Online Archive: Start With Flickr

Why Flickr? Let me count the reasons . . .

  • Flickr accounts are free and provide 1,000GB of storage for each user.
  • Flickr provides tools to organize photos into albums and collections.
  • Flickr imports the metadata embedded in digital photographs and provides tools to add your own tags, descriptions, etc.
  • Flickr users control access to their photos. Users choose licensing and privacy settings on a photo-by-photo basis.
  • Uploading is a breeze. The browser-based uploader is easy to use and many photo-editing apps have Flickr bulk upload capabilities built in. There are also mobile apps which allow you to take photos and upload them in a couple of easy steps.
  • Flickr is social. Users can comment on photos and there is an in-house messaging system for members. Users can join groups and share selected photos with the group without giving up control of them. Groups also have discussion boards which can also be put to good use.
  • Flickr users can use their Roku box, Apple TV or other set-top devices to display photo slideshows on their large-screen televisions.
  • Flickr integrates with a number of other services and platforms giving users even more functionality.

First and foremost, Flickr provides your society members with an easy to use and very affordable (as in free) platform for secure off-site storage. It protects their photos from man-made and natural disasters. That’s the priority, but that’s just the beginning. With support and guidance, your members can use their Flickr collections to help their research efforts and even connect with distant relatives.

Start by building a Flickr account for your society. If you are wondering what kind of society photos are going to be stored at Flickr, the answer is probably not many. Although societies do have photo collections, most of our archives are more document-oriented. So why start with Flickr first? It’s because our members have large photo collections. Focusing on Flickr will show them how to get their own accounts set up and learn how to upload and organize their collections using their current photos (which are quite probably already digital pics). Allowing them to discover that off-site storage has a lot more to offer than just security will make things easier when it comes time to tackle scanning.

Getting Started

First, you will need someone to serve as your digital archivist. This person should have experience using social networks – Flickr experience is a definite plus. If you already have a “groupmaster” – an individual maintaining and monitoring your society’s social networks – he/she could be the perfect choice. Another option could be your communications/publicity director. If that’s the person taking all the photographs of society events, it makes good sense. Check to see if you have members who are already using Flickr and recruit them to serve as coaches and cheerleaders.

Start by creating a Flickr account for the society and use it to upload and organize society photos. Since Flickr is a Yahoo property, you will need a Yahoo account first. Try to include your society’s name in the user name you select. For example, the fictitious Moultrie Creek Genealogical Society could become MCGSarchive or something similar. Be aware that account will also generate an email account with the same username. By keeping the account as a position rather than a person, you make transferring control to another administrator much easier. All the new person will need to do is change the password and update the profile information.

Internet Archive profile screen

Internet Archive profile page in Flickr Commons.

Once your account is created, wander around a bit and see how others are using Flickr. You might start at The Commons, a section where archives, libraries and museums from around the world have made images from their collections available. Internet Archive is the newest addition to the Commons with more than 2 million images from books. Above you see Internet Archive’s profile page. Wander around their collections to see how they are organized and what metadata (titles, descriptions, tags, etc.) they have included. Visit some of the other archives and libraries to see how they organize and display their collections. These can be very useful to help you develop organizational and metadata schemes for your collections.

Take a look at Flickr’s social features too. This is where Flickr shines – and these features will allow the society and your members to enjoy the fruits of your collective archival efforts. Once the society’s site is up and running, look around to see if any of your members are already using Flickr. Make connections by friending them.

In addition to uploading society photos, you can take advantage of Flickr’s Groups and Galleries features to begin building resources that can help your members. Galleries are albums of other people’s photos. Anyone can create a gallery and collect up to 50 photos from all over Flickr to present. Any photo marked as public and safe can be added to a gallery. You might create a gallery of local historic buildings or historic figures. The Commons is a great place to start looking.

Groups are more structured. Anyone can create a group. Groups can be public or private, by invitation only. Members of a group can share photos with the group and there is also a discussion area. You’ll find groups already exist for just about every topic you can imagine. Genealogy societies should find the cemetery groups interesting along with local area and historic photo groups.

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The beauty of groups is it allows individuals to share their photos without giving away their rights to them. Your society can use them to build topic-based groups so members to share their related images. Groups can also support events like conferences, reunions and socials where many attendees are taking pictures. Just have them share their pics to the group. External groups – like the Civil War graves shown above – can also be great research resources allowing members to connect with people who have knowledge of an area, event or topic.

As you can see, Flickr offers a lot more than free off-site storage. It will take some time and effort to develop a strategy and build your society’s presence, but that effort will be returned with dividends in the protection, research and collaboration opportunities you and your members will enjoy.

Build an Online Archive

Even the smallest society has an archive. From quarterly journals to member-contributed pedigree charts, we all have records, photographs and publications that are unique to our society. What are you doing to protect this precious information and make it available to researchers?

Have you considered building an online digital archive? Even if your society has its own library or maintains a collection at a local public library, that collection is irreplaceable should a disaster strike. By scanning and storing your collection online, you are not only protecting your society against loss but you can also use this digital archive to give your members easy access to that information. And, using the equipment and skills developed by digitizing the society’s collection, you can then offer a scanning service to your members that will help generate revenue for the society. Who knows . . . it might even generate some personal records donations.

The cost of online storage has dropped dramatically. Right now Dropbox offers 1 terabyte of storage for $99 a year ( that 1,000 GB or approximately 560,000 high-resolution digital photographs). There is also a free account offering 2 GB of storage. Flickr, the online photo-sharing platform, also offers each member 1 terabyte and it’s free. These platforms and others support multiple levels of access, organizational tools and other features making it easy to post and manage your digital content.

Storage is just one part of the equation. Scanners will be needed to scan and save these documents and photos so they can be stored online. In addition, the society will need to develop standards, workflows and procedures as well as train personnel to do the work.

This is the first in a series of articles that will describe the resources you will need to tackle a project such as this. We’ll look at all how to develop those standards, workflows and procedures along with other related issues. I hope that throughout the series, those of you who have already done this will add your comments and recommendations.

Stay tuned . . . there’s lots more to come.

Archival Quality Writing

Software developers are constantly improving the apps we use to manage our documents and publications. These advances have given us many useful tools to make our efforts easier. However, there is still one major area of concern – how to manage our digital document archives. As word processing applications have come and gone, we are often left with documents we can no longer view. How many of us are stuck with old WordStar, WordPerfect and even Word documents? There is one format, however, that has survived since the very beginnings of the digital age – plain text. Unfortunately, plain text is exactly that – plain. There are no font choices and you can’t include even the simplest formatting functions like bold or italic text. Who wants to be stuck with that?

Fortunately, software developers have come up with an option that will allow us to have archival quality text files – and have them with style! It’s called Markdown.

Markdown is actually two things. First, it’s a standard that uses certain plain text characters – like asterisks, hashtags and hyphens – to represent format settings. Second, it’s a collection of conversion programs which read the plain text file with these formatting “codes” and convert them into other document formats like rich text, HTML, PDF or even Word.

Here is a sample plain text file with Markdown codes:

Plain text with Markdown code.

Plain text with Markdown code.

 

As you can see in this example, plain text with Markdown coding is still quite readable. It’s much easier to read than the same text with equivalent HTML tags. It’s the simplicity and readability of Markdown that make it so interesting. Forty years from now, even if Markdown gets forgotten over the decades, someone can open and read a plain text document that includes Markdown code much easier than we can read this WordPerfect document that’s less than 20 years old.

An old WordPerfect document viewed in a text editor.

An old WordPerfect document viewed in a text editor.

No, you don’t have to dump your current apps, but now that you know what Markdown is you can start looking for apps that support it. One good example would be a journaling app and Mac/iOS users will find Day One [Mac - $9.99 & iOS - $4.99] saves your journal entries – and all your formatting – as Markdown text. Also for Mac/iOS users is Byword [Mac - $9.99 and iOS - $4.99], an elegantly simple text editor that supports both Markdown and rich text. The LightPaper [Android - $1.99] app is one of a number of text editors for Android tablets and phones providing Markdown support.

A number of note-taking apps for Mac are also getting updates to include Markdown support. VoodooPad 5 [Mac - $39.99 and iOS - $9.99] is a good example. And, because its native document format is Markdown, the app can easily convert your notes to rich text, Word, PDF, HTML and ePub formats. I found a free Windows app – MarkdownPad – which supports Markdown, and hopefully we’ll soon see more.

You may have noticed that many of the apps mentioned here are for mobile devices – phones and tablets. Mobile devices have limited memory and storage so the apps are more streamlined than their desktop cousins. Markdown editing screens takes a lot less code than traditional editors, making it a good choice for mobile apps. In addition, the screen-based keyboards can be a challenge for serious writing and formatting. Anything that can simplify the formatting process improves its usability.

This article in the Byword editor for Mac.

This article in the Byword editor for Mac.

This example shows what Markdown looks like while editing. As you can see the text is quite readable. Once the document is ready to publish, the program includes functions to save it in the format of your choice (rich text, HTML, PDF, etc.) – with the Markdown codes converted to the appropriate formatting. As technology moves forward, all that’s needed to update this app – or any of the older documents created using it – are new publishing functions to support converting to whatever new format has been developed.

Thanks to Markdown, the future of plain text looks quite bright. And, by supporting the efforts of developers who incorporate Markdown in their applications, we can help influence its acceptance and continued growth. Helping them will help us build an archival standard for digital documents that will insure the future of our research and publishing efforts doesn’t get left behind in the trash bin of old technology.

Working Smart: The Board Meeting

How often do your board meetings get highjacked by minutiae? Put Evernote to work and get most of those discussions out of the way before the meeting begins.

Why Evernote? First of all, it is an amazing tool for collecting and organizing information. It is so amazing that it has become one of the most popular support tools for genealogy research. As a result, many in the genealogy community are already using Evernote.

To get started, you will need a premium Evernote account set up for your society. A premium account will cost $45.00 a year, but will save everyone time, effort and grief. The account should be created using the society email address of the board member who will manage the account (webmaster@mysociety.org or groupmaster@mysociety.org, for example). Board members can then use their own personal Evernote account (basic or premium) to interact with the society account.

Using the society Evernote account, set up a notebook for board business and share it with each board member. Although any Evernote user can create shared notebooks, only a premium account can create a shared notebook where each invited user can create and edit notes.

Here are some ideas for using that board business notebook to streamline your meetings:

  • Post meeting minutes from the previous meeting in the notebook several days prior to the upcoming meeting for review and comments. Set a deadline for comments so that the final minutes can be posted prior to the meeting. Now, it will just take a few seconds during the meeting for the board to accept the minutes.
  • A smart phone with Evernote installed can even be used to record the meeting as an audio note. This could help the secretary compile the meeting minutes later. The premium account supports longer recording time than standard accounts.
  • Post a note requesting agenda items for the upcoming meeting – with a deadline. Use it to create and post the actual agenda several days before the meeting.
  • For complex items, have the responsible member post a report providing details, options, costs and concerns so the board members can come to the meeting already informed.
  • Use your society’s Evernote premium account to maintain a library of your important documents. Not only will this give your board members instant access to that information from just about anywhere, it also provides an off-site backup for those documents in case of a disaster.

These few ideas can make a big difference in how your society functions. But this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more Evernote can do to support your society’s operations.

Special Interest Groups

One of the challenges a genealogy society faces is the different interests and skill levels of its memberships. It’s impossible to be all things to all people, but you can offer them options. One of these is the special interest group (SIG). If there is interest in a specific research technique or more people want to learn about a new program or service, this might be best handled as a special interest group.

The beauty of special interest groups is they can be just about anything you want them to be. They could be groups that meet physically for presentations or workshops. They could also be a virtual group using social networks to share information. Today there are a number of networks supporting both open and closed (invitation only) groups with easy-to-use tools. Not only can you use them for scheduled get-togethers but they are also places were members can check in when it’s convenient for them.

Google+ Community

The DearMYRTLE community at Google+

Because Google has so many tools that support online research, it’s quite likely that many of your members already have Google accounts. This makes Google Plus a great platform for a special interest group. In Google Plus they are called Communities and you’ll find a number of interesting genealogy-related communities already there. For example, if you are interested in learning more about using Evernote, you can join the public Evernote in Genealogy community. Are you a RootsMagic user? If so, you might find the RootsMagic Users community quite useful. Then there’s DearMYRTLE’S Genealogy Community – a model community that takes advantage of a number of Google tools including Google Hangouts.

Hangouts is a Google service that is part text chat, part phone call, part video conferencing, part online meeting and part party. Any Google user can create a hangout at any time. It can be an online conversation between two people, a panel discussion or a formal presentation. And, it costs nothing to use. Combine it with a Google Plus Community site and you can have the basis for a very effective special interest group platform.

But.

There’s always a “but”.

Even if I was an experienced and knowledgeable Google Plus/Hangouts user (which I’m not), I would still build my group slowly – starting with basic steps and later working up to online conversations and even meetings. Since many of the members I want to attract to my group have limited tech skills, I will need to provide them a simple platform that won’t overwhelm them, then slowly add in new features.

Here are some recommendations learned from the Hard Knocks SIG:

  • Keep your group’s focus on a narrow topic – like Roots Magic or Local Research Sources rather than Technology in Genealogy.
  • Recruit experienced users to help answer questions and offer their own tips.
  • Present new topics by first selling their benefits. Give your members a reason to make the effort to learn it.
  • Google Hangouts supports text, voice and video conversations for up to 10 participants. A hangout can be initiated with just a couple mouse clicks. You can put this to work to provide personal tutoring.
  • Hangouts on Air are more formal and can have unlimited participants although only 10 can be speakers. These would be more appropriate for formal presentations or online meetings. Experiment with your staff to get comfortable using Hangouts on Air before putting it to use on your SIG. It’s also a good idea to have a “moderator” in addition to the host and guest speakers. That person handles any technical issues and passes on questions and comments from the audience to the speakers.

The combination of Google+ Communities and Hangouts has already built a number of impressive special interest groups. Join a couple to see how they operate. They are a great way to get comfortable with Google+ and see how you can put it to work for your society.

While Google+ is a great option for an online special interest group. It isn’t the only one. How does your society handle special interest groups? We’d love to hear from you!

How to Build a Virtual Research Library

One of the most exciting technologies to impact our research efforts is digitization – especially digitizing books. Every day, more books are digitized and posted online for anyone to read and/or download. Although books still protected by copyright have limited access, there are millions of books in the public domain that are freely available. How do these “old” books help us as a society? They give us the ability to build an impressive library of local histories and other historical publications that can support our members’ research efforts. Here are a few examples:

  • Military history. After the Civil War, many units – Union and Confederate – published histories of their regiments. These included descriptions of their campaigns along with personnel rosters and other useful information.
  • Journals. It wasn’t just noted naturalists like William Bartram, John James Audubon or John Muir who documented their work.
  • Tour guides. Magazines from the 19th century are full of articles describing all kinds of destinations. Find one of your area and you’ve got a snapshot in time.
  • Family history. You’ll be amazed at the number of genealogies that have been published.
  • Periodicals go back more than 150 years with publications like The Atlantic Monthly (still published as The Atlantic), Harper’s Weekly, Niles’ Weekly Register and more. Topics include news, travel, politics and more.

So, how does your society take advantage of all this research goodness? You build a resource page – or two or three – linking to the digital publications that relate to your area and/or your members research interests. Building the resource page is the easy part. Finding specific resources can be a challenge. We’ll start with Internet Archive. It costs nothing to use and contains collections of text, music, video, audio and software files from a growing number of partners including the Library of Congress, Boston Public Library, the University of Edinburgh, Library and Archives Canada and Project Gutenberg. Sure, you could just point your members in the direction of Internet Archive, but their eyes would probably glaze over just at the magnitude of stuff to be found here. Do some searching on your own to find what local resources you can discover and begin building your resource page. I did a search for “Florida history” in the American Libraries section and got 823 results. One of them was the Volusia County marriage licenses from 1856 to 1889 which you see below. Text items are available in a number of formats including PDF, ePub and Kindle along with the embeddable online reader you see here.

Resources101 How do you document links like this on your site? The easiest way is to use blog posts. If you’re using WordPress, start by creating a post category called Resources. Set categories panel Now you can create a post for the found publication that includes its title, source information, description and other pertinent information. Assign the post to the Resources category and add appropriate tags. Publish the post. Next, create a menu just for your library items.  You can use the menu’s ability to search for a specific tag or category to organize your collected publications.menu page example In this example, I’m using the basic link option to create a menu item listing every post tagged with “Florida” and “history”. I’ve also created tag-based menu items for Florida Guides, Memoirs & Journals, and Records. Since I anticipate adding Georgia publications at some point, I’ve got these items listed as sub-menu items under Florida. Later I can add a Georgia menu item with appropriate sub-menu items under it too.

Notice that I’ve created Historical Publications as a separate menu. Large menus can become very difficult to manage and my archive section is steadily growing. I’m giving the various sections of my archive (library catalog, cemetery inventories, publications, etc.) their own page and using the Widgets on Pages plugin to display the appropriate menu for that category. Here’s what Historical Publications looks like so far. archive category page Although WordPress.com users can’t use plugins, you can take advantage of the visibility feature in the Custom Menu widget to just display that widget in the sidebar on the Historical Publications page. The theme on my site has the main menu across the top of screen so the sidebar has plenty of room to display custom menus.

If you are using the WordPress email subscription feature, each new resource post will be forwarded to subscribers. I take advantage of the posts scheduling feature to spread out the amount of emails getting sent. You could also take advantage of your site’s commenting feature to encourage members to discuss the various publications included as resources.

By blogging found resources, not only are you making your society’s site a valuable research support system, you are also showing members and potential members that your society offers them much more than just monthly meetings.

Call for Presentations – North Florida Genealogy Conference

The North Florida Genealogy Conference will be held on March 21, 2015 in Orange Park, Florida. This one-day conference offers both presentations and exhibits at a very affordable price.

They have just released a call for presentations. Selected speakers receive a complimentary registration and are reimbursed for their gas costs. If you are interested in submitting a proposal, the SGES blog has the details.