Build A Family 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 vacation photos on Facebook because that sends an open invitation to crooks that my house is just waiting for them to help themselves to my stuff. Personal news like new babies and deaths in the family can alert con artists of potential marks. I still enjoy Facebook. I’m just not putting 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.

facetime.jpg
FaceTime image courtesy Apple.com

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 the Messages app makes it easy to get “status updates” just about any time. And, while nothing’s totally secure or private, it’s a much better option than Facebook.

Posthaven201

We also use Posthaven to maintain a family news service [see article]. 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.

FlickrAlbum101.png

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. A free Flickr account includes up to 1 terabyte of photo storage (the equivalent of approximately 560,000 photos) and saves your photos at their original size and resolution. A “pro” subscription costs $25/year includes ad-free browsing and sharing along with a Desktop Uploader to automatically upload new photos to your account. Not only is this a great photo-sharing platform, but it’s also a delightful off-site storage option for our photo collection as well.

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. Yes, we are keeping “local” copies of the blog posts, photos and messages, but that is part of our disaster plan to insure these goodies will be around long after we’re gone.

Ain’t technology great!

Tidy Up Your WordPress Blog With WP-Sweep

If you’ve been blogging for a while with a self-hosted WordPress site, chances are good you’ve changed themes once or twice, experimented with a few plugins and done more than a few revisions. These actions often generate a lot of digital trash which is hiding in the corners and behind the “real” stuff. This can cause performance issues as WordPress tries to work around all the clutter. Continue reading “Tidy Up Your WordPress Blog With WP-Sweep”

Jetpack Updates

Embedding rich media (videos, maps, etc.) into WordPress blog posts using shortcodes has  been a delight for all . . . except those people who are email followers on our sites. Today, WordPress announced a Jetpack update that fixes that issue for those email subscribers on your site.

Why is this interesting? If you are using your blog to generate family interest in their heritage, the email subscription feature is a great way to deliver the stories to them. Having the photo galleries, videos and such delivered instead of just text and some strange looking links will do a lot to catch their attention.

Even if your blog is hosted at WordPress.com, the Personal and Premium plans both support Jetpack although the Personal plan doesn’t include all of the components. It does include most of the features a family history blog requires.

beagle on patrol

Spotlight Your Photos in WordPress

In order to get your family interested in the family’s history, you need a bit of creativity. Photos – old and new – always attract attention. Fortunately, WordPress offers a number of eye-catching ways to display them. You’ll be surprised to see how easy it is to do.

This example is called a mosaic gallery. When a viewer moves the mouse across an image, the caption for that image appears across the bottom of the photo. In addition, any photo in the gallery can be clicked to view it at full size.

add-mediaThe first step in building a gallery is to upload and prepare your photos. Start by clicking the Add Media command. This example shows the formatting toolbar in the WordPress app. The Add Media button appears when you click the plus icon. This will take you to the Media Library. Every photo, graphic, document or video you upload to the library has it’s own catalog page where you can add information about the item. In the example below, you see a graphic image and several boxes for adding information about the item. Some of the information is automatically added by WordPress. You will need to include your own text in the Caption, Alt text and Description boxes.

Image Page.png

Captions are very useful. If the picture catches the reader’s eye, he will most likely want to know more about it. A “grab their interest” caption can inspire him to read the entire story. The Alt text item is also quite useful. The text included there is used by search engines to determine what this item is – making it more search-friendly. It is also used by the blind who use special reading devices to “read” a website. The Description field is for your use. As your media library grows, finding a specific item can take some time. The search icon at the top of the media library screen will search the library for you. Use the description to include words that will help make the search even easier.

Sample media page
Select the images you want for your gallery.

Once you’ve uploaded and documented your images, click to select the ones you wish to include in your gallery. When you are ready, click the Continue button at the bottom of the screen. It will take you to the Preview screen where you can choose a layout option and see how it will look in your post. In the example below, the tiled mosaic layout has been selected. Other options include individual images, thumbnail grid, square tiles, circles, tiled columns and slideshow. GalleryDetails.png

Try the different layout options to see which works best for this post. Note that the Link To option defaults to the media file (the image). When a visitor clicks on one of the images in this mosaic, WordPress will open the image to its full size.

GalleryEdit.png

You may find you want to rearrange the photos or make changes to the caption. You can do this by selecting the Edit tab just above the images. From here you can drag and drop images to reorder them, make changes to the caption and even delete an image by clicking the X icon at the top of each one. Once everything is the way you want it, click Update and your creation is added to your post.

Save your post, do a preview and see how it looks. Once you’ve got things just the way you want them, you are ready to publish.

Building a photo gallery takes a bit more time to design but the result is worth the effort. It’s guaranteed to attract attention.