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Let’s talk tags

If you are serious about using today’s technology to streamline your research workflow and reduce your digital housekeeping, then you need to become a tagger. As we have seen in Evernote, tags are the new folders. Instead of physically moving an item into a folder – or making copies so you can file it in more than one folder – now you just add tags.

Tags are keywords embedded into a digital file to describe the contents of that file. They are part of the file’s metadata. Tags aren’t always called tags. Gmail and Blogger call them labels. Microsoft Office, iPhoto and other apps just stick with keywords. Whatever they are called, they all do the same thing – make it easier to organize your archives so you can find stuff quickly. Mac users running the latest version of OSX (Mavericks) now have the ability to tag documents as they are saved.

The key to using tags is consistency. To a computer, Florida, Fla. and FL are three different places. Most family historians are already familiar with this concept thanks to our genealogy software. When including surnames as tags, I preface the family name with “surname:” (example: surname:Barker). Since my research includes family names like “Link”, I’ve found this little trick keeps my search results down to a much more manageable number.

Search is one big reason why I’ve traded in folders for tags. All I need to do is hit the Spotlight icon at the top of my Mac’s screen and type in a tag – or two – or three – and almost before I finish typing it presents me with a list of everything on my computer (including external drives) matching that criteria. No amount of folder organization and management is going to do that for me.

Generally, you can add as many tags as you want to a file’s metadata. Is this file associated with more than one family? No problem! Just add tags for each surname. You don’t have to duplicate a file to associate it with other people or places – just add more tags.

In addition to making your life easier, tags have another very useful purpose. Because they are part of a file’s metadata, they become a permanent part of the file. Metadata stays with that file when you share a copy with others, back it up to an online service or include it on a blog post. It’s the digital equivalent of the pencil notes on the back of an old photo.

You are looking at Yep [Mac - $23.99], a document management app I use to manage both research and personal documents. Apps such as these are very useful when scanning documents into your family history archive as they manage the scanning, indexing and saving operations – including adding appropriate metadata tags.

To best take advantage of the time-saving features your digital tools provide, get into the habit of tagging your documents, photos, presentations and other files. Start by including tags when you add new documents to your archives or as you update existing documents. Even if your current operating system doesn’t support metadata searches, when you do upgrade those tags will be there ready for you to take advantage of their capabilities.

The toughest part about tagging is making it a habit. It won’t be long before it becomes an automatic process.

Photo Books – iPad Edition

Creating beautiful photo books gets easier every day. There are a number of platforms and apps to make the design and development experience both easy and enjoyable. Today I’m looking at the photo book-building capabilities of iPhoto on my iPad. It’s an option for building real-time photo books – like a travel journal while we’re traveling. I’ve probably taken the photos with my iPhone which is set up to save them in iCloud where they are easily accessible on my iPad too. Once I’ve got my photos, I’m ready to get started on the book.

This slideshow walks you through the process of building a photo book on your iPad.

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Photo books on the iPad are available in two sizes – 8″ x 8″ and 10″ x 10″ – both hardcover books with a minimum of 20 pages. The 8″ book starts at $25 for the 20-page minimum book and the 10″ book starts at $40.

If you want more size, style and binding options, you’ll need to use iPhoto on your desktop to create them. Unfortunately, you can’t begin a project on your iPad and then move it to the desktop. Personally, I find the Journal feature (iPhoto for iOS only) much more interesting. It’s easier to build and can be shared using iCloud with anyone or via AirDrop/Beaming to other mobile devices.


Title Slides for a Photo Slideshow

When we have family gatherings at our house, I like to set up a slideshow on the television. It’s fun and much less intrusive than some blaring tv show. Although both iPhoto and Flickr have nice slideshow capabilities, I like to include an occasional title slide and both apps are a bit lacking in that department. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix.

When I need a title slide, I create it in Keynote and export it as an image file. That gives me full control of fonts, colors and layout.

a Look Back

Since it is for a slideshow where each image is only displayed a couple of seconds, I keep title slides simple and text large. This also means the image can be read when the slideshow is displayed on something smaller – like my iPad.

Personal Publishing – The Photo Book

I know this is not the time to begin a family history project. Or is it?

Photo books require photos and now’s the season for capturing some memorable family pictures. And, if you have an idea now about what kind of photo book result you’d like to have, you can make sure you grab the pictures necessary to create it. At my house, the silver and crystal are coming out of storage. The preparations – cleaning, cooking and decorating – often follow family traditions and are just as much a part of the holidays as the events themselves. Now’s the time to sketch out the story you want your photo book to tell so you can be sure to get those pictures taken.

Not every photo needs to have people in it. Treasured ornaments, special dishes and other traditions all have their own stories which will add color to your project.

Don’t forget to recruit others to help. Got youngsters with iPod Touches or other camera devices? Hire them as your cub reporters and give them some photo-taking assignments. The results could be delightful!

Once the holidays are over and you’ve amassed a collection of great pics, you’re ready to get to work. Where do you start? I start by looking for inspiration. One of my favorite formats is the Postcard Series of books published by Arcadia Publishing. They usually have a few pages of historical introduction and then use the postcards and photos – along with their captions – to tell most of the story. One good example is Beth Rogero Bowen’s St. Augustine in the Gilded Age which documents the beginnings of St. Augustine’s era as a tourist destination for the rich and famous. The book is designed in such a way that you are taken on a photographic tour of this period in St. Augustine history.

Another great resource for inspiration is the huge collection of photo books you’ll find at Blurb. Take some time to wander through the online previews of photo books covering a broad range of topics and styles. The problem here isn’t finding inspiration . . . it’s trying to settle for just one.

Blurb also offers lots of tool options for building your book. You can download their free Booksmart app or use the online book-builder. There are modules and plugins for tools you may already use – like Adobe’s InDesign or Lightroom. And, you’ll find a large selection of design and style templates to choose from . . . Yes, there’s plenty of online help to show you how to get the best from your photos.

Blurb isn’t your only option. Apple also does photo books – and you can create them on your desktop or on your iPad using iPhoto. The size and design options are more limited, but you sure can’t beat iPhoto for making it easy. And, just about every photo-sharing platform offers some kind of photo book capability. Just make sure you have the opportunity to include captions and text with your photos.

A little project planning now will help insure that you and your family will have a wonderful holiday season – as well as a record of those special moments to enjoy any time.

A Scrapbook Slideshow

I’ve been working on some slideshows to present during the holidays but I wanted to include more than just photos. Actually, that’s a very simple thing to do. Using Keynote – the presentation graphics app for Mac/iOS – I can create slides that combine text, graphics and photos which I will export as images (jpeg or png) that can then be included with other photos in a custom slideshow.

There are two things to remember when combining slides and photos in a slideshow:

  • Keep the slides simple. Depending on the size of the screen used to present the slideshow, busy slides could be impossible to read.
  • Maintain a 4:3 aspect ratio for your slides (800 x 600 is a good size) so the transition from photo to slide and back will seem much smoother.

I’m using Keynote, iPhoto and Apple TV to build video slideshows with photos, slides and background music which will be displayed on the living room television during our Christmas get-together.  PowerPoint, Photoshop Elements and YouTube can work just as well.

Take a look at your tools and see how you can put them to use for your family gatherings.

Holiday Planning: Custom Cards

I am a big fan of ecards – both the commercial ones and ones I make myself. I love the fun and quirky Just Wink cards from American Greetings. I have the app on my iPhone (also available for Android, Kindle tablets, NOOK tablets and Windows Phones) and it’s an easy way to send a card that can be opened and read right in the email message, Facebook update or text message. You can even mail it as a “real” card if you want.

Quirky is fun for many situations, but Christmas isn’t one of them. I prefer something more traditional and family oriented. And, although the list keeps getting smaller, there are still a number of people on my list who only get paper cards. As a result, I have a growing collection of leftover Christmas cards taking up space in the office cupboards. Fortunately, there are now a number of very nice – and affordable – options which give me the choice of sending both digital and paper cards that can include both photos and personal notes. And, they even offer features that make the chore of getting holiday cards done a bit easier.

iPhoto Cards

My favorite “snail-mail” card service is Apple’s beautiful letterpress cards. Found in the desktop iPhoto ’11 app, you can create either post cards or folded cards from your choice of design and layout options. The folded cards have layout options that support multiple photos and some even have plenty of room to include a lengthy personal note.

American Greetings also has a build and mail service where you can build your own cards and they will send them for you. No special app is needed, just your web browser.

Hallmark provides a huge variety of holiday ecards – all a part of their very affordable ecard subscription service. They also do beautiful photo cards and offer a service where you build your card with the photo and greeting you want and Hallmark will print, address and mail your card to everyone on your list.

The Lifecards app [iOS - $1.99] offers both postcard and newsletter style greetings as ecards. There are designs and layouts for all kinds of situations and occasions. One of the things I really like about this app is the ability to email as well as save it as a PDF file.

Want to create something totally original? Get out your presentation software – Keynote, PowerPoint or Impress – and take advantage of all the “actions” available. This article from Valentine’s Day will remind you how easy they are to build.


iWork suite free with iOS7

WOOOHOO! Keynote, Pages, Numbers, iMovie and iPhoto will be included as free apps with iOS7 upgrade on all iOS devices! DIGITALStorytelling just became even more fun!

Details at TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog.

Pixelmator on sale!

PixelmatorIconMac users looking for an affordable alternative to Photoshop will be delighted to hear that the amazing Pixelmator app is currently on sale for $14.99! That’s half of its normal $29.99 price tag! Pixelmator was designed for the Mac to take advantage of OSX features which make it not only functional but beautiful as well. It works with Mac features like iPhoto and Aperture to easily find the images you want to edit and Automator to quickly perform bulk operations like resizing or adding watermarks. Pixelmator doesn’t just edit images. With it you can draw vector shapes and even paint. And, if you have a large collection of custom brushes, they can easily be imported to Pixelmator too.

The Pixelmator team has built a series of short video tutorials showing you how to put all these features to work. You can also download a free 30-day trial app at the Pixelmator site. Yes, it will take a bit of effort to adjust to Pixelmator’s work area and features, but you’ll be amazed at the things you can do with this gorgeous app. Here’s one taste of what it can do.

Oh, did I mention it’s on sale?

Flickr – Affordable Photo Protection

I’ve spent most of my morning getting acquainted with one of my Christmas presents – the Aperture photo editing app [Mac - $79.99]. This app is to iPhoto what Photoshop is to Photoshop Elements. It’s going to take some time to master its many capabilities.

Today’s lessons involved importing photos into the organizer, updating metadata and then uploading copies to my account at Flickr. We had a big family Christmas this year and I’ve got lots of photos of the festivities so archiving copies at Flickr is a priority. It only took minutes to batch edit the metadata for pictures from four different events and set them up for uploading. While I was waiting for the uploads to finish, I wandered around my Flickr account. I was surprised to discover I have uploaded almost 6,000 pictures to Flickr since I became a Pro member in 2006. And, more than 90% of them are recent photos. I haven’t uploaded that many scanned photos – yet.

A Flickr Pro account costs me $24.95/year. There’s no limit to the number of photos I can upload and I can upload videos (max 90 seconds and/or 500MB) too. Flickr provides online tools to organize my collection as well as tools to add metadata to those photos. There are a huge number of apps – desktop and mobile – to make it easy to upload from anywhere. And, there are all kinds of apps to make viewing those photos a delightful experience.

If that’s all it did, it would be well worth the price. But there’s more. Flickr is also a very social platform. Flickr’s group feature is a great way for people to share photos. There are thousands of groups based on topics ranging from places and subjects to events and even people. If you’re interested in cemeteries, you can pick from more than 6,500 groups sharing your interest. On a smaller scale, a private group could be created for a family event giving the family photographers a place to share their pics with all who attended.

I love Flickr for these reasons and many others, but overriding them all is the fact that almost 6,000 of my photos are safe from any disaster that should happen to my home or my computer. Living in a hurricane zone makes off-site storage a high priority.

Now to get the historical photos scanned and uploaded too!