Category Archives: Featured

Using Wikis to collaborate for heritage


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

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Marion Jensen on putting history into context with Twitter

Marion Jensen is something of a social scientist because he experiments with social services like Twitter to help put history into context. He is the founder of TwHistory, a collaborative Twitter project in which participants retweet historical events using original source documents in real time as they happened in history.

He also has an all-time classic blog tagline: “those who forget history are doomed to retweet it.” Marion is also an educator and author of several books. In this interview, you can hear  just how passionate he is about inspiring connections to the past.

Marion Jensen: Like a lot of folks, I found Twitter and had no idea what to do with it. The first time you see Twitter, you just don’t get it and on the second time, you still don’t get it. When they got the search feature, I realized I could follow conferences and all the different people–strangers who I have never met before–I could follow them through these tags. I found that it was almost like being there. You could see this running stream of tweets and you got a sense that you were actually there.

And I thought, from the author side in this, that you could tell a story from that. Just come up with your different characters and tweet out a fictional story. And then I thought, you know “That’s too much work.” And then of course, the idea hit that you could take history and take different journals of people who are at the same event and you could give that sense of presence even though it was an event that happened a hundred years ago.

I started out with the Battle of Gettysburg and kind of that as a proof of concept and it turned out really well. It went from there.

Jeff Guin: Obviously you have a very strong interest in history. Where did that start?

Marion Jensen: I did my undergrad in Political Science and there is a lot of political history and I’ve always kind of have a love for history. I ended up going to education route with the focus on technology but I’ve never lost that interest in history. And for me, the real interesting part is when you dive in to the people’s stories. You know its fun sometimes to read a history book that it kind of covers a wide expenses but when you find out that one character and how they lived their life, to me that’s interesting.

And that’s what TwHistory, “Twitter History” allows you to do is get that feeling of not just, you know these things happen generally but this is what happened on Thursday morning. You know: “I woke up and I had beans.” To me, that makes it all the more real.

Jeff Guin: This question maybe a little obvious but I am going to ask it anyway. How did you settle on the name, TwHistory?

Marion Jensen: You know it’s hard to find a URL. All the good ones have been taken but with where it was kind of a Twitter History, I just shortened that up. We pronounced it TwHistory but you could also just pronounce it Twitter History and that URL was available so we grabbed it and ran with it.

Jeff Guin: I know you began the project began in 2009 but can you give us a little bit more history about how it got started?

Marion Jensen: In spring of 2009, I located the journals of 15 Civil War soldiers and we ended up doing the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg. So that was the first official kind of kick off with the site at the end of April 2009.

Jeff Guin: And there were other people involved with this as well, correct?

Marion Jensen: What I would do is wake up and I would have read through the journals for that day and you know most of these people wrote you know during their lunch time or at dinner and would write in past tense. So, “we woke up at 6:00 o’clock and we had breakfast.” So I would take those daily events and then create tweets and tweet them as if they were happening right now. So instead of saying, “I had beans for breakfast.” I would say, “I’m eating beans for breakfast” and I would tweet that at the appropriate time and on the appropriate day. Then as you can imagine for 15 soldiers that became pretty overwhelming.

Jeff Guin: How did you coordinate it?

Marion Jensen: I’m a doctoral student at Utah State and have some great friends who are interested in the project so several, we just found several volunteers that would take one or two journals and they were in charge of that person and they would tweet out the events.

Jeff Guin: Now story telling on the web is nothing new. In fact it’s been around since the early days of listserves. I wonder if you had been involved with anything like that before?

Marion Jensen: Yeah in fact that was one of my–I have had many dissertation topics–that was one of my early ones. It was a collaborative composition. You know we have seen with Wikipedia that a group of people, in fact a group of strangers can come together and write a good article about a certain topic and my question was you know could you do that fiction and I actually with my second book I posted the entire thing online and invited people to combine helping write it. I didn’t have that many people come by but we did have some. So you know I have kind of dabbled in it here and there, I am a big fan of fan fiction. I think sometimes we give our students (this is the educator in me) we give our students a blank paper and tell them to write a story and that’s difficult to do. But if we can give them a world, if we can say well write in the Simpson’s world or write in JRR Tolkien’s world, they have the worlds already done, a lot of the character are done and they can focus on some of the smaller aspects of bringing the story versus have to worry about the entire thing. So I am a big fan of collaborative composition and think it’s a good way to learn how to write.

Jeff Guin: In what ways is TwHistory different that collaborative story telling? Because you are taking the original source documents from history and you are tweeting them but not verbatim. I am wondering how much room there is for creativity in this process?

Marion Jensen: I have thought a lot about that question, I have a brother who is a historian and so I understand what historians For us to say, “well we didn’t mention what they have for breakfast so I am just going to make it up.” There is value in that but to me that’s more moving into the realm of historical fiction and quite frankly I think that’s an exciting realm to move into. There is a lot of events that we just don’t have detailed enough records but we can kind of guess as to what happened and we don’t use a verbatim out of the journal simply because they didn’t write in 140 characters. But if they didn’t say what they had for breakfast we don’t make it up. We try to stick as closely to what they said. One of the things we do have to make up unfortunately is the time because they have already said we had breakfast at 6:47 in the morning. But as closely as possible we try to convey the events as they happen so we people follow these events, they are getting a sense of what really did happen.

Jeff Guin: So what’s the ultimate benefit for this project?

Marion Jensen: I think there are two benefits to a historical on Twitter. One benefit comes to those who have followed the event. And what happens is they really get a sense of the event as if that were happening. So for example, when we did Gettysburg was a two and half month event. Usually when you study history you sit down maybe you are watching a film and you understand the battle, a three-day battle you get in three hours. Or you read a book and you get it in bits and pieces here and there. What TwHistory does for the followers is they get a sense of how long it took and what happened on each day. I will forever remember Chancellorsville took place in the spring because when I followed the feed it was spring in my world, I mean it was raining. It really gave a feel for how the events transpired and what the people went through, so that’s one benefit.

The second benefit, and this is the exciting part for me again as an educator, is after we did Gettysburg we had a high school teacher said hey, this is great, I am going to have my students do and they tweeted the Cuban Missile Crisis. So these high school students went out poring through White House documents, original sources and then extracting the tweets. So just a fantastic educational opportunity instead of just reading about any event they created it, they reenacted it and the teacher was very pleased that how it turned out, how involved the students got and how to engage them.

Jeff Guin: Now this must require quite a bit of focus not just from you but from the other people who are tweeting because all of these tweets are kind of interdependent. I wonder how you attract the people with the dedication and reliability for lack of a better term to carry out a project like this over you said three months right?

Marion Jensen: Yeah, what I did was a you know was a volunteer project and I was doing the entire thing at first. As it became overwhelming I kind of just cast the net out and said hey I am doing this project anybody like to hope out and I had a quite few volunteers and then a couple of them fell out and stopped doing it. But I found that the ones that did stick with it  helped me out quite a bit and so I you know I made my life easier. That is one of the challenges, that these events are pretty hard to coordinate, these smaller events not as much so.

The TwHistory group is working on a set of web tool to try to make this easier because the way it sets, the way the project works now is it, it does take quite a bit work and it was, there was a big effort by this high school teacher. We would like to simplify that, we would like to make these original documents available so that a teacher could come and just pick up say the Continental Congress package. We would have all the documents there they needed, the characters and they could just kind of do the fun stuff but it is a difficult thing to do.

Jeff Guin: Now you mentioned earlier that you collected all the journals and the research for this project initially I am wondering if that’s going to change in as this project becomes little more collaborative?

Marion Jensen: You know that’s an excellent question because I am not a trained historian and historians everywhere will you know roll their eyes in how I did my research because basically I went over to the university library and found Civil War section and pulled off book after book after book. And if it was a journal and that soldiers at their at Gettysburg and I took it. I am sure that I missed a lot of good sources and I would love a Civil War historian to pick up what I did and to see what I have because like I said we only followed fifteen sources and I know there is more than that. I would love to see the battle of Gettysburg become a more complete story. But you know I am a big fan of Wikipedia. I should mention that’s one of the hallmarks of the tools we are creating, these feeds that we are creating are open and free for anybody to use. We license  material and we have under a Creative Commons license and encourage others to do the same.

Jeff Guin: Now you eluded to earlier your first experiences with Twitter and that you and actually I think it was, it’s been a common perception of people in the heritage field in general that Twitter is kind of inane almost and that there are not a lot of redeeming qualities to it. What actually lead you to the process of seeing the possibilities of where this could go and how it could be used as an educational tool.

Marion Jensen: When I first signed up for Twitter I followed a few of my friends and I got updates like, “Hiding My Cat” or “This Yogurt Tastes Good,” and I just did not see the value of Twitter at all and there has been a lot of that criticism. But then as I mentioned the thing that changed it for me was when Twitter included their search capability. The best way I explained it is that Facebook is really good for having random conversations with specific people. Twitter is really good for having specific conversations with random people. So for example if my sister breaks her leg I want to know about that. It’s a random event in her life that because I know her and I care about her, I want to know that.

If somebody breaks their leg and I don’t know them, I don’t much care about it and that just don’t mean but that’s with our goals. So with Facebook I talk about any topics with people who I have known to care about. But Twitter allows me to, can talk about specific things with random people that I have never met. So I can go on and talk about Civil War just by typing that the search term “Civil War” and I can be introduced to experts and to various different people. So for me that’s when my life went off and said okay if I want to talk about a specific topic then Twitter is a good way to go.

Jeff Guin: I have never heard that explained better. Seriously, I think in those terms about Facebook versus Twitter, but I have never heard it articulated so well. Now you mentioned earlier that you were in academia, can you give us a little more of your background there?

Marion Jensen: My undergraduate was political science. In my senior year I went to back to D.C. and did an internship and promptly came back and changed my major. Actually I graduated but immediately went on to something else. I love and still to this day I love politics but I did not want to be involved with that level of bureaucracy and what not.

So I came back and went on to get my master’s in Instructional Technology, went out and made my way in the world but I missed my school days. Ended up coming back to the Weber State University and started teaching and really enjoyed that and thought I wanted to get my PhD so that I could teach for a living. I started working for the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning, I became the director of their Open Courseware Project and that led me to a lot of social media learning environments and eventually learned TwHistory.

Jeff Guin: So what social media tools did you use either professionally or personally?

Marion Jensen: I have dabbled in just about, all right I shouldn’t say all of them, I dabbled in many of them. I used Twitter regularly, Facebook, LinkedIn… I am a big geocacher, which is a kind of a kind of a mix of a virtual and the real world. I love all of the Google tools; I’ve used Media Wiki. There are just so many ways in that to hook up with people in just about any topic.  I have got an Android phone and now I have an application where I can leave messages at certain places and other people that come along from can read those messages. The golden age of social learning and social interactions.

Jeff Guin: Okay, as you looked toward the future of where you are going to take TwHistory do you foresee using any of those tools to maybe augment the experience and specifically I am talking about things like using historical photos from Flickr to use along with the tweets?

Marion Jensen: Absolutely and that’s an excellent question. We’re doing the Mormon Pioneer Trek. So several of the Mormon Pioneers who crossed America. We are also doing the Louis and Clark Trail which is a very big project, its about three years. We have every intention to use Google maps, Flickr or some iteration of that to show where these people not just what they tweeted but where they were when they tweeted it. I think that will offer an edge with the Louis and Clark as they describe some of these places, we can upload pictures of what it looks like today. For somebody following that the Louis and Clark feed, if they can pull up on a map and see where they are, when they are tweeting it, we hope they will better be able to remember and kind of comprehend that information.

Jeff Guin: Interesting, well I am just thinking out loud here, I wonder if there is any potential for this to serve as kind of a travel guide of sorts. You mentioned Google maps earlier would it possible for folks who were following the tweets to actually follow along the journey–kind of serve as a heritage tourism experience?

Marion Jensen: Yeah you know one of my other dissertation topics was geo-tagging and that’s the idea of taking content that’s relevant to a specific location and somehow making it available for people. So we had Wikipedia and that’s great, I love Wikipedia and I can go learn about anything on Wikipedia. But as soon as I close my laptop and I step outside, all of that information is lost, its back in my house. How cool to be hiking in amount and then come across the a strange rock formation to be able to pull out your cell phone and listen to a video from a local geology professor who explains how that outcrop was formed.

The project that I was working on just before TwHistory was a virtual game that takes place in a living museum close to Salt Lake. The problem they had was they had a lot of volunteers who were helping to interpret the site but if this volunteers weren’t here the visitor who had come to the site here had missed out on a lot of information. So we created a game that sat on a GPS and they would actually interact with the GPS and as they came to certain location that a message would pop and say if you see a bear what are you going to do? If they have the gun you could maybe try to shoot the bear. If you didn’t, you had to run away and find something that had a gun. So by doing this it became interactive; it wasn’t just an interactive game on a computer but it was an interactive game with a location and the content that we presented was relevant because of the location that we are at. So I think TwHistory eventually–you know it would be great to go to the Gettysburg National Park and to be able to follow what happened those three days with the GPS device maybe, maybe we tie in our tweets in a condensed version but you can go through and see where people were at different times.

Jeff Guin: Yeah and that actually ties into what we hear so much about with augmented reality these days and it being the next evolution of social media, which I am sure if you have an Android phone then you see that Google is taking things in that direction. Reading your blog one of the things that really interested me was your participation in an UNESCO event. Tell me a little bit about that experience?

Marion Jensen: That was a fortuitous meet-up. Tom Caswell was at a conference and Tom, I used to sit right next Tom and we were doctoral students together. And he was at a conference and it happened to start raining. So he kind of took the shelter under this one even somebody else came and joined him and it someone that was attending the conference and they started talking and he brought up TwHistory and as it turns out she was, she was in charge of this international seminar of UNESCO in Barcelona. And she thought the idea was great and invited both of us to come out and speak and that’s just been fantastic.

We were able to go there and present our idea. A couple of the keynotes speakers were there and they actually tweeted what we were doing and that went out to three or four thousand followers and that lead to a brief article in the Chronicle of Higher Education so this kind of made more people aware of what we are doing. And so far all the response we got back has just been very positive. People are excited about the idea and we would like to help build further.

Jeff Guin: And so do you actually have people volunteering to help you do that to take this concept to the next level?

Marion Jensen: Yeah we do, one of the biggest challenges we see right now for is a website that provides all of these tools and makes the process easier. Because if I am a high school teacher I can’t take four or five hours getting to know all of these various different tools in your various different locations to put this together. I happen to work with two great developers that have done some really unique things and their specialty is social learning, social environments and they have, their list of projects that they have worked on is very impressive. If there is one plug that I would put in, we are currently, we have started our fund raising campaign on kick starter and we are asking for donations, we might take those donations and build out this site the way it should be done. But that’s the next step and those are kind of the volunteers I guess on the developers side.

For our upcoming events I have kind of just, I run a personnel blog with several friends and a lot of them are setup and have volunteered their time. Its kind of like Wikipedia but you know Wikipedia is not a full time job it can be done in little bits here and there and these volunteers can sit down for 30 minutes on a Saturday afternoon and do a couple of week to work through a content. So that’s kind of the extended volunteer that we are looking at right now. One, on one side it’s the folks doing the content, on the other side of the developers that can make this site what it needs to be.

Jeff Guin: Okay well what kind of help do you need, if there is someone out there listening to this that has some type of specialized skill and would like to contribute, how do they volunteer?

Marion Jensen: I don’t know if our site conveys this very well but we consider ourselves along the same lines of wikipedia. So we are creating content, we are generating this TwHistory events but we don’t want to be the only ones that are doing it. We would love for high school groups, for college groups, for heritage center organizations to say, “Hey look we have got this event. We have got some great documentation on it, lets create our own TwHistory feed.” We would be more than happy to show you how to do it and then we can push those out from our site. We get quite a few visitors to our sites so it’s a good way to advertise maybe your heritage center or you know just for the educational experience. But we would love more volunteers coming to us and saying look lets redo the Cuban Missile Crisis lets do the Continental Congress, lets do just about anything and we would love to see more content.

Jeff Guin: Well you mentioned heritage centers, I mean one of the ones that’s mentioned prominently on your side as the American West Heritage Center. Tell me a little bit about your involvement there?

Marion Jensen: I have always enjoyed technology so I have a desk job and always in front of the computer, I always have my phone and sometimes I just need to go away from it all. So about two years ago my wife signed this and volunteered the American West Heritage Center which is a fantastic place. And I grumbled the entire way, we got out there and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s a living museum, so we would dress in 1917 farm clothes. We would go out and interpret as if we were a 1917 farm family. We would milk the cow, we would plow and harvest and run the garden with 1917 tools. It was just a wonderful,  wonderful experience for me and my family. So I have got different ways in technology for a little bit.

Jeff Guin: Well another one of your interesting projects is something called “Where I Go” and these are actually games that you are developing. They are not related to TwHistory though right?

Marion Jensen: No they are not related. I mentioned earlier the interactive game we have created for the American West. We used the platform Where I Go to create those and those that runs on a Garmin GPS. So we were able to secure some funding for the American West Heritage Center to buy six of these GPS devices and then we have created this interactive game that we went up and the visitors on this site can check up these GPS devices and go and play the game.

We thought it was a great way for visitors who come to the site to interact with the site itself. So you know they can go to the various sites, they can see the farmhouse, they can see the Native American Center. But if there aren’t any volunteers who are there to help them interpret the site this GPS kind of gives them additional information. And we found that children especially enjoy it because they you know instead of just going to the Native American section and see the teepees, now they have got this virtual character on the GPS. A Native American who they talk to and that they actually help. So it’s kind of a fun way you know we played interactive games on the computer before. It’s kind of the same thing except you are actually out of the site so instead of just clicking with your mouse and never moving, you are walking all over the site gathering berries to one place and dropping them off at another place and visitors found it very enjoyable.

Jeff Guin: There is a question I ask almost everyone I interview. It’s about how you find balance in your online of life. Social media offers so many new ways to connect and to do important things but it can easily end up distracting you from your mission. How do you find that balance?

Marion Jensen: I am distracted all the time by technology and if I see a thing, I run off and play with it, which is why I have had multiple dissertation topics. It can be distracting. One of my colleagues compared Twitter to the Borg. The Star Trek Borg have all these voices going in their heads, and when one gets cut off, it says its “just silent.” You know sitting on my computer I have these little pings from my Twitter but it says you got another you know another message so it can be distracting. My wife asks me all the time how I find time to do all of this and the fortunately I find something new and I can’t let it go so right now I am working on  TwHistory. I have also got another book that I’m marketing. I do some curriculum development for an online high school. But for me, especially with TwHistory, it’s so intriguing to me to be able to follow an historical event as if it was happening to follow this in real time that I can’t let go this one. so we are trying to push it as far as we can. The downside is that I don’t see any business model to it, so it’s not like if I make this work I can quit my day job. But we are hoping that if we can get the volunteers, I won’t have to quit my day job to generate all these content that we can get a lot of good high-quality feeds getting out there without it costing one person a lot of time and energy. It can be done collaboratively.

Jeff Guin: All right well in your blog post “Gatekeepers and Holes” you mentioned the importance of losing the middleman in publication and how that promotes the expression of ideas in literature. How do you think that same concept could be applied toward heritage preservation?

Marion Jensen: Yeah so I am an author and one of the things that authors have a privilege of doing is trying to get their work published. And in order to do that you have to find an agent, you have to find a publisher and it can be very difficult to do. One of the beauties of the internet is that it has taken out some of those I called them “Gatekeepers” and then a lot of times you could say that that’s not a good thing. But I think it is a good thing. I was in college when the Napster Revolution kind of took place and I saw all of these songs just given away for free and I thought you know that’s horrible all these musicians, how are they going to make money? And you know of course the record industry starts suing people and we have seen that battle go on for years but a lot of the savvy musicians have said “you know what I am just going to give my music away and then people come to my concerts and I can sell them tickets or I can sell them T-shirts or surprise people still want to buy CD’s because they want to support me.” So there is this whole wave of musicians that bypassed their record industry and went direct to their fans and as an author I have always wanted that same ability but its kind of a different meeting, that’s hard to sit down and reading the entire novel on the screen.

But I do think this idea of hooking up artists with consumers and in our case say heritage museums or people with a historical content, directly with people who have an interest, it is very powerful. So I might say hey look I have got the journals of my grandfather who was in World War II, he wasn’t in anything famous battle so you know a lot of people might say we don’t have interest there but there are some people out there who would find that very interesting and I can share that directly you know I don’t have to find a gatekeeper or a publisher. Twenty-five years ago if you wanted to get your message out you had to on the television station or a newspaper or magazine and now all you have to do is set up a blog. So I think it’s a powerful way for consumers to hook out with the people with the content and we are just, I think we are just starting to see a lot of the benefits that are coming out.

Jeff Guin: Now you mentioned that you are an author tell us about some of the things that you have written?

Marion Jensen: I have written three books. Two of them have been published. They are for young adults and they are kind of based loosely on my childhood, I would call them humorous fiction. And then my latest book is kind of speculative fiction for young adults, it’s about super heroes.

Jeff Guin: Okay well I am going to put you on the spot for a little bit, because I want you to define what an author is these days. You have got the traditional books the publications that you write and you also blog and you tweet. So what, in your mind, is the difference now?

Marion Jensen: Yeah you know kind of in the author circles people say “well if you write you are a writer, if you have been published you are an author.” And that was it, you know that was an easy limpness test twenty years ago when being published and that you had a book. But now you know if you have a blog what does that mean, you know how many followers so you have to have before you are considered an author. So I kind of just lump it together and said you know what if you are creating contents and people are consuming or enjoying that content then hats off to you, that’s what we need: more good stuff out there.

Jeff Guin: What would be your advice to people or organizations who want to get on the web and have conversations about heritage topics. How do they get started?

Marion Jensen: Well first one we just say that we are more than happy to help anybody through the process whether they want to do a TwHistory event or just some other way they can come to our site: TwHistory, and just there was a “contact us” form, just drop us e-mail we would be more than happy to help you out. The one thing I would like to tell people you know there is that movie, the famous line “if you build it they will come”: Field of Dreams, that does not apply here.

If you send up a website and put great stuff on there, people are not necessarily going to come. So that’s the real challenge as finding you know where do people already come and then how can I get my message out through those means. Yet now it is possible to start a blog with the generally a lot of followers, it’s a lot of work to get people to come to your site, a lot of work to build followers but it is possible. If you can find sites that already provide this service and use those channels especially if those services are you know free and open and in groups there. That’s why Twitter is good. When we first started TwHistory we could have started our own you know broadcast mechanism–that wouldn’t be hard to do. But people already use Twitter, and it’s very easy for them to just sign up and follow us. So that would be my key piece of advice: to find out how people are already using technology and then use that technology in an effective and efficient way to help getting message across.

Jeff Guin: Is there anything else that you would like to add about either your current projects or what you are planning for the future?

Marion Jensen: I guess the only thing other thing I would say is that if anybody would like help using some of these new social tools with their heritage projects we are more than going to help out. We enjoy technology, we enjoy heritage and we think that the marriage of the two is a good thing.

Jeff Guin: Marion thanks for being on Voices of the Past.

Marion Jensen: Thank you.

A conversation with John Leeke, the “original heritage video blogger” (audio podcast)

Update: John’s started a blog called “Save America’s Windows,” which uses video conferencing, a forum and videos that complement his book on the subject.

John Leeke was videoblogging for nearly a decade before YouTube was even invented. And he was taking about heritage preservation. His “campfire chats” have created a community throughout the world and inspired countless folks to take up the preservation trades. In this interview, he talks about getting started in video blogging, the modern tools he uses, and why he’s an active, if reluctant, Facebook user.


Jeff Guin: John, welcome to Voices of the Past. What’s the mission of Historic Homeworks?

John Leeke: Helping people understand and maintain their older and historic buildings–that’s even a formal mission statement for my business, but it is really what I am about.

As a kid in the 1950’s, I grew up in my father’s woodworking shop. I was about 10 years old when I started and it was the usual thing: cleaning up and helping out. But by the time I was 12, I was doing some formal, regular jobs. My first one was fixing a broken picket on a neighbor’s fence. At least that’s what I thought I was doing. But later as an adult, I talked about this with my dad, and he said, “Now John, you thought I was teaching you about working with wood? Actually I was teaching you about working with people.”

When my dad passed away, I was clearing out his shop and came across the job sheet for that first fence picket project. And my dad had written at the top of the sheet “Help Mr. Williams fix his fence.” See? The work was really about helping our neighbor, not about me or the picket.

And you are still doing that today. And one of the ways that you are doing that is with web communication. And maybe some people don’t realize that you were producing social media even before the term came into existence. For many years now you have been producing video and communicating online. What lead you down that path?

I’ve got some inner need to share what I know. I am still not very sure where that comes from, but all throughout my work career it’s been there.

In the 1980’s I started writing articles about my work on historic buildings, woodworking and preservation magazines. National publishers like “Fine Home Building” and “Old House Journal” and so on. But there was a disconnect between me and my readers. And an occasional Q&A from a reader via the editor, but no real connection.

I am an inveterate do-it-yourselfer, so by the end of the ’80’s I was publishing my series of printed booklets and practical restoration reports. This put me in touch with contact with my readers and a dialog developed with many of them. Definitely social interaction, but the media was print. The booklets and letters, many phone conversations. Some of that interaction was on the Internet on bulletin board services.

By 1994, the World Wide Web was developing and I had my own website. So that interaction with the readers continued and expanded to many others this new media, webpages over the Internet.

By the end of the 90’s, the social media was developing and widely recognized, and I’d already been in the “thick of it” for five to eight years.

We’ve talked about your content, and it’s very rooted in the principles and ethic of social media. But what you have chosen to do is maintain simplicity within your own website and not overload it with all of your social networking icons and things like that. Why did you go for simplicity in actually maintaining your website and communicating with your audience?

Part of it is just the practical side that I can only put so much time and effort into it. I am out earning a living, working on old buildings, and that takes … full time. And then I am spending another half-time sharing what I know and writing and other projects, going to conferences and giving workshops and such. So there’s time and a half. And just like only so much could go into it. But I’ve always thought of my website as a destination. A quiet place for me and others to learn and share what we know. If you notice there is almost no advertising like some of the other old house websites. Ads flashing on every webpage and distracting from the real message. Well, maybe with some of those other old house websites, the advertising is the message. Tricking visitors into wanting more than what they need and the underlining purpose is making money.

One of the big struggles in preservation today, as you know, is the consumer marketing and building products. Like the vinyl pirates and the cooperate monsters in the consumer economy have mind-washed the American public into trashing all their final windows and replacing them with plastic, imitation windows–Don’t get me started! Well, they spend millions of dollars a year doing that. May of those dollars taken by the owners of old houses websites. When folks come to the historic home works, they immediately see it’s a different sort of place. They have some confidence, I think, that they will get objective information not hyped up and spun up with advertising dollars.

And I never got into blogging. The discussion forum at my website was highly active before blogging, so I just continued with that formal, well-known format of discussion forum. Now the forum has display video, and I could add features like live audio, but I really want to keep it simple enough that folks are comfortable using it.

I do participate in some of the social media. Folks learn about my work and end up on my website to learn more. One of the things that we all value highly is an original, historic house that still looks like it did when it was first built. So it seems OK to me if my website looks just like that: how I first built it. It’s a bit quaint, perhaps, but I get a lot of visitors and many of them say how easy it is to navigate. They can find what they need to know, so I don’t have any compelling urge to update it. No need for modeling and renovation.

You’ve got a book about historic windows. Tell me about it.

Save America’s Windows started out as two or three articles back in the 1980’s that I wrote for “Old House Journal” and a couple of the others. And by the end of the ’80s, I was consolidating those into a report on window preservation, restoration, maintenance and repair methods. So the content has kind of a history. And through the ’90s that developed and expanded. And by 2005 and 2006, it was thick enough to be a book. So I gave it a new title. Instead of “Save your Wood Windows,” “Save America’s Windows.”

And, I have to say, it is selling like hotcakes because there is this real strong interest in saving windows. I mean, that’s how I got the title. There is a thirst all across the country to take care of old windows within the field of historic preservation and maybe some of the practical affairs at the lower economical scale. Those who can’t afford to replace all their windows at such a high cost are just taking care of their windows. And so that’s what the book responds to.

You have actually pioneered the use of live chats regarding heritage topics. And you kind of had, for lack of a better term, a campfire chat about preservation topics over the course of many years. Tell me how that got started.

In the 1980s there were internet bulletin boards, and I got started on those as a user. And that was strictly a text message system. And after that I was a systems operator for a Compuserve board about old houses. And that was late ’80s or very early ’90s. And that had text and photos. You could upload photos to the files area. In ’94 or ’95, I had a contract to provide preservation information to a section of AOL called “House Net.” Part of that was hosting a two-hour text chat. Man, that was something. I learned how to think quick, be brief and type fast. And I felt that I could still help people pretty effectively with their old houses even with that kind of brief format. But I think it was so effective because it was live and interactive. It was actually conversations with few and many people involved.

Then in ’97 the first International Preservation Trades Workshop was held in Fredrick, Md. This four-day assembly of preservation trades people has continued every year since. But that was the first one and the participants had access to a bank of personal computers for their exploration of the Internet and other electronic resources. The timber framers are there, and the wood carves and so on. So this was kind of the newest thing back then.

Well, I couldn’t afford to go, so I set up and hosted an online conference through my own website. For two hours, with 15 folks there in Maryland and me in Maine, we chatted about using computers in the field of preservation and live text and realtime video. A rarity at the time. It was certainly the first time I’d done it. When high-speed access became common in 2001 and 2002, I started posting videos on one of my webpages and updated the webpage every day. I updated it by hand with HTML editors and ordinary text editors. Just like I was doing work by hand in the daytime with house restoration projects, planing  the old wooden boards by hand. This was way before any of the automated blogging services, so it was essentially a blog before blogs because we were updating it daily, and then I heard about video blogging in 2005. There was a group of 15-20 people who called themselves the “video bloggers.” And I kind of fell in with them. They were doing blogging just like I had been doing on my own by updating web pages, and then others were figuring out ways to do that easily on the new video blogging services. Well, this group of folks had this weekly online video conference meeting using the flash meeting service, and there was a lot of camaraderie as they developed new video methods.

Every week were were checking out each other’s new video blogs and helping each other figure out what looks good and what works and so on. And so even some of them were writing books about blogging and video blogging that were being published that year and the year after. And they really liked me because they were all video blogging about video blogging. And I was out in the real world video blogging about saving historic buildings. So they loved that and really helped me get up to speed quick using interactive video, mostly by using that Flash Meeting service. Now Flash Meeting is a live, interactive video conferencing service, they are kind of common now, but they were a rarity back then. And it was developed by the Old Media Institute of the Open University over in England in the 1990s. And they have on going developments and improvements on the Flash Meeting system.

The Open University is a distance learning school that is students worldwide. In fact, it is an interesting place. They have a campus with 2,000 or 2,300 people on it, but there are no students at the campus. It’s all staff and instructors and professors at the campus and their student body is truly all around the world. So they made the Flash system to serve their students all around the world over the web. Well, I got in touch with Peter Scott who leads that program, and he gave me a grant of services, so I could use Flash Meeting for my own work. He did that because he sad they were stuck in the academic realm, and I was out in the real world to train preservation trades people to save historic buildings. And one of the principle things they do at the Open University is study how knowledge spreads around the world, and they actively support what they call the horizontal spread of knowledge rather than vertical. The traditional way of learning is a vertical system where professors at the universities know it all, and they teach their students who end up becoming teachers themselves teaching their students to go out in the real world and do work using what they learned. Well that’s a vertical system they say. And what they are promoting is horizontal systems of knowledge transfer, where if trades people like I’m working with in preservation need to know something, they go side ways (horizontal) to other trades people and get the information they need to know directly from them. And that’s what I was doing with their Flash Meeting system. So they wanted to use me as a case study for how their system is used out in the real world.

Which kind of made you the original heritage video blogger …

Well, I was doing it pretty early. And all of the stuff, all of these tools whether it’s a table saw or a wooden hand plane or the Internet and my computer and a video camera are all just tools that I use to help people take care of their old buildings. And so this is just the next set of tools to learn about, and I was picking up kind of early on. As soon as they were helping me, I was using them. One of the things that they study at the Open University is how knowledge spreads, so that’s what I was doing. And I think that’s why I kind of looked interesting to them. And this Flash Meeting system is highly useful. After a live video conference is recorded, that recording is available and even more people watch it. Maybe six or eight participants have logged in and participated in the live meeting, but some of these recordings that I have done have been viewed 10s of thousands of times. And the Flash Meeting system keeps track of all that, and you can see in a worldwide map where the original participants were located in the video conference and the location of the recorded viewers all around the globe on six continents. And Peter at the Open University jokes, and he says, “They’re just waiting for someone on Antarctica to start watching my restoration videos so they can say ‘worldwide,’ seven continents.”

And recently, for example, we’ve had a live video training session with New Orleans Renewal and Building and Crafts Training Program, where Bill Robinson is training a crew of preservation trades people learning about wood window repairs and maintenance, and it’s an ongoing program of training that lasts for months, and windows is just one of the components. And so one Saturday we set up and had a morning and afternoon session over these live conferences, and those are still available.

Livestreaming and using video, recorded and live, is really where the Internet is going right now. Do you have any advice for heritage organizations that are considering livestreaming their training?

Yeah. I think the real key is to first understand that all of this is very doable. All of the tools have kind of…it is like they’ve merged finally into ways that actually work. And it’s not a big struggle to plug in your camera to your computer and hook your camera up to the Internet and be doing it. It may take a bit of learning and a bit of practice, that’s the other key–is to just do it. It’s like start doing it, don’t get worried about trying to meet high-production values. It isn’t Hollywood. It isn’t broadcast television. And you don’t even have to do it like anyone else is doing it over the Internet with their video camera. Just start doing it and do it enough. And that’s the key. To do it enough. Do it regular. Like once a week. Once a month. Or everyday, but just depending on what time you have available. And that’s the key. Just do it and practice. I mean, the first few times I did it, it was stilted. It’s not Hollywood. Like the true grit of what it’s like to work out at old buildings is where things get dusty and dirty during the work, and it’s OK if your camera shakes a little bit. It’s the content within it that’s important. And the way you get to that is just by practicing. By doing it. But don’t practice and then put it away in a drawer. Practice and get it out there. Because now, it’s not like it’s a television show where it’s highly edited. You might edit a little as you learn about that, but you get it out there and people respond to it.

I remember one of the first videos I did was about scraping paint, and so I demonstrated scraping paint and made this big screech like fingernails on the blackboard only worse. It’s like the scraper on the side of the house. And it was like this screeching scraping sound. And that was right in it, part of the true grit. And so a comment I got back from Simon Herbert out in Tucson. And he said that I showed that with my fellow office workers, he works at the county and their state preservation office. And he said that as soon as we came to that part, everyone turned around and walked away because they couldn’t stand that sound. So while it might be true grit on the worksite, but if it drives away viewers then you edit it out or you or you shoot your video so that you are minimizing that disturbance. And so it was just a lesson I learned early on and that’s how you get at it. But it’s like you have to overcome any embarrassment and so on, and the way to do that is just practice. So those are the two keys. Realize that it’s not costly and it’s very doable, and then just do it.

t_tbconf2007leekesash_126How have these technologies been effective in doing that? How has Historic HomeWorks changed because of these technologies?

My business is a little unusual. I’ve never paid for marketing or advertising. Through the 1980s and since, I have written articles for national journals and magazines, and that’s been a big part of my marketing. Like a lot of people learn about what I’m working on and then they call in and want some of that. But I’m not doing it for that reason. I’m not doing it for marketing it. I’m doing it because I have this compelling inner need to share stuff. And so that’s just like one of the happy results. And I started recognizing it just about the time it started happening. It was a big part of my marketing. For example, in an article I just tell stories about what I’m doing. And my first magazine article was about repairing the porch columns that I had to get done real quick because the couple was getting married on Saturday, and they were taking their vows right out on the front porch. So my work working on the Internet is just an extension of working on my projects and working in the print media. Now I tell my stories on the Internet and this means I can share my work and stories with a lot more people. One of the interesting marketing concepts, and now I didn’t develop it, is this idea called “long-tail marketing.” If you plot out a graph of let’s say all sales of windows. Big on the graph, coming up high on the graph are sales by Pella and Marvin. So that makes high in the curve of the number of sales over time. And so that’s like Pella is selling a lot of windows, and then like half way down of the regional companies like Black Mountain, windows over in Vermont, they are kind of like down on the curve. They were only selling a few windows compared to Pella in a regional area in New England. And then a little further out along that line, like maybe out here are the window restoration shops. One or two people working together saving old windows. And then, a little further out in the line, like maybe on this scale that I’m talking about here. Maybe 10 feet that way is John Leeke selling his book, selling a few books about saving America’s windows. It’s way out there on the horizon and then the long tail going out. And that’s the long tail of marketing.

The long tail is important because it goes way out. And even on this scale, the long tail goes out. Like here we are at a foot, it goes out 10 or 12 miles. Where way out at the end of the long tail, one neighbor helps another neighbor fix a window. And that neighbor gives his neighbor and friend $10 because he helped him out. So that’s like the far end of the long tail. And so that’s out on the long tail and that’s important because under the long tail, the size of that market because it goes out so far, is much more important that the area where all the windows are sold. And that works and happens largely because of the Internet. People can find out about each other. And sometimes, way out at the end of the tail, people are finding out about each other just talking over the backyard fence. And that’s a form of marketing, spreading ideas. But I think the real key is in this live interaction on the Internet. I mean, we all know how the Internet is used. How we use it to display words and pictures, and that’s the way it kind of started. Now, I learned back in the ’90s about this interaction that can take place over the Internet, and that’s something that the big corporations can’t do. They are trying to do it. But they do things like pay homeowners to write blogs about replacing their windows. And it has this inauthenticity about it that’s pretty recognizable. People know, or have a feeling, that that’s what is going on. The key with the social media now, Facebook and MySpace, is that it’s authentic. It’s real people talking about real things in their lives and sharing that.

What social networks do you use? You mentioned that you do use social networks even though you may not promote them on your website. You are out there on the social space. So what social networks are you actually active in?

The one I use most is the discussion forum on my own website. I really spend most of my time there. And enough people have found it and so it is pretty active. One of the reasons I use it is because of the outcomes from it. I can really directly help a lot of people. And also it is where I am writing most of my content now, both for my print publications and also for the videos. I mean, I do what people are interested in at my forum. And then I see what people are interested in at the other social media websites. But I can easily count the numbers, the system automatically does it, and I like that the numbers aren’t a secret and they are displayed right there at the discussion forum. You can see each of the topics, how many people are looking at them and how many people have left messages, and I use that. People are leaving messages, I am answering them. And that becomes the content for my articles. And because it is highly responsive, it helps the marketing of the materials I’ve developed there. So text and photos and videos are the tools there, but the real work flows around the community and work of the people that stop by. It’s a lot like the classical Roman forum where people stop by to ask questions and to see what’s going on and what people are interested in. At my website at the discussion forum, I say, “where people can stop by to ask questions, seek guidance, help others and keep in touch.” And nearly all my articles are developed there.

I’m active on Facebook. I’ve been about a year. I come to it a little late because I’m busy over at my forum. But I am not sure if I am actually helping there or not. For one thing, it is kind of complicated. The system works and then they keep changing how it works. Too complicated to easily learn and use effectively for me, and I practice with this stuff. And I have been using it for a year. I maybe log in there weekly. And so after 50 to 100 times logging in, I still don’t have a grasp on what’s actually going on, and that’s because they keep changing it. It’s sort of like that corporate marketing strategy where you keep your consumers off balance so you can take advantage of them. And so I am a little weary about that and Facebook and some of the others. And it’s pretty clear. Facebook is designed to benefit mainly it’s owners. And who knows whether or not it is truly helping its users possibly. So I am still dabbling there. I have gotten a few small pieces of work through connections at Facebook, so I am not saying it is a bad thing. Just, it’s questionable.

And then I post some videos and stories pretty regularly on “My Old House Online” account, which is another social website. They use the ning service, N-I-N-G, and that’s partly because it is hosted by one of my publishers, and occasionally I stop by Voices of the Past, and LinkedIn occasionally. LinkedIn to me seems even a little less useful than Facebook. But a lot of people are on it. And it is sort of, sort of, like there is an expectation that you will be involved in some of this stuff. And so that is a part of what brings me there.

You are expected to maintain the same level of activity on Facebook that you do on your own website, and it really, I think, dilutes your capabilities somewhat because your efforts are going in all these different directions ...

I think you are right there. And that’s exactly my response to it and why I’m being actually somewhat careful about spending too much time there. When I first logged in, everyday for about a week I spent about an hour there just trying to figure that out. And then everyday for…about an half a day a week for about a month, I spent time there. And now I limit my time to no more than 10 minutes a day and total half hour per week. And I am spending only about twice those numbers at my own discussion forums. I am only spending about an hour a week, sometimes more if I am writing for a project on the discussion forum, which I do frequently, but just on the interactive part of it and responding to new people and new posts, that’s less than an hour a week that I spend on my own discussion forum.

You talked about your involvement in traditional media a moment ago with the Old House Journal, and the fact that they have an Ning site now. Because you were actually in this industry before the social media really took hold, what has changed in the print-based industry and just the industry in general that you have seen since the advent of social media?

For me, having my first articles on wooden porch columns published in Old House Journal and Fine Home Building in the early 1980s was a real turning point in my work and career. And then I continued writing which helped me get established in my career and building it through the ’80s to the ’90s, but now print media is definitely declining, not only in the broader economy in almost all quarters, certainly national and regional newspapers. Local newspapers still seem to be thriving. But especially the magazine or book industries, not book publishing, but magazine industry. That’s definitely declining. And so they are all scrambling to do things, like Old House Journal, and getting online like last year or the year before. Now actually, the Old House Journal was online maybe it was 10 years ago or more. But that had been 10 years after some of us had been online and developed some rich content and ways of working with it. And I still write for the print publications occasionally.

My self-publishing efforts put me in direct touch with my readers. And like when my own readers pay me for a book, I get far more money than with the big publishers, who used to take most of it. And when I get more money, I can put more of that back into the publications, helping my readers even more. Essentially this happens pretty well in a niche market like mine. I mean, even Old House Journal and Journal of Light Construction, they’re pretty much a niche market, but mine is like a little micro-niche. And mine’s like hands-on, historic preservation, building specific, and the big publishers just get in the way. They are in the way now between me and my readers. I can help more people without them. Now that’s partly because I am pretty practiced at it. I’ve been writing for more than a quarter of a century. But this is true for somebody who has something to share and that other people want to know. I mean, they can just jump right in and start doing it too. I don’t think that I am anything special. I just sort of got an early start with both my hands-on work with these ways and sharing it.

If people want to find out more about your work or purchase your book, where do they go?

The central location is my website. That’s And there I have the discussion forum, you will easily find it, and also the retro-video online conferences. Both those there’s no cost, it’s highly responsive. It’s the place to actually get the latest info. If you want to know what’s going to come out in my publications next, go to the forum. And if you don’t see what you are looking for, ask for it, and you’ll get it. And then it’ll be in print next month or maybe next year. And then there are also my publications, the result of that. The practical restoration reports. Gordon Bock, the OHA editor said, “They have my trademark hands-on, step-by-step instructions and famously lucid illustrations.” He said, “photos in particular are photos of clarity.” Well, that’s because I went to six years of art school. And to have the knack of getting it out on paper, in print and now all over the Internet. And then there is also workshops and training. There’s a section of the website that shows what’s coming up. Hands-on guidance around the country, my shop here in Portland, Maine. Or live videos all over the Internet. I also do consulting, personal advice for homeowners, contractors and building owners. I will even write back if you send me an old fashioned letter on paper. My address is 26 Higgins, Portland Maine. Zip 04103. Or give me a call. 207-773-2306. My personal computer and the Internet are like my bench saw or my hand plane. Just another tool that helps me do my best work. And it’s like the telephone, it’s a tool. So if you see me at a conference, be sure to come up, tap me on my shoulder and introduce yourself. There’s nothing like personal meetings, and if you are ever up in New England and get down east along to Portland, stop in and see me. I do that too.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Well, I think that the web and the social media is changing the heritage field, but we have to be a bit cautious about that change because it opens up a lot of opportunities for us like you and I (Jeff and I) and each of the listeners and viewers of this podcast to get in touch with each other. But it also opens up other possibilities. And the consumer economy and the corporations who benefit and control that are not blind. And they are busy taking over the Internet, and the World Wide Web, for their own purposes. Which, of course, is just to make money. And by law, these corporations are only to be concerned with making money. And so that’s the issue and you really do see it on the Internet. A lot of the early video blogging companies and websites are now shifting over to be a substitute for broadcast television. They have series of shows and channels. And some of them even set it up so it looks like a television. And so that’s what we have to be aware of. Is that that’s happening. And I think that when the World Wide Web really was like the Wild West. it was easy to jump in and do your thing. And it’s getting somewhat difficult now to do that. And it’s still possible to do it. And all of my methods were very low cost. Once you have access to the Internet, which is not low cost, but it’s available to many people even at local libraries and so on. And access to a few pieces of equipment like the computer to log on, or the video camera which is now modest in cost. This one that I am using right now is just a couple hundred dollars, and you can even get video cameras now for $40 or $60 that can act as a web cam or record video that’s editable. So you can get into a very low-dollar cost, and I think that it’s important to jump and do it before it’s taken over and you have to start paying the big bucks to participate. And that’s beginning to happen.

OK, well there was one more question that I had and that was on the blogs and websites that you personally enjoy. Whether they are related to heritage or not. Are there people out there on the web who are  your heros?

Yeah, there is one. And it relates directly to a video on the Internet. His name is Steve Garfield at And he was one of the people in that cadre of video bloggers that I first got in touch with when I first became serious about video over the Internet in 2004 and 2005. And so go to and see what Steve’s up to. He just came out with a book. “Get Noticed” is the name of his book. And it is how to do this Internet video thing, and it’s a great book. And he’s a great guy. And so, that’s one person, but usually I am too busy fixing old houses and writing or shooting video for casual reading or casual web browsing to relax and have fun. I turn around and see who needs help next.

Well that’s awesome. John, I appreciate you talking to me. And thanks for being on Voices of the Past.

Leeke: It is great to meet up with you.

(Photos courtesy of Lisa Sasser on Flickr; Additional teaser graphic elements by SOYBEANTOWN and Damon Duncan)

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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 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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Meet the Blogger: Kurt Thomas Hunt on putting the sexy back in archaeology

sexy light tan

Kurt Thomas Hunt and “his crew” are redefining archaeology, and collaborating to bring excitement to this old-school profession. Hunt promotes his blog and his brand, Sexy Archaeology, through a variety of social media tools, including FlickrTwitter and Google+. He even does a little e-commerce on the side…

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you developed an interest in archaeology?

Kurt HuntMy interest in archaeology started when I was a child. Being a product of the early 1980s, it goes without saying that the Indiana Jones films had a massive influence on me. I was enthralled by thoughts of traveling the world searching for treasure. I dug up my entire sandbox looking for ancient ruins.

As I got older, I began to see that archaeology was nothing like what it is in the movies, it’s much more rigorous and scientific. While some people may be turned off by this, I found it even MORE interesting.

I received my BA in Archaeology from SUNY Potsdam and my Master’s at the University of Bristol. Bristol has a fantastic Archaeology for Screen Media program that allowed me to combine my interests in a both media production and archaeology. Now I’m putting some serious thought into a PhD. I figure if I’m going to go, why not go all the way?

You have a unique blog. Where did the “sexy” moniker come from?

I’ve always enjoyed blogging. To me there is something deeply appealing in writing a piece and having the ability to receive feedback from people from around the globe. Right about the time I started my Master’s, I found myself becoming increasingly anxious to share archaeological news with people and sort of highlight what I considered to be the best archaeology out there.

Sexy Archaeology, by my definition, is any archaeology which is excitingly appealing. It’s my brand, my seal of approval. It’s the discoveries and research that I feel should be basking in the public spotlight.

You find different ways to get your viewers involved. Could you tell us about the Sexiest Field Crew Competition?

The sexiest field crew competition was a lot of fun, and there was an enormous amount of positive feedback from it. The idea behind the contest was not only to promote the Web site, but get people involved in it.

Most archaeologists start out working summers on a field crew. That can mean long, hot days working with the same people. I thought the contest was a great way for archaeologists to get creative and have fun with their jobs and the people they work with. Judging by the feedback and the pictures, I’d say the crews really enjoyed themselves. I think there was something like 30 entries overall, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that it was 30 crews from all around the globe, I think it’s pretty impressive.


You are currently soliciting on your site for various archaeologists of different backgrounds for an ongoing television series. Could you tell us about that?

The idea of creating an archaeology-based television show is something that’s floated around in my head for years. Like I said, my real interest is blending media and archaeology. I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in contact with a few different production companies who share a similar interest. Executing that idea is a different story. I’m very critical of the way archaeology is portrayed in the media. Production companies are focused on entertainment and pulling in viewers, and they are endlessly recycling things like the search for the Holy Grail, Atlantis and all the 2012 nonsense. If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to place the science first. But it’s very difficult to find that happy medium between entertainment and education, especially when archaeology can often be a very tedious process. In the last few months, I’ve taken things into my own hands. I’m currently refining the concept I have for the series, and hopefully in the near distant future I can start making the rounds with it.

You currently have one of the (if not the) largest archeology groups on Facebook. Why did you start it, and what are your goals or intents with it?

The Facebook group started well before the Web site. The idea behind it was to assemble people under the same banner and get them networking. So much more is possible when people in the same field start networking. I’ve managed to meet dozens of very interesting characters through the group. I was in Reno for New Years and bumped into a couple members in a bar, had a great chat about what they were doing in the field. I know quite a few people who have come to the group looking for suggestions on field schools and employment and found the help they needed. That is exactly what I wanted to see- archaeologists helping archaeologists.

Where else are you online and how do you use that to communicate archaeology?

I have a blog where I unload all my non-archaeological thoughts. It’s a place where I can keep in contact with my friends when I’m traveling. I’m quite interested in non-science writing as well, so when I find a free chance I vent there.

One of my favorite things about your site is how daring it is… Why did you choose to take archaeology to this “level?”

One of the biggest challenges I encountered when I was creating Sexy Archaeology was finding a way to stand out among the already sizable number of archaeology-based Web sites out there. I knew that if it was going to succeed, my Web site had to be unique. Too many good news stories are lost in boring presentation or dense literature. I wanted to avoid that. I wanted to attract people to the news as much as my site. Therefore I knew that my little niche in cyberspace had to exist on a different level.

In your blog you mention how every archaeologist has a story to tell. What is one of yours?

I remember working in the southern Kenya Great Rift Valley in the hundred-degree heat. My back hurt from sleeping in a tent and hadn’t bathed in weeks; I was covered in dirt and sweat, struggling to take the next step. At one point I had to stop and ask myself, “what the hell I was doing. Is this really what I wanted to do with my life?” Then something caught my eye: a small, circular ostrich eggshell bead. I remember holding it in my hand, realizing that I was the first person to hold that artifact in tens of thousands of years. It put me back in the game. Archaeology is a lot of hard work, but when you find something like that, it really reaffirms your love for the field. I live for moments like that.

Who contributes to your site?

Sexy Archaeology owes a lot of people a big thanks for contributing their time and energy to the website.

Matthew Davenport (aka the Spaz) has been with the Web site since the beginning. He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve met and is just as passionate about archaeology as I am. Matt contributes stories when he has the time.

Matt Thompson from has been incredibly generous in the financial support of the website.

Then there is David Connolly from BAJR, the British Archaeological Jobs Resource. David was a great help in promoting the Sexiest Field Crew Competition in 2009 on the ArcheoNews podcast.

Tim Taylor and the crew from both the UK and American Time Team series have also been a wonderful help.

I could never begin to list the number of people who send me links to stories or other websites. It’s a big world out there, I think without the contributors Sexy Archaeology would cease to exist.

You have something even more unique on your blog–a store. What all can folks purchase and what all is entailed on your end to maintain the store?

The store is in the midst of a massive revamp right now. Some archaeologists are very particular about their field wear so I’ve made it a priority to design something that people would actually want to sport in the field. The store itself is thankfully maintained by a third party, but a portion of every T-Shirt purchased goes in to helping pay the bills. So buy some T-Shirts!

What can we expect for the future of Sexy Archaeology?

Sexy Archaeology isn’t going away anytime soon, that’s for sure. When I launched in 2009, I wanted to give it a year to see how things went. If I enjoyed doing it and if it received a positive response then I knew that when the second year rolled around I’d really push it forward.


Now the time has come. I plan to have a lot more thought pieces this year. I think a lot of archaeologists are good about keeping up with the happenings in their field, but I’m not sure how many ever peel back the surface on some of the issues. I want to drive archaeologists to think a bit more theoretically and not just familiarize themselves with the big issues, but understand the implications our work may have and how it affects our field.

Aside from that, I’m going to be rolling out a podcast miniseries in the coming months as well as a brand new Sexiest Field Crew Competition for 2010 and some new T-shirt designs. I’m very excited about it.

What is your advice for folks interested in getting into archaeology and blogging?

Anyone with even the slightest interest should give it a go. So much of archaeology is made possible through the financial contributions of the general public (in fact almost all of CRM). Our careers depend on people remaining interested in our field. We as archaeologists have an obligation to the public: to keep them interested, to share discoveries and information and to educate. The more people we have involved in doing that, the brighter the future of archaeology will be.

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Meet the Blogger: Electric Archaeology’s Shawn Graham on Simulating Ancient Social Gaming Networks

As a Registered Professional Archaeologist in North America a Member of the Institute for Archaeologists in the U.K., Shawn Graham knows the finer points of working in the field. But these days, he’s taking the world of archaeology — and ancient civilizations — into the digital realm with simulations called Agent-Based Models (ABMs). Shawn’s blog “Electric Archaeology: Digital Media for Learning and Research,” explores how we can learn more about how digital tools can be used to better understand archaeological phenomena and, more importantly, the people behind them.


Tell us how “Electric Archaeology” began?

By training and inclination, I’m an archaeologist. As part of my thesis work, I became interested in social networks in the past. But I was frustrated at some of the limitations of social networks analysis. It only allowed me static snapshots. I wanted something a bit more dynamic. One thing led to another, and I became interested in agent-based modeling, using ancient social networks as the skeleton. This led me to a conference at the University of Nebraska in 2006. Feedback I got there suggested that I should blog my research. I started ‘Electric Archaeology’ shortly thereafter. There are many archaeological blogs out there, but comparatively few that focus on archaeology-as-a-digital-humanity. So I found my niche.

What exactly is Agent Based Modeling?

Agent-based modeling (ABM) is a simulation methodology. But instead of trying to create some sort of comprehensive equation that describes the object you are simulating, you instead describe the behaviors of individuals. Then, you replicate these individuals, and allow them to interact in an environment. Because each individual has its own unique suite of characteristics, the way they interact cannot be predicted. So you end up with emergent behavior. This emergent behavior is what you’re interested in. Take for example a traffic jam (one of the standard examples for explaining emergence), Every car has its own driver. The driver has limited knowledge about what’s going on, on the road. She can see in front and behind. Woops! The guy in front has just stood on the brakes, so Suzy has to swerve. This causes Jacques to step on his brakes, and honk his horn… ad nauseam…

From above, these limited interactions cause a traffic jam to emerge. The jam travels backwards down the highway, relative to how the cars are moving. New cars enter the jam, and old cars leave the jam – but the jam continues to exist. The jam can be said to exist at a higher level of complexity than the individual cars that compose it.

How is this relevant to archaeology?

In terms of ancient history, one of my first ABM’s concerned the diffusion of information in the Roman empire. Specifically, I was interested in what the conception of geographic space implied for how information travelled about. The Romans didn’t use maps, per se. Rather they had lists of ‘itinteraries’, or descriptions of the towns one had to go through to get anywhere. Rather like saying, to travel from Montreal to Detroit, go via Kingston – Toronto – Windsor – Detroit, instead of looking at a map. So I turned these itineraries into an environment for my individual agents to interact on. Then I gave one a ‘message’, and measured how long it took for the message to diffuse to everyone else. I found structural differences in the way space was conceived then that seemed to map onto archaeological materials.

What did you learn with your first ABM?

Well, it did seem to suggest alternative explanations for patterns in things like the expressions used in tombstones – what might be called Romanization … but it was published, and so it showed me that there was something to this ABM approach that I could use for more complicated questions.

For example, how do political and cultural territories emerge? What was it about Roman social organization that allowed it to whether the periodic self-extermination of elites? That kind of thing. The first question I tried to address with my ‘TravellerSim’ model; the second one with my ‘PatronWorld’ model.

TravellerSim took about four months to build, test, validate, and write up; PatronWorld has been the project of about two years, but I’m happy to say that it’s in-press and will be published shortly.

So how do these technologies affect archaeology in terms of openness on the web?

They allow us to ask questions of the material that we couldn’t ask before. They make our assumptions about the past explicit — or rather, they force us to be explicit. When you make a model or a simulation, you are encoding a particular view of how the world works into your code. It’s a kind of rhetoric. So, I have to make all of my code available for others to interrogate, challenge, adapt, or expand. It could be that my models all contain some kind of fundamental flaw in my assumptions about how the ancient world work.

That would still be a good result, if someone else read my papers and said, “Graham’s wrong — his code implies x, y, and z, and we know that that wasn’t the case for reasons a, b, and c,” It forces openness.

If somebody publishes a model, but doesn’t let you see the code, then you have no reason to believe the results. For archaeology, I think it’s a good thing, in that it promotes openness with data. For any discipline, really. Folks who sit on data do not help advance knowledge.

How many ABMs have you made?

Three that I’ve brought to publication; I’ve got another three that I’m toying with. The neat thing about the envrionment that I use — Netlogo — is that the models are a bit like Lego blocks. You can use parts of one in another one. So once you get going, it builds up its own momentum. I know of a fellow at another university who is using some of the components of my models in his own models.

How prominent are these models in traditional archeology?

I think they’re gaining ground. They have been used successfully in research relating to the Anasazi in the American Southwest, and to a degree in work related to Mesopotamia. I think I might be the only person currently building models on Roman antiquity. Though I know of some graduate students who are beginning to explore it in their own research.

Social networks analysis is also gaining ground in archaeology and ancient history; it’s a rather different methodology, but a key feature of my ABM work is that I try to run my models from starting positions known from antiquity, based on the social networks that were evidenced then.

So how did you first get started with this?

Well, I first heard of the methodology when I was starting my Ph.D. back in 1999. I was chatting with a geographer from the University of Bristol; I was interested in GIS then, but he described running an agent model on top of the data from a GIS, and I was hooked.

Unfortunately, at that time, building an ABM was rather complicated (it’s still not altogether easy, but it gets easier all the time), so I had to shelve the idea. I resurrected it when I did my postdoc. I saw a workshop on ABM advertised, persuaded my supervisor to let me go, and I was away to the races, as it were. The workshop at Nebraska was their Center for Digital Humanities’ first workshop on the subject, and I was an invited finalist. The other folks were presenting interesting work on data mining and lexigraphical analysis of historical texts.

My work was certainly different. 🙂 But I got a real boost from the feedback I received there, and I’ve been carving out this niche ever since.

I should clarify – the workshop I attended to learn about ABM was at Mesa State College in Grand Junction Colorado; that was in 2005. The Nebraska workshop was in 2006.

What role does your blog play in your research?

The blog connects me the wider community of researchers who use agent based modeling in their own work. Agent models are used to understand everything from how pedestrians might cross a new intersection layout, to the spread of Avian Flu. There’s a lot of fertile cross-collaboration, in terms of sharing ideas and so on.

Shawn Graham

“For any discipline, really … Folks who sit on data do not help advance knowledge.”

Where else are you online?

Well, I’m in LinkedIn, and I participate in some group blogs like the Ancient World Bloggers Group. My day job is as an online faculty trainer, so I’m online in that sense every minute of the work day 😉 I also contribute to some general Classics social network sites like ‘eclassics’ on ning. I post occasionally to game sites like too.

Could you tell us some about the “When on Google Earth” project?

“When on Google Earth?” is just a game, really … I saw a blog post by some geologists, who were playing “What on Google Earth?” In their game, someone posts a pic from Google Earth, showing a particular landform. The aim is to identify the nature of the landform, and where it is on earth. The winner gets the bragging rights, and gets to post the next picture. So I adapted it to archaeology. There is a lot of archaeological material visible on Google Earth, so I had it in my head that this could be a kind of public archaeology. I started it this time last year, and it’s now in its 79th edition. Some other folks created a Facebook page to keep track of the game. After that initial post I made, I haven’t been able to win a round since!

You seem to be finding archeology through many of the social networking sites. Could you explain to us the “TweetMapping Archeology?

TweetMapping is a concept where the tweets on various subjects are mapped against either the location where they were made, or against the location that they mention. On the original tweetmapping site, the fellow used Yahoo Pipes to create an application that would tweetmap whatever search term you punched in. So I punched in ‘archaeology’ and ‘archeology’ and linked it to my blog.

The idea then is to give the most up-to-date view of what is sometimes called ‘the hidden web’, the web that Google and the other search engines don’t search (although that is now rapidly changing). So if anyone was tweeting about the latest archaeological news, ‘TweetMapping Archaeology” ideally would display it.

Could you tell us your involvement in Second Life as Canadensis Yellowjacket?

Ah! That’s a project currently onhold, until I can get a better internet connection! I’m on satellite internet, so the lag time makes navigating SL extremely difficult, if not impossible.

But what I have been trying to accomplish there was related to public archaeology and archaeological education, and the concept of immersiveness. When you play a video game, or enter one of these 3-D worlds, you soon stop saying — “my character just flew up the side of the building” and you start saying ” I just flew up to the roof!.”

They allow you to project yourself into them (there’s really interesting work going on at the moment about this phenomenon as it relates to autistic people). So, if you can’t go on excavation, you could at least learn something about what is involved by being a part of a virtual one in Second Life. So I built one. I could link objects in Second Life to archaeological databases elsewhere on the web.

Once I get better internet service, I’ve been invited to build one of my “excavations” on the island owned by the American Anthropological Association.

Another possible use of SL for archaeology involves reconstruction sites. A fantastic project is the virtual ‘Catalhoyuck’ project and OKAPI; see Colleen Morgan’s work (she’s absolutely brilliant), which she blogs about at

So with all the different ways to connect out there, what do you think is the future of archeology and related conversations?

It’s going to be exciting. I know some folks are experimenting with Google Wave, though I haven’t had the opportunity yet. Google touts it as the next best thing… a sort of real time multi-user collaboration suite. I think the best archaeology is going to be using the web and whatever else emerges on it to make the ‘writing’ of archaeology more participatory, more collaborative. You might call it more democratic. But I hesitate to say, since I’ve got a bad track record in predicting the future.

As an undergrad in 1994, I was asked to write a paper about what I could find on the internet regarding the Etruscans. I believe I wrote something to the effect, “this internet is filled with garbage and will never be useful to archaeologists.” So anything I say, take with a large lump of salt.

Platforms are beginning to emerge online that allow archaeologists to share and disseminate the raw data generated during their studies; that will be an interesting thing to watch.

What would you like to come of your blog?

I would hope it continues to attract readers who view it as a great resource; I also hope it continues to be a venue that connects me with researchers and other interested individuals who can say, “have you thought about … have you seen …” My blog I regard as my ‘public service’ to the profession.

It’s where I reflect on what’s happening, and provide pointers to new technologies that might have an impact on how we explore and understand the past.

I saw one person tagged it on delicious with ‘mildly interesting’. If I can get that up to ‘fairly’, that’d be good … 😉

What is your advice to beginning archaeologists and bloggers?

Well, a blog is a great place to reflect on what you’re doing, and what your interests are. More and more graduate students are keeping blogs about their research, and are using them to reach out to other students and professionals. Ask yourself why you’re doing this, and where you hope to take it.

Some excavations keep blogs as a way of reaching the interested public; and some of the most exciting research is documented on blogs, since the publication cycle can take so long. Academic blogs are starting to be viewed as legitimate publication vehicles, and that’s a trend I hope continues & accelerates.



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Social Bookmarking: track, index and share your web journey

social bookmarking teaser

The Indexed Web contains at least 2.3 billion pages. With that much real estate on the web, how can you be assured you will ever find—and get back to—the information most relevant to you?

The answer is social bookmarking. And it’s not quite the same as the favorite birthday card you used to hold your spot in the novels you read over the summer.

Pinterest: The New, Visual Standard


brock pinterest

Pinterest came on strong in 2012 as the new standard for social bookmarking. It’s very visual, allowing users to create Pinboards for sharing links to pages through the images on them. For a more complete description of how to use this tool in a heritage context, view Terry Brock’s post about it on his “Dirt” blog.

Delicious: The Grandaddy of Social Bookmarking

Jeff Guin's Delicious Bookmarks
View my Delicious bookmarks at

One of the most widely used of these tools is one called “Delicious.” Delicious is a free service that allows the user a web-based way to bookmark sites. This means you can get, and add, to your web bookmarks from any computer, where ever you are. If that weren’t nifty enough, you can also add descriptions and keywords, or “tags” to make sure you will be able to find the right page when you most need it.

It’s called folksonomy, which means anyone can help identify the appropriate context for information on the web. This is one of the pillars of the social web and is also what makes Google work so well: It watches what keywords you search for and tracks what you ultimately choose as the result most relevant to you. With this potentially happening thousands of times over each day, Google can offer up the most appropriate search results in a fraction of a second. Unlike Google’s computerized algorithms, however, pages tagged on Delicious are typed in by humans. And the results, while sometimes quirky, can also be highly relevant to your search.

While you’re there, sign up for your own Delicious account. Not only can you save your own bookmarks, but you can save to accounts of other Delicious users by adding them to your network. In turn, others can share websites they think you might be interested in without clogging your e-mail inbox. Remember, as a social tool your bookmarks are visible to anyone unless you mark them private. This can be an advantage for anyone who uses the web for research in that you can explore Delicious based on a tag and potentially find much more relevant content than an ordinary search engine might provide.

There are many advantages of using a tool like Delicious and best practices for using it to organize your web search. For example,

Delicious could be defined to be both a personal and a public knowledge mapping, discovery and archival system. As with most social services, its usefulness lies in the community that keeps adding, reviewing, filtering, and personalizing their own “view” of relevant knowledge resources. You can actually see patterns evolve over time as information miners learn rapidly how to select, reference, categorize and post information resources of their own interest.

Delicious acts on the very principles of socio-biology and ant-like behavior that are so dear to some innovative thinkers of our time. Individual “netminers” and information seekers explore openly and wildly the vast available online resources. Each one of them pointing and reporting whatever she finds to be most interesting and valuable. Thanks to individual netminers’ discoveries other individuals can rapidly discover the same resources, further annotate them and make them part of their own “preferred” view.
The greater the number of information seekers selecting a certain bit of information the greater the relevance and the darker the visual shading applied to the information.
Delicious is one of the original social networking tools and has seen little in the way of change since being bought by Yahoo several years ago, but there are a few features that keep in truly relevant:
Delicious is also capable of delivering is not only a set of personalized views on your “bookmarks” (which can be as extensive as the number of “tags” or “categories” that you create), but which extends to auto-generating a standard, old-fashioned RSS newsfeed. With add-ons for almost every browser type, users can capture on the fly any content, Web site, article or resource online. No matter on which browser or OS. You can use delicious by installing a simple bookmarklet in your preferred browser. Once installed, bookmarking a resource is just one-click away. Likewise, Delicious can automatically add browser buttons as well when a new account is created.
When clicked, Delicious automatically records URL and title of the resource while prompting  a short description and for any number of tags to the item. As you keep bookmarking relevant sources online and tagging them with appropriate keywords you automatically generate a multiple set of  views of your online resources which can also be viewed/filtered instantaneously through the tags (categories) you have attached to each one. The easiest thing you can think of doing is then to start bookmarking relevant resources in selected areas of interest and then to syndicate the content from your delicious RSS feed to your preferred site.
References:A Tool for Individualizing the Web
K.A. Oostendorp, W.F. Punch, and R.W. Wiggins
Intelligent Systems Lab, Michigan State University, E. Lansing
Computer Center, Michigan State University, E. Lansing

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