Tag Archives: preservation

Preservation social media leadership: The early days

In 2009, I presented to the Preservation Technology Advisory Board for the first time about preservation social media efforts. Though it was the first time the board members really heard about social media, they were incredibly supportive of the initiative.

The presentation features images by Hunter Wilson, who had a Flickr 365 project going on at the time. He would post a self-portrait every day for one year. Many of them featured compelling Photoshop effects. As I was presenting this, Hunter was at his high-school graduation. We had been interacting on Flickr for a time, and he was gracious enough to Skype in for a PR Campaigns course I was teaching at the local university.

That prior year was magic with connections that embodied the potential of preservation social media, before it became dominated by marketers and the walled fortress that is Facebook. The heritage fields were still skeptical of social media. Out in nowhere-you’ve-heard-of Louisiana, we were pioneering the frontier.

09 Board Meeting: Strengthening NCPTT’s Leadership on the the Social Web

Presentation to the NCPTT Board, May 2009

  • NCPTT Preservation Social Media Initiative and World Wide Web Clearinghouse
  • Conversation, facilitated by online tools that are: Platform-independent Free Interactive Easy to use
  •  Ultimately, it’s still about relationships [human-centered]
  • NCPTT was one of the first preservation organizations to use social media
  • Podcasting [Preservation Technology Podcast]
  •  Social Networking
  • Microblogging
  • Online Photo Sharing
  • Online Video Sharing
  • Preservation needs online leadership. The Future is Mobile
  • Training initiative provides expert guidance, connections for NCPTT [Training staff]
  • People everywhere are connecting in cyberspace to talk about heritage.
  • In 2009, many more heritage organizations have jumped on the new media bandwagon
  • … but progress is using new media effectively has been slow and lacking direction
  • Heritage is still trying to find its voice online.
  • Preservation still needs online leadership.
  • NCPTT’s role is to help the organizations make sense of social media and use it effectively
  • Communicating ourselves on the World stage can be an overwhelming task
  • We’ve been there before
  •  The right tools, mindset and people bring the job down to size
  •  Hard work and service to others unleashes the benefits of online engagement
  •  “We need to connect citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us. We must use all available technologies and methods to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted in Washington and giving Americans the chance to participate in government deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few years ago.” From Barack Obama’s campaign platform on technology Monday, March 9, 2009
  •  “We need to connect citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us. We must use all available technologies and methods to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted in Washington and giving Americans the chance to participate in government deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few years ago.” From Barack Obama’s campaign platform on technology Monday, March 9, 2009
  • You’re our heroes [advocacy role of board]
  •  What can we do to help? [Ideas, comments and discussion]

Carla Bruni provides levity, and rich preservation content for broad audiences

SAIC Alumni Profiles: Carla Bruni (MS 2008) from SAIC on Vimeo.

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An inclusive approach to historic preservation outreach, coming up on this edition of Voices of the Past. #00:00:50.7#

Welcome to Voices of the Past. The show that helps you connect to — and advocate for — heritage. I’m Jeff Guin.

I want to start this show with an invitation to share your questions and success stories on the website. Connect by visiting us at voicesofthepast.org and comment there, or look for your favorite social network at the top of the page. Or you can click the “send voicemail” tab on the right side to share your thoughts and questions directly from your browser .

Speaking of heritage success stories, I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with Carla Bruni. Carla is a historic preservationist who is author of two blogs. She’s also a good friend and supporter of Voices of the Past. We’re going to talk about her latest blog, BuildingRevival.com [NOW INACTIVE], which explores ways to make historic preservation more accessible to the public. I know of few people who articulate the challenges and opportunities in that arena more effectively. Here’s that interview …

[INTERVIEW] #00:01:45.1#

Guin: Carla, you’ve been on Voices of the Past before, featured in a blog post. What are you up to these days? #00:02:07.7#

Bruni: Last time I was talking about my blog “The Green Preservationist,” which I’ve had going on for a few years now. There’s a few things I learned writing that blog that made me want to create a new website called BuildingRevival.com [site dep. I talk a lot about sustainability in preservation. I’ve been concerned for a long time about those topics and wanted to focus on growing a preservation audience. Preservation is kind of a dirty word in some circles. I wanted to change that and not necessarily call it preservation but at the same time encourage preservationist thinking by simply talking about vintage buildings and how things used to be done and making them more fun and positive. Think of it as being “sneaky preservation” in the way that we’re targeting an audience that doesn’t realize they’re preservationists but they are compelled to preserve regardless. #00:03:11.1#

Guin: What kind of content can people find on your site? #00:03:13.5#

Bruni: We have things like a fun style guide so you can figure out what different parts of your building are called. We want to talk about what the general styles of buildings are in the first place so people can get interested and understand better where they are living and connect more to it. We have a series called “Barn Porn” that people seem to think is fun. We take or find pictures of beautiful barns in all different parts of the country from different time periods. We come up with sort of playmates profiles that we call “HayMates.” This is to help people look at architecture and not just see rotting buildings, but something that can be fun and sexy from a certain point of view. We just want people to care about buildings again. #00:04:12.6#

Guin: Sounds like a great educational tool, and possibly even a heritage education model. #00:04:25.4#

Bruni: It’s kind of like when you hear people say, “when you’re walking down the street, just look up.” Nobody does, but the cornice tends to be the most beautiful part of the building. We just don’t pay attention. We want to do that with kids as well, who don’t notice buildings that much and don’t really have an opportunity to learn about them or understand the materials. It kind of like “Preservation Lite” in that way. It’s introductory, but at the same time we have hundreds of resources on the site. Technical and otherwise. I’ve heard there are people from the National Trust reading it now. And I’ve heard lots of stories of the content cracking people up at work, which makes me really happy because preservation offices can sometimes be kind of sad places. Things go wrong a lot. So it provides levity while providing rich resources. If you want to know how landmark your house or know how to properly repoint a building, that’s also on the website. #00:05:50.2#

Guin: You have a collaborator on this website … #00:05:50.2#

Bruni: Elisabeth Logman is my collaborator. She’s done a lot of landmarking. She’s also a masonry and mortar expert. We went through the same graduate program a couple of years apart but became friends through our common need to proselytize preservation and still smile. #00:06:12.2#

Guin: Where are you taking the site? #00:06:15.3#

Bruni: Elisabeth designed the site and it’s the first website she’s done with this kind of depth. We’re always tweaking it–always trying to get feedback on the content–what’s working, what’s not. Looking at our stats and figuring out what stories people are responding to. We’re on Facebook and tweeting now with the “building revival” brand. I’m playing around with the social media part of it, trying to figure out what to post where. Am I posting the same things on Facebook as I am Twitter? Is there a point of doing that? We’re trying to study who our audience really is and how to grow it. #00:07:23.5#

Guin: Do you have any particular kinds of partnerships you are looking for with the site? #00:07:26.8#

Bruni: We want preservation organizations to participate. We also have a lot of stuff about green building and sustainability. We even have content about canning and composting in your home, so we have a really broad scope. That’s something I wanted to change after Green Preservationist because I had some people from green building interacting, but it was mostly preservationists. We’re willing to partner with anyone who cares about old buildings and has anything to do with them and the space in and around them–that we don’t find unethical or frustrating. Probably not window salesmen! #00:08:26.9#

Guin: Does this replace the Green Preservationist blog? #00:08:29.6#

Bruni: Green Preservationist is more technical and specifically geared toward green building people, preservation, and people working specifically in the field. For Building Revival, we’re targeting a really general audience. People like my friends who have nothing to do with architecture and normally bore them to tears over beer talking about these things. I find them liking these stories online and engaged with the content of the site. #00:09:11.3#

Guin: I love how you integrate topics of vice into your blog posts–porn is a very popular term, and the key to one of your most popular posts on Green Preservationist. #00:09:25.4#

Bruni: Absolutely! To be clear, it was about “ruin porn”–architecture. But I swear we got most of those hits from people searching porn online. I’m aware of that and I’m fine with exploiting that as long as it gets people reading things that I think are important. #00:09:50.6#

Guin: Did you coin that term? #00:09:50.6#

Bruni: No. Ruin porn as been around for a few years. “Barn Porn” was Elisabeth’s brainchild. Barn porn sounds good to the ear–the vowels hit right, it’s fun and everyone giggles when we say it. That’s what it’s about. We work in a pretty tough field where we tend to be on the defensive about what we do. Everyone needs to laugh a little more and have fun with it. #00:10:22.8#

Guin: You can defuse some of the spirited debate or at least give it a more positive spin when you apply humor. #00:10:31.3#

Bruni: It terms of sustainability, it’s not just growing an audience. I know a lot of people who were in the preservation field and are now librarians. One person I know is a yoga teacher. People can burn out in this field. It makes me happy to hear people are enjoying the content. #00:11:20.4#

Guin: You do a lot of consulting, correct? #00:11:20.4#

Bruni: I do a lot of educational programming. I do a lot of work with the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. I’m working on another project with the U.S. EPA. I’ve done a lot of work with the Chicago Department of Environment, working on their green rating system trying to make it more preservation friendly. I do landmarking as well. I consult homeowners privately sometimes to help them make their homes more sustainable. I help them put a plan together to prioritize what they’re doing to make sure they don’t throw their money out the window. My focus in graduate school was greening historic properties. At the time it was a challenge, but now it’s everywhere. It got me on the right path working with environmental groups–some really smart, innovative people. I’ve been working on the environmental side to help push the preservation agenda through that way. I find that seems to work better than pushing the environmental agenda through on the preservation side sometimes. Things have changed a lot over the past few years. We’re learning more about passive houses now to use historic homes and implement more of those practices. #00:13:02.2#

Guin: What’s your grand vision for making preservation tangible and practical to everyone? #00:13:07.5#

Bruni: I think its just about collaboration. We’ve been a bit of an island. First I saw it in terms of we need to be friends with the green building advocates and professionals. But it goes beyond that. One key we can take from the green building movement is they are very adamant about involving engineers and landscape architects and designers–everyone on the ground level when they’re planning something. I think we need to be more mindful of that too. Planting trees around that historic house is extremely important. How can we reach out to different groups and be really integrated with that instead of our own specialty field? I know we can make more money specializing but I think the effect is that we come off as inaccessible and sometimes a little elitist. It’s a stigma that we need to continue to combat. #00:14:12.1#

Guin: The fact is that everyday folks can do as well for their historic homes even if they can’t necessarily afford a professional. #00:14:24.1#

Bruni: Just showing how easy it is to fix your boiler and tune things up–little easy fixes so things aren’t so intimidating that we want to rip them out and replace them with things that are supposed to be easier to maintain but often are not. They’re just newer looking. Breaking down a lot of that lore that surrounds old things that are “just so hard to deal with.” They’re generally not; they’re usually a lot easier to maintain because they were built to last for a much longer period of time. #00:15:09.1#

Guin: Tell us again how people can connect with you. #00:15:09.9#

Bruni: The website is BuildingRevival.com. Folks are still welcome to check out greenpreservationist.org. Twitter account is “buildingrevival.” Facebook is also “buildingrevival.” #00:15:37.5#

Guin: There’s branding for you! So if we google “building revival” we’ll probably run across you.” #00:15:49.5#

Bruni: I sure hope so! #00:16:01.1#


Related Links:

Building Green Bridges and Fostering Pride

Carla on Twitter


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Can you help this heritage project? Preserving Nicholson’s Past by Renovating and Restoring 1849 Railroad Station into a Community Center

nicholson teaser

UPDATE:  Great news! The Nicholson Heritage Association purchased this station in June 2012. The next step is a feasibility study and the Association is waiting to hear back on whether or not they received a state grant to assist with this phase of the project. More information can be accessed at:  www.nicholsonstation.org


The town of Nicholson, Pennsylvania is like many rural towns across America, hit hard by the migration of residents to cities and urban areas. At one time, small dairy farms surrounded this borough. Now, there are only a few farms left. While the permanent population hit an all-time high in 1940 at a little over 1,000 residents, it is now less than 700. U.S. Census Bureau population statistics for Nicholson since 1880 are captured below:

Nicholson PA Population
Nicholson PA Population
Station around the turn of the 20th Century
Station around the turn of the 20th Century

As someone who grew up in this small town, I myself now live and work in the Washington, DC metro area. Even so, Nicholson is still my hometown and there are many fond memories of summers spent mowing neighbor’s lawns, winters shoveling snow, afternoons after school delivering newspapers on my bicycle, and Friday nights and Saturdays working at the local grocery store. I still go home often to visit family. This project is one way for me to give back to my community.

In 2009, I contacted the Chair of the Nicholson Heritage Association, Marion Sweet, to offer my assistance and we’ve been working hard ever since! The Nicholson Heritage Association was founded as a non-profit organization in 1989 to organize the 75th Anniversary of the Nicholson Bridge and is dedicated to the historical preservation of Nicholson, PA. Not only can we preserve Nicholson’s past by renovating and restoring the former Delaware, Lackawanna and Western (DL&W) station into a community center, we can revitalize the town and the region at the same time.

Station in 2010
Station in 2010

History abounds in Nicholson, from the American Indians that lived and traveled here to the coming of the railroad and trolley that opened Nicholson to the rest of the region. Building a rail line in Nicholson forever changed the community as it connected people, commerce, and trade. In May 1878, the first telephone service in Northeastern Pennsylvania connected the Nicholson station to the DL&W Scranton station. In 1855, the local United States Post Office moved from the edge of the settlement to the Nicholson station.

With the completion of the Clarks Summit-Hallstead Cut-off in 1915, passenger service was provided out of the station next to the then just completed Nicholson Bridge, or Tunkhannock Viaduct, a half mile long reinforced concrete bridge that was the eighth wonder of the world when completed. After 1915, the station handled all freight, including after the merger of the DL&W with the Erie Railroad to become the Erie Lackawanna Railroad (EL). Due to financial hardship, the EL permanently closed the station in 1971 and only managed to survive until 1976 before being absorbed by Consolidated Rail (Conrail) in 1976.

Purpose of the Initiative
The Nicholson Heritage Association wants to renovate and restore the more than 160 year old historic railroad station into an innovative community center to encourage revitalization of the local and regional economy. We also believe that this community center will have a positive impact on the small town of Nicholson and the surrounding region by providing a place for residents to gather, as well as a local/regional museum for visitors.

Moreover, we want to encourage innovative partnerships and approaches to the historic preservation of this station, which was previously the center of the community, with local, state, and federal partners and other organizations. By working together, we can preserve this historical, cultural building and promote economic development within our region.

Right now, we are in the running for a Pepsi Refresh Project grant, but we need votes to win. You can vote for the project at http://www.refresheverything.com/revitalizeruraltown, up to ten projects once each day throughout the month of January. You can also vote by texting 105508 to Pepsi at 73774. We need your daily votes, one each by visiting the Web site and sending a text, to ensure that this preservation project gets funded and not left behind. Remember: VOTE daily, spread the word by telling your family and friends, post on your Facebook status, or even send a Tweet!

Moving Forward: Ideas Welcome!
At the moment, we are focused on the Pepsi Refresh Project, but voting will end on January 31, 2011. No matter the outcome, we will move forward to make this project a reality. Not only have we set up a website to get the word out about us and all our initiatives at www.nicholsonheritage.org, we also created a Facebook page and a Twitter account @NichlsonHertige. Moreover, we reached out to railroad historical societies and historical preservation organizations.

What else would you suggest? Do you have any ideas on how else to move forward, get the word out, and get individuals, not just in Nicholson, involved?

Besides this initiative, the Nicholson Heritage Association meets regularly to discuss projects, including sign placement at the Route 11 scenic stop, the Viaduct Valley Way Scenic Byway, and the 100th anniversary celebration of the Nicholson Bridge to take place in 2015. Nicholson Heritage Association’s next meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at the First Presbyterian Church, 65 State Street, in Nicholson.


Photos courtesy of Josh Stull

Railroad background teaser photo by oops00086 on Flickr

What I’m about, through my daughter’s eyes


I visited Memory Lawn Cemetery in my hometown of Natchitoches, La., with my daughter this past week. And it brought hope to my world.

I’ll admit, 2010 was a challenging year. It began with the unexpected passing of my father and seemed to roll downhill ever since. Not just for my family, but many others here and throughout the world. Listening to the recent reports about how companies are set to rebound on the strength of their foreign investments while leaving most of the American workforce behind made me feel even more guilty and depressed about the world I’ve brought my child into.

It probably doesn’t help that I write this on the anniversary of my dad’s passing. Grinning through moist eyes, I try to remember how many times he told us “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, kids. People will step all over you without a second thought. You gotta protect yourselves first.”

Yeah, Daddy. There are times I can certainly see the point. But every time I try to use that logic to harden my heart and give my life a little clarity, there’s this little well of hope that keeps springing up through the cracks. Put a rock over it, and it seeps around. Try rolling a boulder over it and turns into a gusher, violently attacking and destroying the foreign object as the body responds to a virus. And no matter what you said, I saw it was the same with you.

We resist pain, both for ourselves and the people we love. But in my own life, it’s always been the necessary launchpad for grace I could never imagine and ever greater clarity about why I’m here.

Which leads me back to Memory Lawn.

We stood at the grave of my Great-Aunt Bobbie, still fresh with loose dirt, the flower sprays fading. I was remembering her dead-pan wit that flashed like lightening and sometimes took days to cipher. And her homemade buttered biscuits that were good enough to make grown men cry.

My daughter, who has spent a fair amount of her six years happily cleaning grave markers (or watching her mom repair them), took my hand. “Cemeteries can be sad places, can’t they,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

“Sometimes.” I didn’t want to worry her. “Let’s see if you can find my Mamaw and Papaw’s names.” I watched her skip toward my family’s little collection of memorial plaques, hot pink toy butterfly wings flouncing from the back of her red Christmas dress. “Remember that cemeteries are places where we can remember people too. When we share our stories with other people, they can live on for a very long time.”

She stopped in front of a double-marker embossed with the surname “THOMPSON” and looked up at me. “That’s what you do, isn’t it Daddy … share stories so we remember about people?”

That small statement was the biggest and most unexpected gift I could have received this year. I don’t recall ever telling my child about my work, or why I chose it. But then again, she lives it too.

A lot about the larger issues of the world doesn’t make sense right now and I’m clueless about the specifics of how my own life will look over the course of the new year. But I do know why I exist, and so does my family. And that’s something I will treasure until I return to the place of that memory for the last time.

Note: this was originally published in my Hometown Heritage newspaper column

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

[Note: Site has been discontinued. Link is to the legacy version]

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.


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.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which kind of made you the original heritage video blogger …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The central location is my website. That’s 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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Meet the Blogger: Lynne Thomas of “Confessions of a Curator”

Lynne Thomas is the Head of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University, a teaching and research collection with a special emphasis on American popular culture materials from the 19th and 20th centuries. At Confessions of a Curator, she blogs about collections and the social web. She is the co-author with Beth M. Whittaker of Special Collections 2.0, which examines Web 2.0 tech for cultural heritage collections, from Libraries Unlimited.

How was Confessions of a Curator “born”?

I launched the blog in August 2007 as an attempt to do departmental outreach and promotion. I wanted an easily updatable place to post announcements that didn’t require re-coding our website by hand. I had seen some other examples of library blogging, and thought I’d give it a go.

In one post, you ask your readers about your blog’s role in the online world. What do you feel that is and how do you feel you communicate with your audience?

kidlitconfsmallMy blog’s role in the online world has shifted over time as I’ve gotten more comfortable with the format. It originally began as a way to promote the department and occasionally share links of interest with our patrons. After a year or so, I realized that I was more interested in sharing my thoughts about the profession than focusing solely on our collections (I’m a bit of a process geek).  My readership reflected that interest: the bulk of my readers turned out to be other special collections professionals, rather than patrons who might use our department. I renamed the blog “Confessions of A Curator” and made it more about me as a library professional than about the department that I’m in charge of.

That post asking about my role in the online world comes up about annually, as I tend to wonder periodically if it’s worth continuing the blog, given that the bulk of my readers tend to be passive consumers of the blog through aggregators and feeds rather than active commenters on the blog itself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; the blog still fulfills an important function by sifting through the information wave and picking and choosing things worth reading for folks in my field. My most popular posts tend to be my linkdumps and my write-ups of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Preconference.

I’ve come to think of the blog as a clearinghouse of links related to my job and the profession, along with some commentary and the occasional departmental announcement, all of which add up to a snapshot of being a special collections curator in a non-ARL library.

It’s easy to think of rare books and special collections work as some kind of mystical calling if you don’t know much about it. I’m trying to de-mystify our profession both as a recruiting tool for new professionals and as a way to explain to the public what we do, while using the blog as a way to encourage myself to stay active and connected to other professionals in the field.

Collections professionals sometimes have the reputation of being more focused on protecting objects than communicating their significance. Yet they seem to be among social media’s most passionate adherents among the  heritage professions. Do you think that’s true, and what makes social media  so appealing for this group?

That reputation of special collections professionals being the “dragons guarding their hordes” is something that I truly wish would die a horrible death. The bulk of professionals in our field are service-oriented librarians and archivists who firmly believe in connecting people to our materials as a way to keep them relevant and useful (and funded!). Social media tends to be appealing for us as a group because it’s an easily maintained, inexpensive tool to promote our collections, our libraries and our work, and to reach our patrons where they are, rather than expecting them to know where we are and come to us. Plus all of our friends are doing it.

Your blog includes stories about how you and your family experience books. They’re very powerful, but also very personal (Your blog even has the  word “confessions” in the title!). Was it natural for you to communicate  these concepts so personally, or was it an intentional choice to connect to  your readers?

It’s a little of both, I think. I’m an extrovert, which means that I’m often a little more forthcoming about family experiences and such than other folks may be. My job and my life are very much intertwined, and I can’t really separate them very well even if I wanted to. It’s just not who I am.

My basic message is that just because something is “special” doesn’t mean that it needs to be permanently locked away. This is partially a political stance, because I’m the parent of a special needs child with severe disabilities. Children like my daughter (much like the books that I care for) would have been locked away in institutions and rendered invisible up until very recently. Given the right tools and adaptations, however, children with disabilities can and ought to be part of everyday life out in the world. Visibility promotes understanding, and reduces fear.

Special collections materials work the same way; providing handling adaptations and tools for their preservation helps them to survive for longer, but it doesn’t mean that we have to keep people away from them!

Helping people to understand what I do for a living, using a easily-relatable context like a family, encourages people to support cultural heritage institutions in general (and hopefully mine in particular as well).

As far as the title, it sounded appropriate; we have a lot of pulp magazines with similar titles in our collections.

You posted an interesting video regarding the end of publishing. As a curator and someone who works directly with books and preserving their importance, what do you see in the future of publishing and the traditional  printed word?

Hand-written manuscripts didn’t go away just because Gutenberg invented the printing press.  Books have not gone away in the nearly 20 years that we’ve had some version of the Internet, or in the more than 20 years that we’ve had relatively ubiquitous personal computing. I don’t expect the printed word to go away anytime soon; it is too useful, portable and accessible. I fully expect that the technologies will continue to coexist for quite some time, unless there is good reason for them not to do so. I do think that some major changes in the economic structure of how the printed word is sold and distributed will happen, because the current model is looking rather unsustainable right now. What that new model will be remains to be seen.

You have a post detailing requirements for archiving. Why is it important authors begin archiving things such as blogs and scratch notes?  And why have you decided to do this all digitally?

The way that authors work has fundamentally changed in the age of personal computing. While there are still authors that work exclusively in longhand on paper, most writers either compose exclusively on their computers or bounce back and forth between paper and electronic documents. Blogs, in particular, have replaced paper-based diaries, journals and writing notebooks for many working writers. To document only paper-based materials means that we’d be literally missing half of the collection—specifically, the half with all of the “juicy bits” about the writing process that interest scholars!

Writers are creating born-digital artifacts. Since so much of special collections work focuses on preserving the artifact as close to its original form as possible, so as to not lose the context of the content it contains, we need to work in the digital realm as well as that of paper. Otherwise, we will end up in a situation where we will have destroyed the papers of authors by not saving the formats that we’re less comfortable with, just as if we were the family of a 19th century writer, throwing manuscripts into the fire to prevent embarrassment after that writer’s death.

Tell us about your book, Special Collections 2.0.

The book came out of the blog, actually. One of my colleagues, Beth Whittaker (now head of the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas), saw me muse about the preservation of electronic manuscripts and social networking, and called me. She noted that the can of worms that I had opened was a rather large one, about an issue that had not really been addressed in a pragmatic way within the profession, but ought to be.  We used a private wiki to collaboratively write a proposal, submitted it to Libraries Unlimited, were approved and co-wrote the book.

Special Collections 2.0 is basically two things: an acknowledgment of the fact that the special collections community now has to deal with a hybrid of paper and electronic archives, and an examination of how the advent of social networking might affect our work. We look at social media both from the perspective of “how can I use these tools to my library’s/collection’s advantage?” and “how on earth am I going to preserve these things?”

We surveyed our profession to see what everyone else has been doing: what works, what doesn’t, and where librarians and archivists can best direct their invariably limited time and resources. What we discovered is that there are some really powerful tools for promoting, building and documenting our collections out there, but that preserving those digital objects we are ultimately responsible for is still a challenge for many libraries and archives.

In addition to your blog, what other social networks do you use and how do you use them? (eg: delicious, twitter, facebook, etc)

I’m consistently on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Delicious under my real name. I use them for outreach to our donors (it’s how I keep in touch with living SF writers who archive with me), as well as for link-sharing with other cultural heritage professionals and people in shared fandoms. Most of these accounts are linked in some way: my Delicious account posts automatically to my blog; the blog posts automatically to our departmental Facebook page. My Goodreads account, which picks up my blog automatically, is visible on the blog and on Facebook. I use Twitter to post links to Facebook, and that is often how I publicize new blog posts. I also have FriendFeed and LinkedIn profiles that are basically dormant, created as part of the research for Special Collections 2.0.

I’m on LiveJournal, where I maintain a personal blog under a different username focused on my family and the media fandoms that I follow, rather than on my library work. That blog is also linked from my Facebook account. It’s mostly an easy way for far-flung friends and family to keep in touch, and for me to be part of a community of fans.  I’m also on Ravelry (a knitting/crochet community) under the same username.

What advice do you offer other collections specialists who are exploring social media as a way to communicate?

The biggest lesson that I have learned from social media is that you really need to please, inform, interest and entertain yourself first. The grease for the social media engine is interesting, consistent content. Empty profiles are boring: if you aren’t going to use your account consistently, don’t bother building the profile in the first place. The best way to ensure consistency is to contribute what interests you. If you’re bored, so are your readers.

You can set expectations for your account that fit with your comfort level. For example, I subscribe to quite a few professional blogs that only post a few times a month, but the posts are worth waiting for: really engaging, well-thought out and interesting. I know when I subscribe that they are not high-traffic, based upon the information given in the blog’s profile; their quality rather than their quantity keep me subscribed.

The other part of working with social media is figuring out how much of yourself as a person or a professional that you would like to post. Many folks maintain dual profiles, one professional (say, on LinkedIn) and one personal (Facebook), and that works well for them. The key is to manage expectations; state your policies about “friending” or “following” outright on your profile, so that folks know where best to connect with you for their situation.

That’s not to say that everything has to be personal: there are plenty of special collections blogs out there that are about the collections, not the people that work with them. If the collections are interesting enough, that can work really well. There are some great correspondence blogs, for instance, that post a letter every few days from their collections, and archival blogs that post pictures and transcripts of recently processed materials.

Because I work extensively in the science fiction writing and fandom community as part of my job, and am a fan myself, I don’t bother to separate my at-work and not-at-work identities: my fandom is, in my case, a professional asset, and a large group of the SF authors that I work with follow my LiveJournal rather than Confessions of a Curator. Your mileage may vary.

That being said, despite the fact that I’m fairly public about much of my personal and professional life, there are certain things that I choose not to blog about or share on social media. I firmly believe that nothing on the web is truly anonymous or hidden, even if you can make it rather difficult to tie the person to the pseudonym. My rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t want to see it published on the front page of your local newspaper, don’t post it on social media sites. What constitutes “willing to share publicly” is an individual choice: it’s all about figuring out what you’re comfortable with.

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.

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.


Voices of the Past Video Netcast: Genealogy Gems’ Lisa Louise Cooke on establishing roots in the social web

Coming up in this edition of the Voices of the Past Netcast, we’ll meet Lisa Louise Cooke. Lisa created and maintains Genealogy Gems–one of the world’s most popular genealogy websites. She’ll tell us about the learning curve involved in using online media, and how she uses the web to create a deeper connection to her audience.

Thanks for joining us. I’m Jeff Guin. We’ll have that interview in a moment. First, here are a couple of briefs about heritage in the online world.

National Parks on Expedia

Expedia is partnering with the National Park Foundation on a new Web site to help travelers enjoy their trips to U.S. national parks a little more.

The site at includes downloadable park maps and other content from the National Park Foundation, as well as information about lodging options outside the parks.

The content also includes suggestions for long weekend itineraries with stops at national park sites in Colorado, Texas and Michigan, and a series of stories called “Can’t-Miss National Parks.” The first five parks featured in the “Can’t-Miss” series are the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Olympic and Yosemite.

The timing of the Web site launch was designed to coincide with the airing of Ken Burns’ new documentary on public television, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

Virtual Museum of Iraq

Italy is putting the Baghdad museum online.

The Virtual Museum of Iraq is designed to make some of the world’s most important artifacts accessible to everyone.

The site offers visitors the chance to walk through eight virtual halls and admire works from the prehistoric to the Islamic period, while videoclips reconstruct the history of the country’s main cities.

The site is available in Arabic, English and Italian.

Visitors can rotate some objects in the virtual museum to get an almost 360 degree view.

Italy contributed one million euros and provided expert staff to help restore the museum, creating a restoration laboratory in Baghdad and overhauling the museum’s Assyrian and Islamic galleries.

Present-day Iraq lies on the site of ancient Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the Baghdad museum boasts one of the best collections of ancient artfacts in the world.

Around 15,000 of the museum’s relics were carried off during a 48-hour looting spree in 2003 in the wake of the US invasion.

While around 6,000 works have been returned, many other pieces are still missing.

The Baghdad Museum Project is looking for international partners to help with its four-part plan to help save the museum. The program hopes to establish an online catalog to help locate the artifacts from the Baghdad museum.

It would also like to create collaborative workspace within the virtual Baghdad Museum, to allow international teams to work together.

Featured Voice of the Past: Lisa Louise Cooke
October is family history month in the U.S. And to celebrate, we’re featuring one of genealogy’s most prolific and beloved web personalities.

Lisa Louise Cooke has been passionate about family history since she was a child, looking at old family scrapbooks with her grandmother.  Since then, she’s turned that passion into a career.

She is the producer and host of the popular  Genealogy Gems Podcast, an audio and video genealogy show available in iTunes.

Additionally, she hosts the monthly Family Tree Magazine Podcast and videocasts for Family History Expos. I spoke to Lisa Louise Cooke recently, and here’s what she had to say about how she learned to use social media tools to promote genealogy.

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 just terms of how do you podcast, how do you hook the computer up, 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 doing arraigns  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 have been formulating for a long time, and it is kind of the classic story of you can look back and your life and say, “Wow. Everything I have 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: 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? How do they get started?

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 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 that 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 certainly 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 some of the equipment you use.

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 that 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 I do 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 waiting 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.
Lisa Louise Cooke speaks nationally on genealogy topics. She is also the author of the book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies as well as the Genealogy Gems News Blog.You can listen to more of our interview in the Voices of the Past audio podcast on the shownotes site and on iTunes. 

And our shownotes site is also the place to find out more about all of the stories we’ve told you about today. That’s all for this edition of the netcast. In the meantime, we’ll see you online.

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?


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.