On October 22, 2003, I started a blog called Simple Computing. You can still find a few of the early posts on the Wayback Machine at Internet Archive but there’s no masthead or graphics so it isn’t pretty. Over the years, Simple Computing became Family Matters and now I’ve finally settled on Moultrie Creek – at least as part of the title. The Moultrie Creek blog empire has grown over the years, but there’s one thing that doesn’t change – the joy of blogging and the community of genea-bloggers that we all have built. Ya’ll continue to inspire me – every day! Thank you.
My latest writing project, The Researcher’s Digital Toolbox, is written and is now in the editing stage. This project has been a very interesting exercise thanks to PressBooks, the online publishing platform for self-publishers. Geneabloggers, especially those using WordPress, will be right at home in PressBooks. It is a highly-customized version of WordPress where you build your publication one chapter at a time. Instead of posts and pages you’ll find parts and chapters, but most everything else is straight out of WordPress.
In the Text section you see all of your content items listed with their status and a checkbox to identify the chapters to be exported when you are ready to create your ebook. The cross-arrows to the left of each chapter’s title let you drag chapters around should you want to reorganize your content. The Front Matter section at the top is created automatically and is used to house “fine print” items such as copyright, acknowledgements and introduction.
The editing screen is pure WordPress including media management and editing tools. You add images just as you would in WordPress. You can work in either the graphical editor or the HTML editor and once you’ve saved your work, hit the Preview button to see how it will look to the reader.
Where PressBooks differs from other platforms is that it supports the entire book-building workflow: concept, writing, editing, graphics, publishing. That’s were the WordPress side of it is such a beautiful choice. It takes advantage of the collaborative features of WordPress and builds onto that. You can give others access to your project to help you with writing, editing and providing images or graphics. When the project is ready, PressBooks will provide the conversion service to export the manuscript to your chosen formats – including some print-ready options.
Speaking of collaboration . . . it’s easy to give others permission to come look at your manuscript for editorial support. WordPress’s comment platform is fully functional and can be used for editorial comments. There is an online “front end” that can be opened to all or just a selected few. This front end only displays published chapters which means you could also use it to offer previews of your book online.
Carrying things even further, PressBooks supports multiple authors and could easily be used to build e-magazines with a group of contributors. One user account can support multiple publications so you can be working on more than one book – or magazine issue – at any given time. And, if you want to spend the time and effort customizing the style of your project, PressBooks supports the use of custom style sheets as part of the export process.
As impressive as it is already, PressBooks is still a work in progress. Creator Hugh McGuire and his staff continue to improve the platform and are very open to ideas and suggestions from their users.
Oh, did I forget to mention that it costs nothing to create on PressBooks? To learn more and set up your own account, stop by PressBooks today. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Eight years ago I decided to take a stab at blogging. I may be getting older, but blogging continues to be one of my favorite pastimes. I love being involved in the genealogy community. It’s a warm and welcoming place full of fascinating people. Thank you all for your support and friendship over the years. I’m looking forward to sharing even more of it in the years to come. And, as my retirement date nears, I look forward to a new career finding and sharing new and interesting ways to discover and document our family history. As you know, I recently published my first book and there are several more in various stages of development. Moultrie Creek is becoming a publishing business, but with a very personal face and a fresh outlook.
Stay tuned. There’s lots more blogging ahead here at the Creek.
Blogger continues to have issues as it upgrades the platform to their new interface. At the same time, WordPress offers bloggers a growing number of features to improve both the blogging and reading experience. Is it time to make the move to WordPress?
Yes, I’m a big WordPress fan. I moved to WordPress from TypePad several years ago and find more reasons every day to love this platform. WordPress comes in two forms – the hosted version at WordPress.com and a self-hosted version you install and manage on your own. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but the basic WordPress functionality is the same.
WordPress.com offers a free account with 3GB of space, hundreds of themes, and a comment management system second to none. If you need more space, your own domain name or a custom theme, you can add those features at a very reasonable cost. WordPress.com is owned and operated by the same people who design and maintain the WordPress platform so updates are frequent and painless.
When you choose to host WordPress on your own site, you have more choices for themes and plugins, but you must also maintain the system yourself. WordPress has a one-click update system that is truly amazing, but not all themes and plugins are maintained at the same level of professionalism and can cause issues. When hosting yourself, you’re responsible for both the maintenance and troubleshooting efforts.
Both versions of WordPress offer some impressive options. In addition to blog posts, WordPress has a platform for static pages allowing you to create a complete web site using only the WordPress platform. Look at the top menu bar here at the Gazette and you will see a hierarchical system of pages discussing research resources, my family history and resources related to my book [The Future of Memories - $2.99. Get your copy today!]. Even the blog posts have an organizational system that you can use to give readers easy access to content written months and years ago. I’ve used WordPress categories to organize content by topics. The Inside the Gazette menu in the right sidebar gives readers quick access to the archives associated with each category. At the bottom of each post is a list of tags associated with the post. Click on any tag to find other posts assigned that tag.
The workarea is totally customizeable. You determine which components appear in the space and how they are arranged. If you prefer to have the Tags box above Categories, go into Screen Options and drag it where you want it. In the editor itself, you can quickly go from the visual editor to HTML by clicking the tab at the top of the toolbar.
Both versions have impressive media-handling capabilities, can post content via email and there’s a very nice iPad app for editing and publishing on the go.
So, the big question now is how hard is it to move. WordPress can import content from Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, Posterous and several others. My experience moving from TypePad to WordPress was quite painless. The biggest issue is incorporating the new functionality – like categories and tags – with your old content. That will be a manual process, but one that can happen at your own pace. And, your original blog stays functional until your WordPress blog is just the way you want it. For that matter, unless you’re paying for additional space or functionality, there’s no need to shut the old one down at all. Just post a note telling everyone you’ve moved and give them the link to your new blog.
Concerned about learning a new system? Yes, WordPress has a longer learning curve that Blogger, but there’s some impressive help to get you started. Click on the Help button at the top of the editing screen to display context-specific help along with links to other topics. The tutorials in Learn WordPress.com offer a good overview of the entire system and WordPress.tv has a huge library of videos covering everything from basics to advanced topics.
As your family history grows through your blogging efforts, consider the advantages WordPress can offer for organizing and maintaining your posts to give each one the attention it deserves. As you gain experience and confidence in your blogging skills, you may want to move to a platform that gives you more flexibility. Take a look at WordPress. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
So far all I’ve done is skim through the book, reading a couple of paragraphs here or a page there, but already I’ve decided that Michelle Mitchell is the blogging queen. This book is amazing – especially considering that there are limited graphics included. The book has been written from experience and she discusses her own situations as part of explaining why this should or shouldn’t be. I find this style – the blogging style – makes it much more interesting to read and gives a points of reference that I often found very familiar.
And . . . I LOVE R&D day!
When I read her version of R&D day, it was one of those d’uh moments. She sets aside part of one day each week to learn something new. By calling it R&D, she gives it much more importance not only for herself, but also for those who want her time for their own purposes. I think I will decree that Sunday afternoon is my R&D time.
One of the biggest challenges in blogging is getting your images web-ready then uploading them to your site. While we’re busy creating archival-quality, high-resolution digital images of our historical photos and documents, the images used on the web are just the opposite – low-resolution and especially small file size. Getting from one state to another can be time-consuming, but Mac users have a delightful tool called ImageWell [$4.99 in app store]. Here’s how it works . . .
From iPhoto, find the image you want to include in your post then just drag it down onto the ImageWell icon sitting in your dock. That will open the image in ImageWell. Notice that just below the image is a Send button and next to it a selection button (mine says Moultrie Creek). In preferences, you can set up multiple locations – both local and remote – to send your edited images. I’ve set up FTP locations for my sites, so all I have to do is choose the site then click Send. ImageWell takes care of the rest. In addition to FTP, you can also send to WebDAV locations like MobileMe.
Below that you see the current height and width of this image after I’ve adjusted the settings to fit my blog. Now I just click Send and my image is online waiting for me. Right-click the image in the History area and it gives me the URL so I can quickly add it to my post.
That alone would be worth the price, but we’re just getting started.
Click on the Edit button at the top of the ImageWell window to display a work area for embellishing your image. No, you’re not editing the image itself – you’re adding text, call-outs and other shapes. For photos, this is a quick and easy way to include copyright watermarks. The inclusion of all these tools makes a lot more sense when you discover that ImageWell is also a screen capture tool. Look back at the first screenshot and you see two screen icons next to the Edit button. These will capture all or part of your screen which you can then embellish, resize and upload – all from inside ImageWell.
ImageWell has it’s own format for saving images edited with the app so you don’t have to worry about destroying an archival image when editing it. It also lets you come back and make changes later.
This amazing little tool is a blogger’s delight and a lot of bang for your five bucks!
Have you seen FoodPress yet? If not, go take a look now. I’ll wait.
Other than the fact that it’s about one of my favorite subjects, FoodPress is fascinating because it is a networked blog. This blog site aggregates its content from its contributor’s blogs. If you click to open any of the items on the front page, you’ll find it links back to the original story at the contributor’s blog site. This blog has little content of its own but does a fabulous job of organizing and arranging the content from the other blogs into a beautiful site.
A blog network such as FoodPress can be a win-win situation for all involved. It offers a central location for information on a specific topic while providing the networked authors with additional exposure and traffic. With luck, both the network site and its affiliates can take advantage of this increased exposure to generate some ad revenue.
The network site is just another blog, but one set up with a magazine style template that displays many excerpts – in various formats – on the front page. The key to a successful network is the editor. This is the person who scours the affiliate sites for appropriate content and creates posts on the network site highlighting the chosen articles. On a site like FoodPress where content is updated multiple times a day, this could be a full-time job.
While FoodPress uses custom design work and a sliding recipe gallery, those things aren’t necessary to have an impressive network blog. In fact, there are a couple of stock themes on the WordPress.com site that would serve very nicely. I’ve been experimenting at Moultrie Creek Online Historical Society [a WordPress.com site I've neglected terribly lately] and found that it’s easy to incorporate content from other blogs using their stock Under the Influence theme. On a self-hosted WordPress blog with a magazine theme taking advantage of WordPress’s category functionality, it would be easy to build a network blog with topical sections and other goodies.
How could a networked blog be put to use? The first thing that comes to mind is a carnival site where each participant gets fancy billing and an archive of previous editions is maintained automatically. A “community” like the Graveyard Rabbits or African-American genealogy bloggers could network to spotlight their work and attract others. A local online newspaper could network area blogs. A genealogy society could spotlight member blogs. Any of these options would allow the contributors to publish their articles at their own sites while the network blog points readers to them with a catchy intro post that links to the original article. Both sides will attract more attention and traffic as a result.
There is one big caveat. While it is probably quite legal to do this on your own, I wouldn’t recommend building a networked blog without the consent of the bloggers you want to include in your network.
I’ve talked a lot about the Posterous blog platform where you post your articles by email, but you may already be able to do that with your current blog platform. Blogger, TypePad and WordPress.com offer email posting once you set up a special mailbox for your blogs. Like Posterous, the subject line in the email becomes the post title and the body of the message is the body of the post. All services accept rich text messages with images although they might “adjust” the underlying HTML to suit their posting format.
As phones – and now tablets – offer more capabilities in the form of apps, you’ll find all kinds of apps to support your blogging. WordPress has built apps for both iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android devices that has most of the editing and organizing features you find in the online editor. They will also let you work in multiple WordPress blog sites [both hosted and self-managed]. The iPad version of this app is impressive and an easy adjustment from the online editing platform. These are all free apps.
TypePad offers an older mobile app for Palm OS, Windows Mobile 5 and Symbian Series 60 devices. They are free downloads from their site.
In the iOS market, you’ll find apps with blogging features. One good example is Mariner Software’s MacJournal – available for both iPhone [$4.99] and iPad [$5.99]. It posts to all the major blog sites. If you’re already a MacJournal fan using the desktop version, you’ll be right at home with the mobile versions.
If you’d like to browse the apps markets, you’ll find these sites useful:
Note that unlike the iOS market which is totally controlled by Apple, the Android market is wide open. You’ll find many sites in addition to the one listed above offering apps. There are many benefits to this, but also many concerns. Be very cautious when buying/downloading apps from unfamiliar sites. This is true for all desktop and mobile apps – not just Android.
For those not familiar with this handy tool, Scribefire is a blog editor available as browser add-ons to Firefox, Chrome and now Safari. Once installed, it places an icon in your browser’s toolbar which quickly displays the editor ready to go. Scribefire can support blogging to multiple blogs and provides a feature-rich editor.
href=”http://web.archive.org/web/20050501145606/moultriecreek.typepad.com/computing/2003/10/an_introduction.html”>first article to a new blog called Simple Computing. I had been reading other blogs for some time and found them both engaging and informative. The blogs written by our military men and women were most addictive since they described the events in Afghanistan and Iraq from a very personal point of view – without the blinders of agenda or politics.
I don’t even know the name of the person who was my blogging inspiration. To me she was Major Pain, an Army nurse serving at Camp Anaconda. She would send emails home to her brother who posted them to a blog titled “Magic in the Baghdad Cafe”. From the hilarious story about the live turkey received as a gift from Iraqi locals to the emotional Saving Specialist Gray, I was connected to this woman.
Obviously, I had no war experiences to write about, but I did have the presence of mind to start with something I did know a bit about – computers. I had been writing technical articles and howto stuff for some time so I was able to build some blogging experience with something I knew. Later, Simple Computing would morph into Family Matters where the discussion was more focused on the technology of online research and family history.
Today my newsreader delivers the latest from more than 300 blogs covering not only the military, but also news, genealogy, technology, local interests and shopping. I’m actively writing three different blogs and contributing to several more. I’ve made friends from all over the world who inspire and challenge me. It’s still a fascinating and enjoyable pastime and something I hope to continue doing for a long, long time.
To all my blogging friends, thanks for your friendship and your support. You’re why I’m still here.