Get Social with Disqus

To call Disqus a commenting service doesn’t begin to describe its capabilities. This service can turn your blog into your own social network. A better way to describe it would be that it’s like putting a text conversation at the bottom of each post. Disqus can be connected to WordPress (self-hosted), Tumblr,,  Blogger, SquareSpace and other blogs to provide a commenting capability that functions more like a Facebook status update with likes and replies. You can even choose to allow your commenters to include images and links along with their comments.

Best of all, commenters only need one Disqus account to comment at any Disqus-supported site. And, you can keep up with the conversations at all those different sites from your Disqus profile and even follow other Disqus commenters.

Disqus in blog

Here you are looking at a sample post in my Moultrie Telegraph tumblr.

Comments view

This is the comments section as a site visitor sees it. In this example, there are four comments but only three are visible. The reply to the top comment is still collapsed under the original comment. Clicking the Show 1 new reply link on the right will make it appear. There are also items for liking (∧), not liking (∨) , editing (if it’s your comment), replying and sharing this comment. Notice the dash and the flag icon to the right of the moderator’s comment. These allow you to collapse a conversation (the dash) or flag it as inappropriate. These icons only appear when you mouse over that area of the screen.

At the bottom of the comment area is a Subscribe link. You can subscribe to this post’s comments and receive notifications when others add their own comments.

Disqus comments

This is the moderator’s view of the same post’s comments. The primary difference is that the flag icon has been replaced with a down button which displays a number of commands the moderator can use to manage this comment item. It can be moderated (if you’re using moderation), featured, marked as spam, deleted or the offending user blacklisted – all from the public side of the blog.

Every commenter either already has or is set up with a Disqus account and profile. If you are not a Disqus user, when you add a comment at a Disqus-supported blog, Disqus will ask you for a username, email address and password to quickly set up your account. You can then complete your profile with an avatar, link to your web site and other information if you wish. That Disqus account can then be used to comment at any other Disqus-supported site. And, you can even follow other Disqus commenters by clicking on a commenter’s avatar to display his or her profile. There you’ll find a list of his/her recent comments and a Follow button.

If you’d like to take a look at Disqus in operation, stop by Moultrie Telegraph and say hello.

So how can your society put Disqus to use? I can see using a Tumblr blog with Disqus as a Special Interest Group for a genealogical society. It is one of the easiest ways for people with limited tech skills to ask questions and get answers. Publish a Tumblr post to present a topic and then watch the Disqus conversation for that post to ask and answer questions, display examples and link to useful information. Disqus can support “live” events similar to the monthly Scanfest event hosted at AnceStories.

Because commenters only need their one Disqus account to comment at any site using Disqus, set up all your society’s blogs to use it and encourage your members to do the same for their genealogy blogs. By making it easier for members to comment, you’re likely to see some interesting conversations taking place.

Disqus costs you nothing to use and is very easy to set up. You’ll find details and examples at the Disqus site and make sure to check out their Publisher Quick Start Guide for complete instructions.

Build an Email Newsletter Service

Genealogy societies, historical societies, local civic and social groups, veterans groups and friends of the library often use email to keep their members informed about meetings, special events and society news. This is a good system, except for one thing – managing the mailing list. Even a small mailing list can be a challenge to keep updated – and then there’s the delight of dealing with all the bounced messages every time you send an update. There’s got to be a better way!

One very nice solution is Posthaven. At first look, Posthaven appears to be just a lightweight blog service. It is that, but it’s also a lot more. With Posthaven, you can create a blog site complete with permanent pages to provide information about your group. The blog itself serves as the mailing list manager, message distribution service and an online archive of the information sent to your members. To add content to the blog, you just send a message to the blog’s assigned email address.

If you’re scratching your head right now wondering what a blog has to do with a mailing list, keep reading.

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You can add members to your subscribers list using the Subcribers panel in the blog’s workspace or give your members the address to your Posthaven blog site and they can choose to subscribe to your updates – having them delivered as email to their inbox or as a newsfeed to their news reader. When a new item is posted to the blog, it is also be sent to all your subscribers. It even keeps you out of legal trouble by providing online subscribe/unsubscribe functionality so your organization won’t be categorized as a spammer.

Posting to your blog/mail list couldn’t be easier either. Each Posthaven blog has a unique email address and all you have to do is email a message to your blog’s address. The subject line of your message becomes the title of the blog post and the body of the message is the post’s content. You can include formatting, links, photos and even attached files. Posthaven converts it all beautifully into a blog post which is saved to your blog and then emailed to all your subscribers. Not all the post content is forwarded in the email messages, however. Large items like video files and attached documents are posted on the blog site and the email message links to them. This is done to keep the size of the email message within the limits of email service providers.

A Posthaven account will cost you $5.00 a month and each account can create up to 10 blogs. Each blog can have multiple contributors as well as an unlimited number of subscribers. While you may think 10 blogs is overkill – all you want is a mailing list, you will soon find any number of uses for those additional blogs. You can create private blogs as well as public ones, making them great platforms for committees, project teams and special interest groups to collaborate and share information.

See my Posthaven Primer for details on how to use Posthaven.

Online Archives: Original Digitals

Every time I’ve joined a genealogy society, I’m asked to fill out some kind of pedigree chart. I’m given or sent paper forms to fill out and return. As the society’s collection grows, its value grows too. There are a few problems though. Not everyone has the best penmanship so some of these forms can be a challenge to decipher. And, the filing/retrieving process can be a challenge too.

Today, almost everyone is using some kind of research management system – either a desktop genealogy program or one of the online family tree platforms. All of them offer some kind of charting/reporting capability. Why not take advantage of them to ask your members to give you that pedigree chart as a digital file instead of a sheet of paper?

Online Archive: Scanning Tools

Turning paper into digital files requires a scanner and supporting software. Today there are four basic types of scanners:

  • Flatbed scanner. This can be a stand-alone scanner or part of an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier. The item to be scanned is placed on a flat glass panel and covered with a lid before the scanning process is initiated. This is the most common and most affordable option. The scanner surface dimensions are approximately 9″ x 12″.
  • Document scanner. These scanners have a sheet feeder where multiple pages can be loaded to be scanned – often front and back – in one operation. They can handle papers ranging from receipts to legal-sized multi-page reports. These scanners are not recommended for fragile or one-of-a-kind items since a paper jam could damage the original.
  • Overhead scanner. This is a new and versatile breed of scanner that supports scanning books, oversized items and even three-dimensional items. They can be used to scan bound publications and books as quickly as the operator can turn the pages.
  • Mobile scanner apps. This isn’t a device but rather software that can be used with the cameras on smart phones and tablets to scan. The quality isn’t up to par with hardware scanners, but they are a great alternative to paying for copies in a research library.

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All scanners include some kind of scan manager software that will need to be installed on the computer connected to the scanner. This allows the operator to make appropriate setting choices for the type of scan being performed as well as including file name and location to save the digital file created by the scan. In most cases, each scanner has its own management software, however, there are also document-management and photo-management apps with scan-to-app capabilities. Depending on the quality of the original being scanned, photo-editing software may also be necessary to improve the quality of the digital image.

Probably the most versatile scanner – especially for a society digitizing a broad range of photos, documents and bound works – is the overhead scanner. As you can see in the video demonstration below, the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 can handle oversized items as well as bound documents. At $600, it is a significant investment, but well worth the price when your archive includes a broad range of document types.

An inventory of your paper archives will show you what types of documents you will need to scan and the type of scanner needed. An all-in-one printer/scanner – especially one with an attached document feed – can be a good starting point for you digitizing efforts. If you only have a small number of bound or over-sized items, using a scanning service might be more cost-effective than purchasing an overhead scanner. The good news is . . . you have choices.


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.