Wunderlist – Public Lists

Are you a list maker? Me too. It’s gotten even worse since I discovered Wunderlist. This amazing platform allows me to indulge in my list fixation in ways I never though possible.

Wunderlist supports Windows and Mac desktops as well as iOS, Android and Windows mobile devices. There’s a web-based version too. It costs nothing to get started, but upgrading to a premium account ($4.99/mo) adds some very useful features. The basic version does everything you’d expect from a to-do list:

  • maintain multiple lists
  • set due dates on list items
  • share the list with others
  • real-time data sync between devices
  • reminders and notifications
  • include notes on list items
  • supports sub-tasks

Wunderlist Desktop

But don’t just think of it as a to-do list service. It does a lot more. I use it a lot for capturing story ideas. Often those ideas come from an article in my newsreader. Using Wunderlist’s bookmarklet, all it takes is one click. I also keep a list of upcoming presentations with notes on what’s ready and what still needs to be done. My premium account lets me attach files to list items so I can include the presentation file and handouts in each presentation item. Wunderlist supports the iCalendar format so I can subscribe to my Wunderlist feed in my Calendar app and have my deadlines and due dates delivered to my calendar.

I’ve just begun experimenting with Wunderlists’ public lists. I’m still dusting the cobwebs out of the Gazette blog – cleaning up broken links and disappearing images as well as updating out-dated information. Rather than re-write the entire page about digital toolbox resources I decided to give public lists a try. It’s still a work-in-progress but you can take a look at it in action here.

Wunderlist public list

A public list has it’s own online physical location, but it can also be embedded like I did on the resource page. The list title is a link to that location. The list scrolls within the embed window. Notice the icon to the right of some list items? Click on it and additional information is displayed. In this example, I used the Notes field to add more descriptive information about a list item. Even more interesting . . . when I make changes to the list, the embed automatically updates. In a situation like this where things are constantly changing, it’s much easier to update the list than the blog post.

This is just one of the many reasons I am so attached to Wunderlist. If you’re looking for a list that does more, I suggest you take a look for yourself.

Evernote’s Scannable App

Evernote’s new Scannable app [iOS – free] has quickly become the most-used tool on my iPhone. It makes scanning papers, documents and even publications amazingly easy. All you need is some decent light and a contrasting surface to capture beautiful scans in seconds.

Scannable capture

Capturing a page with Scannable on an iPhone

Scannable takes advantage of the contrasting background to “find” the edges of your document. You just hold your phone over the page and watch Scannable do its thing. Once it finds the edges it captures the page, flattens it, straightens it out and makes it available to you for processing. If you’re scanning a multiple page document, just flip the page and keep holding the phone over it. It keeps capturing pages until you say enough by tapping the check mark on the screen. At that point Scannable gives you a number of choices for what you want to do with your newly scanned document.

Your scans can be saved as PDFs or images. You also have several options for what to do with the resulting scan. Obviously, your scans can be saved to your Evernote account, but they can also be emailed, sent via Messages, saved to Photos, forwarded to another app or even printed.

I have been using Scannable to scan my collection of quarterly journals that I want to keep but no longer have room to store. With Scannable I don’t have to rip them apart so they can be scanned. And, even though the pages aren’t flat when I capture them, Scannable does an impressive job of straightening both the scanned page and the text on it. The result is also a searchable PDF document – very handy when I want to find a particular topic or name inside these journals.

Think of what you could do with this in the research library!

Right now Scannable is only available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. My guess is an Android edition won’t be far behind.

Are Blogs Declining?

Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper, has some thoughts on why so many blogs are seeing declining traffic.

The dominance of mobile usage, social networks, and YouTube, plus attention-competition from apps, are the real problems for web publishers and blog writers.

The social and app revolutions haven’t been purely additive — much of the time people spend on those now has come at the expense of search, RSS, and bookmarks.

Every hour we spend on Twitter or Facebook instead of reading and writing elsewhere is just making this worse — and I’m as guilty as anyone.

Social networks have powerful benefits and are here to stay. But like any trend, we’ve swung too far in that direction for our own good, as both producers and consumers. I hope the pendulum starts to swing back soon, because it hasn’t yet. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.

If we want it to get better, we need to start pushing back against the trend, modernizing blogs, and building what we want to come next.

Absolutely! I recently read where Google’s search results will soon include tweets. You can’t tell me that won’t reduce blog stats even more.

I think one good step in that direction is installing Disqus on your blog as your commenting system. That way we can build a social network puts the focus on our blogs yet lets us carry on conversations across them all.

Are your blog stats declining? Do you think social networks are the cause?

Blog Comments . . . the New Social Network?

Before there was Facebook, Twitter or Google+ there were blogs with comment boxes attached to each post. These comments were what turned genealogy bloggers into Geneabloggers. We went from being individual bloggers into a blogging community thanks to the comments section. Although comments are still there and do 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 a growing number of “social” attacks on our privacy.

Fortunately there is an alternative – one that also 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 from your Disqus profile
  • receive notifications for new comments and replies
  • follow interesting individuals as well as blog sites
  • export and keep their comments.

Oh, and Disqus costs you nothing to use.

Disqus on Tumblr

Disqus conversation on a Tumblr blog post.

The Gazette has been updated to include Disqus as its commenting platform. It was an easy setup and my existing comments were imported too. I’m impressed!

You don’t need a Disqus account to leave a comment here. Disqus will ask you for an email address and password then create an account for you – on the spot. You will probably want to stop by your profile page at some point to complete your profile. Like any social network, this is the page where you upload an avatar, add your blog address and whatever other information you want others to see. Now, when you comment or join an on-going conversation, the rest of us will know who you are.

Your profile is also Conversations Central – the place where you can keep up with any and all conversations that include you. You don’t have to hop all over the blogosphere to keep up with your favorite blogs or comment conversations. Disqus really does revolutionize blog comments.

So now it’s your turn. Take Disqus for a test drive and let me know what you think. Can Disqus facilitate a revolution in online networking?

The Gazette Returns to Moultrie Creek

It’s amazing what a little break can do for the soul . . . and the mind . . . and the body.

The Gazette is back with lots of ideas for storytelling, researching and networking.

You’ll notice some changes here. I’ve moved to a new hosting service and I’m still cleaning up the mess such a move creates. If you see an ugly question mark where an image should be, please bear with me as I work through almost a thousand posts to fix them. The theme’s been spiffed up a bit too and I’ll be including some new plugins very soon. Probably the biggest change is moving to Disqus for my commenting system. Why Disqus? It operates on just about every blog platform which means I only need to remember one username/password to comment at any Disqus-supported site. Disqus makes it easy to include links and images in  my comments and I can keep up with all my comments and responses from my Disqus profile page or the mobile app. It’s an impressive service and fun to use.

You’ll also find Disqus operating on my Moultrie Creek family history blog, my Moultrie Telegraph and Genealogy 101 tumblrs and on my newest project – the St. Johns County GenWeb site.

Highlands Cabin

Highlands Cabin.

Yeah, I did find a little something to keep me occupied while things were quiet here.

Building Family History

I’ve been blogging for over ten years and one of the results is that I have a nice little collection of family stories. I had been copy/pasting them into a Scrivener project and taking advantage of its easy reorganization features to use those stories for small family history projects. Recently I’ve been using Byword [Mac – $11.99, iOS – $2.99 plus $2.99 per platform to add publishing capabilities] as my blog editor. I can post from Byword to just about any blog platform and work from just about anywhere.

Writing Workflow

Writing workflow . . . Scrivener to Byword to blog.

Since both Byword and Scrivener support Markdown, it recently dawned on me that I should put Scrivener into the center of my blogging workflow. Once I thought about it, the advantages became quite obvious:

  • I can pull research notes and ephemera into Scrivener where they would be easy to reference while I’m writing.
  • I can write in Markdown. I like this for several reasons. First, it allows me to add basic formatting, hyperlinks and even images to my text without taking my fingers off the keyboard. That may sound a little strange these days, but for an old touch-typist like me it means I don’t break my typing rhythm – or train of thought – just to add a link or some formatting. As any old WordStar typist (a popular word-processing app from the ’80s and ’90s) knows, it makes a difference.
  • Because Scrivener syncs with Byword, I can work on my stories just about anywhere and then publish to any of my blogs with just a few keystrokes using Byword’s publishing feature. Even if I begin a story on Byword, as long as I save it into the appropriate project folder in Dropbox, it will be synched back to Scrivener the next time I open the app.
  • The stories in my Scrivener project continue to grow and at any time I can reorganize my story collection and export selected stories for publishing projects.

Thanks to Scrivener and Byword, I can spend my time researching and writing stories and let my tools handle the posting, organizing and saving chores. The result is a family history collection that continues to grow. Now, when inspiration or family events suggest a publishing project, I have those stories in Scrivener just waiting to be selected, exported and published to meet that project’s goal.


I’ve always been a list maker which, over the years, has developed into a fascination with productivity apps. Right now I have the Mac’s Reminders app which I use for personal reminders and shopping lists and Wunderlist [iOS, Android, Win, Mac and Web] for managing my writing, research, presentation and society projects. This app found the sweet spot between simplicity and functionality making it something I use regularly. And it’s free. And it’s installed on every computer and mobile device I own so it’s always with me.

There are a number of things that make Wunderlist especially useful. My favorite is the ability to forward an email to Wunderlist. I just forward it to me@wunderlist.com and Wunderlist takes care of the rest. I also find it useful for keeping up with research and writing ideas. It’s always handy when I get an idea for an article or think of a new place to look for information on an ancestor.

Wunderlist Desktop on Mac

The Wunderlist desktop on a Mac.

Here you see Wunderlist on a Mac desktop. The left sidebar contains my lists and, once I click/tap to select a list, the tasks associated with it appears in the main area. At the bottom of the task area are several function icons. The selected task is displayed on the right. In this case, it is an email message I forwarded to Wunderlist to become a task. The content of the message appears in the notes area.

The key to everything is my Wunderlist online account. When I add or update an item in whichever app I’m using at the time, it is synched with the online account. Not only does this make that information available to all my other systems/devices, I can also share a list with other Wunderlist users. Family members can’t escape me when it comes time to organize family events.

Wunderlist sub-tasks

Sub-tasks in Wunderlist

I’ve found the lists and sub-lists features very useful for writing and research ideas. Here you are looking at my list of topics ideas for the Gazette. The list contains broad categories (shown in the center panel) and each category has its own sub-list of more specific topics. Not only does it help me brainstorm ideas, it provides a quick look at what’s already been written. The options in the right sidebar let me set deadlines and reminders for each task, add more detailed notes about it and even attach files. The checkbox identifies the task as completed and the star shows it as a priority task. Lists and tasks can be printed, shared with other Wunderlist users or published publicly.

Wunderlist collaboration features.

Wunderlist collaboration features.

Combine the list-sharing functionality with free apps for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android devices and I have an impressive collaboration tool. The example above shows how a society could use it to better manage board meetings. Although this example sends board members to Evernote for read-ahead material, Wunderlist does support attaching files to list items. And, as you can see here, it’s easy to post comments in the list item.

Wunderlist offers free, premium and business accounts. The premium account is $4.99/month or $49.99/year and offers unlimited sub-tasks, task assignments and file attachments.

Wunderlist is an amazing app and it’s become a very important tool in my digital research toolbox. Want to learn more? Stop by the Wunderlist channel at YouTube to see it in action.

iCloud Drops Prices

WoooHooo! I just got notice that my iCloud subscription was increased from 15GB to 20GB and that the annual price dropped from $20/year to $10.99/year. Although as a current user I can stay with my annual plan, the iCloud service is moving to a monthly plan and the pricing looks quite affordable. For example, 200GB is going for $3.99/month.

The upcoming iOS8 release followed by OS X Yosemite’s release will increase the ways my desktop and devices work with each other. I’m sure the extra storage will come in handy.

From the Archives: Miss Kate’s Autograph Book

I created this little book to preserve and share Mary Katherine Link’s autograph book which I inherited from my grandmother. Miss Kate was her aunt – her father’s sister. My grandmother was only 5 years old when her mother died and Miss Kate stepped in to take on the task of surrogate mother to four young children. She did this while continuing to teach school. She was quite an amazing lady.

Miss Kate’s autographs date from the late 19th century, showing the affection and respect she she enjoyed in her community. The book’s binding is disintegrating and many of the pages are now loose. Before packing it away in an archival box to protect it from further deterioration, I scanned the book with plans to create a booklet from the images so any interested family members could have a copy of their own.

The book was created using OpenOffice.org’s Writer app and Photoshop Elements. My images were cropped and re-sized, then inserted into the booklet document. I added a short biography written by my cousin, Nancy Murphy, and the only photo I have of Miss Kate. After adding a cover and exporting everything to PDF, I uploaded the result to Lulu. Not only does Lulu offer both print and download options, they provide the storefront allowing family and friends to order/download their copies without having to go through me first. By offering the print version at cost, I could provide the download version for free.

Several people downloaded copies and I had a few printed to distribute to older family members and the historical society where Miss Kate lived, but after a few months there was no further activity for this booklet on the Lulu site. In 2009 I moved the document to the Scribd platform. While it doesn’t offer a print option (except to print on your local printer), it’s much easier for search engines to find – thanks to the ability to tag the document with keywords that facilitate searching.

We all have family ephemera in our collections. Consider using them to build e-pubs to share with family members and to publish online at platforms like Scribd which could help attract research cousins. Miss Kate’s autograph book won’t change the world, but to descendants of the Link family and the Tennessee community where they lived it helps bring their ancestors to life. If that’s not enough reason, you’ll also be creating an “off-site” archive of your family treasures should disaster strike at home.