Instagram for bloggers

Christmas chocolateI’ve recently started using Instagram, after an absence of a couple of years. It’s fun! Any photo you take looks better on Instagram –

  • it’s small, so it doesn’t matter if it’s not in focus
  • it’s square, so you are forced to crop the photo to focus on what’s important
  • you can quickly and easily make the colours brighter
  • you can change the colours altogether, so it looks like art or an old photograph

I find them Instagram photos very useful for blog posts. Here’s a post I just wrote about technology and the year ahead. When I went looking in my collection for the perfect illustration I found the one I took a couple of months ago of the old wooden escalators at Wynyard Station. Perfect!

CherriesYou can turn any photo into an Instagram work of art. You don’t have to take the photo with Instragram; you can select an existing photo as long as it’s on your phone or tablet, and then go to work on it. Here’s a photo I took a couple of days ago of the carton of freshly-picked cherries we bought on the way home from Melbourne. I opened Instagram and found the photo, then cropped it and made it more red. Dropbox then uploaded it to my laptop automatically.

OK, the closeup photos are not fabulous. That’s the fault of my phone, not Instagram!

When you are out and about with a phone that takes pictures, think about taking some photos of ordinary things – food, stairs, brick walls, windows and doors, clouds, trees – and then Instagram them when you get home to use in your blog. Easy!

Too many blogs

dreamstimefree_5226752I have four active blogs, and it is too many. I originally thought that having multiple blogs would allow people to get everything they need on a single topic in one place, and that is still true. My Fiji Genealogy blog is separate from my personal blog and my Social Media and Genealogy blog and my business blog, and so readers can go to one place and not be bothered by unrelated topics that do not interest them.

This reasoning is still valid, I think, but after all these years four blogs is just too daunting to keep updated on a regular basis. I have to come up with a blog post every few days, or weeks, on each topic, and it all got too much. The result has been that none of them get updated any more, as any of my regular readers would have discovered. There are so many excellent blogs out there that mine are not missed. Still, I don’t want to let them die, and I’m not sure what to do.

Perhaps I should develop a schedule, and post in each blog in turn every week. To be honest, I tried that, and it just feels like work. I started blogging because I enjoy writing, and I do still enjoy writing.

The lesson here, and I think there is one, is to just have one blog. Posts can be categorised and tagged, and readers can decide for themselves what they want to read without having to follow multiple blogs (or not!).


Why a blog is more attractive than a website

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you are better off publishing parts of your tree as separate articles in a blog than as a full family tree website as produced by most family tree programs. My reasoning will be demonstrated by searching for a name and a place that I am interested in for my own family history:

Google search

The very first result in this list is a blog post: 

Riley blog post

Compare that page with this one: 

Riley family tree website

Which one looks more interesting? Which one would look more interesting to someone who wasn’t all that interested in genealogy?

If I’d put a picture or two in the blog post it would be even more interesting.

So that’s two good reasons:

  1. A blog post about a specific person or family line will be higher in a Google search
  2. A blog post will be more likely to hold the attention of a casual reader

A third reason is this: I have my full family tree as a separate website as produced by Second Site, a program to turn my The Master Genealogist project into a website. Most of the enquiries I get from it are for people on the edges of my tree, people who have married cousins of my ancestors. I have no more information about these people than what is on the tree, but the researchers who find them get excited when they find the name and email me for more. Really it’s a waste of  my time and theirs.

Anyone who finds the names in my blog posts is really looking for my family, and we are usually related. Over the years I would say that as many real relatives have found me through my blog posts as through my tree, although of course I can’t count the people who find my tree, grab the information, and leave without contacting me.

Blogs make it easier for them to contact me, as there’s a form for comments at the bottom of the page.

So there it is. Write stories about your ancestors in a blog. Don’t just put your tree up and wait for people to find you.

Note: in case you’re wondering about the Google logo in the first image – it was the 46th anniversary of the first Star Trek episode, and Google was celebrating. And why wouldn’t it?

Family history societies using social media

Trees and cloudy skyI have written previously about how family history societies can use social media and why I think they should. Social media is a great way to connect with people and let them know what you offer, especially people you may not otherwise reach.

I would love to start a list of societies that use social media – Facebook, Twitter, a blog, Flickr, YouTube, and so on – and put it on this site somewhere. Currently the list is so small that it seems almost counter-productive, but I am willing to try it.

If your society uses social media in any way, or you know of a society that uses it, please let me know.

Blog overload

Google homepage reader bubbleThere are a lot of great blogs out there, and I try to follow as many as I can. I usually learn something new in every one of them – sometimes about genealogy sources or methods, sometimes about the person writing the blog or the family they are writing about. Blogs are a great resource.

Sometimes, though, if I haven’t been reading them for a while, it’s difficult to catch up. The bigger that number of unread posts gets, the less I feel like going in there and tackling them. It becomes overwhelming.

Your blog reader is there to help you, but for it to be useful it must be manageable. You can mark posts as being ‘read’ if you really don’t feel like reading them and know you won’t get back to them anytime soon. Remember, they’re not gone; they are still in the blog itself. They are just not in the queue demanding your attention.

If I come back to my blog reader after three or four days and there are 500 posts waiting for me, am I going to read them all? Sadly, the answer is no. There are only 24 hours in a day, and most of them are needed for other things.

I subscribe to new blogs, or newly-discovered blogs, as I find them, and the list gets longer and longer. Sometimes you have to be ruthless. Every now and then I cull my list of subscribed blogs.

Here are some tips for managing the out-of-control blog reader:

  1. Categorise the blogs you subscribe to. That way you can only read your favourites if you are pressed for time, or you can restrict yourself to the ‘genealogy’ blogs and save the ‘social media’ and ‘how to’ blogs for another time.
  2. Unsubscribe from the blogs with a much higher count of unread posts than the others. Chances are that there are a lot of posts that you would normally skip, so think about whether it’s worth wading through them to get to the occasional interesting post.
  3. Are there blogs there that you feel you should read but never get around to? It’s not school, and there won’t be a test afterwards. Unsubscribe from them.
  4. Some blogs have multiple ways of letting you know that they have just published a new post. If you tend to find new posts through Facebook,  Twitter or email then they are just cluttering up your blog reader. Unsubscribe.
  5. Some blogs only publish the first 100 words or so in the reader and if you want to read the rest you have to go to the blog itself. I tend not to. Unsubscribe.
  6. Decide on the best way to read the blogs. I use Google Reader, and I use it in different ways depending on how big the backlog is. I prefer to use the Google Reader widget on my Google homepage, as in the picture above. One click to open the post, another click to close it. Easy. If I have a big backlog I will go into the Reader itself, so I can see how many posts are outstanding for each blog. More recently I’ve been reading them on my Android phone. No clicking, which can aggravate the arthritis on bad days, just tapping and flicking the finger.
  7. Remember the blogs that you have just unsubscribed to are still there, and you can go back and browse them at any time. Keep them in a list of bookmarks, or a bookmarking site like Delicious.

Blogs are there for your enjoyment and education, and it should be enjoyable to read them. If it isn’t, do something about it!