Tag Archives: social network

Hometown Heritage Media Network: Empowering Community Heritage Preservation

The philosophy behind “Hometown Heritage” is to help people preserve the heritage of their communities–the “real,” physical communities, like rural towns and city neighborhoods with strong identities. That seems to have been lost as American life has moved ever faster, and onward. This involves helping folks understand in simple terms how they can keep their communities alive by through collaborative oral history projects, DIY historic preservation, community museums and the like.

Many times, folks just need help getting started with good resources and connections for making these memories sustainable and archival for future generations. One positive thing about our current economy is that we’re all remembering how important community is to our livelihoods and the preservation of our cultural heritage. It’s not just the purview of folks with money, ornate houses or preservation credentials.

My fellow collaborators have been such an inspiration to me since the Hometown Heritage column and social network in spring 2008. I feel so grateful and honored every time someone  tells me that they appreciate my “Hometown Heritage” column. You have given me the courage to try new things. I hope that together we will continue to inspire even more communities to value and protect their own heritage.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Natchitoches Preservation Network (collaborative small town heritage site)

Nat Pres

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

Ning was used to create the Natchitoches Preservation Network site.

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

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

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

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

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

GenealogyWise (Genealogy Research)


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

Museum 3.0 (Discussions on museums in the digital age)

museum 3.0 screen shot

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

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

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

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

ning homepage

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

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

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

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


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La. Folklore Society Presentation: Bringing Communities Together

Speaker’s Notes:

Slide 2:
I was born and raised in Natchitoches.

I lived away a while, working as the communications director for Willamette Industries Southern Region. Willamette was a Fortune 500 forest products company based out of Oregon. They were bought by Weyerhaeser a few years ago.

I came back to NSU in 2001, to get my Master’s in Folklife and Southern Culture.

My research has been about the timber culture of the north Louisiana piney woods.

I knew I wanted to do something with heritage values and began interning with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a National Park Service office here is town. I was hired full time as the public information officer there when I graduated school in 2002.

Slide 3:
Turner’s thesis of the frontier in America fits very well within the constructs of the 2009 Louisiana Folklore Society meeting.

Slide 4:
I’ve been involved with social media since it first came on the scene in 2006, I’ve found that many of those same concepts from Turner’s thesis apply to what’s happening on the web now.

Slide 5:
This is how social media functionally breaks down.

There are hundreds of these tools now, with still more appearing on the scene in spite of the economy.

Very few are folding. This is for contextual information only, this presentation does not purport to explain them all!

Slide 6:
But Web 2.0, New Media, Social media or whatever you want to call it, is not about the tools, it’s about people.

So how to does it benefit you or your organization to engage with the new realities of the web?

Slide 7:
Built-in audience with your values

Your content will always be relevant, whether it’s agreed with or not.

Slide 8:
The web now is as easy as launching your browser and filling in blanks.

You don’t need to be a web expert to sign up for services or upload content.

Slide 9:
No domain or storage costs means no headaches or dealing with down servers.

Slide 10:
When I started the Natchitoches Preservation Network one year ago, one of the first things I did was go to the local newspaper and talk to the editor about contributing a weekly column based on the news of the site.

The Natchitoches Times already prints news from local rural communities, and I presented this as a different way to think about a community.

Though it takes a lot of my time each week, I’m essentially getting $250 worth of advertising space for the site while the paper benefits with a fairly well written item on a topic of local interest.

Potential third-party promotion in newspapers still adds credibility to the site.

Slide 11:
Most of these tools are free to use. You don’t have to pay a dime to get your content in front of the world.

And generally, posting your content only takes a few minutes.

Slide 12:
In the past, all media that was created was automatically copyrighted as all rights reserved. That’s changed now with the advent of Creative Commons.

What this lets you do is set perameters for copyright of your online media.

For example, you can specify attribution for your work, or that it can be used strictly for non-commercial purposes.

There are several options, but the end effect is that people can use your content and build on it without having to consult you first.

Slide 13:
Most Web 2.0 tools have some type of measurement built in that helps you understand your audience better. A direct mailer can’t do that very easily!

Slide 14:
I created the Natchitoches Preservation Network to help people to advance and connect to Natchitoches heritage.

Natchitoches has some 30 different groups that have some sort of mandate related to heritage issues.

Though they have traditionally been friendly, they didn’t communicate very well.

Sometimes you may get 10 e-mails or postcards announcing an event, or none at all.

This site was created to get those folks talking and collaborating.

But it was also created to bring in people who were not a part of an official heritage organization.

There’s a perception in many communities that you have to be a Ph.D. or a socialite to participate in heritage activities. This gives those people a safe place to join the conversation about heritage.

Slide 15:
Social media is not about the tools. It’s about people, empowering them and helping them to connect.

Like most networks on the web we have a diverse membership, but they are all invested in preservation Natchitoches Heritage.

Besides the residents of Natchitoches Parish, which form the core of the group, here’s a quick overview of some of our members’ backgrounds…

Slide 16-19 are pretty self-explanatory

Slide 20:
Now, the Natchitoches Preservation Network is a Ning site.

Ning is a service that lets you create your own fully functioning social network for free.

It functions much life facebook and works with most of the popular social media tools found elsewhere on the web.

Slide 21:
Today, I’ll give you an overview of these tools used in the Natchitoches Preservation Network and some ideas about how you might be able to use them as well.

Slide 22-34: Concepts are explained on the slides

Slide 35:
RSS lets you subscribe to web content much like you’ve traditionally subscribe to a newspaper or magazine.

You don’t have to go around to different websites for content, because RSS brings it to you automatically.

When you see the little orange button on a site, you know that you can subscribe to the site and all the content will go to news feed, either in your browser or a news reading program of your choice. I use Google reader personally.

Slide 36:
Lifestreaming tools like Friendfeed take this one step further by aggregating all this content onto one page, allowing you to open discussions on the content.

Lifestreaming tools will import content from many types of services onto one page.

Many prominent bloggers have adopted lifestreaming tools like Friendfeed as their primary form of communication with their audiences.

Slide 37:
Second life is not a service I use personally, but there are those in the heritage field that use it extensively.

Ruth Tringham, U. Berkley, has an Island in Second Life that allows her students to practice archaeology.

There are university graduate degree programs held entirely in Second Life now

Slide 38:
It’s not about the tools. It’s about the people and how you can empower them to do more.