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Stop the Stream to Honor Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is dead.

The news makes my life pass before me. I stare at the screen where Facebook users continue their posts about Farmville rewards and I want to yell Stop! Stop all the game posts; Stop all the Tweets! Stop everything for one second and recognize the man for the way he changed the world. Can’t you pause for a second to pay tribute to the man whose contributions lead to the creation of all these live streams of posts.
He’s been a part of my life for 26 years and yet, I only met him once. As I think about his life, I can only smile and say Thank you. Thank you for sharing your dreams and making them ours.

Please observe a moment of silence at least to honor this great man. There was no one else like him and we’re all better because of him.

Funeral Blues
W. H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

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What responsibility do we have to our followers?

This past week, I’ve gotten quite a few (hundreds actually) new followers on Twitter and Google+. What’s going on? Does this have anything to do with the new changes on Facebook? Do people hate it that much? Or, does it have anything to do with Farmville changes? 
It’s nice to have all the new followers, but with new followers I feel a bit of responsibility to come up with good tweets and links. 
I tried to find some great quotes by joining  quotesdaddy.com. It is pretty good, but, still it doesn’t seem to be enough. So, I’ve been retweeting a lot. 
Oh sure, I know that the marketing gurus are saying to themselves that they’d be doing a lot more than just repeating quotes. But I don’t feel its right to blanket people with ads. Don’t we have some responsibility to our followers?
I think my responsibility is to only share stuff that I find interesting enough to read. So my question is: What responsibility do we have to our followers? Please tweet me @geekesse.

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The Best Things in Facebook Are Free (for six months, anyway)

Spotify is a streaming music server that saves your play lists, of any music, not just what you’ve purchased, and you can replay that music from anywhere. Recently, that anywhere has included Facebook
How do you add music on Facebook? When you are logged into Facebook on the front page, in the left column, you’ll find an icon with the words “Music” next to it. It’s located right under “Apps.”
When you click on Music, you’ll be asked to download an application called “Spotify.” After installing it, you will be asked to login with Facebook. Or, you can set up an account on their website, without logging into Facebook.
When you do, you can see what music your friends are listening to; subscribe to their playlists; send recommended songs to friends; and just enjoy free unlimited music to your heart’s content. 
If you don’t want to share your playlists you can turn it off. Within Spotify click on your preferences, then uncheck automatically share my playlists. It appears that its an all or nothing feature.
You can also disconnect Spotify while you’re in the program so that the music you’re listening to doesn’t get played. To do that within Spotify, go to File, to Disconnect from Facebook.
Spotify is free. From what I can tell from this blog post on Spotify, the service will only be free for six months.
Spotify pays for the free music by running ads between every few songs and display ads from within the software. They also charge for subscriptions. In fact, every time you open the app, you are asked if you want to upgrade from the free account.  It says you can upgrade for a monthly fee. Unfortunately,  the form asks for my credit card information before it gives me the price, so I didn’t complete it. Wikipedia lists that the Unlimited Subscription is 4.99 per month and Premium (includes mobile) is 9.99  a month. If you spend a lot on music in iTunes this option might be worth it. I’m just a little concerned that it seems to be luring people in with misinformation. You sign up and get all you’re play lists created, then after six months, you’re told you can only play 10 hours of music. Of course, this may have changed with the Facebook deal. 
I’m sure there will be a huge uproar from the Facebook friends who, just having gotten used to the music part, are suddenly told that they are going to have to pay for the right to listen to music, but not own it. 

“Abandon ship!”
“Hit the brakes!”
“I’d expand my farm before I’d pay that!”

I don’t want to stop people from enjoying their free membership on Spotify. Go ahead and enjoy it for six months. The Software is pretty cool and I’m really enjoying the ability to hear almost about every song I can think of. In fact, I’ve put some songs in that I would have sworn wouldn’t be in there and they were. 
As always, I have a couple of tips. First, when you search for a song or name and it says not found, try a different way to put it in the search bar. For instance, I searched for She said Plan B, and no results appeared. But when I tried Plan B She said, it came up. Other times I put the artist last and it had the same problem. 
Also, I was disappointed when I added the Bob Seger song Turn the Page to my play list, but it turned out that it was only a cover, cause I know that wasn’t Seger, not even close. At least when I tried to play Peace Sells, it was listed correctly as a cover song (as made famous by Megadeath). So, just make sure you listen to the song before adding it to your play list.
Apparently, not many people are using the service yet. I have only one friend among hundreds who has a published playlist. So, if you’d like to share your playlists (as long as its not country) please add me.
Finally, if you find yourself getting attached to your playlists, and have no intension of subscribing at some time, keep a separate note of when you signed up and what’s in your playlists.

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Are we getting nastier?

I recently set up a blog for a customer and was encouraging him to integrate it with social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook. He wasn’t in favor of the idea because, he said, Twitter had become so “nasty.” The tweets he’d seen lately were nothing but nasty attacks. Earlier this year, a poll on civility showed that 85 percent of Americans think that politics had become increasingly uncivil. In “We’re getting meaner! What’s it to yah?” NPR interviewed satirist Andy Borowitz the author of The Borowitz Report,. who said we have to put it in historical perspective. But overall comments seemed to indicate that meanness was growing. In August, USA Today published an article on the American Psychological Association’s findings that the workplace had become uncivil.

In 2008 I wrote a Nettiquete post for members of my newsgroup, but I think a lot of it is still good advice. These tips are really just a friendly reminder of how we should treat other people. You can start by taking all of the “manners” that your mama taught you and apply it to your online communication. That said, here are the most important “rules” to ensure a happier and more successful time online:

  1. 1. BE CONSIDERATE. The first, and most important thing to remember is the golden rule. Remember that there’s another person(s) on the receiving end of your post or email. It sounds obvious, but sometimes when you’re looking at an electronic monitor, its easy to forget. Also remember that your “humor” may not be recognized because we cannot write voice in-fluctuations, etc, as well as we can hear them.
  2. 2. “IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE…” One of the shortcomings of schools is that they don’t spend more time teaching people how to argue. How many times have you had to figure out the ratio of a circle in contrast to the number of times you had an argument? I’m just saying, they should re-prioritize the educational requirements proportionately to life’s requirements. If you disagree with someone don’t, ever, make it personal. Not only is it hurtful, but it doesn’t work in swaying others to your side of the argument. I remember once when I was a child, my sis and I were having an argument and she realized she was losing. At the end of her rope, she appealed to my mother with “MOM! APRIL’S STUPID!” The result was that everyone, my mother included, erupted in uproarious laughter. 

A side note: A lot of boards and newsgroups tell you to continue the argument off the list. I’m not going to tell you that because people come away with a false sense of anonymity. There is none. Some think that there’s only two people reading a so-called “private” email and so they can say the darndest things. But remember you have no control over what the receiver does with your email and now with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or rather the current abuse of the act, a server can be ordered to hand over all of your correspondence as well. In addition, I have my email backed up from 1987/8 til now. At any time, I can pull up the correspondence from others and blast it across the internet for all to see. I’m telling you right now, give up the idea that there’s any privacy involved in the internet. Any lawyer will tell you, “Never put it and writing.” And, speaking of privacy, I want to politely decline any further correspondence that include the words “for your eyes only” or “not for publication.” What do I do with that? Are you implying I like gossip?

3. DON’T WASTE OTHER’S TIME: Realize also that others might not want to hear you drone on about the same thing (especially if it has nothing to do with the group topic or repeated tweets to your friends only but we’re all in on the conversation. This coincides with one of my biggest pet peeves, the email forward button. Don’t use it. OK, you might use it once or twice, but only use it if you add some information or some comment or any text at all. Otherwise, consider taking the forward button off your menu bar. You can still find it, if you need to, in the “message” part of the menu. If it says “Pass it On,” don’t. My filters already put those emails right where they belong, directly in the trash. I belong to a lot of boards and newsgroups, so I get thousands of emails a day and it makes me feel like a heel when I get messages titled, “I better get this back.” If I spent my time responding to those I wouldn’t have the time to answer all the legitimate queries I get. In that same vein, never post “dittos.” If you have nothing more to add and you’re not answering a survey, a “me too” is useless.

4. ANSWER YOUR PERSONAL EMAIL: If someone has taken the time to write to you personally, answer them. Even if all you can write is, “I’m busy right now, I’ll try to write more later.” And with that I add be patient for a reply and if you don’t get an answer within a reasonable time period, like say 14 days, then send a gentle reminder. Perhaps, a “did you get this?” and repost your message. Many times, it can take me weeks to write an answer, though I try to keep the time down to a couple of days. 

5. ALWAYS SIGN YOUR POST: especially if you’re giving information. In genealogy this is SO important. Facts are irrelevant if they have no source. If you’re not willing to leave your name, then you’re just a lurker who has nothing to add. Sorry to be so crass, I’m pointing out how others view your posts.

6. QUOTE: Give me some idea of what you’re responding to or talking about. Familiarize yourself with the copy and paste keys on your keyboard. It’s really exciting when I get an email responding to a post that I put up on a board 10 years ago. But, realize my memory’s not that great! I need to know what my question was that you so kindly are responding to. This applies to emails also. Figure out how your email software or email website handles quoting. Sometimes you have to highlight the person’s message, sometimes you have to set your program to do that. If the message was long, remember you can just “quote” the part you’re responding to and delete the rest, but at least quote something. If you are talking about a web page, give the url. I really, really, and I mean, really!, appreciate people letting me know about a broken link or a error on one of my websites. However, please understand, that I have no way of knowing what site or what page you are talking about unless you give me the url.. Help! (To give the url, highlight the text in the url box at the top of your browser go to edit, go to copy. Now, when you go to your email, go back up to edit then to paste.)

7. CHANGE THE SUBJECT LINE. This is especially true on web boards because many times the search engine crawlers only search by subject line. You took the time to respond, now take the time to make sure the right people see your message. On yahoo groups, it seems to only search by subject or email addresses. So, if a person is looking for a particular subject, and the subject hasn’t been changed, those emails are missed. Changing the subject line is an easy thing to do. When you click reply, pop back up one line and write a short description of what you’re writing. 

8. BREATHE! Before you hit the send button, look over your reply. Seriously consider whether you’d want to receive the message you’re sending. Are you clear? Would you talk like that to someone if they were standing in front of you? We get all caught up in the speed of this new internet thingy, or the thrill and excitement that we have a great come back, that we don’t realize the web doesn’t have to dictate the speed of our reply. Recently, some college did a study they called The Good Samaritan. In it, they discovered that the one thing that dictated how “good” people acted toward each other was related to how much time pressure the person was feeling. Those who were rude or unhelpful felt rushed. So, remember to breathe. You’re not rushed. We can wait for your words of wisdom. If you’re a Twitter user, you might want to install the Buffer app on your browser. It allows you to buffer your tweets which will put some space between your reaction and your posts and, at the same time, eliminates appearing as a spammer with 10 tweets in a row.

This blog is probably way too long, and gives too much emphasis on the negatives. The last thing I want to do is scare away newcomers from participating in the two-way street that the internet has become. Honestly, I haven’t seen a lot of negative attacks. Perhaps I don’t recognize when someone is attacking me because a lot of what I read strikes me as funny. I’ve been blessed with a great group of followers. If you follow me, I promise I won’t get nasty and if I do, throw this back in my face.

Surfing to Improve Your Brain

brainImage by TZA via Flickr
Ready to exercise your brain cells? If recent news reports are accurate, I’d say the answer is yes. Apparently, millions of people are taking advantage of free classes online.
According to Apple, its online store’s educational section has hit more than 300 million downloads. Currently, more than 800 universities have iTunes U sites, and almost half of those schools, including Harvard University and Oxford University, offer content through the iTunes Store. Apple said that users can now access “over 350,000 audio and video files” through iTunes U. (Read more)
I’ve been enjoying the free online classes in iTunes for quite some time. So far, I’ve taken classes on astrophysics, algebra, calculus, introduction to music, European art, writing, reasoning, and more. It’s FREE folks, and you all know how I love a good freebie.
But if you’re not a fan of iTunes, fear not! There are many other ways to expand your mind with free online classes.

You probably think of Youtube as the place to watch stupid videos of cats playing the piano, but there are actually a lot of opportunities to expand your mind. A lot of professors are recording their lectures and making them available on the site. For instance, Professor Marc Davis, UC Berkley, gives an excellent course on Introduction to Astronomy.
Many of the colleges have sites that let you participate in complete courses by linking the lectures to a choice of mediums. You can select whether you want to subscribe to the broadcast on itunes, youtube, or in some cased just download the entire series. Wanna brag that you took a class at Yale? One really cool one for the geeks out there is Game Theory with Yale professor Ben Polak. This course is an introduction to game theory and strategic thinking. Ideas such as dominance, backward induction, Nash equilibrium, evolutionary stability, commitment, credibility, asymmetric information, adverse selection, and signaling are discussed and applied to games played in class and to examples drawn from economics, politics, the movies, and elsewhere. The course is taught on the Yale campus twice a week, but you don’t have to go there to enjoy it. You don’t even have to download the video to benefit from the class. If you’re taking a long trip, you can just save the audio casts to your cell and learn something on the long drive.
If you have a hobby, a great way to learn more about your subject or hear what others are doing is to subscribe to podcasts. One of my absolute favorites is “The Genealogy Guys” podcast, which covers a vast range of topics of interest to genealogists. However, with the huge number of podcasts, it would be more helpful to send you to their website at genealogyguys.com, so you can pick among the specific podcast titles by using their handy search tool.
You don’t have to take online courses to expand your mind. Experts say that keeping our minds active can greatly improve the quality of life in later years. You can do that by playing mind games. No, I’m not talking about playing some mean trick on someone. I’m talking about brain teasers, puzzles, quizzes and other online games that exercise your brain muscles. There are tons of brain-expanding sites to help you. A few of my favorites are:

And, believe-it-or-not, you can exercise your brain at Facebook. Challenge your friends to a game of Scrabble with Words with Friends. OK. I know, it know. Its by the dreaded folks at Zynga. But, the great thing about the game is that you can play it anywhere. On FB or on your iphone or Droid. Or, if you prefer Chess, there’s also Chess with Friends. Believe me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how intelligent your Facebook friends really are.
You can also exercise your brain and benefit your overall health by learning a new activity, such as a new dance. My friends over at Thrill Visalia! are planning a group Thriller dance in October. In it, they give free lessons on learning the 3-minute version of Michael Jackson’s famous Thriller video. Their event is part of the world-wide Thrill the World event, so even if you’re not in the area, you can find participating groups near you or just view their videos and learn at home.
I hope that this post gave you some food for thought, but I don’t want to leave you feeling frustrated with brain overload. While it’s important to exercise our brains, it is also very important to learn to relax them. Our world is so full of stress these days so it’s more important than ever to take a little time to relax. There are a number of ways to do this and if you go to mind-energy, you can learn specific techniques to quickly calm over-tired brain muscles.

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Stumbleupon: ‘You Have Reached the End of the Internet’

Yesterday, I was informed by Stumbleupon that I had reached the end of the internet. I backed away to reread it. My eyes not being what they used to be I was sure I was mistaken. Apparently I had already gone through all the links in my interests list and there were no more interests to select from. 
I looked at the URL. Being a savvy websurfer, I’d heard about the trick of adding  .ro.ro at the end of any link to get you to the end of the internet. For instance if I changed my website url from pastisenterprises.com to pastisenterprises.ro.ro/ I would end up at the end of the internet — but it didn’t have that suffix. It wasn’t a joke. 
Restaurant at the End of the Universe
I paused for a much needed drink at a hip hotspot called The Restaurant at the End of The Universe with a couple of old friends who always happen to be there. Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, and Trillian were working on some math problem. “How can it be 42?!” Arthur was yelling over the roar of the band.  As they droned on, my mind went over my options:
  • I could start over
  • I could start recommending more sites to Stumbleupon. 
  • I could look at the Stubleupon alternatives.

StumbleUponImage via WikipediaStumbleupon is a website surfer’s dream. You click on the Stumbleupon add-on icon in your browser’s toolbar and it whisks you away to a random website. The more you click “like” the more options it has to take you to the next time. And, if you find a really cool site, you can click on Stumbleupon’s share button to show others your great new find. When I’m having a stressful moment, or need to take a break from a project I’m working on, I use Stumbleupon to change my mood, lighten up, or just to distract me. Unfortunately, Stumbleupon had decided that I was done. That’s ok, maybe I do need a change. There are tons (hundreds) of other sites that allow you to bring up random websites. Here are a couple:

First. there’s always Google’s Feeling Lucky button. I say, first, because Google is set to be my home page on all of the browsers I use. You put in a topic and click on the “I’m feeling lucky” button, instead of getting a selection of search results, Google pulls up the top rated website that has to do with that search. Usually the top rated website tends to be someone who paid for that spot. So, I’ve never been a big fan.
Spinsnap describes itself as a channel surfing tool for the internet. You pick your favorite channels and when you click “spin again” you are taken to a website involving a completely different topic. Spinsnap offers some very small niches that others don’t offer, including genealogy. Need a little more structure? That’s there too. Spinsnap has a lit of the most “liked” sites in each category.
If you join Yoono you won’t ever miss one of your friends’ shared links again. Yonoo allows you to view all the tweets and status updates while you continue to browse the web. Share and view links among the friends in your various social networking accounts including Twitter, Facebook, Linked in, and some others. It doesn’t, however, have google plus yet.  A word of warning though. It can be quite distracting. If you use the Firefox plugin, unless you collapse it, it takes up about one-quarter of your browser. I usually surf on my 14-inch MacBook pro and need all the viewing space I can get. So I usually collapse the sidebar. The sidebar contains all your connected friends posts and a popup appears on the right corner every time one of your friends updates their “status” either by tweeting, or posting on Facebook. It also notifies you of any new posts with this annoying “boing” sound. One of the first things I did, was try to figure out how to stop all the Farmville posts from appearing in the links without eliminating Facebook posts all together. I couldn’t find a way to apply filters to the Facebook feed. What I really like about Youno, though, is they have a lot of different ways to use it. You can use it in with addons in Firefox or Chrome browsers; you can use it on a mobile app; or there’s the desktop app for PC and Mac.  When I first used it, they only allowed one account for each of the social networks, but I believe they’ve extended it to other accounts. When I click on share, it tells me what account I’m sharing it with, so I’m assuming that means that you can add other accounts. Its easy to setup accounts, just by going to the website and clicking on “connections” but that’s another item on my to-do list. 

Open Share IconImage by Si1very via Flickr

This isn’t really like Stumbleupon, in that you don’t click on something and it takes you to a random place, but it does allow you to share your links on Stumbleupon, as well as a gazillion other social networking sites. You connect your accounts and click on the icon in browser toolbar (you have to install the add-on first) and it shares it to the site(s) you select. What’s great is you can see what your friends are sharing and so in that way you can find some new sites that you would have never thought to go to.
If you’re a fan of wikipedia, then you’ll love this one. Paste this link in your browser bar and get a random topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random You can also add it as a button in your browser toolbar and the next time you’re bored click on it and be taken away to a whole new world. I usually end up on some topic I never would have gotten to on my own. For instance, I was just taken to a page John Garrison Marks, a retired hockey player. I have never had a repeat, so this can go on for a long time.
Delicious is a social bookmarking service, which means you can save all your bookmarks online, share them with other people, and see what other people are bookmarking. But, did you also know you can find some great random websites? The best way of finding random links is to go to the most popular bookmarks being saved at any given moment. Because there are a lot of people using delicious, it tends to change from minute to minute. So, just refresh your browser and get a whole new list. It’s a great way to stay in the loop because it lets you know what people are doing this very second.
In the mood for a little less reading and more viewing? See random Twitter Pics being shared by going to http://twicsy.com/top/hour. There are some very funny, really inspiring, and/or really disturbing photographs being shared on Twitter. Twicsy lets you see the top retreeted images. And, when breaking news is happening this is the place to be as you see photos being taken of the event as its occurring, rather than what’s shown on the 6 o’clock news.

42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Lif...Image via Wikipedia

There are so many more random website servers that I’d like to share with you but right now, my friends at Milliways have finished their argument and agreed that the answer is indeed 42, and Zaphod has offered me a lift back home in his Infinite Improbability Drive, so I gotta run.
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How to create an online community that will survive

My genealogical community, Heycuz, has been around since 1998. That’s way back when you had to use a telephone to get online. Today, there are between 900 and 1500 people on it right now. I mean this very second. You can check by the “Who’s Online” widget on the front page. I’ve received lots of comments from administrators of other genealogical communities saying they “wish” they had the group participation that we have on Heycuz. In other words, Heycuz has not only survived but is has thrived!

A virtual community is expensive to launch, difficult to attract visitors (participants), and poorly planned execution will make even a promising start fizzle into thin air. I’m saddened that many worthwhile groups’ and organizations’ websites die out so quickly. I want to help you by telling you how we did it. Being deliberate in your planning and construction of your new community website will minimize the chances of your visitors becoming frustrated with a poorly working or confusing roll-out and leaving your site forever.

KISS your members, don’t knock them over.

Bells and whistles are so tempting. There are so many great toys for web communities available: forums, blogs, galleries, private messaging, video chat rooms, and surveys to name a few. But, I’m telling you now KISS (keep it simple stupid) your members don’t knock them over. The “throw everything up at once and hope something sticks” is a recipe for disaster.
At Heycuz, we started out with a very simple newsgroup format. We used Yahoo groups where members could post and reply to group emails. Since most people know how to use email (in the early days we still had to teach people how to attach files), the resulting conversation was lively. Within a few months, even though we didn’t seek new members, we grew from less than a dozen core members to a couple hundred. As we grew, we began to add features to our group including a website which included the family histories and descendant trees.

Drop What Doesn’t Work, Build on What Does.

One of the first new features we tried was a weekly chat room. The sound of crickets was deafening. We tried different times; we tried different topics; we tried different chat systems; but never more than three or four people showed up. I’m not saying don’t try chat rooms, there are lots of successful ones. But, since my members didn’t enjoy it, we dropped it and no one brought it up again. On the other hand, if you find that a large group of your members are doing something you didn’t expect then build upon it. For instance, say your members enjoy posting their links to videos that they created. Take advantage of that by dedicating a whole area of the site to showcasing your members’ videos. There are lots of open-source solutions to host videos or you can even allow them to embed youtube videos.  If you find many of your members posting links to their blog posts, then give them a reason to stick around by offering them a blog feature right on your group’s website. Not only will they enjoy it, but they’ll help add to your site’s content.

Give Yourself Room To Grow.

Being a genealogy group, documents are important, very important. Unfortunately, the servers that I chose didn’t see eye to eye with us. Can you believe they actually told us we had too many files? When we started I thought that we could NEVER use more than 10 gigs of space. The first time I had to pack up and move the entire site it took me three days AND nights. Talk about zombies. I slept by my computer, jumping up when my computer beeped the warning that I’d been knocked offline again. Now, there are much easier backup systems (which I will talk about later).
Also make sure that the software that you use for your site has the ability to grow. As I stated before, we started with Yahoo groups, so we were (and in some ways still are) at the mercy of Yahoo. About five years ago, Yahoo decided it would no longer save “attachments” sent along with the newsgroups posts. Another set of sleepless nights ensued as I frantically went post by post to download our precious files before they deleted them all. Remember, as I said, in genealogy documents are very important. I already had a backup system, but I didn’t want to take the chance that I had missed anything, so I saved everything again. So, learn from my mistakes, don’t use a system where you have little or no control. These days there are several newsserver systems that can be installed directly on your own server. Since my members are comfortable with Yahoo, having spent more than 13 years on it, I’ve left the newsgroup there, writing a script to send the posts to the website’s forum. It is an awkward work-around, but I stay with it because its working for now. I’m not saying don’t go with Yahoo Groups, some people are very happy with it, but if I was starting out today I wouldn’t go that route. It’s like having a landlord controlling your company.

Ask for donations or finance your site by selling advertising space.

Heycuz is a labor of love, so I never expected to make money with it. In fact, I find it laughable when going through my spam box deleting all the emails I get telling me how I can make money on my website. I know it’s just bots sending out spam, because one look at the site and you know we’re not a profit organization. For years, I was footing the bill for the hosting and cost of the extra software, and never thought to ask for donations. I just chalked it up to be an expense to feed my genealogy addiction. From time to time I would get a prospective member asking how much it cost to join the site because they couldn’t believe that they got all that they got for free. From day one we had always said that our research would be free to all who joined and I couldn’t go back on my word. Plus, I get so much more out of the website. Just think, every day I go to my website and someone has uploaded a never-before-seen family photograph, or someone else just added a complete branch that we’d never knew existed, or another member remembered it was my anniversary and sent me a dancing cow! I have even received beautiful, leather-bound family histories and credit on the dedication page to boot! For those who don’t know, family history books can be very expensive. How can you set a price on that? However, one day one of our members questioned why no one had thought of donating to the website and without even one guilt trip, I received enough money to pay for the entire year within a couple of days (by snail mail, too!) People were happy to give. So, we’ve put a donation thermometer on our site and when the goal is achieved we post it. However, don’t be annoying with your donation buttons. Don’t make your members mad. Don’t put popups that detract your visitors from enjoying and contributing to the site. My response to those sites is to just close the tab. They don’t work folks.
Since the Heycuz site is non-profit, we never had to sell advertising. But, if you’re interested in making money for your group, there are a number of ways to do it. The most obvious is to sell advertising space. There are tons of how-to sites and books that can give much better advice than I so I won’t post it here. But, you should also consider selling membership subscriptions to your site. There are some sites that give some information for free and charge you to get more information or to be able to post information. You can also have eCommerce on your site and offer group memorabilia. If people would proudly wear a T-shirt with your organization’s logo on it, for instance, you can use a site like CafePress that handles the orders, manufactures the items, and ships the product so you don’t have any overhead. When we had a reunion the ability to purchase coffee cups and other Heycuz paraphernalia was very popular amongst our members.

Protect Your Members, Protect Your Data, Protect Yourself.

When someone joins your community and adds personal information its because they trust you. Work very hard to keep that trust. Be honest with your members. Let them know your policy right off the bat and don’t change the policy without having a full discussion with your members. Also, protect your members’ privacy. Don’t sell your members’ list. Let me qualify that. It depends on what your user expects. If you’ve asked for permission or sent out a notification of your intent to allow companies to send out information, that’s between you and your members.
You should also have an email cloaking system on your forums to make sure that bots don’t comb the site and start spamming your members. We protect our members by requiring registration to access many of the features.
Building a community website takes a lot of time and it would be a disaster if all the data was lost because the site got hacked. So, have some kind of security system in place and, just in case the worst happens, have a full-site backup. Ask your web server for the services they have available before you put down your cash. If you’re already on a server that doesn’t offer a backup, which these days I find unbelievable, you can find automated backup systems easily by just searching on the web. Two of the most popular ones are Site-Vault and Handy Backup. You should be able to set up the backup to run automatically on a timely basis.
Finally, protect yourself. Running a website, especially a large community site can be exhausting. Don’t run yourself ragged. Ask for help. Give your members the opportunity to volunteer. Tell them what you need, divide it into specific tasks, and let them know how long each task should take. Not only will it relieve you of a lot of work, but it will also strengthen your community. We all want to contribute in a some way. That’s why we join a community and if we feel vital to the group, we’ll stick around. We all need to be needed.
Protect yourself legally. Heycuz is a family website, meaning we are all related in some fashion, but being related doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. No matter how much you trust your members, you need to have a few legal statements on your site. If you can’t get a lawyer to write a Terms and Conditions statement, you can find some available online. All you do is replace the generic name in the document with your own. Make sure that you include a copyright statement. Plagiarism is rampant on the web because many people are unaware of copyright laws. If you have a copyright on there, you have recourse if your valuable content that you and your members have built up, is taken.
One final word about protecting yourself–it makes me very uncomfortable to even bring it up–but some times things get out of hand. According to Ittybiz.com death threats and hate crimes on women bloggers is escalating.
Unfortunately, I’ve been the recipient of threats, so I feel for you. The advice of one workshop held recently at the Blogher ’11 conference is to document the threats and make an official report to your local police department. I advise you to read the transcript before you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.

Do you love it? Do You Really, Really, Really, REALLY love it?

Love ? I love love love you.Image by doug88888 via FlickrFinally, take a long, hard look at yourself. Go on. Pick up a mirror and do a thorough examination. Remember how you look cause you’ll never be the same. Now, look at the premise of your community just as thoroughly. Is this community one you want to hang-out in yourself? Do you want to hang out there for hours? Days? Weeks? Years? Do you see yourself hanging out there 10 years from now? Still feel as giddy as a school boy? Then go for it! But before you go, please drop me a line and tell me about your community. After all, if you’re still excited about it I might want to join too!

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Genealogists You Should Have in Your Circle

Google+ is a great asset if you’re interested in technology with a steady stream of posts day or night, but what if you’re interested in genealogy? Not so much.
What is Google + (or Google Plus)? – Well, its everything! Its like a blog, its like Twitter, it’s like Facebook, its like Google Buzz, its like a photo gallery, its like Instant Messaging, its like video messaging; Its all of those things rolled into one fantastic gathering place. It’s a tool to use to connect to your “circle of friends” and share posts to those in specific “circles” about specific topics. You add your friends into circles and then choose what to share with that circle. Sound intriguing? If you need an invite, just let me know and I’ll send you one.
Without much work at all, I’ve added some great people to my circles. I’ve named my circles: Business Contacts, Family, Following (bloggers who I follow), Humor (people who always make me laugh), Mensans, Friends and Genealogists. You can name your circles anything that you find most helpful.
Every morning, when I startup my browser & Let me rephrase that because In truth I never turn off my browser. So, every morning with I click on my open-all-at-once button that I’ve labeled “DAILY” in my browser bar, the first site to pop up is my Google+ Stream. That way, while I’m waiting for the coffee to brew, I can see what people are up to, read some news, and maybe get a laugh or two.
But yesterday morning, my stream was a little too long to read through it quickly, so I clicked on my circles one at a time until I clicked on my genealogy circle and hit a wall. There was just one post. It was by Marian Pierre-Louis, who writes two of my favorite blogs: Marian’s Roots and The New England House Historian.

I said to my self, “Self? Where are all the posts from all the genealogy blogs you follow?” Popping up to my genealogy circle, I realized that I hadn’t added those bloggers to my circles yet. Thus began my quest. I went to each of the genealogy blogs that I follow so that I could add the authors to my genealogy circle.
I was very disappointed when i found very few of them, exactly two, had any link to their Google profiles. See, they have to have a profile or you can’t add them to your circle. If you’re a fan of genealogy, you know there are thousands of genealogy bloggers on the internet. Genealogists do take their time incorporating newer technologies into their toolbox for some reason or another, but once they find out how the tool will benefit them, watch out. I’ve learned so many research tricks thanks to a genealogist. Take, for example, Twitter, a year or so ago it was difficult to find genealogists actively using the site, but like all bloggers they’ve come to appreciate Twitter for its ability to attract more followers and broadcast their content to a much larger audience.
Here are some of the ways I have found using Google+ beneficial as a genealogist:

Get news of a new blog post immediately (No more missing your favorite genealogist’s words of wisdom)
Let blog followers know about new posts
Get more readers and along with that get more interraction
Ask a research question and get a lot of viewpoints. Most of the time responses are very quick
Share family research news
Coordinate reunions (or research trips)
Private video chatrooms to work on a specific project

Perhaps these bloggers don’t know yet how easy it is to add a Google+ button to their blogs. Whether you’re using blogger, WordPress or any of the other blogging software, it’s very, very easy.

Head on over to your Google+ profile. In the URL bar there’s a number, that’s your profile ID.
Copy that number.
Then, go to WidgetPlus and paste that number in the Google Profile ID box.
Fiddle with any appearance settings you’d like to change and then click “Get Code.”
Copy the code in the text box that appears.
Go to your blog’s design area to add a new widget, paste the widget code and save.

That’s it.

Don’t get me wrong. There are genealogists on Google+, it just takes a little elbow grease to find them. I’ve created a list of the ones who I consider worth adding to your circles. The criteria I used was very simplistic:
Are they actively using Google+?
That knocked off a few immediately including the author of the very popular genealogy blog Dear Myrtle. Although she has a Google profile, none of her posts on Google+ are public so I assumed she was not using it to communicate with her readers.
I made no judgements about the quality of their posts. If your favorite Genealogical blogger isn’t there, you’ll have to find them. Two ways to find people on Google + are to search for their names in the search bar at the top of your Google+ page or go to the Google + directory where you can search for people by tags (keywords).
If you find any genealogists who are actively using Google+, please let me know so I can add them to this list:

Put These Genealogists In Your Circle

Jeffrey BockmanJeffrey Bockman

Genealogical Lecturer and Writer, was a contributing editor for the Everton’s Genealogical Helper.


Tamara JonesTamura Jones

Author of Modern Software Experience


Leslie LawsonLeslie Lawson

Forensic genealogist and guest speaker


Lisa Wallen LogsdonLisa Wallen Logsdon

Author of the Genealojournal and Old Stones Undeciphered


Joan MillerJoan Miller

Author of Luxegen Genealogy and Family History


Chris PatonChris Paton

Author of Scottish Genes Blog and Scotland’s Greatest Story


Susi PenticoSusi Pentico

Genealogy Instructor, Historian and Educational Assistant, Genealogical Research and Educational Chairperson CVGS Conejo Valley Genealogy Society.


Marian Pierre-LouisMarian Pierre-Louis

Author of Marian’s Roots and The New England House Historian


Caroline PointerCaroline Pointer
Professional Genealogist & In2Genealogy Columnist for Shades of the Departed, & Texas Aggie. She also writes 4YourFamilyStory.com


Lorine McGinnis SchulzeLorine McGinnis Schulze

Author of Olive Tree Genealogy Blog


Randy SeaverRandy Seaver
Author of GenamusinsSouth San Diego County Graveyard Rabbit and Geneaholic


Drew SmithDrew Smith

Author of the book Social Networking for Genealogists


Megan SmolenyakMegan Smolenyak

Author of Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History, companion guide to the NBC series. She also
writes Smolenyak’s Roots World


Kirsty F. WilkinsonKirsty F. Wilkinson

Author of The Professional Descendant


April Heath Pastis April Heath Pastis
You are also very welcome to add me to your genealogy circles. I am the founder of the Heycuz genealogical newsgroup.

NOTE: This is day No. 11 toward keeping my commitment to NaBloPoMo to post once a day. Have you joined yet?

Where do Lactose-Intolerant Kids Go to School?

As I listened to Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. tell politicians who don’t put workers back to work to go to hell, I thought to myself, well good for him. Its about time someone said what all of the out-of-work Americans were thinking. But, after listening to the commentators on CNN, I realized I may not have understood his message. Which got me to thinking about words. They are so easily misunderstood and misused. Dropping off my son, I saw the school’s marquee proclaim that intolerance of any kind is grounds for expulsion. So where to lactose intolerant kids go to school?

My son told me that many deaf people think in images. I’d never heard that. I have often thought about how I thought. The sequence of thought; the way my brain works  compared to say “normal” thinkers. Would I be a completely different person if I thought in images? I think that I think in words.  Am I naive? Am I simplistic? Do I over-think things?

Not to harp on the topic of politics, but during the 2008 elections, a big poll amongst my Facebook friends was the Political Compass quiz.
People were commenting on how surprised they were with their own personal results being either more right or more left than they’d thought. They also noted how close McCain and Obama actually were on the compass. Don’t trust that quiz? There’s also another over at Go To Quiz so you can compare the tests.
What I wonder is: are we actually understanding the meaning of the speaker’s words?
Part of the popularity of the internet is the ability to connect with like-minded people. We love putting in our two cents. The acronym “IMO” wouldn’t be a popular, easily recognized phrase if we didn’t care about the opinions of others and how they compare to our own. But, 2 cents is all we want. Mike Godwin pointed out, in the widely understood theorem ‘The Godwin Effect’: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100 percent.” Meaning whenever the debate gets too long, the  quality of the words deteriorates to mud slinging. Isn’t the fallacy of association in forums mirroring the way we interact with each other in general?
The problem, I think, is that people debate to sway their opponent over to their side, and the other person is doing the same. There is rarely any attempt to “hear” what the other person is saying. Ultimately, both sides are frustrated and it finally ends when someone throws in the towel by invoking the name of Hitler (i.e. The Godwin Effect).
Family therapists have been teaching couples how to affectively argue with each other by advising us not to make it personal. Argue your point but don’t hit below the belt with statements like, “well you’re too stupid to realize I’m right.”
In the end, I guess its not that we misunderstand, but we fail to listen.

NOTE: This is day No. 9 toward keeping my commitment to post once a day. Have you joined yet?

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I’m not cutout to be a virtual superhero

It started over a year ago. A dear friend called me in a panic and the terror in her voice was apparent. “Please help me!” she said, her tone quivering with impending danger.
“Anything! What do you need?” I said trying to calm her down. I knew she was out of town and figured she was stranded somewhere. Uneasy about the tiny size of my bank account, I crossed my fingers that she didn’t need money.
Since this was a phone call, I wasn’t worried about it being some kind of hacker, who pretends to be a friend and says they’re stuck in England and needs thousands to get home. I’ve had those kind of text messages and emails and had the fortune to recognize it for what it was: a scam. No, I knew her voice and, besides, my cell showed that her phone number was correct. No, this wasn’t a scam, my friend was in serious trouble. My husband, who’d been making dinner, came out of the kitchen, hearing the concern in my voice, and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“What is it?” his eyes said.
“I don’t know,” my eyes replied.
I waited with bated breath for my friend to explain her dilemma…

“My crops are about to wither and I can’t get internet access here!” she cried. I was relieved and somewhat bewildered. I bit my lip to keep from belting out a huge guffaw. We were Farmville neighbors so I knew what she meant. She gave me her Facebook password and I resolved her problem.
Over the past year, I’ve become a VirtualHero for some dozen or so friends who’ve had similar panic attacks. I’ve even received emails from one friend or another asking if I could tend their crops, or whatever, while they were on vacation.
Armed with superhuman strength, I’ve supplied my talents to feeding virtual fish, petting SuperPets, sending back gifts, completing quests–you name it–if its a game on Facebook, I’ve helped out.
Which brings me to the inevitable question: Why hasn’t some enterprising go-getter, started a business for this? If there’s a need, there’s always a business created to fill it. Right?

There is definitely a need. There are entire websites dedicated to Farmville addicts. Dr. Phil even did a TV show about it.  Wired magazine posted about executives excusing themselves from a meeting because their crops were about to wither. We’ve all heard about these game addicts, some of us are addicts ourselves. Even if you don’t play the game, you’d have to be a hermit if you’ve never heard of it.

When Harold Camping proclaimed that the Rapture would occur on May 21st, enterprising atheists set up websites offering services to take care of your pets in case you weren’t around to do it. Don’t believe me? See Eternal-Earthbound-Pets or After the Rapture Pet Care. So, why isn’t there a business setup to help these panicked gamers?
It’s not as though my idea is very original. I mean, Farm Town already allows you to hire others to harvest for you, and gives you 25 percent more profit to boot. But, still, you actually have to BE on your farm to hire them.
This morning I spent a few hours Googling for Facebook game assistance businesses, but the closest I could find was automation software for Farmville.

Farmville Automizer:

“The key to getting everything you want in Farmville is not to play for outrageous amounts of hours but to maximize your profits by using automation software.”

Also with extra plugins to fertilize your neighbors crops and lots more. (Cost is $27) The software, however, is for windows users only so I couldn’t try it out without logging out of my Mac and firing up Bootcamp, a chore I really hate because Windows takes so long to load.
Another one is Bot for Farmville: Bot will plant and harvest crops, plow, harvest trees, help neighbors, harvest buildings and animals. You can also add more tasks by adding the plugins. It also is a PC-only software, but it says its free.
There are also websites offering ghost posting services for businesses and celebrities on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.
The need is definitely out there. I, however, would never think of charging my friends for these services. Nor, would I want to offer the services. I play Farmville too much any way. Lately, I sign on just to send friends gifts and even that’s too much.
With a little bit of programming knowledge, such a service shouldn’t take that much time. A programmer could even adapt existing Firefox or Greasemonkey plugins to handle a lot of the work. Some extensions are: Clean my Wall, Facebook Mass Accept, Boost (automatically poke anyone who pokes you), not to mention all the grabber bars for collecting prizes for all the different games.
I do have some tips for any programmer who wants to make a few bucks and come up with such a service.
Number 1: is don’t get your client’s account banned. Facebook’s security setup is based on the location a user signs in from. If Facebook sees a person signing in in San Francisco California, and then seconds later, signing in in Atlanta, Georgia, Facebook will sometimes put a hold on the account. Sometimes the hold can last for as long as two hours during which time a person’s crops have withered. Some Work arounds might be: to re-write your IP address to your customer’s IP. The second work around, is a bit more convoluted. Facebook will sometimes question that the person signed in is the true owner of the account, by making you identify a random photo in a random gallery of the person. In this case, you should know have a local copy of the person’s galleries.

Number 2: Know the games for the services you offer as well as the your client does. I’ve had the unfortunate event of having “killed” an animal someone paid real cash for because I wasn’t familiar enough with the game to know a certain sequence of events to keep the animal alive. Since I was this person’s friend, she was kind and said, “oh well,” and dropped it. But, people who pay you for your services won’t be so kind. You might have to pay back the person for their loss or put some kind of statement that you’re not responsible in those kind of circumstances.
I’m sure there are a lot of programmers who could start providing such a service. It would really be a relief for over-used “friends” like myself.
I’m really not cut out to be a Virtual Superhero.

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