Markdown in WordPress

Did you know you can use Markdown in WordPress.com? All it takes is a checkbox in the Writings screen in Settings. It won’t make much difference when you are writing in the web editor, but it will sure make your life easier when you’re using the mobile WordPress app.

To get started, go to the WordPress Markdown reference page and add it to your HelpDesk notebook in Evernote.

Designing for Digital

Like most family historians I belong to several genealogical and historical societies which means I have a growing collection of quarterly publications in all sizes and shapes. Although my collection is growing, my available storage space isn’t so most of these publications wind up donated to my local library. While physical space is at a premium at my house, I have plenty of digital storage and would love to have digital editions of these quarterlies.

Digital publications have a number of advantages – for both the society and its members. For the member, it means a library of searchable articles that can be accessed on either their desktop or tablet/reader of choice. Publications can be created in full-color at no extra charge and can include working links – both internal to the publication and external to supporting web sites. For the society, it means reduced printing and shipping costs. Yes, there will always be a need for print editions, but on a significantly smaller scale.

The most common society publications are based on a letter size (8.5″ x 11″) page. Second is the digest size (something in the neighborhood of 5.5″ x 8.5″). I personally find the digest size easier to read. It’s also a great size for making the jump to digital.

I’ve found that setting up a document with a 6″ x 8″ page size and ½” margins gives me a PDF file that can be easily read on both my iPad mini and my Kindle Touch e-Ink reader. On a larger tablet, this size makes a great two-page “spread” when viewed in landscape mode. Granted, ½” margins aren’t going to work on a print version, but if you create a print template based on a digest-sized page and use it to create the print edition of your quarterlies, it shouldn’t be that difficult to edit the margins and create a digital edition too. A little more experimentation could result in a “sweet spot” template that creates both a print and a digital edition with minimal formatting changes.

The first step is experimentation. Create some mockups and ask your members for their opinions. Keep your entire membership informed about the project, changes being made and how they will benefit them and the society.

Change is always tough, but when the result benefits both publishers and readers it’s well worth the efforts.

The Flickr Archive

Finally, personal archives are getting the attention they deserve! That’s the good news. The bad news is that the commercial archives and a number of other institutions are busy trying to take advantage of the growing number of personal collections being digitized. After looking at a few of their terms of service, I have concerns about posting anything on their sites.

This is a area where local societies can shine. Our members are looking for help in organizing, managing and protecting their family treasures. We can do this! And, we can do this without taking control of their rights to their collections.

That’s where Flickr comes in. Flickr is an online photo-sharing platform owned by Yahoo! It just celebrated its 10th anniversary so it is well established. It is also home to The Commons – a place where public institutions from around the world are displaying some of their collections. Flickr is free to use and offers each user a 1TB storage limit for photos, images and video. This equates to more than 560,000 high-resolution photos. That alone makes Flickr a great option as an off-site backup storage location. But there’s more!

  • Flickr does not reduce the size or resolution of images uploaded to the service.
  • Metadata like geotags and camera information are also maintained.
  • Flickr users control the privacy settings for each image – making them private, public or visible only to selected users.
  • Each image has it’s own “photo page” and has facilities for adding titles, descriptions and additional metadata. Depending on the privacy settings, other users can add their own comments too.
  • There are a number of editing and organizational tools available to Flickr users as well as desktop and mobile apps to facilitate uploading images – even bulk uploads.
  • Users set the licensing policy for their images which will determine what – if any – sharing options will be available for that image.
  • There is an internal messaging system so Flickr users can communicate with each other.
  • The descriptions and metadata make Flickr a very search-friendly platform.
  • There are a number of social features available within the Flickr platform.

Using one of those social features – Groups – your society can both support your members and benefit from their archival effort without forcing them to give up any of their rights to their collections.

Flickr’s group feature offers users an easy way to share their photos without giving up control. A user joins a group and then adds one or more photos to the group. You will find thousands of groups on Flickr, ranging from locations to topics and all kinds of things in between. Flickr offers three kinds of groups: public, anyone can join; public, by invitation only; and private. Once a member of a group, adding photos is as simple as clicking the Add to a Group command from the More actions menu on a photo page. The privacy settings of the photo will impact its view in a group. For example, a photo set as private will only be visible to its owner and members of the group where it is shared.

By encouraging members to take advantage of Flickr’s off-site storage, societies can use groups to help them share selected images in a controlled environment without giving up any rights to their collection. The society builds and administers groups allowing members to spotlight and share. These groups can be part of the society’s “permanent” collection or you can schedule special “exhibits” focused on a specific topic. Groups can be used to help members gain additional knowledge about their old photos by inviting the Flickr community to add comments to a selected group of photos. The Library of Congress has done this on Flickr with great success.

How does this serve the society and its membership?

  • It generates interest in digital preservation.
  • It demonstrates the value of personal archives.
  • It provides access to personal archives with minimal cost and effort.
  • It adds value to society membership.

The features available on Flickr make it easy for a society to add focus to the importance of personal archives, offer members support in their digitization, organization and management efforts and help them share the results of their efforts. Why wouldn’t you be interested?

Society Evernote

Would you like to reduce the paperwork and improve the collaboration efforts of your society’s board and staff? Evernote can help!

The first step is to create a premium Evernote account for the society. Why a premium account? In addition to the extra space and upload limits, it’s required to allow shared notebooks where the people accessing the share can add and edit notes. At $45/year, this investment will more than pay for itself in time saved. Create the account using a position email address (for example, groupmaster@yoursociety.org) . This will make it easier to pass the account on as board members and staff change. The “groupmaster” will be the person creating and managing shared notebooks for the various committees and projects.

One big decision your board will need to make is how board and staff will access the society’s shared notebooks. Since so many people already use Evernote, allowing them to connect to shared society notebooks through their personal account is easiest on them. They won’t need to juggle multiple Evernote accounts. It will mean additional work for the groupmaster who will have to adjust access to shared notebooks more often.

The most useful shared notebook I’ve created has been the Help Desk. Since I deal with all levels of technical skills, I frequently get the same questions over and over. Those responses have been typed up with screenshots and added to the Help Desk notebook. It’s also the place to post PDF copies of user guides for the apps and services used within the society. When someone has a question, point them to the appropriate note or email the note to them.

Next, create a Templates notebook. I’ve been converting many of our paper forms – like volunteer hours reporting – to notes which are then placed in the Templates notebook. A user copies the template form to the appropriate staff notebook – like the Volunteer Reporting notebook – fills it in and saves it.

NOTE: Check the “How To Hold Paperless Team Meetings” article at the Evernote blog for a great meeting agenda template!

While help notes, forms and agendas will make things easier for everyone, that’s just the beginning. Here are some other ways Evernote can streamline your staff’s work:

  • Maintain a library of society information – from a staff email directory to the speaker schedule to policy and procedure manuals so it’s all available to staff whenever and wherever.
  • Create project notebooks for team members. Notes could include task assignments, reminders for important deadlines, checklists, working drafts and research material.
  • Publications editors can manage authors, editors and designers with task lists and reminders. Draft publications can be posted for review.

Many societies still have staff members with limited tech skills yet Evernote can still help. If you can’t convince a staff member to use Evernote, send notes to them by email. And, perhaps the Help Desk notebook can inspire them to take some tech steps forward.

Are you using Evernote in your organization? If so, please share your tips in the comments.

Blog Platforms – Posthaven

Once upon a time there was a blog platform called Posterous. It was free, easy to use and fun. It was quite innovative, providing an elegantly simple way for anyone to blog. As you might imagine, it was quite popular. It attracted a lot of attention. But, in 2012 Twitter bought Posterous. Unfortunately, Twitter didn’t want the blog platform. They wanted the talent behind it. It wasn’t long before Twitter announced it was closing the blog down.

Fortunately, two of the original creators felt Posterous was worth saving and began constructing a new blog platform based on the Posterous foundation but updated to take advantage of the latest web technology. And so Posthaven was born.

Posthaven is different in two very significant ways. First, Posthaven promises that it will be there as long as you are. How can they make such a claim? That’s the other difference. They have chosen to make Posthaven a fee-based platform instead of attracting capital in ways that hurt the user base. Users must pay to use Posthaven. It costs $5.00 a month for an account that includes up to 10 blogs. What happens if you quit paying? You will no longer be able to edit your blog, but it will remain online and viewable to all.

This last year has been a busy one. Posthaven’s first challenge was to provide a place for Posterous users to move their blogs before the shut down. After that was accomplished, they then began rebuilding the features and functions that had made Posterous so attractive. The basic elements are now in place. There’s still a lot to do, but Posthaven is fully-functional and a great place for both beginners and old hands to enjoy the blogging experience.

So what makes Posthaven blogs so special?  It’s easy! Very easy! If you can send an email message, you can post to a Posthaven blog. See for yourself.

This email message . . .

Posthaven email message

. . . becomes this post on Posthaven. The subject line of the email message becomes the title of the post and the message body – including images – becomes the content. Most formatting remains intact during the transition and the results are quite impressive.

Posthaven Email Post

But that’s not all. Posthaven also supports a very nice email subscription service for each of its blogs. Visitors can subscribe to have posts delivered to their inbox within seconds of being published. And, not only can visitors subscribe, but the blog owner can also send subscription invitations. So, a Posthaven blog can be an affordable and easy way for a society to build an email news service for their membership.

Other features include:

  • Email posting
  • Online posting with embedded media (photos, video and documents)
  • Image galleries
  • Support for multiple contributors
  • Comments with spam protection
  • Email subscriptions and RSS feeds
  • Private sites with passwords
  • Pages
  • Links
  • Autoposting to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin

What’s still missing? The biggest thing is themes. It’s also one of the toughest. Right now all Posthaven blogs have the same plain vanilla look. It will be a while before Posthaven will have theme choices at the level of currently established blogs. I can live with that. The elements I wanted most are now in place – email posting and subscriptions, media management and private sites. I can wait for the others.

Now that you know what Posthaven is, let’s look at ways you can put it to work. As it stands today, it can be an amazing email news service for your society members. Use it to announce meetings and other events, distribute newsletters and announcements. A Posthaven blog would be a great way for a special interest group to share ideas and topics of interest. If you are encouraging your members to blog their family history, this is an easy and affordable way to get them started. A Posthaven account supports up to 10 blogs. That’s just $6.00 a year per blog!

Would you like to learn more? The Posthaven Gazette is a Posthaven blog offering news and tips. You can subscribe by email or RSS to include it in your newsreader. You’ll find a Posthaven Primer at Scribd. It can be read online or downloaded as a PDF document. It is currently being revised to include the latest feature updates and the updated version should be published – at Scribd – later this week.

The Virtual Board Room

In today’s hectic world, it’s difficult to get your society’s board of directors together for the monthly meetings – let alone to work on big projects. Round-robin emails are more annoying than effective. That doesn’t mean you can’t tackle big projects. You just need to put some virtual tools to work to make it happen. One easy and effective option is to build a virtual board room using WordPress.

WordPress? Absolutely!

A free WordPress.com site using the P2 theme becomes an instant collaboration platform. See for yourself . . .

Using P2, you don’t need to get board or committee members together at the same time. Just post a question, document to be reviewed or task and set a deadline for responses. Each member checks in when his schedule permits and adds comments or updates as a reply to the original post. And, because every board member is seeing the entire conversation at the time of his visit, it also reduces duplication of effort. This supports project management efforts as well as serving as a discussion platform and keeping everyone up-to-date on important topics. It may require a revision to your society’s by-laws first, but this could also be used to get quick board approval when time is short.

To get started, you will need to create a free WordPress.com blog site. Since this isn’t a public site, you don’t need a custom domain address. Do choose something that’s easy to remember like http://mcgsboardroom.wordpress.com for Moultrie Creek Genealogy Society’s virtual board room site.

Site Settings

WordPress’s Settings > Reading screen is used to make your board room site a private site – accessible only to invited members.

Once you’re in your new site, choose the Settings section in your Dashboard and select the Reading item. Here you will identify your board room site as a private one and send invitations to the board members inviting them to join. The email they receive will include instructions for setting up their WordPress user profile and getting logged into your board site. I don’t doubt it will be a challenge to get all your staff signed up and logged in, but it will be worth the effort to be able to get things done in a timely manner.

BoardRoom02

A sample board room posting tasking members to review and comment on a document.

Here are a few ways you can put your virtual board room to work:

  • Document reviews. Post the documents in a shared Dropbox folder available to all your board members, then post the link to the document with instructions that responses should be posted as replies to your tasking message. Set a deadline to submit replies.
  • Brainstorming. Need opinions or recommendations on an issue or idea? Since each member can see all the replies, this is a great way to get conversations going.
  • Most projects involve multiple people performing multiple tasks. Use a conversational thread in the virtual board room to track the status of each task and easily see who needs a poke to get moving.
  • New board members – and those who have been out of the loop for a while – can review older updates to quickly spin up on board activities.

Speaking of historical information . . . In addition to the collaborative tools found in the P2 theme, you can still use WordPress’s traditional tools to build pages for any information you want to make easily available to your board members. This includes things like schedules, possible speakers, project description and policy and procedures.

A webmaster familiar with WordPress can have a virtual board room up and running with minimal time and effort. The site maintenance effort – especially on a wordpress.com site – is also minimal. The board president and committee chairs will still have the brunt of the work – keeping staff motivated and moving in a timely manner. It will take some time for everyone to get familiar using these new tools, but perseverance and results will soon show the advantages of working together online.

NOTE: For societies who already use a self-hosted version of WordPress for their web site, you can install a second instance of WordPress using the P2 theme to build your own collaborative board room. There are a couple of advantages to the self-hosted option including the ability to add media to your P2 posts and using additional plugins on the site.