Category Archives: Radio

Hear from heritage thought leaders on how they use the web to connect and advance their goals.

Picturing preservation tech online with Cultural Heritage Imaging

Today we’re talking to Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging. CHI is a small company based in San Francisco–the social media capital of the world–that’s doing some interesting things through photography and photosharing through Flickr. They focus on rock art and technologies related to photography in heritage research. In this podcast, we’ll explore how CHI is implementing its social media policy based on its strengths, priorities and available time. CHI

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Schroer: Cultural Heritage Imaging has a mission to drive both the development and adoption of practical digital imaging and preservation solutions for the cultural heritage community. (Audio timestamp #00:02:02.6#)

Guin: What are some of the heritage resources you’ve worked on that our audience may be familiar with? #00:02:04.3#

Schroer: We’ve done quite a bit of work on rock art, including a workshop focused on rock art. We’re also working with a number of museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the New York MOMA and the Pheobe Hearst Anthropology Museum in Berkley. In all those cases, our primary focus is with the conservation departments in those museums. #00:02:32.4#

Guin: So this is pretty technical. You do a lot of work with laser imaging and scanning of cultural heritage objects. #00:02:43.2#

Schroer: Everything we do is based on digital photography, so one of our core philosophies as an organizations is that we want to develop technology and get it in people’s hands that they can do themselves. We really don’t like the service provider model where you have to hire someone to come do things for you. We’re looking for technologies that people can do on their own. A couple of the primary ones that we’re working with right now are reflectance imaging, where you take a sequence of images with light in different positions around the object. Once you put that together in the computer, you can dynamically relight the object and bring out very very fine surface details of the object. This is one of the reasons we’re working with museum conservation, because getting very fine surface information is of great interest to that community. We also do work with photogrammetry and some other photographic-based imaging techniques. #00:03:37.4#

Guin: With audiences so defined, you wouldn’t ordinarily think of an organization like this needing to adopt social media as part of its communications strategy, but you’ve taken a proactive approach. #00:03:51.8#

Schroer: I sit here in San Francisco, surrounded by all these technology people. We’re not really innovators compared to them. But we always had a web presence and later an electronic newsletter. From there, it became clear that blogging and using Flickr to create sets and have photos people could find online made a lot of sense. We are just starting to foray into video and posting things on YouTube as well. The focus was to make it easier for people to find us through keywords and search. We know from watching our traffic that people are finding us that way. #00:04:46.9#

Guin: You’ve really emphasized photography, and tell stories very powerfully with it. What made you decide to go the “still image” route to connect with your audience? #00:05:08.9#

Schroer: Our work is based on digital photography, which means that we already have good cameras with us when we’re working. So still photography makes a lot of sense. Marlin Lum (http://www.c-h-i.org/about_us/marlin_lum.html), who is our imaging director, also does wedding and event photography, so a lot of the photography on the website is his work. He has a great photo-journalistic style. The rest of us are more studipophotographers–very focused on special needs for getting a reflectance image and photogrammetry sequence, where Marlin is more of a photo-journalist. #00:05:56.7#

Guin: You’re a little different than most folks that I’ve interviewed for Voices of the Past in that you’re not a solo blogger or someone doing this for the fun of it. You’re doing this because it’s rooted in the values of your company. And, though you’re a non-profit, you still have to make payroll. So, how does your social media work? Is it the responsibility of one person, or is you as a group working together? #00:06:23.0#

Schroer: It’s definitely us as a group and we even have volunteers that help. It’s a group blog and we have guest bloggers as well. We are currently updating our website to WordPress to make it easier for all of us to share web management duties as well. We’ve started using CulturalHeritageImaging.org, rather than C-H-I.org, which will allow us to transfer content to the new site while keeping the old site. We’ve had some incredible volunteer help, including a design group that offered to help us pick a theme at get it customized. We’ve also had a writer who’s been doing a lot of work editing existing materials. We made decisions on how to regroup the material, but were missing some “glue” on how to make it flow. #00:08:13.7#

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Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging

Guin: What kind of topics do you blog and what is your audience for your posts? #00:08:20.6#

Schroer: It’s a group blog, so we’ll have equipment tips on there, we’ll talk about conferences we’ve been to or projects that we’re working on. We also invite people who are adopting technology, particularly reflectance imaging, to talk about their experience doing that. We have guest posts from the Smithsonian and the New York MOMA. We also post FAQs when we get questions. #00:09:14.5#

Guin: Beside your blog, what other social tools do you use? #00:09:14.5#

Schroer: Flickr has been big for us. We have started YouTube as well, including a video on our NCPTT grant project, and we have some additional videos on projects sponsored by the Kress Foundation with a museum conservation focus. Hopefully, the YouTube work will be similar to what happens with Flickr in that it will help people from a broader audience find us and be interested in the stuff we’re doing. #00:10:00.8#

Guin: Now that you’re branching out into these other forms of media, if someone wanted to visit your content there, what do you recommend they take a look at? #00:10:15.8#

Schroer: On our Flickr site, we make use of collections, so it’s easy to identify our work both by topic and project. #00:10:45.5#

Guin: You mentioned optimizing your content for search, so that you make connections. How do you optimize your content for the web through titles, tags and descriptions? #00:11:04.1#

Schroer: That’s what we’re working on right now as part of our website redesign. We’re doing some search analytics for what people are searching for. It’s a little tough, because some of the things we’re known for, like reflectance transformation imaging, are not something most people will go type into Google. So we’re working to figure out what people are searching for when they find us. And terms like “photography” and “cultural heritage” are so broad that it’s hard to optimize for those concepts. As we become more known in fields like museum conservation, that’s an area we’ll work to optimize. #00:11:59.6#

Guin: Since you’re transitioning to a new content management system, is there something that’s changing in your social media approach since you first began? #00:12:15.4#

Schroer: We are trying to tie some things together. For example, we have an e-mail list that we started about five years ago. So we use our social media blog posts, photo galleries and videos, as content to drive traffic that way. We also pick themes. So each month, we’ll focus on something like training and education, or rock art, etc., and use all of our platforms to emphasize that theme. It’s a more powerful way to help people learn about an aspect of our business. The biggest thing is that it always takes more time than you want it to. Because we’re small, we’re always thinking about how much time and effort should we put into these platforms and what kind of payback are we getting from them. We’ve stayed away from Facebook and Twitter at this point, not that we wouldn’t go there, but just because of the amount of time that it takes to really use them correctly.

Guin: What advice would you give to another small cultural heritage organization that’s just now getting into social media? #00:13:49.6#

Schroer: Blogging is an obvious first choice, because it’s easy to throw in pictures to help tell your story. To take that on, you have to have a person or two on your staff that are into it and feel that it’s fun. For us, Flickr made sense because we already had piles of photographs. We’re learning to use YouTube to tell our story in a more dynamic way. We had a couple of projects that specifically called for producing video. We’re also exploring the use of Screenflow [screencasting] technology to help explain concepts without people having to download data sets or a special view. They can quickly get a sense of what we’re doing. That will hopefully whet some appetite so that people want to download a data set and seeing what’s possible. #00:15:07.3#

Guin: What are your social media goals for Cultural Heritage Imaging? #00:14:42:00

Schroer: For us, it’s an expansion of why we started our website. We want people to learn about us, our work and the people who are partnering with us. It’s also a way for people to find out if they would like to partner with us, undertake a new technology or take one of our classes. As a non-profit, we also hope it will inspire people to volunteer or become donors. We have multiple audiences for our website, so we have multiple audiences for our social media as well.

Photos courtesy of Cultural Heritage Imaging

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The Archaeological Box’s Matt Thompson on developing membership websites and refining the use of social media as a support mechanism

Founded in 2009, The Archaeological Box is a media-rich website that incorporates features like Google Maps and podcasts in two languages. It also incorporates a store and professional accounts. In this interview with Matt Thompson, the site’s founder, we’re going to explore the concepts of content management systems, including Drupal, and what goes into supporting the site through social media.

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Guin: How did the site develop and how did you come up with the name? (timestamp #00:01:52.6#)

Thompson: A few of my colleagues and I from school realized that we had a lot of information gathered individually and that it would be more practical if we could share it. So the site started as a small venture for a group of five people. We quickly realized that we weren’t the only ones in this situation and that information was lacking in the field of archaeology. Resources are hard to find and when you do find them, they often aren’t complete. We agreed that if we were going to do this, we’d go big. It grew into the Archaeological Box. We just rode the wave to what it is today. We’re still adding daily. As for the name, I’d like to say there was a well thought-out plan, but our site is bilingual. We found the name in French first. We are a French-speaking team mainly. It has a dual sense as a box with all the information in it. But in French, it can also mean “the firm” or “the enterprise.” So it also meant the “archaeology venture.”

Guin: What was on the site initially? Was it more like a blog? #00:03:37.0#

Thompson: At the very beginning it was just news. Daily, we’d find news articles on archaeology. Anyone who’s familiar with archaeology sites will know how important Google is for survival. Even before we started putting the the site only, we supported a “mini version” so Google would get to know us. Then we found our web designer and started building the components of the site. We started adding photos, blogs and events.

Guin: It’s one of the most professional and refined archaeology sites that I’ve seen. What are some of the other components of the site? You said you have a podcast and are going into other new media adventures … #00:04:58.9#

Thompson: Other than podcasts, we have field school repertories and archaeological site listings. We have an archaeotourism section where people can post travek reviews or look for archaeological travel packages. There’s something for everyone.

Guin: How did the travel packages come about? Does it help support your site?  #00:05:32.5#

Thompson: The travel section serves as the general public portal to the site. The general public accesses the site through the archeotourism portal where they have access to news, events, travel reviews, packages and forums. Our main site is built around a Google Maps search engine. Archaeotourism has similar feature, which includes any hotels that have packages with us for tour groups, car rental deals for tourism. It’s an interesting part of the site that’s being developed more.  #00:07:19.0#

Guin: You mentioned that site was developed professionally, but there are a lot of people who are starting up with pre-made blog sites or ready-made social networks like Ning. What’s the advantage for building your own site from scratch? #00:07:43.0#

Thompson: We are using a content management system called Drupal, which offers a lot of flexibility. That was most important, that we be able to do whatever we wanted to do. As much as our website designer will take care adding things, others I can do myself without much knowledge of the web programming. I can add groups, or use the messaging system or add a customer service window. Those are blocks that are already available via Drupal. It also allows us to custom-develop our site. We did look at Ning and the possibility of developing a Facebook page or creating a cheap version of a social media website. We quickly got to the point that we couldn’t go any further with doing what we wanted. So that’s when we decided to find a web designer and do it right. #00:09:10.2#

Guin: Is Drupal open source? #00:09:15.5#

LOGO-BA(PNG)Thompson: Drupal is open source. A lot of people know it. A lot of people know Joomla. It’s pretty much the same thing. It works with “blocks,” and you’ll see that on our website. And I think that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of information on our site and a lot of first time visitors will be overwhelmed by what they see. As much as we try to cut things out of our homepage so it’s not so heavy, we need to guarantee a certain level of quality at the same time. So having a block-type system that’s very clearly identified, we hope to make it easier for viewers to make sense of what they’re seeing. We started with WordPress in the beginning when we just had news because it’s foolproof. We use two host platforms which allow automatic install of Drupal on the website. We can add things pretty easily. We’ve been adding groups to the site, which have been in prototype states. We set them up and began testing them for functionality, but making the final tweaks to the layouts is where the web designer is so important. So that’s the side-effect of using Drupal: you need to go into code and tweak stuff.

Guin: You’ve got a lot of content on your website. I noticed you have memberships. Why did you decided to follow a membership model? #00:11:38.8#

Thompson: We have two main types of users: personal users and business users. Since the beginning, we decided we wanted to have free personal memberships. There is a cycle that if you don’t have personal members on the site, business members won’t come. But if you don’t have business members, the personal members won’t come. So we decided to have two types of business accounts. A regular business account that is also free and allows basic capabilities for viewing and posting. Then we added a business-plus account. It’s not very expensive and gives these businesses potential to develop a more profile as a viable business portal. You can add a portfolio, create an events manager, add a corporate blog, photo albums, etc. In regard to the personal accounts, we protect users’ information. But a lot of site protect too much information. Business members don’t need us to hide their information, so we tried to create a balance where personal information is locked away and only members can access it. But non-members who only want to come to the site to look at the news, events and field school listings can still have access to a basic level of the site. By creating sign-in option, we were able to serve all these audiences.

Guin: What kind of business customer are you looking for? #00:14:09.6#

Thompson: We have several, which leads me to another complication of building a site: developing categories. Whether it’s for news articles or business members, you need to find a way to include everyone. The hardest thing we faced was deciding how members would be classified on the geography of our Google Map. When we got to the Asian section, we forgot to write “southern and eastern Asia.” Likewise, that was an early difficulty: figuring out what we need to offer as business “types.” At first we thought of everything possible–members from museums, archaeological sites and interpretation centers, archaeological missions, tourism, hospitality, etc. There’s not really a limit for the types of people that we wanted to welcome to the site.

Guin: You mentioned Google Maps. Tell me how you’re using it. #00:16:02.9#

Thompson: When we first started using Google Maps, we wanted a shock value. We wanted people to get to our site and be impressed by something “different.” We think our site does have a shock value, but we also wanted to make sure it was high quality. So if you are impressed by the look of the site, you’ll also be impressed by its content. Google Maps allows us to do both things. It’s nice to look at. It also permitted us to create a search engine based on our site. So you can search for our members on the site, whether they are listed on Google or not. We used a Google Map and overlay our business members with pins that are located on the map by address or by longitude/latitude for archaeological sites because a lot of sites and field schools don’t have addresses. So when you create your account, you click on the map and add your pin where ever you want it to be.

Guin: Do people have the option to include what information they want displayed on the map, or does it just bring up their profile? #00:17:39.6#

Thompson: If you click on a pin on the map, it will open a small window with a member’s profile picture and a short description. If you’re a business-plus member, then you’ll have more information such as a web address. For a regular business member, it will bring up your account name with a link to your profile.

Guin: You’re using other forms of social media outside the site as well. Tell me about those. #00:18:11.5#

Thompson: When we started this thing, we went all across the web. Every social media outlet that could help us, we were on it. We had an account. For folks who are in social media, you quickly realize you can’t do everything. I’ll use our Facebook page as an example. When we first got on Facebook, we posted everything on it. And our membership went up fairly quickly. A hundred new members came from our page every two weeks. But most of those members don’t come to the site because they could get all the information they wanted on Facebook. So we quickly decided to pull back from outside social media. So we kept Twitter and Facebook and we control the information that’s put out there. We use Twitter to post news, so every news article on the ArchaeologicalBox.com is also posted to Twitter. We use Facebook for announcements on the site. Whenever we post a new podcast, we’ll put it on there. New additions or functionality to the site.

Guin: I think it’s important to have your community area and let the social media tools support that. A lot of people think they have to optimized every social media tool with all of their content. Really, the purpose is to use those tools to bring new audiences in. #00:20:23.0#

Thompson: As I mentioned, we have two podcasts. One in English and one in French. Both are news podcasts. We put together a selection of the most important articles. We have a short podcast of about 20 minutes for the English podcast and about 10 minutes for the French podcast. Ironically, the French podcast is recorded in Seattle. The English podcast is recorded in Montreal. In the summer, we have a more relaxed podcast where we go visit sites. #00:21:50.7#

Guin: One of the things that interested me in your site is the “lecture series” area. #00:22:15.5#

Thompson: With “information” as our theme, we realized there was something lacking in the archaeology world. And that was a “free” global lecture series where members from communities that don’t necessarily have structured archaeological organizations or funds to put to that could still welcome renowned archaeologists to speak to them. So we created this series that pairs together lecturers and hosts from around the world for free. There’s no payment. Members will tell us their travel schedule and we’ll match them with hosts that have given us their availability. So we if have a lecturer from Australia who is going to Vancouver to lecture at a university for three months, and there is a host in Vancouver who is looking for someone to lecture about South Pacific archaeology, we can match them.

Guin: I’m sure that you have had a lot of experience in the development of the site. I know that in developing a few sites myself, that building websites can become addictive. A lot of things come up that are unexpected. I’m sure there are archaeological and other heritage organizations looking to start up their own sites now. What advice do you have for those people?

Thompson: We had no idea how much time and resources something like this would take. But we were a good team that had the patience and time to put into this project. So I think anyone who want to build something similar, needs a good support system. Sometimes I’ll get calls at one in the morning: “the site’s down; what do we do?” You need to good support system to be ready for those things.

Guin: Do you use social media personally to engage with friends or other interests? #00:25:46.3#

Thompson: I do have things like a profile on Facebook. But most of my time is spent on developing the ArchaeologicalBox.com. Everything’s available there, right? We can have statuses, blogs, photo albums, so why go anywhere else.

Guin: Are there blogs or bloggers that you follow? #00:26:50.5#

Thompson: I do take the time to follow some of the social media blogs. And in the interest of being a good social media geek, I went to PodCamp (a podcast camp) in Montreal. I met so many people with interesting and smart things to say, so I follow some of their blogs as well.

Guin: That leads to another question: how do you find the news for your site? #00:27:50.5#

Thompson: We control the news a lot. Members can post news articles, which we approve. There is a team of four of us that divide the week per days and go through the web about two hours each day. What’s fun about our way of doing the news is that we don’t use RSS to gather information. You can be sure our news is fresh and not duplicated.

 

 

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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, TwHistory.org 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.

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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 historichomeworks.com. 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 SteveGarfield.com. 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 SteveGarfield.com 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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Audio Podcast: Library of Congress on partnering with Flickr and finding its voice in social media

Welcome to Voices of the Past, The podcast that helps you advocate for cultural heritage through the web, I’m Jeff Guin. Today we have kind of a special show for you. Traditionally we try to promote independent bloggers who are talking about heritage online but this time, we’re actually talking about a very large governmental agency. And specifically I’m talking about the Library of Congress. Now I’m sure that you are probably aware of the Library of Congress’ partnership with Flickr and Yahoo, and sharing so much of its image catalog online. It’s been hugely popular — seen by millions of people. We’re going to examine the Flickr partnership, how it started, and what lessons the Library of Congress has learned as a result of this partnership. Now I was fortunate to be able to visit with Michelle Springer and Helena Zinkham who are heading up the Flickr efforts there. And they cover a lot of ground in this podcast. They talk about issues of policy, what it’s like to work with a social media company when you’re a large government organization, and also, among the folks who are commenting on their photos and who are contributing data, how they’re actually using that data, and getting it back into their system.

Guin: we’ll start the podcast with Michelle explaining how the Flickr partnership first came about.

Springer: We started out in early 2007 in the Office of Strategic Initiatives wanting to look at a pilot using user generated content and seeing how that might help us describe our collections. Photographs seemed a very good fit for us so we partnered with the photographs division to look at, how we might do this. Photographs are very approachable and can be appreciated at all different levels. We decided as a pilot, this would be a very good place to start. We didn’t know the outcome that it would be when we went into it. We had three goals:

  1. We were interested in exploring how user-generated content could help both the library and users of the collections.
  2. We also wanted to increase awareness of the photographs with the idea that not everyone might realize that the library has pictures, and so this is a way of getting the word out for that.
  3. The third goal that we had was to gain experience using web 2.0, techniques and vendors to get an experience of how you speak, for example, in the social media environment as opposed to the more formal way the library usually communicates. So getting staff experience in swimming in those waters was a part of that.

That was how we started it and it took off like a rocket and we can’t say that we were expecting such a popular response. When we created it, it was very much a pilot. We didn’t set an end date to the pilot because we didn’t know how long it would take for us to get enough data to actually evaluate the success. Within 24 hours we had over a million views of the c

ontent. It just exploded in the blogosphere as a great idea and people were very interested in it, people really enjoyed it and I think the success, the longevity of the project over the last two years have underscored that this was a very good idea, people really like this.

Zinkham: When it comes to thinking about heritage and how it’s preserved this Flickr project with the Library of Congress — as you can imagine we’re a massive four thousand person organization, largest library in the world, but we’re also everyday human people. It turned out to be a very strong partnership between people who understand technology and the future well, like Michelle and the custodians of the physical objects or the stewards — that’s my area, the prints and photograph division.  I was given the fun of picking the first two collections to put online in Flickr. And they needed to be rights free, they needed to be fully available on the Library of Congresses own web page so that what we were offering out on Flickr wasn’t exclusive in any way. We needed that technique for people to begin to talk about the pictures and with each other, not just passively read a catalog record.

It’s very much an experience that the people who come to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and hold the physical collections in their hands. They have always, when interacting with picture collections, come with great stories. “That’s how my grandmother spun wool or that’s how my grandfather built trucks or flew airplanes.” They also bring often us corrected and new information: “Can’t you tell that’s Akron, Ohio, and not Sioux Falls, South Dakota?” Well with so many pictures here, we haven’t looked at each one as closely as you can so we’re really quite dependent for a long time on other people coming, doing their research, telling us more. They bring their questions. It isn’t always about bringing information; sometimes it’s just sheer curiosity. “What is that sign is the window about, what does it tell you related to segregation or integration of society? What’s the identity of that person? I see one clue, does another person have a clue?” Though it was technology, future, faith, people coming to past old heritage collection — I think in the end it was a tremendously strong partnership because we knew from the way that the physical pictures were handled. So as soon as we looked at a site like Flickr you could see the kind conversations that were absolutely familiar to us whereas I think with books or some other information resource in the library, that would not necessarily have been the traditional practice. Flickr is a very good fit for the kind of experience that picture libraries have long had with their physical users and it became a forum where we could reach out to the international community of what are essentially volunteers reacting in all kinds of ways to the pictures: Your basic fan mail, “I love it, great blue sky.” Or more hardcore specialists: “See that name on the hub of the back wheel, that’s how I know it’s a 1932 such and such car opposed to a 1933.” Again, very familiar debates and conversations for us and a real privilege for us to be able to have them held in such an international form.

Guin: Ok well lets go into a little more deeply then because crowd sourcing and the concept of open data has become increasingly popular in Gov 2.0 circles but not a lot of organizations have opened up quite so much content as you have for public comment. Would you describe that process and how has it changed the way the Library of Congress interacts with the public?

Springer: Once we decided and thought this would be a good fit for the pilot that we wanted to do, we had to approach Flickr because the Library of Congress has the office copyright, and we take copyright very seriously. Their rights statement which was the default rights statement of Flickr was not appropriate for the photographs that we were going to place there so we contacted Flickr management and we explained what we wanted to do there, and they were very accommodating and we worked with a staff member who is no longer there, George Oats, who looked forward and thought “this is the kind of model where not just the Library of Congress but other institutions could possibly add photographs.” And working with our office of general counsel,  as Helena referred to is a very collaborative project. Working with the office of copyright, the general counsel’s office, experts in prints and photographs and office of technology here, we approach them about different rights statement, which is the no known copyright restrictions statement, which allowed us to place our photographs and some others which is an observation about what we know about the photographs and if you look at Flickr it links back to every institution about what that means about the collections that they’ve been loading on the photographs, but that’s what allowed us to move forward with Flickr.

Guin: I think that’s interesting because here you are armed with the federal government and you have things that need to be done a certain way in the interest of open access and you’re teaching these lessons to a social media company. But at the same time, you’re learning how to engage in social media. Helena can you describe that process a little more and how you actually started to engage with folks through Flickr.

Springer:  We aim to participate in Flickr as regular members — part of a community — not people bringing some great big gift or opportunity, not some special admiration session, that wasn’t a part of the goal. We really wanted to be one among many members of Flickr. But this single area of copyright was the main challenge we presented to Flickr because by in large the Flickr member is the photographer. They have a very different relationship to the photographs. We are caretakers to the collection. We’re not the creators. So we can’t say we’ll put this in the public domain or will use a particular Creative Commons type of license. So that was the one area, challenge, that we took to Flickr to say, we would like to participate, could you consider making a change. And you ask what’s it like to work with a social media company: The answer is fast, nimble, responsive, and they took our basic request for a regular account with a new rights statement and said; “hang on, what about if we open this to all kinds of institutions? Could this be a whole new category of user and participant.” And as long as the pictures are rights free as best as you can ascertain, then we can go forward. And now something more than 30 institutions from Australia, to London, to France, Canada — many people have brought tremendously strong photo collections to the table. That’s another piece of the answer, why Flickr. There are many photosharing sites. But it’s Flickr felt like a good fit to our traditional libraries and the conversations that would happen in the reading room would now happening in an online environment. It’s a very photo focused community. Yes, you can share your family pictures and such but people are thinking about the composition of the image, they’re having large discussions about how to frame and crop and mix and mash up the images, the absolute focus it’s not just a means of transferring or printing or viewing, but real conversation about the content of the pictures. That is how Flickr came to feel like a good fit for our collections.

Guin: And it really has become a model for government agencies working with web companies. Even though you’re best known for the Flickr project you actually engage in a lot of other different types of social media-type services, and I wondered Michelle if you’d be able to tell me a little bit about how those services work together in addition to the Flickr project to increase your interaction with the public.

Springer: The Library of Congress has a number of web 2.0 or social media accounts. There are two Twitter accounts that the library has, there are I believe four Facebook pages, we have three blogs that allow people to comment on the blog posts so user generated comment is available on LOC.gov in that way. In fact, the blog came first and we used the criteria we worked out for the blog to moderate the content on Flickr and that was actually another criteria, in reference to the previous question, that we could use to moderate the content that was placed on our account with a light hand but we did want to remove spam, personal attacks, some criteria like that so that we could maintain that safe account. Again it comes down to the business case, in Flickr we are definitely trying to engage the community and have them provide information back to us about the photographs. The library has an account on YouTube that’s strictly an awareness exercise so in that instance we have comments that are turned off. We’re not asking that the community tell us about those videos, we’re just placing them in a location where they are more findable and more discoverable, hopefully because the YouTube boxes are the number two search engine on the web so that provides us with an avenue to display our historical materials as well as some of the events that happen at the library where people are more likely to find it.

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California (LOC)
Famous 1936 Photo from the LOC Flickrstream: Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California (LOC)

Guin: You are obviously very engaged on the web at work, but I know there have to be issues with creating boundaries between your personal interaction and your very public social media face with the Library of Congress. Do you have personal accounts on social media?

Springer: I do, partially because my job relates to the policies connected to social media so I have to understand Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, all of these in order to advise the library and to look at the issues that we might have as an institution participating. But an institution participates very differently than a person participates. For example on Facebook I have a profile but the institution has a page. I decide that I will friend you if you want to be my friend in Facebook but a page is open to anyone, anyone can “like” the page, and we get no personal data back from anybody on that page. There are differences, but I think it’s important, just as we talked about one of the initial goals for the Flickr project was to get sort of get your feet wet for staff in web 2.0 and how to talk in that milieu — that people have some personal experience with that. When people approach us institutionally and say,” I’d like to have a twitter account”. We ask them for a business case but we also ask what’s your experience talking in this milieu, have you written a blog post for example or if you haven’t would you do a guest post on the LOC blog just to see and sort of become familiar with the way that people talk in these types of venues oppose to our type of institutional speak?

There’s no reason that, I personally feel, that people should have to intermingle those personal and professional accounts. Facebook, you have to use as an administrator of an official account you’re still using your personal profile as an administrator, but those from the outside looking in you would never see the connection of those accounts. We’ve tried to create a very bright line between personal information, personal accounts versus their professional accounts. So although the people behind the Library of Congress Twitter account have personal accounts, they are separate from the Library of Congress accounts. And that’s true on Facebook, that’s true on Flickr. When staff respond to the commenters, Helena at LOC, Michelle at LOC, those are separate accounts than their personal accounts

Guin: Now this is very interesting to me because you talk about that “bright line,” yet so much of what goes into social media success depends on voice and authenticity. How do you make that happen if you’re trying to keep the personalities of the individuals out of the official social media channels.

Springer: When we launch institutional accounts, when there’s going to be a new Twitter account for example, it’s going be a Twitter account that is related to work, related to some business activity at the Library of Congress. We would have a class with the Office of Communications here, the office of general council, myself and others who would talk about experience that they’ve had so far and talk about the voice issue. A blog post is a different voice than the Twitter voice which is a branded account. Twitter tends to be we, while a blog is first-person voice, and what does that mean? We have three blogs present, pretty soon we’ll have some more that are in the works. For example, Jennifer Harbster and Donna Scanlon, who do the Inside Adams blog, may very well have personal blogs, personal accounts, Facebook accounts, whatever, but they don’t intermingle those two. They speak with an authentic first-person voice with the blogs posts they post but they don’t reference their personal accounts. That point gets back to the business case of why they’re doing the library accounts. It has to do with business, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring their personal viewpoint or personal flavor.

One of the difficulties is with these social media accounts they give you system administrative access to the entire account. They’re not built as institutional accounts, they’re built for a person so it’s a little bit tricky to divide responsibilities with them in account. In Flickr, we have someone from our information technology office for example who load the photographs.  That’s a completely different activity from prints and photographs who modify the content and respond to the comments. For password security and general accounts security, we didn’t want everyone into the account in all aspects to the account who might be less familiar with some parts of the account so we’ve undertaken ways and business processes to try to limit access to the master account but still be able to respond back. This also adds a little bit of personal flavor so that the people from prints and photographs that are responding to the comments for example respond from “Christi@PNP” but it has the brand mark of the Library of Congress and they’re talking about Library of Congress information. They aren’t linking back to personal accounts if they even have them. They’re speaking in a professional role and it’s that sort of delineation trying to limit access to the master account. It was a little bit better for password access and the security of the account access and for personalized voice to create those other accounts for the staff and have them talk back from their own account.

This girl in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, Long Beach, Calif. She's one of many capable women workers in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-1
From the LOC Collection: This girl in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, Long Beach, Calif. She's one of many capable women workers in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-1

Guin: At this point I think that I should step back and acknowledge that the Library of Congress has a much larger role in the world than just this Flickr project and its social media engagement. As part of the U.S. government you really are seen as the global leader in archiving heritage. Helena what do you feel has been the impact of what the Library of Congress has been able to accomplish with that goal in general and also communicating that on the web.

Zinkham: It’s good to hear that the leadership role in visible and it’s a leadership role in two areas of course. There’s very large digital preservation programs and also lots of advice for preserving originals, photo negatives, prints, posters, books, magazines, movies. We’re dedicated to helping information resources last as long as possible while also making them accessible. When it comes to Flickr, our project is primarily about outreach and access so it helps to raise awareness and appreciation as well for the past. Based the comments that flow in still every day, many people are tripping across the pictures unexpectedly and discovering how much they enjoy that window into years long ago. We’ve loaded two collections: a set of news photographs from the 1910’s, so a century mark into the past. A very large set of color photos from the Great Depression, World War II so about 75 years ago and then a large block of color travel views. We’ll also dip into treasure views which usually are between 50 and 100 years ago. People bring to the table their own passion for the sport of polo, golfing or baseball. They love to talk about what their grandparents were doing, or their memories as a child that comes from more the octogenarians, who we can tell from the comments, people will often say things like “I printed this picture, I took it to my grandfather, and he says yes, that’s such and such building, that’s how they really flew those airplanes.” So we don’t have just awareness but a deep appreciation and affection for history and hopefully that begins to rub off on or will inspire questions. It hasn’t yet but I hope it will. How do I take care of my own pictures or how do I help my historical organization do a better job? I think the Flickr role is more built for goodwill and make it more immediately clear why the past is important to the present: because it’s interesting because it makes you think, because it helps you look twice, but it also helps you see the lessons we never quite learned. Whether it’s about war or racism or employment and labor practices, treatment of land and so the idea that 50 or 100 years ago and we’re still struggling trying to figure out fires and floods and so forth. That seems to cause people think twice about their own lives in the present.

Guin: Ok, well going back to how that concept fits into the Flickr project, I’m wondering how you engage your audience around the content and encourage the ongoing discussion that allows them to make those discoveries. I’m thinking in terms of when you post a photo, how you title it, how you describe it, tag it, those types of things.

Zinkham: Because you can interact with the pictures, you can say what you think about them instead of the traditional perhaps “museum” experience, where there a lot of the Do Not Touch labels. Going out into the social media environment is the completely the opposite. It comes with a big please do touch me, please use me and in whatever creative way you can cook up. So all so all those share buttons, blog about this, add notes, add comments, add tags,  repurpose, mix up and mesh…

Springer:  And Flickr help set that stage for that too. They helped us describe our photographs and the message of the Commons was very much to provide value. And one of the questions we had was would people provide altruistically information about these photographs. In traditional model tagging, you tag something so that you can find it later. Would people be interested in tagging something so that other people could find it and I think that we’ve answered that question so that was another part of the mix too.

Guin: Ok, so what’s your goal for this crowdsourced content? Is there any type of information in particular that you are looking for when you post something? What do you need from your audience?

Zinkham: There’s the general message of the Commons: please help us describe and make the pictures more findable. And then we’ve set back and let people interact however they please. So we have that general request for help. But I’m just amazed over and over again by what people think to do on their own, whether its bringing geotagging with latitude-longitude coordinates into the tag pools. The group requests, houses with porches, Canadian grain silos, pictures with blue, pictures with white, all about whales, vintage England, vintage kitchen utensils. There’s an enormous world of special interest activity, which we did not anticipate, but with every group request the pictures are channeled into other photo streams and  new users come and look and you can almost feel the loops back through the special interest groups.

We did post one set of pictures where we had no idea of the places and within 48 hours, all 30 pictures had been identified. They were in some areas of Switzerland and France. We got teased about one of the pictures because it showed the Paris Opera House, which is the model for the Great Hall right here at the Jefferson building and all I could say in our defense was that we were working with 6,000 pictures this one didn’t have a caption and we just didn’t look quite long enough in order to make the connection. So there’ve been some embarrassing moments too. There are fourteen million pictures here, there is more than 30 people to work with them but that’s 30 people and 14 million pictures here, the ratio just isn’t going to work out. And so we’ve chosen consciously to digitize all 6,000 color travel views put them online. They were here for almost a decade and not one of those 30 pictures had accrued a “I know where that is” reaction, and yet when we put that set into Flickr, how primed people were to help. The guys from Switzerland passed the news around really fast and they debated with each other, “is it this bridge in France?” On their own, they know they need to say why they believe something to be true. That is one of the most impressive things that has happened. It’s not a rule, it’s not control, just good old-fashioned commonsense. They’re going to want to know and other people are going to want to know.  So they will send us pictures from other libraries: “see that’s the same bridge over here in the photo from the French library is captioned.” Those are things we could have found but that would have taken hours and we don’t have that much staff time available.

And that’s a great point for the “then and now” pictures. The Flickr members have been grand. They will take a picture and go and find the spot and then photograph it and send it as a comment. The comments don’t have to be just words, they can be pictures and these then and now pairings help to see how did that building turn out today — has it been torn down, is it a landmark, has it been converted to condominiums — they’ll send the street addresses. That willingness to hunt and understand an area, it’s a lot of fun actually.

Springer: This is probably a good place to talk about in the prints and photographs catalog on the libraries website, we have added after some time we realized there was all these great reminiscences and personal history, that we wouldn’t really have incorporate that into LOC.gov but still has a lot of value so we now provide the Flickr url and additional information may be available in the record of the photograph as it appears on LOC. So you can go out to Flickr and see that thread of reminiscences. We have incorporated a lot of data for names, for surnames, descriptions. Some of this historical information stays on Flickr and so there’s a two way combination of interaction between those.

Guin: Well here’s an important concept to explore then because you have the data that you maintain on your own, the data you find and put into these photos, but you also through crowd sourcing have a lot more content coming in, some of it useful, some of it not. How do you sort through that and get it back into the Library of Congresses database for the original photos?

Zinkham: We do it by hand. There’s a crew of about 10 people in the prints and photographs division so that’s almost 25 percent of our staff and we take turns. It’s a real mix of people by the way — reference librarians, catalogers, digital library specialists. They adopt the Flickr account for one week and scroll through all the comments that come over the door sill. So if it’s fan mail, that’s great. We don’t always need to respond. Sometimes there’ll be a particular question asked to us. They might see a question and step in to say if you’re interested in that kind of subject we also have additional materials so you can be proactive about pointing people to in depth resources. But for folks who are saying it’s a different street, a different name, a different date going beyond the telling of a story and “now” pairing of a photo. They take the information and the Flickr community almost always provides a link that makes it easier for you to verify. So if a descendent of Jay Gould says “that’s not my grandfather, that’s my great uncle and here’s how I know,” we can follow that link and in this case it wasn’t a particular physical portrait it was more the birth and death dates in the obituary and the guessing of the age of the man in the scene. So we also then checked on our own portrait file to see how many Jay Gould’s we have and sure enough the name on the glass negative on the news photos had gotten mixed up. We straightened it out and credit the Flickr community as the source for the new information. It’s a sifting through, finding the changes that will make a substance of difference in the basic identification of the image, and then we spend some time verifying. We’ll go in by hand and edit our records.

Guin: Well now I’m even more impressed because I assumed there is some level of automation there, I didn’t realize that there was a staff member from the Library of Congress going back and reviewing all of those changes for  the inclusion of that information back in the database. Moving on a bit, I wonder if you have any tips for people or organizations on how they could use your Flickr media on their own websites, or their social outlets and can you give me some examples of some creative uses of these photos that are out there.

Zinkham: We have plenty of examples of special interest groups or blogs, newspapers, podcasts, webcasts coming across the Flickr pictures, whether they came across them in a basic Google search or were inside of Flickr themselves. They might be writing about paper recycling. So they’ll dip in for a World War II photo about their recycling efforts during the war and the past used to illustrate the importance of continuing the efforts for today. So that published illustration use seems to be going on strong. We’ve talked sometimes within the Commons that sometimes institutions have portions of collections, so I would imagine for example with the Civil War in the United States, many of us would probably load our holdings and then there might begin to be more overlap. The Smithsonian and the Library of Congress partnered up for Western survey exploration photos from the 1870’s to 1880’s We’ve had an across-the-Commons effort for international women’s day, for what we call in the United States, Veterans day, Remembrance day. So there have been some efforts to collaborate in that way. But I guess the bottom line message would be if someone anyone finds any of the pictures useful then please, go ahead and use them.

Guin: Well continuing on that line of thought I’m wondering if you have any people or heritage organizations that are planning to use photo sharing as part of their own social media strategy.

Zinkham: The very first thing is to be clear about the reason for participating. Is it to build awareness, gather good will, to collect information, to acquire new pictures for your collection? There can be so many different purposes. It gets confusing and it can be counterproductive. It takes the prints and photographs division anywhere between 8 and 15 hours every week to moderate the count updates of records. When we look at the institutional-wide investments, including everything from policy decision making time to actually loading the photos in the technology area it floats between 10 and 20 hours a week. That’s a way of saying it’s a serious level of investment and you don’t want to just put the pictures out there and let them sit. It’s a garden to tend; you need to water it for it to flourish. The point is to interact. Awareness is good but sometimes you need to be ready to have special themes  or a challenge to send in photos. The Flickr bloggers do that beautifully. Challenge people to find pictures related to a particular theme and then react to them.  Not as difficult as a homework assignment but not as frivolous as find me every hat with a feather. Just being prepared to step in and encourage the engagement. That’s a part of being a real person not being some big imposing institution. You’re not there to control it but you’re there to participate. It’s not a lot of rules about don’t say this, don’t do that. It’s open to everyone’s creativity to bring to the table and then sometimes you want to be ready to stir the pot.

Guin: Helena I think you touch on an important reason why so many people have responded so favorably to this project. We don’t usually associate government with the concepts of either listening or stirring the pot. Michelle what do you have to say about that?

Springer: There is a lot more movement in the government towards the open data movement — to make information sharable, to make it portable. So I think it’s continuing. We happen to be at the beginning of the bell curve on this but I’ll just add a few more things to what culture heritage institutions should look at: Talk to your lawyer, that’s one of the first parts. Look at the terms of service. Sometimes its easy for institutions and people on personal accounts click through that user agreement and say yes I’ll create that account but often you don’t really read it and you don’t really notice the policies. If you’re doing this on behalf of an institution you’re going to have to look at those terms of service with different eyes than you do as an individual. Also be aware of the rights statement, the default all rights reserved. Is that appropriate for the content you’re placing? Some institutions place current photographs of events that took place at their institution. That’s a totally different model than historical photographs from their collections.

Look at what it is that you are trying to do. The resources that Helena talked about, part of the message about that is that’s a measure of engagement. A lot of time is spent because people are so engaged with our photographs. You can really look like that as a measure of success, not just as a resource requirement because if people weren’t engaging and sending us information and we didn’t have new content all the time that we didn’t have to moderate then our resource requirements would go down in the time. It won’t be that level for everyone because of that level of engagement is very high for the Library of Congress account. One of the things that feeds that is the fact that so many Flickr members (I think it’s over 17 thousand now) have made us a contact. So every time we load new photos, it automatically loads in their personal accounts and say “oh, I should come back to the Library of Congress and see those new photographs. It’s kind of self perpetuating. You want people to make you a contact so we have these other ways of sort of getting the word out when we load new content. But because the Library of Congress has the most photographs of any participating institution in Flickr, we have a lot of photographs embedded in Flickr throughout various groups and whatnot. People come across them serendipitously not just by coming to the Library of Congress account, and that leads them back and they discover more. That’s kind of that trial.

Guin: That’s the social medium trail of breadcrumbs. So what are the lessons to be learned from this project?

Springer: We learned by doing. We started out not sure about groups. What’s the time investment if we agree to groups requests and what does that mean to accept a group. Once we became more comfortable and understood what that meant, we accept group requests now for public groups, safe groups. You don’t have to have absolutely everything thought-out in the beginning when you start. I think we certainly learned by doing. One of the things is we do a lot of presentations about this project, and at the end of the presentation we often have a benefits and challenges list. One of the challenges is the comfort of releasing the photographs into the wild as it were. In Flickr, if you allow tagging in your photographs you have to allow notes. Notes are annotations that are actually made on the photo. There are differing levels of comfort about that. It can sometimes be wonderfully beneficial when you have tiny little text, someone will point out in a large crowd scene, “there’s President Taft,” or when you have cars going down the street and someone will transcribe all of those signs on the street corner and all of the signs that are on the placards. You may also attract snarky humor and some people are not comfortable with that. You don’t have that ability to turn that functionality off without turning off tagging and tagging is a really important part of this project for us, at least for our model. Also another thing we didn’t quite mention is that all of that extra metadata that the users are adding: that adds weight in all of the search engines. The same photograph on Flickr will come up higher in the search results than it will come up on the Library of Congresses version of the photograph–sometimes by several pages. We encourage all of that metadata and the comfort of that caution level, being aware that that is going to occur. When you’ve said yes to one thing you’ve said yes to another. We pretty much have our settings as open as they can be. You can blog about, you can print out, you can make copies, you can do all of these various things on our account. But not everyone and every institution will be comfortable with those settings, and you’re not required. You have to think about that as you kind of evaluate what you want to do.

Guin: Michelle and Helena, I appreciate you doing the podcast. Amazing stuff, it was good talking to you.

That was Michelle Springer and Helena Zinkham. If you’d like to learn more about their efforts involving social media and the Flickr project at the Library of Congress you can learn more about it at our show notes site. That’s voicesofthepast.org. There you’ll find a transcript of this interview and several others we’ve done with folks in the heritage field using social media to make a difference in their worlds. That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast. Until next time, we’ll see you online.

Audio Podcast: Jennifer Souers Chevraux on the role of museums on the social web

Coming up on this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast, we’ll explore the role of museums on the social web.

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Intro: And welcome to Voices of the Past. The podcast that helps you use the web to advocate for the preservation of cultural heritage. I’m Jeff Guin and today we’re going to join Bethany Frank as she interviews Jennifer Souers Chevraux of the blog MuseoBlogger. Now Jennifer helps museums and cultural organizations engage their audiences by developing compelling experiences and using new media to cultivate a new generation of patrons. Here’s that interview.

Frank: Hey Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us for the podcast.

Chevraux: Hi, glad to be here.

Frank: So, to go ahead and get started. How did you get involved with museums?

Chevraux: When I was in undergrad, I volunteered at a couple of museums because I was an art history and anthropology major, so it made sense to go to both of those museums. And that was the only access I had to artifacts and original artwork. So I volunteered there, and I thought that it may be something that I would want to do. And then my first job out of college, I worked for a traveling museum on a train. It’s called the Art Train, still in existence, and I worked with them. And being on the train and working there wasn’t exactly your typical museum experience. So then I thought maybe it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But I tried archeology, that’s what I went to graduate school in. And then I tried teaching, which I did like, but I kind of wanted everyday to be a little bit different. And so I went back to museum work. Kind of went through the back door deciding that this was a good way for me to work in a place where I got a little bit of education, a little bit of working with artifacts, a little bit of outreach and talking with the public and volunteer training. I got all of that, and everybody thought my job was really cool.

Frank: Wonderful. So could you go ahead and tell us some about Illumine Creative Solutions?

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Chevraux: Illumine Creative Solutions, that is my consulting business that I have. What happened is, I was on staff at several different museums. At the time that I founded Illumine Creative Solutions, I was on staff as the director of exhibits at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and I was pregnant with my first baby. And I was working about, I would say, averaging 50 hours a week, sometimes 60 hours a week. And realized that I didn’t really think that was going to jive so well with motherhood. So it came to pass that I had the opportunity to help another smaller museum here in Cleveland with a project they were doing while I was still on staff with the Natural History Museum. And it was really a great opportunity to come into a place that didn’t really have an exhibit instructor. They needed some new ideas and a fresh approach, and so they reached out to a colleague of mine who said, “You should talk to Jennifer.” And I was doing this project, and it really seemed that I could balance that with my job that I already had with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and so I thought that maybe I could balance some consulting work with being a mom too. And pretty soon, people started calling me. My phone was ringing for other projects saying, “Well now that you don’t work at the Natural History Museum, can you help us with this project? Would you have time to do this?” And so it kind of blossomed that way. So now, i do for museums what I used to do on staff. I do on a project basis.

Frank: You mentioned that you got into museums because you wanted each day to be different. So what all would a general week pertain for what you do?

Chevraux: I generally work about three days a week. I dedicate two days to my kids and going to museums and orchestra performances and fun things they want to do. Spending time being a museum consumer, and a consumer of cultural events and organizations and living history places. Because they love that, and that gives me the opportunity to see it from the visitors perspective. And then the other days, I am working on projects. Some of what I do is helping museums engage audiences, and I do some visitor evaluation and project/program evaluation. I’ve helped some nonprofit clients, who are not museums with grant support because they don’t have as large of a staff. Often they are only two people, and they get snowed under. And so I help them put together surveys and assessments and help them show that the programs that they are doing are reaching people in a meaningful way. And meeting their missions. And I do that with museums too. And so any given week, I could be putting together an exhibition working on developing a traveling exhibition program, which I am doing right now with a museum. I am working with an artist to put together a traveling retrospective exhibit of his work that’s going to go to museums. So I am reaching out to some of my museum clients and colleagues to see if we can form good partnerships for that. It’s very diverse, and it makes me feel like I still get to contribute to the field that means so much to me. And  I get to also balance that with enjoying museums and historical centers with my kids.

Frank: So, what role does your blog play with all of this?

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Jennifer Chevraux and daughter

Chevraux: I started my blog not really knowing where it was going to lead. Once my daughter was born, I realized I wouldn’t do nearly as much writing as I did as director of exhibits, when I was putting together exhibits and having to write text and interpretive panels. And I wanted to keep my skills sharp, so I started a personal blog. And then I realized quickly that I didn’t have enough that I thought anybody would want to say. And about a year later, I thought, “Now I really want a place to say things that normally, on staff, I would say to colleagues.” Conversations we would have. Discussions we would have. Things that I would encounter with my work with clients. Things that would come up and I would have something that I wanted to say about that, but instead of coming home or coming back to an office with a museum where I had lots of colleagues were we could talk about that, I would come to my house and nobody really wanted to talk about my day job. So I needed a place that even when nobody was listening, I could pour out my perspective on certain issues that came up. So I started my job to sort of give me a place to not vent, but share. Because I had all these things in my head, and I no longer had a director of exhibits or director of education or a marketing director, where I could go in a say, “What do you think about this?” And the MuseoBlogger site that I have, gives me that opportunity. And then I realized that it didn’t take long before a lot of my clients and my former colleagues and people that I knew through the Ohio Museum Association were following me, and then I would get these emails from them saying, “Oh, I really liked your perspective about this, I really liked what you had to say.” And it was funny to me because I didn’t realize that they were reading it. It’s definitely allowed me to make new connections that I never would have expected.

Frank: What all goes into creating your blog?

Chevraux: My blog is not museum specific, I would say, although most of what I put in there has to do with museum work. Some of it has to do with just cultural organizations and the challenges that they face today. The world changes so quickly that I think sometimes museums have that institutional glacier effect, where we hear about something that we want to change…orchestras, operas, all those organizations, they are very traditional. And they have traditional boards and traditional constituencies, and so when all of a sudden something like Twitter comes along, “Ooo! Twitter! Ooo! What’s that? Let’s get on that!” And they don’t know who in their organization is going to be that person. Or “Oh! There is all this social media, we should have marketing do it!” And marketing says, “But we’re already doing so much. We don’t really have time for anything.” But I think my blog gave me an opportunity to say from the outside, some observations I thought would help them keep in touch with the average person. Because sometimes, I think, they are looking at a constituency that’s no longer average.

Frank: And so, in your blog you discuss the future of museums. Can you explain to me where you see museums going in the next so many years?

Chevraux: That’s a tough question because I think there’s the place that I would like to see them going, and then the place some of them are going to end up. I think museums are coming to a crossroads where they’ll have to decide who they are going to be in the future and is that who they’ve always been. I think some museums will dare to reinvent themselves the way they do their own business. in terms of the way they meet visitor expectations. They way they reach people. Maybe even the way that they staff museums. And then certainly the way that they find funding. I think some museums will resist the change and become more and more disconnect with their own communities. Because the community is changing. It is no longer just wealthy while industrialists who are looking for the Andrew Carnegie approach to funding a worthy adventure. We don’t have any of those people anymore. And when you look at what Bill Gates funds, he isn’t just making a museum anymore. He’s funding human rights projects or world health projects. And museums can’t be the ones who are missing out at the table. They need to look at their sustainability and find a way within their own communities to become sustainable. And I hope that that means they’re going to become more visitor focused. And it’s a delicate balance. When you have collections of historic artifacts, you have to be collections focused. You have an academic curatorial staff. You have to be focused on their needs and their important research. But all of that has to be balanced very carefully with what people in your community expect from you. What do they need from you. And if you are always answering that question the way that we answered it 20 to 25 years ago, pretty soon you become irrelevant to a large selection of your constituency.

Frank: How do you think social media plays into this and into museum’s futures?

Chevraux: I think social media is a wonderful way for little expense. I say that accepting that you probably need to have a staffer these days just dedicated to it. But I think it’s relatively inexpensive compared to traditional media for having constant access to your potential visitors and your museum members and funding base. It’s like having your own TV station in your museum. You might not be able to constantly broadcast a visual image, but you can continuously broadcast events, upcoming activities and programs. You can tell your audience and your community and even your funders, if you’re here (I’m in Cleveland), the Cleveland Foundation is on Twitter. If you put something up there and they’re following you, which they do for most of the museums and nonprofit organizations that they support. They want to know that you’re out there. They hear about the good work you’re doing. How wonderful is that? You didn’t have to put a stamp on anything. They get it right away, and I think you’re constantly in touch. Now, they might not be watching at the very moment that you post that, and that happens. People turn off their TV too. But I think, in a general sense, it gives you a constant access to those people who could potentially be your visitors and patrons.

Frank: Speaking of patrons, in what ways do you use new media to cultivate the next generation of enthusiastic patrons?

BW meChevraux: The web has become the go-to resource for so many people in today’s culture that it’s a first stop for people. They no longer check their mail to see if they got a recent museum publication. They’re not looking for the museum magazine or the latest newsletter in their mail. If they want to know what’s going on with the museum, they click on the museum’s website and hope that there’s an updated calendar. This is a little note to all museums: make sure your calendar is up to date. Because that is where people go. And I think that today, helping museums understand their visitors behavior and propensities just by looking at their own. I was talking to a museum colleague a few weeks ago who works at a small decorative arts museum at an historic home, and we were talking about how we tend to go to Wikipedia. And sometimes that’s a bad thing because we go there first, and we take that information and we don’t want to internalize it too much. And how we were looking for an answer about when something was coming, and the first thing we went to was that particular website. And then she said, “You know, this makes me think that I need to make sure that our calendar is up to date.” And that’s one of those things, sometimes, that I think there’s a disconnect: between the way people use the web themselves and the way their websites for their museums or their cultural organizations are kept. If yours wouldn’t make sense to you or you were frustrated because it wasn’t up to date or it didn’t have enough content on it, then maybe you need to take a hard look at who else is using it. And maybe you need to make sure that it is giving you lots of good content, and that it is completely fresh.

Frank: You mentioned in your Lent post different things museums could do with their exhibits to make themselves become more relevant. What kind of things can they do?

Chevraux: I like to go to a museum and wander through the exhibits and feel like I’m not being bombarded by information all the time. It’s like a nice space where you feel comfortable and you can learn at your own pace. At the same time, if they’re doing a good job in an exhibition of getting your creative juices flowing or getting you to think about a particular topic. It also then seems logical to have someplace in the exhibition where you can tap into those creative juices or that stimulation you’ve created with your visitors. And allow them to share that. So, whether it’s just a suggestion box in the end or it’s something that’s using media or it’s encouraging them to tweet about what they’ve learned. Just giving visitors a way to feel that their impressions of the exhibition are relevant and important to the institution. People today have become very focused on themselves. Not in a negative way, but they want to know, “What does this mean to me? This Mastodon is very fascinating, but why should I care about it?” The exhibition needs to at first relate that somehow to the person’s own experience. Perhaps we talk about climate change and extinction, and relate that back to something that a person cares about in today’s world. Once you’ve made that connection, perhaps it would be nice to maybe share that meaning that you’ve created for them in a way back to the institution. Nina Simon does a great job in her recent book talking about how participatory experiences shouldn’t go just from the museum down to the individual, but the best experiences come back to the institution. And then they can even be shared with future visitors. That’s a wonderful way for the individual to feel important in a space where you are telling them that everything around them that belongs to the museum is important.

Frank: We can see in your blog ways that museums are engaging with new media and national events, like the Super Bowl and things like that. What other ways are people doing this and why is it beneficial?

Chevraux: I would say that anytime a museum takes itself a little bit less seriously and can share that with their communities, it’s never a bad thing. And I think that one of the things that we need to understand about today is that so few people go to work in a three-piece suit anymore. Ladies don’t wear gloves, men don’t wear hats, and a lot of these museums were built and their programs were built during times when people did all of those very formal things. And museums are slow to come around to the idea that we don’t have to be so buttoned up and look quite so self important to be important. And in fact, when you let your guard down a little bit, and you make a bet like the New Orleans Museum of Art did with the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which I think is what you are talking about, I put that on my blog. I thought it was wonderful. They tweeted about this and they got this wonderful bet going that they were going to basically two pieces of fine art were wagered, if you will, between these two institutions based on who would win the Super Bowl. All of a sudden it went viral, and everybody thought, “How fun is that?” And it’s art museum based. I mean, how many people who care so much about the NFL ever cared that much about those two fine arts institutions. Maybe a lot of them do, I love art museums myself, and I also happen to love NFL football, which maybe is why it struck me as so much fun. But I think that there were a lot of people on both sides of that coin who thought that was a really great way to show that they live in the same world as the rest of us. Here in Cleveland, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a very find institution with a remarkable collection, and when our Cleveland Cavaliers were in the NBA playoff, they put “Go Cavs” banners on the very front of their building where they usually have these beautiful banners that say, “free.” Because we are very lucky here that our institution is free and open to the public. But also, they took that opportunity to be a little less serious, and they took down those banners, and they put up these “Go Cavs” banners, huge banners, on the front of their building. Because I think that it gave them the opportunity to say to our community, “We live here too. We want them to win too.” And in fact the orchestra, which is very fine here, but of course plays to a very much higher brow crowd, they actually did a promotional web video for the Cavaliers as well. And it was great from my perspective to see that because it said, “We understand that not all of our people here in Cleveland are regular orchestra members. Some of them are just Cavs fans. Some of them love the Browns. And we live here too.”

Frank: So as you’ve said before, you have a presence on Facebook and Linkedin. Where else are you, and why did you chose to use those mediums?

flowerChevraux: I have a Facebook page for my business, Illumine Creative Solutions. Although I will say I don’t have a whole lot of really exciting content on it. And that’s my fault just because I’ve gotten busy with just the blog and other things. And usually what I do is I use it as one more venue to post what I recently put up on my blog. So, and every now and then I update it saying what I’m up to. But it’s nice because that let’s people that I know outside of my professional circle know what I’m doing in my work because they think that working for a museum must be the most fascinating thing. And I also have, of course I use LinkedIn, and I think most people do these days, which is great. At the very beginning when I had a LinkedIn account, I had no idea what I would use it for. But now I use it a lot. So it’s linked to my Twitter, so when I put something on there that I am working on professionally, it shows up on my Twitter account. And then I also, I have to admit, am a newbie on FourSquare. I have FourSquare, and I sometimes check in, but I have to say, a lot of times I forget. I’ve gone to a cool place, and I realize, “Oh! I’m in the parking lot. Oh! I should have checked in while I was at the art museum. Or I should have checked in when I was at the Cleveland Clinic doing something. Or Oh Man! I was just in a really cool place that does FourSquare, and I should have clicked.” So I have yet to really make that a part of my presence if you will. And as I said, I have website, and it’s just about to be redone and relaunched, and it will be up in the next couple of weeks.

Frank: What is FourSquare?

Chevraux: FourSquare is kind of Twitter meets your GPS. When you go somewhere, you have the application on your phone, and you click on it and you tell your followers and friends where you are. So if I go to Chipotle for a burrito, I can “check in.” And it says, “I’m here, and if anybody else in my circle is around and wants to have lunch, I’m here.” And it also keeps track of where you’ve gone. And so it sort of makes that human connection between Twitter, which is “let’s communicate with all these people out in cyberspace” to now “They are in our building, let’s engage them in a meaningful way.” You know that they are there because they’ve just checked in. And people can get badges and even become the mayor of the place. So for example, because I used to work at the Natural History Museum, I go there a lot with my kids. I enjoy it so much. And I could probably be the mayor of the Natural History Museum just if I checked in every time I went there. The person that checks in the most would get to become the mayor until someone else checked in more than they did. But I would certainly earn my badge. If museums or other heritage sites that are looking at this haven’t checked out FourSquare yet, I would say check it out. Because it is sort of that step between having people know you in the virtual world and bringing them into your world on site, which is what all of us are hoping social media will do for our organizations.

Frank: So what is your advice for folks wanting to get involved with new media to promote their heritage organization or communicate their own personal heritage ideas?

Chevraux: I have a couple of things. I would say, one of the easiest things to do if they haven’t yet done the Facebook page or if their Facebook page is lacking, is to just do that because I think that that’s the largest low-hanging fruit audience out there. People will “like” you virtually just to add you to their circle. Just because they want to see your updates. And then all of a sudden you’re getting all of these people who never really knew what you were about or just, “Oh! I went to that place. That living history site when I was in fourth grade. I haven’t been there since.” Click on them. Like them. Now they get all sorts of interesting information about what your organization does today, which we are all hoping is a lot different than somebody who’s 25 was in fourth grade. And that’s an easy one. I think the more that institutions do this, the more that they see the potential and the more that they may realize that they have to have someone in charge of maintaining it. Because I think that the best people I follow put up really great content. And for example, one of my favorites that I am happy to plug, is the Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. Now maybe people wouldn’t know that Sue the T-Rex tweets. But not only Sue tweet, but in the most incredible way. It’s funny. It’s new content. It meet their mission because it’s talking about paleontology and interesting dinosaur behavior. But it’s also smart and savvy and funny, and somebody, I’m sure, at the Field Museum is in charge of keeping it so. So if you want to be really good at it, you probably have to have somebody who’s dedicated to it. The other thing that I would say, is that if you’re a small organization, and you’re willing to let your guard down a little bit, you could always share it. You could make Twitter five different people’s responsibility, and you could get five different people’s input. And that’s fine. That’s a good way to start. But if you’re willing to let your director tweet, I think it’s awesome. Because I think that’s something that people really care about. The leader of an institution is somebody that’s usually respected and revered, and when they can share some of the insight about leading an organization or things that they find meaningful. For example, Max Anderson at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, he tweets. There are many directors that do. But it is great to know that that person who has a lot of professional experience and cache is sharing that not only to his colleagues, but also the museum consumers at large. I think it’s great.

Frank: Well Jennifer, it’s been so much fun talking with you today. Thank you so much!

Chevraux: Thank you so much for having me! It has really been an honor to be included in your webcast series. Thank you.

Outro: Now you can learn more about Jennifer and MuseoBlogger or Illumine Creative Solutions at our shownotes site. That’s Voices of the Past dot O-R-G. There you will find a transcript of this interview plus several others that we’ve done with other folks in the field of cultural heritage who are using social media to make a difference in their world. That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast. And until next time, I’m Jeff Guin, and we’ll see you online.

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Audio Podcast: Kaitlin O’Shea on collaboration, platforms, and the role of historic preservation in the blogosphere

In this edition of the Voices of the Past audio podcast, we’ll meet Kaitlin O’Shea. Kaitlin is the creator of the Preservation in Pink blog and newsletter. She will explain how the iconic pink flamingo, and a group of bloggy friends, have helped her  find her voice to take the conversation about historic preservation to a wider audience.

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Intro: Coming up on the Voices of the Past Podcast, we’ll meet a blogger who’s painting the preservation world in pink.

And welcome to Voices of the Past, the podcast that connects you to the world of heritage online. I’m Jeff Guin, and today I’m talking to Kaitlin O’Shea of the blog Preservation in Pink. Kaitlin uses a combination of collaborative blogging and printable media to reach her audience.

And Kaitlin, thanks for being here, and I wonder if you would just start by telling us, what is Preservation in Pink?

O’Shea: Well, it’s a long story. I am happy to share it. It was first a newsletter. When I graduated from Mary Washington in 2006, I went to work for a couple of years. And in the first six months, I realized just how much I missed my classmates and the comfort of the department, and the constant conversation that we would have anytime of the day. Whether we were in classes or studying or out drinking coffee or whatever. I suddenly had this one project that I loved. It was an oral history project. But it was only one thing. I didn’t have my buildings, I didn’t have my conversations. I was interviewing people and transcribing. And that was the extent of my day usually. So I decided that I need to do something. And I could have just read book after book, but when you get home from work, you are still kind of tired. So I have always loved to write and once upon a time, I had a dream of working with a preservation magazine. And I decided that maybe I could write about it. I have this one friend who had been blogging, but she just had a personal blog. And I thought, well, that is kind of interesting, but I didn’t start with a blog. So I decided to try a newsletter. I had four years of journalism experience in high school. I still remember all the lessons that I learned there. I did layout and editing and things like that. My very first issue, I think I only told one preservation friend about it. And she encouraged me. She’s like my preservation cheerleader. And I said, well, I am just going to write all the articles and show people what I can do. And then next time I will ask people to contribute. And she wrote one article, and I wrote six pages of stuff and sent it out to everybody I knew.

Also back in school, senior year, in one of my classes, we watched an anti-Walmart video about how Walmart came into Ashland, Virginia. And the people were fighting, and for whatever reason they chose the pink flamingo to be anti-Walmart. And the movie, it was just so heart-wrenching and by the end Ashland, Virginia lost and they got their Walmart. And my friends and I, we were distraught. We were heartbroken. Some of us were already not shopping at Walmart, and we decided we loved the pink flamingos. And so that kind of just picked up speed that last semester of school.

To fast forward again to the newsletter. This time, flamingos have just been out of control. We would send each other little flamingos and do little things like that. So I was tossing around the idea of including flamingos just for fun, and thought it was not that serious, but then I decided that it was going to be mine and I wanted it to be fun and not just “preservation.” Somehow I came up with Preservation in Pink, and it just kind of went from there.

Guin: Excellent. I think sometimes when people think preservation and they think preservationists, they think strident… obstructionists… just talking about average, everyday people. And this seems to be a reputation that has developed overtime, justified or not, but looking at your blog and even the beginnings of it, you’ve got some elements in there where you have a very strong preservation ethic, but it’s presented so well and so subtly that it has a different tone to it. Is that something that was intentional on your part?

O’Shea: I started Preservation in Pink with the mission of teaching people and showing them that preservation is not just academic, it’s not just professional, it really applies to every part of everyone’s life. Because it’s not just buildings, it’s not just battlefields. It’s quality of life, it is pride where you live, it’s heritage, it’s knowing where you came from and where you want to go in respect to the past. And all these things together, whether it is shopping locally or respecting the environment, it’s really important and if we do all that then we will all live in a better place.

And that is a lot to take in all at once, so I try to insert it here and there where it is talking about local shopping or this fun preservation activity, I mean really. I can connect anything to preservation, just give me a few minutes.

Guin: Well, how do you define historic preservation? What’s your personal definition?

 

Kaitlin O'Shea in an architectural salvage shop
O'Shea visits one of her favorite places: the architectural salvage shop

O’Shea: It means a lot of things to different people. For me, preservation is collectively looking toward the future with respect for the past. It’s understanding communities, the way of life, your built environment, your heritage values, in the sense that we need to remember the past in order to create a brighter future. That’s the basis of my definition. But the methods of doing that are all the facets of historic preservation, which to me is this huge umbrella term. But it involves architecture history, research, community and preservation maintenance, folklore, museum studies, economics, archeology..the list is never ending. For historic preservation, it provides us the opportunity to shape and direct a world in which people are proud of where they live even though people may be proud of different areas for different reasons. We have to respect cultures and areas and regions. When people have tried in what they and where they live and where they came from, then every action they do in a place matters. And that’s how we can create a better place and that’s how I believe historic preservation has the ability to save the world.

Guin: I guess in that same thing, taking that a step further, looking at your blog, you have a lot of things that are strictly historic preservation or strictly heritage values, but then you sometimes go into some things that are a little peripheral there. And you mentioned Walmart earlier, and actually one of your most popular posts is about Walmart. Can you talk about that?

O’Shea: Sure. That post–Save Money, Live Better–I wrote because the campaign just bugs me, and I won’t go into that. I think that one is one of the most popular because people are Googling “Walmart” or “save money, live better,” and for whatever reason, Preservation in Pink just pops up. So that remains one of the most popular posts every single day. We can get 100 views in one day, just that one.

Guin: Looking at your popular posts, and what people seem to respond to, what seems to make up a good blog post?

O’Shea: I guess I would categorize a good blog post in a few different ways. One is obviously a popular one. One like Save Money, Live Better. If that is getting a lot of people to visit Preservation in Pink, and maybe see the blog and are looking for something preservation related, and not just Walmart related, then that’s great. That helped increase the visibility.

But I guess a good blog post, from my perspective, is one that is well thought out and meaningful, and brings people to historic preservation maybe in a way that they didn’t know before. There is just some little anecdote I told that they became more interested in it. Maybe the story was interesting that day or maybe one of the guest bloggers wrote something fun, maybe broadening their horizons, and hoping that they will come back.

Sometimes I say that a good blog post is one that my sister, who is a freshman in college, will comment on. Because she is just starting to understand what I talk about and what I do. And if she found it enjoyable, then I figured that a lot of people might have enjoyed the post that day.

Guin: Well, tell me bout your favorite blog post on Preservation in Pink. What’s the must read blog post on your site?

O’Shea: I have a few that are my favorite, a lot of them relate to my oral history project, kind of just days on the job. Because they mean a lot to me and to kind of share what I do and what I did as an oral historian, and remember a fun day of what it was like to be in oral history every single day.

One of my favorite to write is called, Why they don’t let me outside. And the title is inspired because most of the time I am inside. But once in a while, in my office we would just go outside. And that day I jumped and kind of twisted my ankle and it was still a really good day, but by the time I got home and sort of fainted from a swollen ankle. And it was a mess of a day. But after I fainted and woke back up, I was fine.

Guin: And you still have good memories of that day?

O’Shea: Yeah. So kind of posts like that. Another one is Oral History and Me: It is Complicated. Not love-hate, but sibling relationship with oral history. It’s so frustrating, but you love it no matter what.

And then I have some others that are more personal reflections. One is called Old Memories: The Evolution of My Favorite Place. And that’s about my grandmother’s town in New York. And I grew up playing on the beach, but now that I’m older, I don’t play as much, but I run on the beach. And I appreciate the place in a different way. And all of those I attribute to touching out on preservation values in a non academic way that I hope people enjoy.

Guin: The reason that we have these cultural resources is because of the people and the traditions handed down. In talking with those people you get a lot more insight and context about the cultural resources themselves. So I think that’s great. Well, you mentioned earlier your newsletter and your journalism experience, and design and layout. You’ve used that in the Preservation in Pink newsletter. Now not many bloggers do this. Why did you do this, and who is this newsletter targeted to?

O’Shea: Again, the newsletter was first and the blog came after. I needed a way to keep Preservation in Pink on the web for anyone who wanted to access it because I can’t afford to print it and mail it to everybody. And that is kind of silly since everything is on the web. So the blog, at first, was just two posts a year. I need articles for the newsletter, and then in 2008, I started putting on more posts every couple of months. And then toward the end, I really wanted people to read Preservation in Pink. I really needed this to go somewhere, and so I started making it a daily blog. And the newsletter and the blog are intended for the same audience. But it is a wide audience. It is anyone who is interested in preservation because it is what they do or because they don’t know much about it. And I try to gather articles from the wonderful contributors that seem to always be willing to add something. But everyone has different experiences, and for me to just share my own on the blog is not the same as having a newsletter. Having a newsletter kind of bring out more voices than my own, which I imagine people don’t want to read all the time.

Guin: Then let’s look at how your blog has developed over time because aside from having a newsletter, which is kind of rare for a blogger, you also have multiple contributors. And that’s not that rare for a blog. For a heritage blog it is fairly rare. How did that start?

IMG_4753O’Shea: Really, having a 5-day per week blog was kind of hard. And to come up with something that is hopefully interesting everyday. Right now it is three to four with grad school getting in the way. But I thought maybe I could be like other bloggers. I read a lot of different blogs: running blogs, wedding blogs, friends blogs. And a lot of people have guest bloggers. And I thought that would be a good way to draw in more readers/viewers. People could say, hey I wrote for this blog, go read it.

So the guest bloggers, I guess they started out kind of slowly. People I knew, my friends from college and fellow preservationists. And it was a nice break for me, and I figured it was a nice break for the readers. It was something different. It was something I couldn’t write about because I didn’t know much about it. And now I have a permanent posting up on Preservation in Pink asking for contributors and bloggers. Some people are more willing to contribute to the blog because it seems like less pressure. I mea, it is. I always feel like the blog is less serious than the newsletter. I mean, when I talk about cats and flamingos and whatever, it is a little more fun. And it is also more time-sensitive. So, one guest blogger, Brad Hatch, he has a ton of “preservacation” blogs, as he calls them, because he has a whole series that he wrote for me. And we posted them every couple of weeks or so. Whereas keeping all that for the newsletter would be a lot. And having a series in the newsletter that’s only twice a year is hard because that is asking readers to remember or go back six months ago and follow up from that first article. Whereas on the blog, I can link from post to post and readers can find it that way.  So I guess the newsletter developed the same way, there was not a lot of people at first and now there is many many people. For this next issue, I have even different contributors than usual. It’s really just helped to bring more of an audience. And more diversity.

Guin: Excellent. Well, you talked about being a grad student. I know that’s a lot of pressure. I want to hear about how you balanced being a grad student with doing such a rigorous blog schedule. Also, I am sure you are involved with other forms of online media or social networks as well. How do you balance all that?

O’Shea: I am just the type to do what I have to do. And it was a concern, maybe I wouldn’t have enough time. But I decided, no. It has come this far, it is still getting a lot of viewers. And I really enjoy it. It is kind of an outlet. So, if I don’t feel like writing my paper, maybe I can do something a little bit easier like writing a blog post. It also keeps me connected with everyone in my grad-school bubble. It’s the same of balancing anything else. I like to run a lot, I help out with the UVM track team. As far as other social networking, I have a few other blogs that are not like Preservation in Pink, they are just for fun or to keep track of running or something. Those I only do when I have the time.

Guin: Do you promote Preservation in Pink through any other networks? Do you do anything else other than consistent blogging to attract readership?

O’Shea: I do. I have a Preservation in Pink Facebook group page. And when I have a newsletter or I am asking for contributors, I pretty much email everyone who has ever met me. Any more former and current classmates have done a lot to help. They will share it with people they know. Send on the newsletter or send on the website. Last year I made business cards and postcards. So anyone who wrote for me, I send them a “thank you” with some business cards and also a Preservation in Pink magnet. Some people put it up at work so their coworkers saw the magnet and asked about the website. I try to make sure the tags and the categories are sometimes general and sometimes specific. So it could come up in photography, it could come up in preservation, and people could come across it that way. I have it on my resume. I like to share it with fellow preservationists.

Guin: Knowing that you are in graduate school right now, and knowing that you are going to have to get a job, does that affect what you blog or what you blog about?

O’Shea: It’s the same as when I started. I won’t write anything that I think is too judgmental or something that I would look back and go, “Oh geez, why did I write that?” I mean, my opinions might slightly change or my intellectual understanding of something might change, but I feel that what I put on Preservation in Pink is fit for anybody to read. And I am really honored when people way above me have read it.

Guin: Well the great thing about a blog is that if you do evolve intellectually or learn something new, you can always update the post or you can go and write another post and reference the old one. And it’s OK to show that you’ve learned something. And your readers learn along with you. So that’s great. Well, you mentioned early about using WordPress, and I use WordPress. I am active in the WordPress community. And you talked about tags and categories. And I don’t think that is something I have covered on Voices of the Past before. Can you tell me, in your opinion, what the different is between a tag and a category. And how you use those concepts to optimize your posts.

O’Shea: Well, this is just my understanding, and I might be slightly off. But from what I found, is tags are what people come across when they Google something and categories seem to be just within the site itself. I have a lot of tags because of all the posts, and I try to minimize the categories. So categories I use if someone is searching within Preservation in Pink itself. How can I find out your roadtrip posts. Whereas tags I look at as something people search on the web that could bring them to Preservation in Pink.

Guin: You said that you actually get inspiration from other blogs sometimes. What other blogs do you actively follow?

O’Shea: A new blog that you just did a feature on, My Own Time Machine by Sabra Smith. I think we are blog soulmates. Our blogs are similar, they are complimentary, they are a lot of fun. I love what she writes, so I have been following that since she started.

I follow Place Economics, which is not updated that much, but I like reading whatever he writes.

I follow Route 66 blog. Another WordPress blog. It is like the clearinghouse for Route 66 news.

Then I follow unrelated preservation blogs as well.

Guin: Obviously social media and blogging and all this stuff is growing. And a lot of heritage folks, although some have been slow in coming on board to using the social networks, that is going to change. And folks are getting on there wondering, what do they do to get started. Especially with blogging because that seems to be the heart of any social media effort. What advice do you have for those individuals or organizations getting involved in blogging for the first time?

Kaitlin O'Shea with the "flamingo girls."
O'Shea and the "flamingo girls."

O’Shea: I would say, if you have something that you love and you want to start a blog and write about it and talk about that subject, don’t start it expecting tons of readers and comments. Do it because you love it and keep doing it. I mean, Preservation in Pink isn’t the biggest blog out there by any means or even close to it, but the readership has grown immensely between this year and last year, and it is just consistency and I don’t really do it for anyone other than myself. I write for people who are interested in preservation, but I do it for myself too. So just keep at it and share your blog with anyone you know. I guess that’s my best advice for anyone.

Guin: OK, I want to take a step back a bit. What made you decide to use WordPress instead of any of the other blogging platforms that are out there?

O’Shea: Well, I love WordPress, let me just say that. I don’t really like Blogger for a professional looking blog. I think it is too simplistic and too kind of bubbly. You can’t create very many pages, and I don’t know much about creating your own template. Whereas WordPress had all these beautiful templates and you could change them all the time. And add all these Widgets, I think we call them. And those were really the only two I knew. I guess TypePad and so many others you have to pay for, or at least you used to. But anyone who is going to start a blog, I always recommend WordPress because it is just really easy and really fun.

Guin: Well, good. Kaitlin, thanks for being on Voices of the Past.

O’Shea: Thank you very much!

Outro: And that was Kaitlin O’Shea of blog and newsletter, Preservation in Pink.

Now, if you would like to learn more about Kaitlin and Preservation in Pink, that is at voicesofthepast.org. There you will find a transcript of this interview plus several others we have done with other folks in the heritage field using social media to make a difference in their world.

That’s all for this edition of Voices of the Past. Until next time, I’m Jeff Guin, and we’ll see you online.

LOGO

Audio Podcast: Greg Lemon on podcasting to keep the storytelling tradition alive

greg lemon myth show teaser

Greg originated the popular MythShow podcast. In this interview, he talks about the importance of the storytelling tradition, building a quality web presence around your podcast, and setting personal priorities with new media

Guin: Greg, thanks so much for joining us on Voices of the Past. I wanted to start out by asking you how you actually got into the world of mythology. Was that something you went to school for or was it something that you grew up with an interest in?

Lemon: I think it began as growing up with an interest in mythology. I remember in elementary school going around the library, I found this book on myths and mythology, and I picked it up and I really enjoyed it. So, I am a computer professional by training, but I really enjoy stories and storytelling and mythology specifically.

Guin: What’s your favorite myth?

Lemon: It is really hard to pick a favorite myth. I really lean closely to the classical Greek and Roman mythology and pantheon. But if I were to pick a favorite book, it would be Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” where he goes in and talks about the mythical journey or the hero’s journey that is found common through many mythologies. So if I had to pick a favorite book, it would be that one.

Guin: You have to have a passion for this to actually turn it into a podcast. A podcast is a lot of work, and it’s a lot of commitment. How did that passion translate into you creating a podcast?

Lemon: Well I love podcasting and I love the technology around the podcasting. At the time when I was doing the podcast, I was really excited. I had a lot of interest in it, and I loved sharing stories and the storytelling and trying to convey that interest to other people. The one thing that I see that is missing today is the art of storytelling. And people are so interested in–or in education they are so interested in the reading, the writing and the arithmetic and tests that the have to take, that they forget the human side of the history. They forget the human side of this experience that we have, and I feel that myths, folklore, fairy tales and things of that nature really help to bring that back. I feel that’s kind of missing and I saw that that was missing from my kids’ education and felt that was something that needed to be brought back.

Guin: Well, you don’t actually consider yourself a “quote” heritage professional. Is that right?

Lemon: Correct.

Guin: Well then, what were your goals when you were actually creating the podcast? How did you want to add to the conversation?

Lemon: I wanted to be able to provide stories. And as I had mentioned before, I felt that the education material that was presented was missing a lot of that. My kids didn’t know who the Gods and Goddesses of the mythologies, they didn’t know the characters from the American folklore, they were missing that kind of stuff. And I felt that if I had the same feeling that perhaps there would be parents out there that felt the same. So I created these podcasts as an introduction to these stories, myth, folklore, fairy tales and what not. As an educational resource that people could turn to to maybe supplement what they were maybe learning in education.

Guin: You seem like such a natural podcaster. I mean it seems like something…you’ve got the voice and you’ve got the relational interview style. Were you in broadcast before this?

Lemon: Actually no. I was a Sunday-school teacher for many years, and I was a scout leader for the Boy Scouts of America. So i developed the art of storytelling around a campfire or sitting around in a Sunday-school classroom. The comfort with podcasting and with interviewing just comes with time. I’ve been doing this since 2006, I think…I’ve been doing this for many years, and so I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve become more comfortable communicating via person, via Internet, via video, via audio. And so that’s something that just comes over time with practice. I did have aspirations to go into broadcast at one time, but career paths being what they are, I feel that I enjoy podcasting and the intimacy that comes with this new media much more preferable.

Guin: Do you have any favorite podcasts that you’ve done?

Lemon: That I’ve done or that I’ve listened to?

Guin: Well, both. We’ll start with the ones that you have actually done yourself or your favorite episodes where there was some piece of information that you just connected to, or a guest that you just really enjoyed…

Lemon: I have had many wonderful opportunities to interview individuals on the Mythshow podcast. There’s the Celtic Myth podshow. A wonderful partnership between Gary and Ruth. In England, I was able to interview them and their podcast specifically focuses on Celtic mythology. But they tell it in more of a roundtable. As you would imagine a bard around a campfire, they use many voices, they use sound effects, and you really get the feel that you’re in a campfire. And you really get the feel of the storytelling.

Guin: Alright. Then let’s talk about the podcasts you enjoy listening to that are not your own. What do you listen to in your leisure time?

Lemon: The ones related to history that I really enjoy: there’s the History of Rome podcast, while not mythologically based, it does have that wonderful historical element that has gone and is continuing to go through the history of Rome. There’s also the 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast, which has since concluded since he’s covered all the Byzantine Rulers. But that was a wonderful history-based podcast that took the…because we know about Rome and we know about the Middle Ages, and this covered that stance in between. And so those are two wonderful solo-reading, one-person podcasts that I really enjoyed. I mentioned the Celtic Myth pod show. Wonderful stories are being shared there. But then I also enjoy the technical podcasts as well. There are many daily podcasts on news and technology, the weekly commentary technology shows and just a variety of fun shows out there.

Guin: Why do you think these stories are important to share in this new media format?

Lemon: We need to be able to remember that sharing stories has been a past time for generations if not even before recorded history. In fact, some of the earliest recorded history are these ancient stories. If we could think of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, that was originally an epic poem that he recited. We need to remember that there’s the story element, the human aspect. We as people are not names, places and dates and events, but it is the stories between those names and places that really captures the human element. I feel that with mass entertainment, while I do enjoy a good Disney movie and I really do enjoy the efforts they have done to bring those fairytales–or the mythologies–into modern dialog, we’ve got to remember that that’s not the only thing out there. The Disnefication of the Little Mermaid or the different princesses or even “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” those are wonderful stories that they’ve been able to interpret, but we need to be able to share the stories ourselves. How wonderful would it be if we were able to have a digital recorder in the pockets of the soldiers storming into Normandy on D-Day. How wonderful would it have been to have had audio recordings of the people in the Civil War or of times past. We have snippets of that, we have the official histories by governments, but if we could have that insight into the regular soldier’s life. If we could have that pioneer that was crossing the plains to the farmer. If we had those stories, how much more rich of an understanding would we have of our heritage or of heritages around the world?

Lemon: One of the favorite stories that I am reading to my children now are the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. While not mythology-based, I really enjoy sharing with my daughters the story of a young girl who lived in a completely different time under completely different circumstances. And I hope that the values and lessons that Laura Engles learned on the prairie can be translated into things that my own daughters can use.

Guin: You said that you weren’t originally a broadcast person and you kind of got into it in 2006–that was practically the ancient days of social media. How did you actually learn how to do it and get into it?

Lemon: Well the very first podcast that I listened to was one called “Muggle Net,” which is a podcast based around the Harry Potter books. I’m a big fan of the books, I loved reading them and sharing those stories. It’s a whole new fantastical story there and I started listening to it. And I really got into the technology of podcasting. There’s just so much more to podcasting than just clicking the record button. There’s the website, there’s the technology, there’s the audio editing, there’s the production, there’s the marketing. All of those things fascinated me, and in 2006, I went to the Podcasting and New Media expo. And I went there without an idea. I went there trying to figure out, I wanted to be involved with it. This would be a great, what could I do? And during that expo, I was brainstorming and I came up with the idea, I love to share stories. And I went home that night of the first expo and registered the domain name and started recording. And from then on, the association with other podcasters, with those at the time in Orange County, Calif., and those that I’d met throughout the country, and honestly throughout the world. That I enjoyed the interaction with the people. Probably too much, because as time went on the podcast started to get more slowly produced. But I enjoyed the social interaction and the technology surrounding it.

Guin: What technology do you use to do your podcasts?

Lemon: Well, the first couple of podcasts that I have, you see the headset that I use in this video stream. I started with just my computer plugging in a headphone. And honestly those podcasts sound terrible. But I got out there and I was enjoying the technology. Eventually, I was able to upgrade my equipment. You can tell a distinct different when I got a new H4 microphone, and I still use that today for recording podcasts. And it’s not so much that my hardware improved, but being more comfortable around the microphone. Knowing what I wanted to share, being able to speak more eloquently so I would have fewer edit cuts and it would take less time to edit the podcast, and also making sure I knew what I wanted to say, even practicing it. Most of my podcasts were written out, word for word. And it sounds like I am reading them, and it’s because, well, I was. I didn’t try to hide the fact. And that saved a lot on the editing time. But then again, open conversations like this one was a lot of fun as well.

Guin: Yeah. Well, you know, it is all about the content. And actually creating content that people can use. So, whether that’s scripted or whether that’s free-form, as long as people are getting something out of it and they are coming back for more, it’s all OK.

Lemon: The basic premise that I had with my podcast shows was that it was written, it was educational, and so I felt that it should start from the basis of a written essay. Whereas interviews and other shows, depending on how well they know their audience, depends on the kind of content that they should deliver.

Guin: Well tell us about that because audience is critical to having any form of successful online presence. Tell us about your audience and what you do to try to cater to that audience and build your audience.

Lemon: In full disclosure, the Mythshow and the Mythminute podcast that I produce have been on hiatus for over a year now. And so I have lost a little bit of the contact with the individuals that listen to the show. I still see that people are downloading it and still enjoying the content, but I have not been actively podcasting that due to economic situations, due to commitments with my family. Because when it comes to recording a podcast or reading a story to my kids, the kids win every time. And I think that is how it should be. And so, I wish I could have more time, but there’s only 24 hours in a day.

But to know your audience is so critical. Even if you don’t know individual names, you need to define the person you want to talk to or your desire to communicate. Are you looking for teenagers, are you looking for adults, are you looking for professionals in a certain genera, are you doing it for your family and your future posterity. Recording your own stories so that they can be enjoyed in years to come. Knowing your audience now will make the decisions so much easier in the future. You’ll be able to not agonize over every single decision, but you’ll be able to say, “Well, what would my ideal audience member want?” And go with that.

Guin: Well, do you have any tips for people who are just trying to get into podcasting?

Lemon: Well first of all, have fun. This is an exciting technology, and it is a lot of fun to participate in it. Like we said previously, know your intended audience. Be very specific about planning your podcast, even going as far as writing up a profile of who you would want to be. Name, age, gender, profession. Know this person and know why you are talking to this person. And why the information is important to them. Also, set realistic goals with your content creation. A lot of knew podcasters, when they start out, they go, “well, I’m going to produce an hours worth of content every week. Well, that goes two or three weeks, and then it goes two weeks in between and then it goes a month, and the content gets shorter and shorter, and I speak of this from personal experience.

You’ve got to set realistic goals. If you can only commit a couple of hours a month, understand that that’s what you can do, and don’t set the expectation for your audience that you’re going to provide a weekly show when in fact you can only provide a monthly show. Also, this is a new technology, this is a lot of fun, but record a few podcasts, experiment with the content. The format, the length. Try to get into a grove before releasing your shows. A rule of thumb I have often heard is record five full shows before releasing any, that way you have been able to record, produce and enjoy the process of five shows and you can see what works. And also, one last thing, is to build a community. Being a solo podcaster is kind of hard because you don’t have a group of individuals around you if have an historical society, if you have a group of like-minded individuals who want to create a podcast, share the responsibility. Share the fun, and then that way you can keep each other motivated. And you can share the work load.

Guin: You mentioned before that a podcast is only part of the undertaking. Tell us a little bit about that. What do you do to help support your podcast?

Lemon: There are many different forms that a podcast can take. You can have the simple RSS feed, which is really simple syndication. It’s the technology used to deliver the actual audio. You can be as simple as that, or you can have a website with shownotes so that people can add comments and you can start that discussion. You can even go as far as establishing a web forum, where people can converse and start to share a lot of information. Whatever you decide, you need to know your community. If the people that are listening to your podcast are very passive and only want to get the content and go, then it may be difficult to form a community. However, if you have an organization and the people begin really active, become really active with comments, a blog with comments, with active discussion and even a forum would be a great way to build that community. As you start out, there’s going to be very few people. But as long as you put out good quality content on a regular basis, whether week, month or whatnot, you’ll begin to build that audience. But you also need to send out emails. You need to be able to rank well in search engines. Contacting people in traditional off-line methods. Those ways you can bring them online and build your audience. And there are many books by professionals on the subject matter, and if I had the “holy grail” of podcast production and getting my message out there, I’d have a lot more time to produce podcasts.

Guin: Are there other forms of social media that you use to either support you podcast or to just maintain your presence in the social space?

Lemon: I use Facebook. I have a personal account on Facebook. I also have a fan page for the podcast as many other do. The Celtic Myth Podshow is an excellent example of people who have used Facebook to an excellent degree on being able to promote their podcast. I use Twitter. I have multiple accounts. I have a personal account, I have a podcast account. And so other people can follow me there. I have a lot of interaction with social media that way, but also just going out there and having fun. There are meet up groups that you could meet up with, and there’s Tweet ups, Social Media Club. There’s podcamps; there’s a lot of groups out there ready, willing and wanting to share this information to help you start your own podcast. This community is wonderful and you don’t have to go at it alone. There are so many people out there willing and wanting to help. And there are excellent resources available at your local bookstore to learn how to podcast.

Guin: Greg, thanks so much for joining us.

Lemon: Glad to help.

 

 

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Podcast: Lisa Louise Cooke on podcasting genealogy and the importance of audience

When Lisa Louise Cooke’s daughters bought her an iPod a few years ago, she was barely even aware of podcasting as a business. But that gift would go on to inspire one of the world’s most popular genealogy podcasts. In this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast, Lisa talks about how she turned her passion for genealogy into a dream career. Plus, she talks about the unreality of starring in the reality television showTexas Ranch House.”

Welcome to the Voices of the Past Podcast. I’m Jeff Guin. Today I’m talking to Lisa Louise Cooke of the podcast and blog Genealogy Gems. Lisa is going to tell us how she first became involved in social media–in particular, podcasting–and how she uses the web to promote genealogy and help others become more passionate about family history. Lisa, welcome to the podcast. How did your passion for genealogy develop?

Cooke: The classic story of being passionate about genealogy is from the time I was a little girl and sitting with my grandmother and talking to her about her parents who came through Ellis Island and she was willing to entertain me and jotted down some notes, which I still have.  I researched off and on throughout my entire life, and around 2000, I got really to where I was doing it practically every day. And really knee-deep into doing it. Before that I was raising kids and that kind of thing, and a friend of mine had said at the family history center, “Gosh, you’ve got some ideas here, you’ve been finding things that I’m not finding. You gotta find a way to teach people this.” And I thought, I don’t know how am I going to do that, and then 2007, my daughters all got together and they bought me an iPod for my birthday, and I discovered podcasts. And I always kid people because the young people go to see what they can spend money on, which is music and videos and that type of thing. Me, I’m cheap. I go and look for the free stuff. And so I found podcasts. And within a month I had my own podcast online. And I think it just captured my imagination. It just hit me, “This is my medium, this is a way to get the word out.” Because if you’re going to teach, it is wonderful to get to teach in a class of ten, but how about reaching 10,000? And then everybody benefits and you get this community going and it’s terrific.

Guin: But there seems like there would be quite a learning curve between actually having that passion and then translating that into reaching that audience of millions. What did you have to do to put a podcast together and actually start your own blog. Was that difficult?

Cooke: I think it wasn’t difficult because I was so passionate about it. It’s like when it hits you this is the right way to go, this is the right medium, I know what my message is, then it was like there aren’t enough hours in the day. And so for 30 days I think I was doing it around the clock–just eating up everything I could find in terms of how to get podcasts, how do you hook up the computer, where do you get a mic, how do you set up a blog, and I was constantly–if I wasn’t podcasting or setting things up myself, I was out running around and listening to other people on podcasts explain how to do it. And that’s why I think that within the month I was able to get it up and running. But the ideas had been formulating for a long time. And it is kind of the classic story of you can look back at your life and say, “Wow. Everything I’ve been doing up to this point has been about getting ready to do this.” Because everything from my theatrical background to producing videos to being on a television show and learning about interviewing, my passion for family histories, some of the teaching opportunities I had had in small class settings, all came together and it was like, “This is the time, this is the moment where it all gels.”

Guin: Well actually I was going to ask you about that because you really do have a vibrant personality and obviously you know what you are doing around media. Did you have a media background?

Cooke: Well, I’ve always been interested. I’ve always, when video first came out to the computer, I was always dabbling with that. I was creating home videos and compiling photographs and setting them to music. Around 2000-2001, I was actually the drama director at my church, and I convinced them that we need to do something beyond just talking in front of folks. We need to get visual and get multimedia about it. And so I started not only producing plays, which were live, but then saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a little three-minute video?” Well, that just captures them all off guard and catches their attention and gets them involved in the activities going on. So I did that for a couple of years and I was amazed at the response. The way people responded and they were willing to hear messages and maybe get involved when just getting up in front of the group and talking with a microphone wasn’t cutting it. So that really showed me the power of it.

Guin: Did it take a while for you to actually develop your voice for your blog?

Cooke: Well it had probably come a little bit easier to me because I had done some script writing. Many of the productions I was doing as the drama director, I was actually writing and producing some of those shows. So, I had a sense about dialog and having worked in community theater and that type of thing, but you are absolutely right. You have to figure out what your voice is. And I think, I was probably watching some documentary on Martha Stewart, and she was talking about sitting down and writing her first cookbook and that she had to find her voice. And I don’t know why but it always stuck with me. While I don’t have to write this academically, people may actually respond to me if I write it more like as I write a script, which is this conversation, this emotional connection with the people that are interacting on stage. Couldn’t I have that with my readers? And in the end, it’s just a lot easier to write as yourself. And I think that if you are very honest and true about what you’re saying and you really care about it, then you just have to let that come naturally. And it really does, and I find that the more I am myself, the more response I get.

Guin: Well, and also your audience develops around that. Who are those people that are your audience?

Cooke: You know that it’s funny. I was thinking about that question before we started, and I thought: I have two. I have my present-day audience and I have the audience of 2020. Do you know what I mean? Because the Internet is so different. What I’m doing, I’m thinking about how am I reaching those needs today and what people want to hear about, but this is going to be likely online for years and years to come. And everyday I see people streaming in and signing up and subscribing to the podcast, and I realized, “Wow, they are going back to episode 1.” And they are starting, and people will write me and go, “Oh, I’m on a binge, I just listened to 30 episodes in a row trying to get caught up.” And so that’s kind of the nature of media, and the idea that I’m not only speaking to the folks who are researching now in their genealogy, which typically are 50 plus, right? They tend to be older in age, they have a little more time, a little more income. But I do have, because of the multimedia presence that I have, I have a lot of younger folks as well, surprisingly. They may not be going to a genealogy society or they may not be attending conferences, but they are totally with me on Twitter and they are totally with me on Facebook and they found the podcast without me having to explain how to do it. I figure, the 20-somethings of today are the 50-somethings of tomorrow who will have some more time and who will have raised their kids and start to be thinking about, “Wow, I would like to leave something to this family and to these children, and I want it to be more than just me.” You know, we are all just ourselves and can only accomplish so much, but to give them an entire heritage of ancestors and family culture is a phenomenal gift and when that strikes you, that’s where that passion comes from. I hear it all the time from my listeners. You know, you can’t do it fast enough because wow, this is really meaning I can give back and in really significant way. So yeah, my audience is so warm and they are so wonderful, and I was recently out on a medical condition and people were emailing me and just, it’s a wonderful community. I love it.

cooke screenshot

Guin: Well, you mentioned your audiences are with you in different forms of media that you are engaged in. Kind of give me a timeline, an overview, of what you did. I mean, you started with your blog and your podcast. How has Lisa Louise Cook’s involvement in social media developed over time?

Cooke: It started with the Genealogy Gems podcast, and did that for about a year. I guess I started the blog later. I started in like February, later in the summer I realized I needed a blog. I needed another channel to get people, and I had actually produced a couple of videos that made the rounds. One of them was called, “Socks to America,” which is a funny little video I did about sock puppets and their heritage and how they immigrated. And it was funny how it took off and ran around the Internet and people were sharing it. So I very quickly realized I’d like to have a YouTube channel and have a place to put those videos. And of course the wonderful thing is, while my website is not as integrated as I would like it to be, I wish I had one website that had everything on it, but cost is a contributor and time. So I have a lot of different channels that are interconnected. So for the user it is hopefully a very streamlined usage of the website, but in reality they are going to different places: when they visit my blog, when they visit my video channel, that type of thing. And I got into Facebook probably shortly there after. And then I got approached by personalized media to do another genealogy show, and I had one in mind that I was thinking about and Genealogy Gems was taking off. So I started Family History Genealogy Made Easy, which is kind of more of a course in genealogy. Not a hardcore academic course, but each episode’s devoted to one topic and I try to do it in a way that you could start in episode one knowing nothing about genealogy and actually follow along and get going right away. And then let me think. I started doing speaking engagements. Family History Expos contacted me and said, “Hey, you ought to be out here talking to our folks,” and so I went and got hooked. I love going to the conferences.

Guin: You were talking about your speaking engagements and how much you enjoy those and how much it helps you to connect to your audience. How did that develop and what do you get out of going to those speaking engagements?

Cooke: I’m one of those odd folks who enjoys talking in front of a group. I am probably more nervous one-on-one than I am in front of a large crowd. And many years ago when i had just first started in the business world, I went to seminar, and it was how to make presentations. And I thought to myself, “I want to do that. I want to do what she’s doing.” But I had no idea what the topic was going to be. And I was raising children so I know I couldn’t travel from town to town or do that kind of thing. But again, I learned some of the techniques and it planted the idea. And so, I started doing some speaking engagements after we did “Texas Ranch House,” and people wanted to know about the experience of being on a reality TV show. And then I also started doing a couple little groups who asked me to come and talk about genealogy because I’d been working on the history of a local historical house in our community. And so I did some of those and I just found that I really enjoyed it. And I loved the instant response. Just like with the theater: there are two people on stage. There is you and then there is the whole crowd and their energy and what they’re doing. And so like I said, Family History Expo contacted me and gosh, just a couple months after the podcast started of in 2007 and said, “You got to come out to Utah, we’re having a conference. Do you have a couple of classes you’d like to teach?” And I said, “OK!” And so i ran and put them together and put together a little booth, and it just took off. My big emphasis is I love technology and I love using technology for genealogical purposes. And Google is one I started with shortly after my podcast started. My very first Gem in fact was Google site search, and those classes have been sold out, packed out and standing room only ever since I started teaching them. And I realized people are past how do I get online, but they really want to know, “How do I make the most out of what I’m finding” because there’s so much. And so I love to be able to fill that niche and then if they decide they want to become a premium member later and I’ve got the whole thing on video series. So I try to have resources I can point them to so when you get home from one of my classes, you’re not sitting there scratching your head saying, “What did she say? Where do I start?” So I love too that the podcast, the videos, pretty much all of that can all work together with the live presentations. I don’t have to give up working with people in person to be able to do multimedia online.

Guin: Well you brought up the premium memberships and that is a rarity among heritage blogs and just people working in the heritage field, they haven’t quite gotten to that level. What made you decide to go with a premium membership model?

Cooke: Well I knew I had to pay for what I was buying. My husband said, “Where’s the money going to come from?” And I said, “I don’t know.” I mean, I did not get into it to make any money. But you do find yourself yearning for the next software program or the Macintosh, which I just got into, and things that can help me do a better job of what I’m trying to share because that is a number one thing for me is quality. I would rather not put something out than to have it be kind of subpar and not really hit the mark. So premium membership was also something that people were asking for. They were saying, “Where can I get more? You are only doing this once a week or I want to see what you’re talking about and not just hear about it.” And so I thought, I found a place that had a reasonably priced membership software and I just hacked and hacked on it until I figured it out, and then I realized that this was a  way to go in depth into some of these topics that we hit on. And I always try to give people these nuggets they can work with. But I love having the ability to go more in depth and then having the video version so that they can follow along live on the screen with me, right as I go. And the response has been tremendous. I wasn’t sure. Genealogists like to get things for free; I appreciate that. But I think if they like what I am doing and they want more and they feel like they are connecting with me, then they’re excited about getting it and I’m totally excited about delivering it. So I have just gotten to know my premium members even more, and hopefully it will keep growing because it has made it possible for me not to “podfade.” That’s one of the things that happens to people. You get an idea and you are passionate, you find a way to get past the roadblocks and the technology, and it is just really easy to get overwhelmed, run out of money, whatever, and all of a sudden we’ve seen it before, those podcasts and those videos just fade away and you don’t hear from that person anymore. I felt like generating some income was important for me to sustain what I am doing, and I think that that’s another reason people are happy to pay for that additional content. They are getting something out of it and they also know that I am going to be around.

Guin: Did you use anyone else as a model when you created your premium memberships?

Cooke: Actually, the models that were out there, I didn’t like that much. Some of them were really expensive, some of them were “We are going to auto renew you for the rest of your life unless you can figure out how to cancel us.” There were elements to them that I didn’t like very much. So I’d have to say Jason VanOrden, he did the Podcasting Underground, I think it is called Masterminds minds now or something. But it was a podcast. He was dabbling with that model around the same time, and I started to get anxious and wanted to get going on it, so I just listened to what he was talking about and what he was thinking about for his business and then I ran out and tried to find and luckily there were some resources out there. But like I say, I tweaked the model to the way I felt it would best meet the way of my audience, which is preservationists and archivists and genealogists, they are an unique group with certain expectations, and it was important to respect that.

Guin: Absolutely. Well you mentioned earlier, and you brought it up, Texas Ranch House. Tell us about your experience there.

Cooke: One, I couldn’t believe that they’d picked us. That was a whole experience. It took as long to get selected as it did to go out and live in 1867. And just in case your listeners haven’t heard of it, Texas Ranch House was on PBS. It was part of their kind of “house” series, and our objective was to go out and live as if it were 1867 on a 400,000 acre ranch in the middle of nowhere in Texas. Actually, a gorgeous area near Big Bend, but the idea was, and it was really interesting, because the premise was you’re 20th century people or 21st century people, how would you handle the 1867 experience and how would you adapt. It was not supposed to be an reenactment, but it’s amazing with every house miniseries that came on line, everybody went raving mad. “Oh my gosh, they’re not reenacting, what’s wrong with these people.” That wasn’t the premise. But obviously being a genealogist, I think they picked me because I said, “Look, I had a great, great grandmother from west Texas in 1867, this is my one and only chance to walk in her shoes or her boots and her corset.” And they wanted that.

Guin: You didn’t have to wear a corset, did you?

Cooke: Oh my goodness! A corset and seven layers. Which, in a 114-degree weather were peeled off very quickly. And it was funny because I got together with some ladies who live out there and fairly minimal conditions. I mean, some of them kind of enjoy living more of that rustic pioneer life. And we talked about, “OK let’s get down and dirty. How much are you wearing and are you shortening your skirts at all and do you always wear your corset,” and they were like, “Oh no honey. Unless there is somebody coming down the road that I can see, that corset is off and it’s about getting the work done.” So anyway, my whole family went, which was my husband and I and three teenage daughters at that time. And can you imagine what kind of salesman I am to get three teenage daughters to agree to go Texas?

Guin: No I can’t imagine.

Cooke: Oh my gosh. But there were two experiences. There was filming a reality TV Show and there was living in 1867. And the two shall meet and clash heads, which they do, but you really are kept in the dark. That is the main thing that I don’t think people realize is how in the dark you are as a participant. We didn’t find out until we got there that our executive producer was straight out of MTV. And so you’ve gone through all this and then it hits you, they are trying to get the 20-something audience and this is a reality TV without the million-dollar prize at the end. And so it was a constant struggle between their vision and our vision. And then they had a struggle between their vision and the vision of the company in Great Britain that actually financed it. So I learned a lot about the makings of a television show; the politics of it. I learned a lot about interviewing because one of the things they did was they took us out about every 7-10 days and they interviewed us individually for an hour. And of course much of that never showed on the show. But one thing I can tell your audience is when you’re watching reality TV, be aware of what you’re not seeing because the final product is in the hands of the editor and also the person who adds the music. You can be saying something and they can be playing violins behind you and you sound really amazingly intelligent or they could be going doke-de-doke-de-doke, just some funky music behind you and you’re like, “Oh, I look like such a dweeb, you know?” So it was interesting. It was interesting to see the end product, and we all looked at each other and said, “What summer were they at? Which ranch were they at?” Because it was so different and it was this tiny sliver of, we calculated, 1800 hours we were out there, three months. And 95 percent of that was the day-to-day living and as a woman, as a wife and a mother, when I watched the house shows, I want to see how did they cook, how were they sowing, what was it like, how tired were they. And they almost never came in our house, I don’t know if you ever noticed that in the show, but they couldn’t come inside and film because you would see how much we were getting done. And their objective was to show us as lazy. So, you run the risk of a little bit of a character attack, but I still look back and say it was my seven million dollar free vacation. It was the genealogy Disney Land that you get once in a lifetime and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Guin: But would you do it again?

Cooke: Would I do it again? We would go out in a heartbeat and live in 1867 on a ranch without TV cameras, no problem. Rattlesnakes, centipedes, 114 degree weather, it was an amazingly fantastic experience. I know exactly what my great grandmother felt like. Would I go on reality TV again and let them paint my character and create a character for me? No. Because that was really painful, and that was something I probably never really had a chance to really talk about, which is, it was really really painful for our family. And I don’t know how they do that and go to sleep at night.

Guin: Right. And especially with teenage daughters because that’s a sensitive time and there are issues where they want their privacy and everything is a drama and I feel that way with my 5-year-old daughter, so I can image how it is going to be when she’s a teenager. So that would be something. You are kind of exposing yourself there a little bit. Although the premise for the show, it seems like there would be more purity to the concept than some of the other shows like Real Life.

Cooke: Well I think when the shows were done in Great Britain, they had more of that purity and I love those. When the British come to America and film Americans, they bring their own stereotype of what Americans are like. And also the American producers don’t trust the audience to be able to stay with the academic side of it or to stay with the historical side of it. And they think they need to spoon feed a bunch of chaos and they did a lot of things to try to stir that up. So it is an unfortunate statement about what they think about the intelligence of the American public. But one thing I can tell you about my daughters, they came out of Texas so confident, so capable. They had an experience that almost no American child gets these days. And that is, they knew that if I don’t bring the wood in, we all go hungry, period. So when you tell your 5 year old when she’s 10, you need to go back, you need to bring your laundry down. If they don’t, what happens? The world ends? But for three months, my daughters had a sense of “I matter to the lives and the well-being of my entire family.” And the bonding that we got out of that and the sense of trust and togetherness, was phenomenal. And for no other reason, that would be the reason I would ever do it again.

Guin: Do you have some kind of checks in your own life where even though you are so connected and you are dealing with an audience that always wants another piece of you. How do you center yourself as a human being away from these tools?

Cooke: In terms of technology, my approach is a little different, and this is one of the things I talk about in my classes–particularly my Google class. You are not the slave of the Internet or of technology. It is there to serve you. And so everything I do, I approach it that way. It is so easy to go online and become very very overwhelmed because you feel, we are taught to be polite and you respond to things. And you start to just have it take you away with it, versus, for example when I teach a Google class, you can go to Google and you can put in your key word and you can have it give you 10 thousand different results and spend the rest of your life trying to comb through them, trying to find your genealogy. But what I do is to show them how to use the tool to actually set it up to use it as a genealogy dashboard where it is kind of like their home center and get these tools to work for you. To go out and find things and bring them back, to help you select and stay on top of your priorities. It is kind of what I do all the time in terms of my media. I want to say a message. I want to know what my message is, and if you know what your purpose is and your research and your preservation work and your genealogy, then you have to approach the technology that says, “What will you do for me.” And you pick and select, and you just let the rest of it go because you cannot possibly do it all and there is just more to come. So I don’t think you should be a slave of it.


Guin: Has your sense of mission always been very clear in your mind or was there a point in your life where there was a transition or an event that kind of helped you form your sense of mission that you have today?

Cooke: Well I think having my children. It gave me a sense of going beyond myself and being committed to their well-being and the well-being of my family. Whenever I interact with my kids, even today as grown adults, in the back of my mind is: does this help me get closer to them in 20 years, does it help me get full access to my grandchildren, I’m going to be a grandmother this year. And is everything I am doing helping me to bring me closer and to communicate better how dear they are to me, and the same thing with my audience. Am I communicating how dear they are to me because they really are. And if it’s not going to communicate that, toss it aside. It’s like when you talk about blog writing: editing is the number one thing. It’s what you leave out, get rid of it. Ah! It is just like reality TV, it’s what you leave out. That’s how you craft your message and I have a little note that is on my bulletin board and I look at it everyday and it says, “Are you working on your dream?” And my dream is kind of my mission, it’s, “Ah, a tombstone, what do I want on the tombstone?” What do I want people to think about and it’s interesting when I go to a conference, people will say, “Oh, when I think of Lisa Louise Cooke, I think this or that,” and that’s awesome because that means that I have stayed on message and I have gotten rid of the periphery stuff that just doesn’t add value. And I don’t know, I just think that overall what I want to do is I want to be able to leave something of value for generations to come. Not only within my family but also within the world. And isn’t that a wonderful trait of the Internet and of technology? Those podcasts will be out there well beyond me. That maybe this is going to help somebody else’s grandchild. Ah, I don’t know, maybe it will all be irrelevant, it might be. But I like the idea that it isn’t just lost the second that it’s done. And that’s a good thing.

Guin: Well, I guess that leads us to our next question. Where do you see Genealogy Gems going in the future? And not just Genealogy Gems, but Lisa Louise Cooke as well?

Cooke: OK. I will tell you the truth. I don’t even go by Lisa Louise. Do you know why I started using Louise? No, I am just telling you. Because after Texas Ranch House came out, I wasn’t sure if I wanted everyone to think of Mrs. Cooke or Lisa Cooke. And actually I am one of seven generations of Louises in my family. So that is just a little tidbit for your listeners on where the Louise comes from, and where do I want her to be? Where do I want Genealogy Gems to be? I want it to be continuing to foster that relationship with the listeners and just on the technology side of things. Some of the things I am looking at is–I am hoping I can pull this off–I’d love to do a live show once a month. So that people can actually call in. Maybe it would be chat, I’m not sure how that would work yet. I am looking at some different platforms to help me do it, but I would love to be able to do more of the in addition to what I’m doing is once a month they can just call in and we can just talk about how are the things that you are learning on the show, that you are picking up on your genealogy society. How are those things working for you? What do you think about them? What are your roadblocks? Whatever people have been talking a lot about libraries that have been closing lately because of budget cuts. Those are things that are important to people, and I think that would be another step in the community would be to be able to actually live talk. Right now I give them a voicemail line. There are lots of different ways they can connect with me. But it would be wonderful to do a live show. I’m also doing a lot of things with Family Tree Magazine. I am doing some online webinars and I just finished writing three courses. They are putting together a family tree university that is going to be online, so I am actually going to be able to teach classes using this coursework that I have written, and my students can email me and it will be interactive. And they can take these courses and learn more in depth on different subjects. So there is always an educational component I guess to it. And the fun thing is, whenever I write a class like that or do the research for it, I get to get a breakthrough on my research. I mean, I always learn something new. So it is selfish in that way as well.

Guin: So here’s a scenario: Someone’s watching this and they’re inspired, and they are developing their own sense of mission, and they want to involve new media in it. What advice would you have for that person?

Cooke: Education. Educating yourself and know that there are a lot of free options out there to educate yourself. I mean there are some great books and things, but life keeps going on and you want to try to get as up to speed as possible as quickly as you can. I tapped into a lot of podcasts. I just went in there and I did key word searches on how do you do this, how do you do that, video, podcasts, whatever. And I would typically find somebody who had great information. So constantly educating yourself. Thinking about what your message is. You really can’t be everything to everybody. In fact, I was just interviewing a blogger on my family history podcast, and she was saying, “You know, you can’t be so and so, they are already there, you know? Don’t try to mimic somebody else, but take what your strengths are and use that. And then decide what the focus of your message is. And also one thing I have just been using lately when I wrote my courses for the university was YouTube. People, particularly older folks, tend to get nervous about going onto YouTube because there is a lot of stuff out there that they don’t want to see. I’m with them on that, but if you use that search box you will be able to hone right into what you are looking for and you bypass all that stuff. And so when I was looking for these different topics I was writing about, I would go out and throw a key word out into YouTube and I would find somebody who produced a video about it and I got a little snippet here and there, and I was able to reference that and give that to my students. My gosh, I just took up knitting. Couldn’t figure out how to do a yarn over and I went and put up “knitting yarn over,” and there was somebody showing me how to do it on the video. So that can be applied to anything. And there is a lot of great people producing content, and every single day there is something new. So it’s always worth going back and checking. I dunno, does that answer your question?
Guin: It absolutely does. And I think it’s important for people to realize as well for people doing that knitting video probably had a $300 camera from Walmart. It doesn’t take a lot of money or fancy equipment to produce this stuff. So I guess what would be valuable if you could just share about some of the equipment you use in putting together your content.

Cooke: It’s evolved over time. I have started out with one of those little $10 RadioShack microphones, you know, the little plastic ones. Very quickly realized I didn’t like the sound of it, and I went and bought a podcasting kit, which had the microphone and that type of thing on Amazon and have upgraded from there. And that brings me back to when you are trying to learn how to do some of this stuff, you think “I do want to do a blog or I do want to do video,” go out and find somebody that you think is doing a terrific job. And watch it. And look for the details. Don’t worry about all the big picture stuff that they are talking about. I really believe it’s in the details: that’s where the real connection happens, and the quality happens. And then right now I have my new Macintosh, which is kind of the video, auto center. I have my old PC that I finally got a new flatscreen for. I had my laptop because I do go and do presentations. Last year I invested in my own projector so now I can say, “Yep. I can go to a seminar,” and I can be set up to go. And my latest is my boom, I guess you can call it a boom for my mic. Before it was always on my desk, and you know, I would go crashing and it would hit the floor, and I would bump it and that kind of thing. Now it’s on a boom. It looks like like it does in a radio station. And I think it was a $100, but it seemed like an extravagance to me. I waited a long time to spend the money on it, and it is a godsend. That and the popscreen for the microphone. So, like you are asking me, if you hear somebody you think is doing a great job or you like their video. You’d be amazed. People are so helpful. I email people all the time, “By the way, can you give me an idea or an clue or whatever…” and people are always willing to share. That’s one of my mottos: ask, ask, ask. Don’t be afraid to ask, all they can do is say, “No, I’m too busy.”
Guin: And that’s the great thing about the web, you can ask people all over the world. You’re not limited to just your local area.

Cooke: I had a podcaster in Australia contact me and say, “Oh, I heard your podcast. Loved this, loved that, but you might tweak this to get the sound better.” And he had been doing podcasts for two years, so it was amazing.
Guin: Well, Lisa thanks so much for being on Voices of the Past.

Cooke: You bet. Thanks so much.

 

 

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Podcast: Michael Phillips on creating Sense of Place with video “iGuidez”

For three years now, Michael Phillips has had a dream that he hopes will someday spread to the rest of the world: to create “sense of place” with video. It seems the tech world has helped set the stage for that dream, incorporating video functionality into everything from mobile phones and music players. With his website and blog, iGuidez, Phillips provides a template for capturing and sharing special sites for netizens everywhere to enjoy. In this interview, Michael Phillips talks about how he developed iGuidez, and the challenges of running a heritage website.

 

Welcome to the Voices of the Past podcast. I’m Jeff Guin, and today I’m talking to Michael Phillips of the heritage travel site, iGuidez.

Guin: Michael, welcome to the podcast. I was wondering if you would just start by telling us what iGuidez was designed to do.

Phillips: My experience as a traveler has been that guide books only ever give you a paragraph or two or sometimes even a few sentences about a famous sculpture or a church or anything like that on a local level. And therefore, I was always one that I wanted more information, I wanted to know more about what I could go to see rather than think, “Oh, this is really those three stars or four stars, so I have got to go see it,” whereas maybe it’s not in your taste at all. So I’ve been trying to get more concentrated information out about single items that you can go and see on a local level.

iGuidez is all about local information. I am trying to explain things better with video and photos and written text all in the one page as you see on my website.

Guin: Alright, well, how did you come up with the name for your site?

Phillips: Ah, that was easy. It was a fluke. I mean, as you might appreciate yourself, trying to get a name for anything on the Internet these days is virtually impossible. So it took me a long time at the previous name I had was JungleJam.tv, basically because I couldn’t find another name. And then one day, I just had upon iGuidez with a zed, you know so, it just came. It just happened like that.

Guin: Obviously this is a mission for you. You’re kind of looking at this as your calling. What experiences in your past led you to create the site, just the concept for iGuidez?

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Phillips: Well, as I have said, I have traveled a lot. I am interested in the history, but not interested in history for history’s sake. And I am more of a–I suppose you could say–history in a social context, and that when I go around to see things, I want to know what was the artist thinking when they created something, or what was the designer or architect thinking when they designed a building or such. So it kind of evolved initially from a point of view of traveling somewhere and letting other people know what’s there. The most difficult thing about iGuidez that it took me a couple of years to create is how do you put so much information about one thing on a website, on a web page. So, it’s taken a year, two years to develop that method. And as I said, it all comes from traveling.

Guin: Well, were you a web designer in a previous life? Is that what you do professionally? Are you a tech person?

Phillips: I am actually an aircraft engineer, but that had nothing to do with the website itself. No, I just picked up basic HTML code as I began three, four years ago and various different websites. But then as it got more complicated and because it was video, I then had to employ certain people along the way. So the website now, I pay somebody to develop it to my ideas and designs. It’s a very expensive option. I mean, I wish I could do it myself because I would save a lot of money. I am only doing it because I can’t sit down and learn the website coding and also be out and making videos because it just doesn’t go. A lot of people have always said to me, “Why don’t you learn the coding then?” But then of course, who would be making the videos?

Guin: Exactly. And we know that the web is about the content, it’s not so much the look of the site, although good design is important, but there are some just very basic blogs that are very, very popular using the standard default WordPress template. It is about the content. What’s your experience with videography? Is it something you have done professionally in the past or is it something you have taken up as a professional hobby?

Phillips: Actually no. I have had no experience whatsoever in videography or photography or any of that at all … Having lived in Italy for four and a half years, in the world’s center of art, it’s hard to describe. You can’t write about art. You just can’t. It doesn’t translate as well, no matter how good a writer you are. So you have to show photographs; you have to show images, you know? So again, it was just playing around with video and thinking. Video is also much quicker. You put one photograph up of a piece of art and that’s it. Now you have to say something; write something about it. Whereas if you use a video, you can take much more art in and you can talk about it at the same time. So you are letting the images speak for themselves. So it was really just trial and error.

Guin: OK, well, you’ve got your blog established and your website, and they look great and they are very informative. But have you branched out to other forms of social media and using the web tools to communicate with your audience as well?

Phillips: Yes, I use Twitter as much as I can. I did have Facebook account a while ago, but I gave it up because you have your normal email and then you have the social media and then you have say the blog and the website, and it just gets so complicated and then you lose track of everything. I had to streamline everything. So I just use my blog on the website and Twitter as I can.

Guin: OK. Well, what does Twitter do for you as far as being able to promote your site and communicate with people that are interested in your blog?

Phillips: Well actually, that is a very good question. I asked myself that question when Twitter was all the go many months ago. I looked at it several times and I couldn’t think how am I going to use it because I’m not one of these people that I want to blog about me or my experiences. I wanted to use it for my website and I couldn’t figure out how. And then it just occurred to me one day: “I know what I’ll do, every time that I see something interesting or I make an interesting video or I add something to my blog, I can then update it on Twitter.” I do and sometimes it catches on. Sometimes it can be very useful, not always of course. And plus, the benefit of Twitter, as you have realized yourself, it is very quick. You just say what you have to say and press return and it goes out to everybody and that’s it. You don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to, like a blog, you don’t have to sit down and concentrate what you’re going to write or what you’re going to do. You just get on with it, and that’s again the advantage of it.

Guin: I am sure you spend some time on the Internet using resources on the web other than just your site or something directly related to it. What sites do you most enjoy?

Phillips: Well, I really enjoy TechCrunch. And I use a few similar sites. One called NI Tech Blog, which is a local one in Belfast. What I use them for is just to keep abreast of any announcements or anything that comes up similar to my website … just to know what technology comes online, or who’s moving or who’s doing what on the travel industry. And sometimes I do contact people through those websites to ask for collaboration and things like that.

At the beginning when I started of a couple years ago when I was getting more into the research and the information, I used to use Wikipedia a lot, but then I suddenly realized it has a very very short life span because there’s not a lot on Wikipedia with regards to specific information on local things. Now if you are talking about famous landmarks or points of interest, there is plenty. But not on local things. … There is one local website at home, the historian website that occasionally I use if I am back home and I am researching information.

Guin: As you demonstrate, there are different types of heritage sites and heritage blogs, and there can be photo blogs and there can be video blogs as well, and I’m amazed at all the content that you’ve got on your site. How long has it been in existence?

Phillips: Just over three years. I kind of kicked in again about travel. It was travel-oriented. And then in the last year, year and a half, it got really concentrated with information in that I want to show the information that I’ve researched about the particular subject that I happen to be videoing. That’s where I’m at today.

Guin: OK, well, explain how the site works. Is there anyway that people who enjoy your site and kind of connect to your mission can help you create more content for the site?

Phillips: Oh yes, definitely … One of the points of this website is to create a model. Again, if I hark back to that model of Wikipedia, I want to try to create some way so that I have the model to show other people how to do this, and of course, yes, I’d love people to copy what I’m doing. Again, just as in Wikipedia, there are rules and regulations. There is no point in just going around and videoing something and then talking about it, because that may not make a lot of sense. So I am looking to collaborate with people, and I am contacting travel organizations and travel websites and various technology companies even to explore ways how to develop this further. Not just from my point of view, but also in trying to get other people involved. So certainly, I mean, that’s an open question. Yes, I would love help because as much as I’d love to do everything myself, I can’t.

Guin: I understand completely. OK, then let’s use for example, let’s say there is a small Main Street organization here in the US, and they want to do some video or landmark documentaries on their particular town. Do you have any pointers for actually undertaking a project like that?

Phillips: Yes I do. In fact I occasionally have a blueprint of instructions for how to do it. For example, the videoing is not a difficult thing to learn how to do. And what I mean by that is, where do you start when you go into a room to video? Now I can explain that very easily. You just say: start at the entrance and you walk around in a clockwise direction or a counterclockwise, it doesn’t matter, and video as much as you can. So there are basic things like that you can explain with video. The much more difficult thing to explain is how do you get the information? Where do you get the information? Because if it is quite a popular thing or a famous landmark then it is not a problem. There is plenty of information out there, and even, for example, guide books, local guidebooks can even tell you as much as you need to know. But it’s things that aren’t well known that are probably even more historic; that have more value in a historic sense, and it’s trying to integrate that information onto the video in a way that makes sense.

Guin: Alright, well, if someone is interested in doing this, is there a place on your website they can go for more information or can they contact you?

Phillips: They certainly can. If they contact me, I’ll be happy to collaborate with anybody on this theme. I will certainly help anybody as much as I can because it’s in everybody’s interest to develop this, not just mine of course.

Guin: Tell us what your grand vision is for the future of this site, either in the next year or going into the long term. What do you hope for?

Phillips: Well … this is my calling, I think. It certainly feels like it. Although, with most personal missions, they never pay. So, I need something for that to change because it has taken everything off me. So I need some sort of commercial backing to help me along. I am trying to work with certain city councils in Belfast and also in Bologna because I have those two cities are very well covered. One other ambitious task at the moment is that I have made contact with the tourist board in Rome quite a few months ago, and they were very enthusiastic about my project because, I have covered Bologna (15:53) so much now and I have so much content on Bologna that I can’t really do much more. So I want to expand to the likes of Rome where I can actually meet more tourists myself when I’m on the street and they have taken us on board and have now passed it on to one of the government ministers.

Guin: Where are you from? I’m not recognizing an Italian accent there.

Phillips: Oh no, definitely, Belfast.

Guin: Do you consider Bologna your home base?

Phillips: I use Bologna as a model to create my video guides, and then of course I copied that over to Belfast every time I went home. So now that I have completed my mission there in Bologna, I need to move somewhere where it will have a greater significance and that will be the likes of Rome or in fact, it could be any big, any major city, but I know the Italian way now. I like the culture there obviously, and the standard of life, so I am happy to just to move to another city.

Guin: Well, is there anything else that you need to say about iGuidez or do you have any other web endeavors that you’re pursuing?

Phillips: God, you know, this is enough at the moment. Let me move forward with this before I go on to another one.

Guin: Alright, you kind of actually, if you have been doing it three years, you kind of got in it about the time that social media was just hitting. It is kind of the dawn of the revolution so to speak. So a lot of these social media tools weren’t even in existence then.

Phillips: Exactly. In fact, I was one, if not the first, to start making video guides. I draw a lot of inspiration from Wikipedia; drew a lot of inspiration from that then and thinking, there’s a lot of people collaborating together on knowledge. And I thought, it took me a while to think, well how could I create something that could be also equally valuable to somebody, you know? So again, that is what I want to do as well to draw upon other people’s experience and knowledge and try to put them all onto one database, so that other people can actually learn from it and actually see and experience it more. Whereas Wikipedia is text-based, not to devalue it in any sense or criticize it, it is just text. And how do you move that on to the 21st century? And that is what I think video is all about.

Guin: Well most people are visual. There have been a lot of studies about that and especially in today’s world with all of the digital distractions, that’s the only way to really capture the imaginations of anyone, but especially the younger folks. And those are the ones that we need to instill the heritage values into.

Phillips: That’s right. And there was even just a last point: there was an article written by the Times, the Sunday Times here in London about six months ago. In fact, I even have it quoted it on my website in the about page, and it says that the journalists find that everyone appreciates that Google is the number one search engine, but what few people expected was that YouTube became the second biggest search engine. And what that translates as that people are looking for videos for information now. They are looking into video websites for actual information, and that’s an extremely powerful thing if you think about it. Which means that anybody who actually has relevant information in a video, that someday is going to be worth a lot.

Guin: Alright, well, I think I am going to go ahead and wrap it up. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Phillips: And to you as well.

Guin: And that was Michael Phillips of the heritage travel site, iGuidez. Now if you would like to learn more about Michael and iGuidez, you can check out our shownotes site. That’s Voicesofthepast.org. You can find a transcript of this interview. While you are there, check out our 2.0 tips for how to use social media to advance heritage in your part of the world. Until next time, this is Jeff Guin for Voices of the Past, and we’ll see you online.