some indefinable moment in time, sweet freedom became enslavement. Now, all day, everyday–for the foreseeable future–new messages are appearing along with the possibility of one more thing to handle.

Voices of the Past has added a feature that makes communicating on the internet fun again. The tool is called Friendfeed, and it is just one of a growing number of “lifestreaming” tools that allow you to instantly pull all your web activities onto one page, and have conversations about them with your friends.

There are lots of things you can do with Friendfeed. I’ve seen it used for blogs, wikis, discussion forums, web bookmarks and even instant messaging. Its rising popularity lies in its simplicity. Using a bookmark in your browser toolbar, you can share and comment on web content without ever having to leave the web page you are looking at. Other folks can subscribe to the feed, then jump in, add their responses and share related links too. Since it’s so easy to post and comment, communities tend to build around them quickly. All the posts go to one scannable, searchable page.

You can have content from almost any social service automatically imported into your feed–from blogs to Amazon wish lists–whether it’s your’s or not. So it functions kind of like a public RSS reader as well. Web experts believe this style of open, dynamic communication is the next iteration of the internet. And some prominent bloggers have already abandoned their blogs in favor of lifestreaming sites.

Of course, you control  the privacy settings on your personal Friendfeed. But you can also create “rooms” on specific topics to which anyone can join and contribute content. Voices of the Past has a Friendfeed room. Anyone is welcome to join the room, and the conversation on our shared heritage. You can also see updates from the Friendfeed room anytime by visiting the Voices of the Past Heritage News page.

Elsewhere on the web:

Armchair tour of museums and Web 2.0

Nina Simon Armchair Tour of Museum 2By Nina Simon

Confused about social media? Don’t know where to start? For the last two years, I’ve been hunting down great projects in and outside of museums that exemplify the themes of visitor participation, user-generated content, and flexible relationships between institutions and visitors.Here are some of my favorite museum projects that represent interesting, thoughtful experiments with Web 2.0:

The Bay Area Discovery Museum: A Lesson in Good Listening

You don’t need a big initiative to get involved with social media—you just need ears and a voice to add to conversations that are already happening. Jennifer Caleshu, head of marketing for a small children’s museum, is an active participant in local Web 2.0 parenting and recreational sites like Yelp!, and developed relationships in those online communities to build strong relationships with current and potential visitors.She recently started a blog for the museum, but her best work is in listening to what others are saying about her institution.She describes her social media strategy here on the excellent Museum Audience Insight blog maintained by Reach Advisors.

MN150: A Visitor-Generated History Exhibition

The Minnesota Historical Society developed an innovative permanent exhibition featuring the 150 most important contributions of Minnesota as nominated by regular people.Read an interview with the lead developer of MN150 here.

The Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is a leader in innovative social media initiatives, from the creation of Facebook applications to crowd-curated exhibits and a “posse” collection-tagging project.You can read three articles about their initiatives here or visit their community site here.

Library of Congress on Flickr

When the Library of Congress put some of their photo collection on the photo-sharing site Flickr, it opened up whole new conversations and interpretations of their content.Read more about it here.


ExhibitFiles is a social networking website for people who make and visit exhibitions.It is a living database of exhibit case studies and reviews and is useful for anyone looking for best practices in the field.

Museum blog types compared (with examples)

In this post on Museum 2.0, I compare the different types of museum blogs and offer a self-assessment tool to determine what type might be right for you.

Beth’s Blog and the WeAreMedia wiki

Beth Kanter is an extraordinary social media maven with a focus on non-profits.She covers everything from Web 2.0 tools to fundraising strategies on her blog and on the NTEN WeAreMedia project site.


The North Carolina Museum of Life and Sciences is doing a series of no- to low-cost experiments with Web 2.0 and documenting them here.

Science Buzz and Red Shift Now

The Science Museum of Museum and the Ontario Science Center each maintain impressive community sites that integrate real-time visitor feedback from the Web and the museum floor here and here respectively.

Teaser image by Shelley Bernstein on Flickr.

Saving heirlooms from storm damage

Tropical storms and other flood events are often termed disasters because of injuries, fatalities and the destruction of homes and businesses. Part of the disaster is the loss of family heirlooms.

“I am saddened by the stories of people who have lost so much from floods and storms,” said National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar. “We learn about their stories of survival in the news but also hear about damage to a lifetime of memories – the loss of personal heirlooms is devastating.”

Director Bomar said, “The National Park Service has been at the forefront in the effort to save, preserve and protect America’s treasures for nearly a century. We have tips available from our conservation and preservation experts for people who will be able to save family heirlooms before disaster strikes. And we have tips for how to deal with flood-damaged items.”

The National Park Service, along with other members of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, produced a public service announcement video to help families. It is available on-line.

The following tips are adapted from the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel produced by Heritage Preservation in support of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force.

Preparation before flooding:
Avoid storing family heirlooms in the basement, which is likely to flood.

Evacuate heirlooms, such as family photo albums, when possible–otherwise, place in closets or rooms without windows on upper floors.


Response and recovery after flooding:
Even if they are completely soaked, family treasures can probably be saved, if they are not contaminated with sewage or chemicals. Work on high priority items first.

Freeze books, paper, textiles, and most photographs that cannot be cleaned and dried within 48 hours to prevent mold. Interleave with freezer or waxed paper, if possible. Consult a conservator before freezing metal, plate glass, paintings, some photographs, and furniture.

Photographs: Rinse with cool, clean water, as necessary. Hang with clips on non-image areas or lay flat on absorbent paper.

Books: If rinsing is necessary, hold book closed. If partially wet or damp, stand on top or bottom edge with cover open to 90-degree angle and air dry.

Paper: Air dry flat as individual sheets or small piles up to 1/4″. Interleave with paper and replace interleaving when damp. Do not unfold/separate individual wet sheets.

Textiles: Rinse, drain and blot with clean towels/cotton sheets. Block and shape to original form. Air dry using air conditioning/fans. Do not unfold delicate fabrics. Do not stack wet textiles.

Furniture: Rinse/sponge surfaces gently to clean. Blot. Air dry slowly. If paint is blistered or flaking, air dry slowly without removing dirt or moisture. Hold veneer in place with weights while drying.  Separate the weights from the veneer with a protective layer. Upholstery: Rinse. Remove separate pieces, such as cushions and removable seats. Wrap in cloth to air dry and replace cloth when damp.

Framed paintings: Carefully remove from frames in dry area. Keep paintings horizontal, paint side up, elevated on blocks. Avoid direct sunlight.

Framed art on paper or photographs with glass fronts:  Remove from frames, unless art is stuck to glass. Dry slowly, image-side up with nothing touching the image surface. If art sticks to glass, leave it in frame and dry glass-side down.

If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator can help. For guidelines on selecting a conservator, visit the American Institute for Conservation site.

Featured thumbnail courtesy of CR Artist on Flickr



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