Posted in Blogging Support

Posthaven Primer

Posthaven sample

If you are looking for an easy and affordable blogging platform, Posthaven is a good place to start. If you can send an email message, you can post an article at Posthaven. The example you see above was created and published from the porch of a restaurant using a mobile phone. I took the picture with my phone, popped it into an email message, added a short note and emailed it to my Posthaven blog. The subject line of the email message became the title for this blog post. And, within minutes, this post was delivered to my family in Florida via their email inbox. Yes, it’s that easy!

For $5.00/month you can build up to ten blogs with the pledge that Posthaven will never be acquired or shut down. You may say you have no inclination to manage ten sites, but you will quickly find you can use your Posthaven sites in many useful ways. For example, you may want to set up a blog just for your family history. You can also set up a private blog for your family to share news and events that aren’t appropriate on public social networks. Obviously, you won’t want to post vacation pictures on Facebook. That’s an invitation to criminals looking for unoccupied homes. With a Posthaven private family blog, only the people you add as subscribers will see your photos.

The Posthaven Primer will show you how to get started. You can read it right here and you can download a PDF copy to keep for reference.

 

Posted in Blogging Support

The Family News Network

If you’re like us, you’ve got family spread across the country and maybe even overseas. Although the costs to travel mean we don’t get together as often as we would like, that doesn’t mean we haven’t found creative ways to stay involved with far-away family and friends. Facebook has revolutionized how we can “keep up” with each other, but it does have serious privacy and security issues. I’m not about to share my vacation photos on Facebook because it sends an open invitation to crooks that my house empty and easy prey. Personal news like new babies and deaths in the family can give con artists the information they need to rob us blind. I still enjoy Facebook. I just don’t put much personal stuff out there.

Our family has been building its own family communications network. Some of it was intentionally set up, but a lot of it has just happened. For example, we have used Skype – a lot – to make video calls. It’s great to visually participate in birthday parties and other special events even when we can’t be there. Today, there are a growing number of web-enabled televisions offering both a high-def webcam add-on and Skype access. Imagine that same birthday party on a big screen tv! Skype supports free group calls too. Up to ten users can participate in a group call – audio or video. Skype’s text messenger component can be used in conjunction with an audio or video call to share photos or files while you’re talking.

As more and more in our family have moved to iThings, Skype is being augmented with FaceTime. We can even FaceTime directly to the grandkids through their iPod Touches. Although FaceTime doesn’t support group calls, the combination of FaceTime and Messages – sort of SMS and IM on steroids – make it easy get “status updates” just about any time. And, while nothing’s totally secure or private, it’s a much better option than Facebook.

We also use Posthaven to maintain a family news service. It functions as both a mailing list and a family journal and is so easy even the most digitally-challenged can participate. Here’s where birth announcements, family news and vacation pics are shared. Because posting is done via email, it’s a mobile-friendly platform that works well for posting vacation updates. Posthaven will cost $5.00 a month to use, but each account supports up to ten blogs.

invitation
A Christmast invitation delivered via Posthaven.

For our photo archive, we use Flickr. You can define who can see your photos and Flickr has a group feature that lets a group of Flickr users share selected photos to one or more groups. Flickr supports private groups which are only visible to group members. One of the nice things about using a group is that group members can see all the photos shared to their group regardless of the privacy settings the owner set for them. This means I can post my current vacation photos privately, yet members of our Flickr family group will be able to see any of them that I share with the group. Yahoo has increased the storage limit for free accounts to 1 terabyte (the equivalent of approximately 560,000 photos) making it a good off-site storage option for our photo collection as well.

Flickr Family Album.png

Our network combines easy apps and platforms with a comfortable level of privacy and security. It allows everyone to participate regardless of their digital skills. Best of all, it allows us to stay involved with our families both near and far. No, there won’t be letters handed down to generations to come, but the family web site, photo archives and other cloud-based services will take their place to provide a rich record of our lives.

Ain’t technology great!

Posted in Blogging Support

Archival Blogging

I love blogging! It has so many advantages for the genealogist/family historian that I can’t imagine trying to research without including a blog in the process. Not only does it allow me to write the stories of my ancestors as my research develops them, it’s also easy to update those stories when new facts come to light. And, it’s amazing how quickly that collection of family stories grows! While even the idea of tackling THE FAMILY HISTORY is overwhelming, blogging “little stories” is a joy.

Blogs are also cousin magnets. Even if your blog stats show few visitors reading your posts, the search engines are keeping a sharp eye on even the smallest blog and will deliver a research cousin in a heartbeat when their search matches your content. Then there is the commenting system included in most blog platforms which have turned blogs into community centers where people gather to share information and inspiration.

There is one issue that has been a concern – a rather serious concern. Most blog platforms have limited backup capabilities and trying to move content from one platform to another is a nightmare. And, there’s the dreaded shutdown notice giving users a short period of time to grab their work before the platform is taken down.

How do you protect your work from crashes, shutdowns and old technology? Here are a few ideas for developing “archival quality” blog posts.

Writing Platforms

This article was written using the Byword [Mac – $9.99, iOS – $4.99] text editing app. It supports Markdown making it a lot easier to incorporate HTML code especially when writing on a mobile device. It also includes an optional Publish feature – a $4.99 in-app purchase. With it you can publish your Byword files to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Evernote and Scriptogram. Byword is just one of a growing number of editing and journaling apps that support blog publishing. Not only do they make it easier to write articles, you also maintain archived copies of them on your desktop. This is handy when you decide you want to turn some or all of those articles into a published book.

Writing apps that support Markdown have another advantage . . . they produce archival quality text. Unlike word-processing apps, each with its own proprietary data structure, Markdown apps save your stories as plain text with simple codes to define formatted elements like bold, italics, bullet points and more. We all have experienced unreadable “orphan” documents created with software that no longer exists. Plain text hasn’t changed since the beginning of the digital age. Using Markdown insures that future generations will be able to read your stories.

In addition to Byword, you can also take advantage of a number of journaling applications like WinJournal – $40 and MacJournal [Mac – $40, iPad – $3.99] as well as desktop blog editors like Microsoft’s free Live Writer and Blogo [Mac – $30]. Note that not all journaling and blog-editing apps support Markdown.

There’s another advantage to using a writing platform for your blog posts. As your collection of stories grows, you’ll find it very easy to reorganize and repurpose those articles into all kinds of family history publications. For example, you could pull out all the articles on family members who served in the military to create a Veterans Day (November 11th) memory project. Use them to commemorate a special anniversary or honor someone who has passed away.

You’ve done the heavy lifting – researching and writing each story – with your blog posts. Now you can enjoy the fun part of family history publishing – turning those stories into beautiful treasures.

Posted in Blogging Support

Blogging Fundamentals

Blogging is a great way for family historians to capture and share their research efforts and the stories their research discovers. Anyone can create a free WordPress site and be up and running in minutes. WordPress also offers a number of impressive support services to help you get started. One of those is Blogging University sponsored by The Daily Post. Their online “classes” are free and delightfully easy. The Blogging Fundamentals course is three weeks long. Each day, you will receive an assignment via email describing a feature for you to put in action.

At the end of the course, you’ll have a good grasp on the basics of posting content on a WordPress site.

Don’t have a blog site? You already have a user account with WordPress.com – it was created when you accepted the invitation from SAGS to join the Writers Group – and can use it to create your own blog even if it’s just for learning. It’s free and easy!

Posted in Blogging Support

Why Blogs Matter

I admit it, I’m spoiled. I’ve been reading news feeds in one form or another for more than 10 years now. Starting with a customized My Yahoo! page and moving on to newsreader platforms like Bloglines, Google Reader and now feedly, I’ve been able to follow my choice of authors and news sources covering an eclectic range of topics that I find interesting.

The big news organizations have created gorgeous news and magazine apps, but I’m not interested in the latest misadventures of some spoiled celebrity nor am I a big sports fan. The topics I find interesting are often things the media ignores. As a result I have turned to blogs for a lot of my news. Through blogs, I got war news from the Soldiers who are fighting it, how-to instructions from the developers who created the app and research tips from experts in their field. I also get local news that even my local paper doesn’t print. Few of the people I follow would be considered “objective” reporters. Instead, they have a passion for their causes.

Until the iPad came along, my biggest concern was the ability to “process” a large number of news items quickly to find and read the interesting articles. Now I combine Twitter, tumblr and feedly with apps like Flipboard to create a delightful reading experience that’s always ready for me when my schedule allows me to relax and enjoy some pleasure reading.

What I get out of all this is an informative and interesting reading experience customized just for me. Why? Because of a simple and inexpensive online writing platform called a blog.

Blogs are so easy to use that anyone can be up and running in a matter of minutes. There’s little to learn so writers can focus on their story and not how to build it. Yes, learning a few blog basics will improve the look and feel of an article, but even those lessons are quickly learned. As a result, the story tellers can tell their stories, the knowledge experts can share their expertise and the newsmakers can keep us updated in real time.

The next best thing about blogs is their construction. Blogs are designed to travel.

Travel?

Blog platforms were built with syndication – as in RSS – in mind. This means anyone can subscribe to any blog using their news-reading platform of choice and each time a new article is published, it is automatically delivered to that reader.

Using newsreader platforms like feedly and the WordPress app, I can organize and manage any number of subscriptions to create a customized reading experience that matches my interests. And, like I said earlier, a whole new collection of devices and applications are now making my reading experience as beautiful as it is informative.

It’s not just readers finding blogs either. Search engines and news aggregators are finding them too. Once again, the structure of the blog platform makes them very search-friendly and when authors add keyword tags to their posts it increases their visibility even more. This gives unknown writers opportunities they might never have otherwise. Family historians have found blogging is a great way to attract cousins. With blogs and news reading apps, there aren’t any gatekeepers limiting access to content. The reader now makes that choice.

The information junkie in me is lovin’ every minute of it!

Reprinted with permission from Moultrie Creek Gazette.