Category Archives: Network

Socializing on a Smaller Scale

One of the main reasons people join genealogical societies is to meet others who share their passion. As the digital world developed so did online social networks. The genealogical community has used them to expand our reach – quite literally – to the far corners of the earth. This is a wonderful thing, but it also comes with some concerns. Today I’m finding these huge networks somewhat overpowering and claustrophobic. So I started looking for the digital equivalent of the Shop Around the Corner.

What I found was tumblr.

To say tumblr is a blog platform doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s part blog, part social network. It’s more like Twitter on steroids. Although tumblr is a “player” in the social networking arena (it is owned by Yahoo) it has its own quirky style. It costs you nothing to create a tumblr blog and you can have multiple blogs if you would like. It’s quite easy to use and there are mobile apps so your blog(s) are accessible wherever you go. It does not have a formal commenting system. Instead, it operates more like Twitter with reblogging and favoriting features. You follow other tumblrs and they follow you. The builtin reader displays your followers latest posts and is where you interact with others.

tumblr dashboard

A look at the tumblr dashboard.

Here’s a look at the reader in the tumblr dashboard. From here I can create new posts, read the latest posts from the people I follow and network with them by sharing, reblogging or favoriting their posts.

How can a society use tumblr to build their own social network? Here are some suggestions . . .

  • Create special interest blogs – genealogy basics, digital toolbox, Evernote tips, etc. – to point readers to useful articles, video tutorials and other material already online.
  • Encourage members to create their own tumblr blogs to document their research efforts and the stories they discover in the process. This member network not only becomes its own support group, but their blogging can also attract research cousins – one of the best benefits of geneablogging.
  • Host online events to share family history stories and memorabilia. You might have a call for wedding photos in June, share special holiday traditions for Christmas or contests for the best organizational tips.

tumblr is free, easy to use and fun. Yahoo will add the occasional sponsored post (otherwise known as advertising) to your reading list, but I’ve found Yahoo less intrusive than other social platforms. If you are looking for a way to network with your members, take a look at tumblr. You might start by visiting my Genealogy 101 tumblr. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Conversations Across the Web

As I said in an earlier post, the comments feature on most blog platforms was what turned genealogy bloggers into geneabloggers. We went from being individual bloggers into a blogging community thanks to the comments section. Although the comments section is still there and does see some activity, social networking sites are now the place to go for conversation. Why is that? I think it’s because it’s easier. One login lets us get into just about any conversation.

Unfortunately, there’s a downside to social networks – a lack of privacy. Facebook’s recent research scandal is one of many attacks on our privacy.

Fortunately there’s an alternative – one that keeps our blogs front and center where they belong. It’s the Disqus commenting platform. Disqus makes it possible to comment at Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress (self-hosted), SquareSpace and a number of other blog platforms using one Disqus account. And, that’s just the beginning. With Disqus, commenters can:

  • include rich media like photos and embeds
  • carry on real-time conversations
  • comment on-site or through your Disqus profile
  • receive notifications – new comments or replies
  • follow interesting individuals as well as blog sites
  • export and keep their comments.

How can a society take advantage of Disqus to engage members and attract new ones? First of all, add Disqus to your society’s blog and use it to ask your members to share ideas, tips and suggestions. Other ideas include:

  • build a blog network among your members by encouraging them to use Disqus on their blogs. Even members who don’t blog can have a voice by creating a Disqus account and getting into the conversation.
  • schedule live online discussions using Disqus.
  • use Disqus to hold online show-and-tell events so members can show off favorite family photos or interesting artifacts.
  • hold an online book launch party with the author available to discuss the book and answer questions.

Blog Platforms: Tumblr

Tumblr is part blog and part social network. Owned by Yahoo, it is a free and easy way to connect with your membership and keep them informed.  Tumblr favors short-form posts over the longer ones found on platforms such as WordPress. As you can see in the video below, it makes sharing photos, videos, links and other media easy to do – from home or on the go.

How can a society put Tumblr to use? Yes, it can be your society’s home page, but it can be a lot more. Here are some examples:

  • News center. It’s easy to post links to other content on the web, making it a great news platform. Use it to keep your members updated on the latest deals at the subscription archives, upcoming webinars, free resources, interesting books and tips.
  • Special Interest Group. Tumblr supports multiple contributors so it can be used to support special interest groups within your society. Combine it with the Disqus commenting system and you have your own mini social network.
  • Social Network. Tumblr is a great platform for beginning bloggers and the built-in reader makes it easy for members to follow each other’s blogs. Once again, adding Disqus to the mix kicks the conversation into high gear.

Tumblr supports mobile blogging with apps for both iOS and Android phones/tablets and offers features like multiple contributors, private sites and custom themes. Your account supports multiple blogs too. It’s all free except that there’s a growing body of custom themes you can purchase for use on your Tumblr. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of free themes too.

Check out the sidebar here at the Society Journal and you’ll find a feed of the latest posts from my Genealogy 101 Tumblr. Click any link and you’ll be taken to the site.

Want to learn more? This guide has everything you need to get started. And you can’t beat the $1.99 price tag either. Click on the cover to get your copy.

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.

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 can read the Posthaven Primer and download a copy via Scribd.