Category Archives: General

Preservation social media leadership: The early days

In 2009, I presented to the Preservation Technology Advisory Board for the first time about preservation social media efforts. Though it was the first time the board members really heard about social media, they were incredibly supportive of the initiative.

The presentation features images by Hunter Wilson, who had a Flickr 365 project going on at the time. He would post a self-portrait every day for one year. Many of them featured compelling Photoshop effects. As I was presenting this, Hunter was at his high-school graduation. We had been interacting on Flickr for a time, and he was gracious enough to Skype in for a PR Campaigns course I was teaching at the local university.

That prior year was magic with connections that embodied the potential of preservation social media, before it became dominated by marketers and the walled fortress that is Facebook. The heritage fields were still skeptical of social media. Out in nowhere-you’ve-heard-of Louisiana, we were pioneering the frontier.

09 Board Meeting: Strengthening NCPTT’s Leadership on the the Social Web

Presentation to the NCPTT Board, May 2009

  • NCPTT Preservation Social Media Initiative and World Wide Web Clearinghouse
  • Conversation, facilitated by online tools that are: Platform-independent Free Interactive Easy to use
  •  Ultimately, it’s still about relationships [human-centered]
  • NCPTT was one of the first preservation organizations to use social media
  • Podcasting [Preservation Technology Podcast]
  •  Social Networking
  • Microblogging
  • Online Photo Sharing
  • Online Video Sharing
  • Preservation needs online leadership. The Future is Mobile
  • Training initiative provides expert guidance, connections for NCPTT [Training staff]
  • People everywhere are connecting in cyberspace to talk about heritage.
  • In 2009, many more heritage organizations have jumped on the new media bandwagon
  • … but progress is using new media effectively has been slow and lacking direction
  • Heritage is still trying to find its voice online.
  • Preservation still needs online leadership.
  • NCPTT’s role is to help the organizations make sense of social media and use it effectively
  • Communicating ourselves on the World stage can be an overwhelming task
  • We’ve been there before
  •  The right tools, mindset and people bring the job down to size
  •  Hard work and service to others unleashes the benefits of online engagement
  •  “We need to connect citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us. We must use all available technologies and methods to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted in Washington and giving Americans the chance to participate in government deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few years ago.” From Barack Obama’s campaign platform on technology Monday, March 9, 2009
  •  “We need to connect citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us. We must use all available technologies and methods to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted in Washington and giving Americans the chance to participate in government deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few years ago.” From Barack Obama’s campaign platform on technology Monday, March 9, 2009
  • You’re our heroes [advocacy role of board]
  •  What can we do to help? [Ideas, comments and discussion]

Crowdsourcing Historical Memory with TellHistory

I’m thrilled today to introduce a project that combines my biggest interests–oral storytelling and cultural heritage outreach through crowdsourcing. It’s appropriately called Tell History.

And it was developed by Alex Whitcomb and Sarah Hayes. They’re crowdsourcing video-based memories that they tie to themes, timelines and maps. We all have a friend or relative who has a fascinating story to tell. can help you help them to share that story in historical context. It’s also an inspiring story about how you can take your passion, and evolve it into a platform for the greater good. The interview starts with Alex and Sarah describing their own bit of history in the development of this project….

Crowdsourcing Historical Memory Topics

  1. What has the response been like?
  2. I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to build engagement in digital projects. How have you gotten so many folks to contribute videos to the project?
  3. Tell me a little about how Tell History works …
  4. I think it’s interesting that you use a Theme of the Week to focus your contributions. How do you identify those?
  5. What kind of audiences are contributing to Tell History, and what kind of stories are capturing your attention? 
  6. You’ve made it very easy for folks contribute to Tell History. Describe that process …
  7. How have you been using social media to support the growth of Tell History?
  8. What kind of stories and themes are you focusing on for the future?
  9. Describe what your “big picture” goal is for Tell History …
  10. A project of this scope only happens because of people who believe in you and what you’re trying to achieve. Are there any folks who have contributed to the site that you’d like to give a shout-out to?
  11. How do folks connect with you online?

Subscribe on  ITUNES

Connect with Voices of the Past about #digitalheritage on:

2006/2016: What’s changed over ten years in #DigitalHeritage

It was 2006 when the digital heritage bug first bit me. I was working as public information officer at a remote National Park Service office serving a national constituency comprised of several very specialized technical fields. Oh, and there was no budget for outreach.

How to reach audiences, put the organization on the map, and perhaps feel a little less isolated?

The answer came at a Ragan public relations conference that October, when it was mentioned as an afterthought in one of the sessions: “watch the social media stuff. It’s going to change everything.”

I went back home to rural Louisiana and began investigating right away. To say things have changed a lot since then is an understatement. Scarcely two years later, the world had indeed changed. The place I was working got some notoriety for its social media involvement and our audiences grew.

Today, social media has become a big part of how we establish our identities. It’s the lens through which we view one another’s stories today, and will play a starring role in how history sees us in the future. So what has evolved in the attitudes and approaches in the “culture” of cultural heritage between 2006 and 2016?

The Awesome
  1. We’re more open and transparent. Whether it’s our data or our inner workings, we’re documenting heritage preservation and putting it on platforms ranging from Github to Tumblr to Wikipedia and The Commons.
  2. We’re valuing communication that goes beyond the broadcast model. My first podcast interview was with Nina Simon. Nina rocked my thinking regarding how museums facilitate visitor interactions with “me to we design.” Nina’s participatory  ideas have gone on to influence the way hundreds of museums do business. That Skype interview led to many other podcast interviews I have had with people from around the world.  A definite cure for the cultural isolation I had been feeling in those early days!
  3. The process heritage preservation is as valued as the product. We can go into institutions and see conservators and archivists at work, and even see them talk about their work online.
  4. Personal and professional interests are more blended. We’re becoming advocates for heritage preservation. Even when the tweets are presented as “views are my own,” we’re putting out content that reflects our values and beliefs, and heritage preservation is part of that no matter the context.
  5. Technology doesn’t scare us (as much). People don’t traditionally go into cultural heritage fields because they are early adopters. But we’re learning to embrace it with digital preservation and innovative outreach methods.
  6. We’re more focused on storytelling. That was always there to a great extent, I believe. But stories about cultural heritage are certainly more accessible now and people harness the power of online video, timelines and maps to support their narrative.
  7. History is shared like never before. Because of its presence online, the emergence of mobile devices, and tools like tour apps, people can share these newly accessible stories at the touch of a button.
The Scary
  1. Increasing lack of self-determination. I worry about Facebook taking over the internet and feeding us its version of events when the emphasis used to be providing sets of tools among providers to create our own experiences. Remember the emergence of RSS and Mashups and curating your own experience? I was on the verge of tears when Facebook bought (and suffocated) Friendfeed, which I still mourn. It’s hard for cultural heritage to compete with pop culture in our increasingly algorithmic world.
  2. When tech overshadows heritage. When I see my younger friends  repeatedly switch between social media apps during any given  conversation, I wonder if they will ever know the joy of being quiet and present (an even bigger worry for my 11-year-old daughter, whose device time I limit).  A great part of respect and preservation of history lies in being present with it–with an object or at a site and letting your imagination roll with historical implications. Will we lose that?
  3. Lack of knowing why we use these tools. Though my first product in this space was a strategic plan with audiences and outcomes, those are still relatively rare. As the adage goes–fail to plan; plan to fail (or spin your wheels in irrelevancy at least). Fortunately, some folks are putting their plans out there so no one has to reinvent the wheel.
  4. Digital preservation is a ballooning issue. There are certainly innovators out there, but many organizations are still either putting a bandage on the situation or ignoring it entirely.

In the final analysis, I believe heritage preservation has been served well by the transformation of digital and social tools. We’ve evolved from a recalcitrant attitude toward social media interaction to one of acceptance. Along the way, we’ve found new audiences and allies to make the field stronger.  Though the digital landscape is a bit more complex, these tools are still accessible to everyone–from history enthusiasts to small house museums to large-scale archaeological projects like Pompeii. We all have an opportunity to make our voices heard. The more we come together online to advocate for the cause, the stronger cultural heritage as whole will become.

This post was inspired by the WordPress blogging topic: Contrast

#DigitalHeritage 1-2-3: APIs, Apps & Social Media Preservation

#DigitalHeritage 1-2-3 represents news and ideas that caught my attention recently. Have any suggestions for future editions? Let me know via Twitter @heritagevoices.

1: APIs: How Machines Share and Expose Digital Collections

Finally, an explanation of APIs I can get my head around. This item from the Library of Congress blog uses examples from The World Digital Library, HathiTrust and OpenSearch to illustrate how APIs work in digital collections.

The Big Idea: “Offering an API allows other people to reuse your content in ways that you didn’t anticipate or couldn’t afford to do yourself … That’s what I would like for the library world, those things that let other people re-use your data in ways you didn’t even think about.”

The Revelation: a demo of the International Image Interoperability Framework in action as a research tool. See for yourself how to compare and annotate side-by-side digital objects from Harvard, Yale, the National Library of Wales and other participating partners.

The Strategy: Besides the API explanation, what I appreciate about this post is how LOC is using journalism practices by interviewing people who work their about their areas of expertise. A great tactic for deepening and sustaining content on an institutional blog!

2: ActionShow App Blog on Mobile Tours

For all the years I’ve worked in cultural heritage, there seems to always be one more tour app provider I never heard of. ActionShow is the latest. And though their blog looks a little spammy at first (and indeed, does sell a product), it hosts some good, clear-eyed analysis of the issues.

The post that drew me to the site was Who Wins? Mobile Apps vs. Mobile-Friendly Websites. The topics are a virtual FAQ for cultural heritage sites considering such a tool (i.e. all of them): how much does it cost, which is easier to use, what if you have inconsistent wi-fi, etc. Use them as a guide on the issues; just keep in mind they have an app service to sell.

Here’s a useful graph on their site I’m embedding from the post Custom Built Apps versus Platform Apps:

Tour Guide App Comparison

3: Preserving Social Media Tech Watch Report

This came by Twitter:


// you haven’t been to visit the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Technology Watch Report page, now’s the time to discover it. DPC has published a 42-page “Preserving Social Media” report that should have a lot of cultural institutions thinking about why they aren’t preserving this growing part of their legacy. One reason is that it’s very hard, with rapidly shifting targets of technology, platforms and service agreements.

The Big Idea from this report (for now): “…the preservation of social media may best be undertaken by a large, centralized provider, or a few large centralized providers, rather than linking smaller datasets or collections from many different institutions.”

The Revelation: The North Carolina State University, Social Media Archives Toolkit is “a freely available web-based documentary toolkit that publicly documents our own effort to develop a sophisticated social media archival program in a way that may help guide cultural heritage organizations that are interested in collecting and curating social media content.”

Due to the complexity of these issues, it looks like we’re heading down a road where the archives profession will be start turning out specialists to deal with this ever-shifting landscape.


That’s it for today’s #digitalheritage stories. Feel free contribute your thoughts for a future edition through the comments, Twitter or email.


Traits of an e-newsletter worth staying subscribed to

Someone asked me recently to name examples of good email newsletters. I have to admit I scratched my head a bit on that one. In the last two weeks I used Gmail filters to effectively get rid of 90% of my subscriptions. Boy has my life improved!

A lot has changed on the e-news front in the past few years. Folks are really simplifying their newsletters so they are more easily viewed on mobile phones. One that I’ve historically liked is World Monuments Fund (I always click on something there). Brooklyn Museum has some good content too. Rather than sending you down rabbit holes in search of the perfect e-newsletter, I’ll tell you about some traits that make up the one I would stay subscribed to:

  • It’s a good snapshot of the organization overall. Generally it’s the only time someone will get a sense of the breadth of your offerings. Offer a variety of content from several of your departments.
  • It has short teasers with a picture. Skip feature-length stories. All your content should be able to be scanned with a couple of thumb swipes, with included links if your reader wants to know more.
  • ONE major call to action.
  • It features links and directions on following/subscribing/sharing social media. Emphasize those that have the most creative input (I.e. Storytelling) from staff. Featuring the latest episode of a podcast is a good example of this.
  • It offers a frequency option. People are inundated with email, so having the option of weekly/monthly/quarterly or by subject matter is important for keeping them on your list.

Those are my thoughts. If you think differently, I’d love to see your comments on this post. If you believe the perfect email newsletter exists for a cultural or heritage institution already, feel free to share a link to it as well.

Teaser image credit.

Search engine optimization case study for heritage websites

Search engine optimization (SEO): We’ve heard a lot about it a lot over the years. While the approaches change (driven largely by Google) and social media takes a bite out of its effectiveness, it’s still an important part of making sure your heritage message transcends the “noise” online.

In this post, we’ll look at the general tactics involved, and provide a tactical case study from my own experience.

The Search engine optimization (SEO) project was part of CHF’s efforts to expand its online presence through social media, video segments, and webcasts.

The project targeted ten high traffic biography pages on the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s (renamed Science History Institute) main site: Robert Boyle, John Dalton, Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, Leo Baekeland, Meyer and Mendeleev, Joseph Priestley, Joseph John Thomson, and Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin. Each page was edited to include the following:

  1. embedded videos
  2. in-line links
  3. sidebars promoting related content
  4. images
  5. the ability to request those images for use
  6. language likely to be noticed up by a search engine
  7. external links were added with hopes that the sites we link to will return the favor
  8. collaboration with the museum’s GLAM-Wiki program for deeper ties to similar content on Wikipedia

The purpose of the project was to test the effectiveness of Search engine optimization practices on a number of factors including

  1. daily page views,
  2. bounce rate,
  3. pages per visit,
  4. average time spent on page,
  5. and unique visitors.

Google Analytics recorded all of these numbers, and others were extrapolated from Social Reports, both valuable tools for future SEO work. After analyzing these metrics and comparing them to the same reporting period (May – December) in 2012 and 2013, it is clear that the targeted web pages significantly improved in almost every area. It should be noted that analysis of other pages that were not changed in this project showed a similar (but generally lower) rate of growth. This leads to the conclusion that the website as a whole has many more visitors staying on pages longer in post SEO implementation than it did before, but that SEO practices can help those metrics improve even faster.

SEO Whitepaper Draft 9-16-14 by jkguin on Scribd

Can you spot the historic inspiration for the Voices of the Past logo?

When I looked into a new logo for Voices of the Past, I wanted something that represented both history and technology.  I discovered the graphic above while visiting the Minnesota Archaeological Society website, and something about it struck me. Check out the tailfeather of the bird on the right. Does is remind you of any new media symbols out there? How about this one:


MAS, which uses the entire bird on the left for its logo, states on its website:

The inscriptions … are from a 1,000-year-old pot that was discovered in 1957 near Red Wing, Minnesota by an MAS member. The thunderbird motif is representative of Middle Mississippian iconography.

I love the thunderbird legend and its symbolic meanings of courage, transformation, and victory so much that it remains my one and only tattoo.


Did Native Americans first conceptualize RSS 1,000 years ago? I’ll leave that to the conspiracy theorists 😉 But it did inspire me enough to use it as the basis for the logo Voices of the Past has today.


Tips on Creating a Large Family Tree for a Gift (with templates)

By Suzie Kolber

A large family tree framed and presented as a gift is a wonderful way to honor a person. It is the ideal choice for a milestone birthday or anniversary and has a lot of meaning. It can be difficult to choose the right template with so many options. The right one for your family may be different from what would work for someone else.

Consider Presentation
Since the family tree will most likely be prominently displayed, it should have a nice visual presentation. A circular family tree provides a continuous, symmetrical design that looks nice when framed. A fan is another option that appears like a piece of artwork when hung.

Another choice is the bowtie family tree chart if you want to include both sides of a family member. This is ideal for anniversaries where you would feature the married couple in the center and branch off for both of their families. Since there will be a lot of information or a long list of names, you want the shape to stand out even if someone doesn’t take the time to read the words.

Consider Information
To choose the right template for your gift, you have to consider how much information you want to include. This will influence the selection as to which style works best. If you only plan to include photos or a name and birthdate, a family tree with oval spaces will look nice. If you want more information included such as birth, marriage and death dates, lines or boxes will be more practical.
The landscape and pedigree styles are the most traditional. They can hold a lot of information in a way that is easy to follow. If you are giving this gift to a couple who did not have children, you may want to use a partner family tree. It allows you to trace the history on both sides of the family with the couple as the starting point.

Keep these tips in mind when designing a family tree print as a gift:

  • Choose a template that doesn’t have a lot of holes that are glaringly obvious – you don’t want to highlight missing people or unusual circumstances that may make people uncomfortable
  • Remember that your family tree chart doesn’t have to be an 8×11 piece of paper; it can be as large as you need it to be to fit the information
  • Consider making it vibrant with a colored background but choose a shade that doesn’t take away from the information or make it difficult to read
  • Find free templates online and try out different ones – you only know when something works once you see it
    A family tree chart is a fabulous gift that many people will appreciate. It is a gift from the heart and one that is personal to the recipient but that others can enjoy. Be willing to play with different styles to fine the one that fits your needs.

Suzie Kolber created to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

Lessons Cooper Hewitt learned in the making of “The Pen”

Note: Having experienced the complexity of developing a small museum interactive product, the concept of Cooper Hewitt’s Pen blew my mind. Cooper Hewitt’s presentation at Museums and the Web 2015 was THE must-see on my list. This is a bulleted recap of the lessons the tream recounted.

Cooper Hewitt reopened at the end of 2014 with a transformed museum in a renovated heritage building. New galleries, a rapidly digitizing collection a new brand and a desire for new audiences drove the museum to rethink and reposition its role as a design museum. At the core of the new museum is a digital platform built in-house that connects collections and patron management systems.  This talk explored the processes, the decisions and resulting trade-offs during each stage.

  1. Why a pen for the digital touchpoint between visitor and museum? Pen was integral to institutional historical narrative.
  2. Project was successful at great cost and time: “There is so much we could have done differently.”
  3. Curators for the first time had to design all floors with no extra staff. Historic building was being restored.
  4. Pen was supposed to be near-future tech, but was “not there” for the intended timeline.
  5. Collections website was built quickly, as was API.
  6. “We could see the shape of what we were doing, and had brought the technology in house.”
  7. The museum was opened without the pen (the tech could function without it).
  8. The pen is there so you don’t have to take a picture of the label text (which never worked well for anyone).
  9. Affordances in descriptions: what was made possible by the object?
  10. Pen touches every single part of the museum. Didn’t realize how much work it would be—goes beyond design thinking.
  11. Pen’s biggest possible is that it pointed to recall—promise to help help people remember their visit.
  12. Pen’s form has resonance with their particular brand.
  13. “Slide of disillusionment.” It was a tedious process
  14. There were three iterations of pens.
  15. Available technologies were too expensive.
  16. The cost of failure
  17. Less cost allows more experiments with failure. Start with something like Raspberry Pi—computer that’s $35. 
  18. Original pen was so expensive that outsourcing would not have worked— needed an in-house team.
  19. Moved from ideas of active to passive pen.
  20. Realized not all of the building rooms had power or networking. Worries about fire around works related to enclosure (and liability issues).
  21. Most useful line: To build institutional momentum—built the dumbest, dirtiest prototypes ever
  22. In DFM modifications, every single change affects manufacture—molding of plastics, internal mechanics, etc. 
  23. Metal is the enemy of radio frequencies.
  24. Had to write an Android app to talk to the API.
  25. This is not just a tech project—it affects everything the museum does.
  26. Process difficulties—pen registration and transfer stations.
  27. Ten manufacturers contribution to the making of the device.
  28. Audience change at Cooper Hewitt has been vast.
  29. Gave out 14,000 pens in four weeks.
  30. 30% return rate on people coming back to their exhibit on the web. Ticket urls don’t expire. Data hosted in Amazon. Pay for use, as capacity grows
  31. Concierge model for visitors. “Keep your ticket—we’d love to have you back.”
  32. Pens cleaned nightly. Batteries were going through first round of changes during the time of this presentation.
  33. Value is in users having a good experience and wanting to remember it. Long game is making recall better through touch and creation.
  34. Another good point: Before this we had nothing; now we have something and we’ll figure the rest out later.
  35. Pen could have been much more. Pen has NFC and is a stylus—everything else is done in software.
  36. Website allows urls for sharing on social media. Don’t integrate social too much because platforms change so quickly.
  37. Don’t overdesign for the present.
  38. Made a commitment to not make one-offs for web awards.
  39. Focus on the right stuff, build capacity, hire people, sustain sector, share as much code as you can.

To learn more about the concept and making of this tool, read Cooper Hewitt’s post, Designing the Pen.

The Burning of Columbia uses digital media to commemorate history

Subscribe on  ITUNES

Connect with Voices of the Past about #digitalheritage on

Have you ever dreamed of what it would be like to go back in time to take part in a historical event? In this podcast, we’ll meet someone who has been involved in helping many folks do the next best thing. Her name is Carrie Phillips, and she is the director of marketing and communications at Historic Columbia in Columbia, South Carolina.

Historic Columbia used digital media to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the burning of that city during the American Civil War. This kind of concept is gaining popularity in a variety of contexts, and I think you’ll agree that Carrie’s group designed Burning of Columbia expertly. Here are the highlighted topics from that interview:

  • About the historical event “Burning of Columbia…”
  • What inspired the design of the campaign
  • What were the goals
  • Who was involved and what their roles were
  • Deciding mix of platforms and message
  • Advice for others considering a similar approach
  • Audience feedback
  • Companion website
  • The future for this project
  • Tweeting historical events


Downloadable case studies on livestreamed webcasts, museum interactives, and the use of Wikipedia for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums.