Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Google+ Page for your Genealogy Society

If you've been using Google+ for a few months, you likely recall that one critique was their lack of support for pages to showcase products, services, organizations, and other 'non-person' profiles. Well, our wait is over. Google recently launched Pages , providing a nice array of options for many different types of non-person pages. If you belong to a genealogy club, society or other similar group, you may wish to mention this at your next meeting so you can be easily found by others who may be searching for precisely the topic you are so passionate about.
You can View a Sample Family History Page to get an idea of how a page can look. Use the Search Google+ box at the top of your Google+ page to search for some of your favorite organizations, brands, products, destinations and others that may already have a Google+ Page!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sharing Surnames in your G+ Profile

As many family history enthusiasts have already embraced Google+, we're already looking for ways in which we can make the service all about genealogy. Forget about how others may use it, we've got real work to do! We've got ancestors still to find.

One small thing we can do to let others know our research interests is to be sure our Google+ Profile includes mention of the Surnames or at the very least, the ethnicities we are researching. This can be done in one of two ways. Each profile includes an Introduction section which enables you to do some basic, but useful text editing. You can make things bold, italic, underlined, but can also embed a link, as well as include a bulleted or numbered list.

One quicker and more subtle way is to edit the section further down the page labeled Other names. In mine, I have included other names that someone might use to search for me through Google+ or a Google Web search. I have also included the Irish and Italian Surnames I am researching as shown in the image below.

I don't yet know how this text is indexed and whether these Surnames will serve as bait to lure someone to my page when conducting research, but it is certainly worth a try. As I learn more, I'll be sure to let you know.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Understanding the Integration Between Stream & Circles

Following a webinar presentation on Google+ held yesterday, I've received quite a few emails and have noticed that many — even some existing Google+ users — didn't quite understand the relationship and integration between Circles and the Stream of content which appears on your Google+ home page. I thought I'd take a few minutes to try and explain this for the benefit of those who have sent emails asking, especially since I promised several that I'd do so via this blog within 24 hours.

New Google+ Users
When you first establish your account on Google+, your home page will default to a Welcome page. You'll be encouraged to establish Circles and to find people to put in your circles. Once you begin that process, your content Stream on the home page will automatically begin populating with comments of all types. Some will be short text-only posts (like something you might see from Twitter) and others may be more in-depth postings with images, embedded video or links to another site attached. There is a close relationship that exists between the Circles you establish and the content Stream.

Underwater Basket Weaving
While preparing for the webinar this past weekend, I did a few sample searches from the Sparks page in Google+. Since many of my contacts (friends, family, and business associates alike) have an overlap in some way with my interest in family history research, I wanted to use a completely unrelated example. I'm not sure why, but after a brief pause, I typed the three words underwater basket weaving — thinking this was just so obscure, but to my surprise, there were already a few postings on Google+ matching this query.

Let's assume for a moment that I had a dozen or so contacts that shared my interest in this hobby (craft? sport? profession?). I could create a Circle named U-B-W or Baskets or any other name I might want to give to the group. Over time I could continue to manage the members of this Circle, even including those without a Google+ account by simply noting their email address. Later, when I had something interesting to share — perhaps a notice about an upcoming event, I could Share a post and specify it is to be shared specifically with members of this particular Circle of friends. After all, why would my genealogy friends or family members or co-workers want to hear about this upcoming event about underwater basket weaving?

Now, here comes the simple, but powerful integration of Circles and the Stream of content that is central to your use of Google+. Tomorrow or the next day or at any time thereafter, you sign in to your Google+ account and view your home page. Your Stream is populated by content — most recently posted items and their corresponding comments appear at top with a time stamp, and the further down the list you look, the older the posts get.

Rather than scroll through all the postings from your entire collection of family members, friends, business and social contacts, you can look to the left navigation bar for the Stream header and the corresponding list which appears immediately below. You should recognize the names because they are your Circles listed in the same priority order as your Circles appear when you manage your Circles and contacts as accessed through the Circles icon at the top of your page.

Look at the list, find the Baskets or U-B-W or whatever name you gave to this group and with just one click, you will quickly filter all the posts in your Stream to only those shared by people who are placed in the corresponding Circle.

So, while the header of that column is labeled Stream, the individual text elements which appear below are text links corresponding to your Circles.

The better job you do at setting up and maintaining your Circles and the contacts within, the more effective this filtering capability will be for you. I hope that helps explain this for those who sent me email. Please share your follow-up comments or questions as comments to this post so that we can all benefit from the discussion on this blog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Google+ Wish List

We've probably all heard the question at least once in our lives — If you had just three wishes, what would they be?

And after using our first two, most of us also probably wished for 3 more wishes. And so the list continues to build. Well, Google didn't wait for the question to be asked and answered, they created Google+ for us based on their best intelligence (which is substantial), but there's nothing quite like serving a worldwide market to help refine a product.

With this in mind, I've created a separate place for those that may be interested (not genealogy specific, but Google+ specific). It is a blog which will be dedicated to a Google+ Wish List so we can hopefully get all our favorite features in there sooner, rather than later.

Give it a peek and share it with your friends — geni-friends or otherwise. And don't be afraid to share your thoughts as comments to some of the posts.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

What SPARKS your interest?

OK, let me start by being politically correct — I have nothing against Cycling, Fashion, Movies, Recipes, Soccer, Sports Cars, Gardening, Android, Comics or Robotics. Heck, anyone who's known me a while knows I LOVE Cycling, coached Soccer, enjoy Sports Cars (especially old ones), and have been Gardening with my friend/neighbor John for several years.

It seems, however, that each of these 10 topics of interest (what Google+ refers to as a Spark), somehow made the cut as the defaults, yet Genealogy didn't. The nerve of those twenty-something's at Google!

Let's Get Started
Anyway — Just a few comments for how we family history enthusiasts can be using Sparks to our best advantage in Google+.

As noted, Sparks are nothing more (or nothing less) than your personalized topics of interest. In addition to the general and somewhat obvious theme of Genealogy, I would suggest you also consider more narrow and specific subjects for one-click, easy access to items shared by others — for me, Italian Genealogy and Campobasso Italy were quick additions to my Sparks list.

Think about your Pedigree Chart and the names that commonly appear — both Surnames as well as Place Names. You can add or remove a Spark at any time. Once added, it will appear on the list of your main page (in the lower left portion of your screen).

Currently, the list is not automatically alphebetized nor can you move them around in any priority order, but just as Google+ did with Circles, I expect this is a short-term shortcoming that will be quickly and easily fixed by engineers who are still trying to figure out how to spell the word 'genealogy' correctly.

Don't Be Afraid to Experiment
If you've not yet explored Sparks, now is a perfect time. Within just a few minutes, you'll wonder what was holding you back. Click on the word Sparks itself and that will bring you into a central page for searching for (and I would expect eventually managing) your Sparks.

In the full screen image above, I couldn't resist adding Genealogy (using Photoshop) where Fashion had originally been. Sorry to tease you like that!

As you begin to enter characters into the Sparks search box, you'll notice the familiar Google Suggest technology which gives you an idea of the collective search topics closely matching what you have started to type in. Not only can this save you a few keystrokes, but it can also be an effective way for you to refine your interest beyond what you may have thought of on your own.

Experiment . . . it's one of the best ways to learn how this works!

Once you've evaluated some of the results which appear following your Sparks Query, you can click the light blue Add interest button and that topic will now be part of your Sparks list.

Give it a try and let us all know if you discover an interesting way to use Sparks not mentioned here! Time to go running now!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Setting Up Your Google+ Circles

In case you're new to Google+, let me start with a very quick overview of Circles. Even if you're not new to Google+, you may still find this helpful or may wish to share a tip of your own — please do!!

When we share things in 'real life' - we may not give it much thought, but we do tend to filter who we share what with. We may tell a few close friends and neighbors we're going on vacation for a week and ask them to watch the house and water the plants, but it's not likely we would post a sign for anyone who just happens to be driving by. Also, if we hear news about an old friend from high school, we're inclined to want to share it with others from our class, but it's less likely that our current co-workers, members of our bowling team, extended family members or fellow genealogists would find the news of any particular interest.

Google+ anticipates that type of filtering and selectivity. By establishing groups (called Circles in Google+), you can more easily control what you share and with whom you share it. As you might expect, Google+ enables an individual to be in one or more circles. So, if your best friend from high school also married your sister and later took up your passion for genealogy, you can include them in more than one Circle.

There are a few ways to navigate to the Circles feature, but one of the simplest is by using the Circles icon which appears at the top of your page, just to the right of the Google+ logo and to the left of the search box. There are currently four icons — Home, Photos, Profile, and Circles. As you hover your mouse over each icon, you will see a small box of descriptive text appear so you'll know you're headed in the right direction.

Practical Recommendations for Circles
The great thing to know as you get started is that you can always add, change or delete Circles at any time, so no need to stress over the initial setup. The next great thing to know is that you can now change the order in which Circles appear, placing your most important or most frequently used Circles higher in your list and the less important or less frequently used ones toward the bottom. This will make more sense as you begin using Google+ on a more regular basis.

Although you don't need to worry about alphabetical order, I always find it helpful when working with computer files to keep in mind the default sort order for files and folders. Numbers sort before letters, and certain characters sort before numbers.

SO — no surprise that like many of you, I have quite a few friends (and business contacts) that share my interest in genealogy. One of the first Circles I created was called just that, Genealogy. I could have named it anything I wanted — Gen, Geni, GenPeeps . . . you get the idea. Now, when I share genealogy news or am seeking genealogy advice, I can direct my comments and questions to those in my network of contacts who are most likely to read it (and my other friends and family won't have to figure out what a GEDCOM or SSDI is or why I'm STILL trying to find someone in the 1880 Census!

Next, I wanted to distinguish between my immediate family and my extended family. I did this by having two separate circles, one called Family and another named Family_Ext. I often use the underscore, but could have just as easily used a dash (Family-Ext) or a period (Family.Ext) or a space (Family Ext) as a separator. This is just personal preference. There are benefits to having things separated this way, especially as you and your family begin using Google+ on a more regular basis. As of now, just a few of my family members are on Google+, but I'm trying to win them over (and wean them off their Facebook addiction).

Another group of contacts I have are my co-workers, past and present. Having worked at a few different companies over the last three decades, I find it helpful to group my former work contacts based on the company where I was working. My choice was to name each group beginning with the word 'Work' followed by the name, stock symbol or abbreviation for the respective employer.

Now It's Your Turn
Those are just a few of my observations to get your thoughts flowing. Once you jump in, you'll see that it will take you less time to create and begin organize Circles than it did to read this post. Stay tuned for more tips in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Google+ for Genealogy at BYU Conference!

Well, the only way to get in the pool is to jump right in! In just a few hours, I'll be giving my first overview presentation about Google+ for Genealogy (or perhaps you're already used to seeing it written as Google Plus for Genealogy), either way it's sure to be an exciting session. We squeezed it into the conference schedule at the last second as anticipation is growing for the official release of this new social media offering from Google.

Stay tuned for more exciting updates as this site and the Google+ service both mature in the weeks and months ahead!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Exploring Google+ Hangouts

So you want to Hangout? But, what's a Hangout? You might be surprised to learn it's about as simple as you think. If you're on your computer and want to connect with a few others — either a specific group to discuss a particular topic or simply anyone to enjoy a spur-of-the-moment conversation about something (anything or nothing), then you can use the Google+ Hangout feature.

Once you're signed in to your Google+ account, navigate to your home page and in the lower right corner you will see a green box labeled 'Start a hangout'. Once you initiate the application (nothing to download, it's built into Google+), you'll see a window similar to the one which appears below. While this feature for multi-party video conferencing is most interesting with a webcam, you can use it without a camera, but you will then be limited to voice and text chat only (although you will be able to view the images of others who join the Hangout).

Currently, there is a limit to just 10 people in a Hangout, but to be fair, that's probably enough if you really are going to have any meaningful discussion — things could get a bit crazy with more.

Note that as soon as you initiate a Hangout, a message will be posted on your Stream (similar to a news feed or wall), as well as the Stream for any of the contacts included in Circle you chose to invite to the Hangout. This serves as a live, active invite which will remain active while the Hangout is in session, and will dynamically let others know how many others and who else are already part of the hangout.

At the conclusion of the Hangout, the message on your profile will simply indicate that you and several others had 'hung out' and comments can follow as part of that Stream.

One thing I found useful, especially in this early 'testing' phase, was to create a specific Circle for those I plan to Hangout with on a regular basis. It's a small group and I can move contacts in or out as I wish, but is useful when I want to start a Hangout to then select my Hangout Circle and away we go!

You might find this YouTube video about Google+ Hangouts helpful.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Google+ . . . the latest new tool for Genealogy! may have heard. There is another new tool being introduced which may be of interest to family history enthusiasts. This one will deserve special attention because of the company behind it — it's called Google+ and is a major introduction from the Internet's dominant player. The new service is, in many ways, Google's answer to Facebook.

Now, to be fair, it's too early in the game for me to make any meaningful comments about Google+, but there are a few general observations I will make based on having watched how family historians around the world have used and are using their computers, the Internet, search engines, mobile devices, social media applications, and other technology for to enhance their genealogical pursuits.

First and foremost — don't lose sight of the task at hand! What I mean by that is, new tools can often be an exciting distraction. They're fun, shiny, new . . . but you need to ask yourself: Will this help me with the task at hand or slow me down?

You may not be able to answer that question at first, but just keep it in the back of your mind. If you find yourself spending more time managing the tool itself vs. working on the underlying task, then I'd suggest that perhaps the balance of power has shifted out of your control.

I've seen (and heard) of some who spend so many hours on Facebook, but then have to question how did that time directly help them with their research. It may be different if you're using the service to promote a product or service, but if you're interests are chasing down the next clue to break through a brick wall, then be sure the majority of your time is being used to focus on that goal. Don't get consumed with reading every post just because it appears on the wall of someone you are 'friends' with.

As Google+ prepares to toss their hat in the ring (well, they have already, but the service is still in a controlled 'field test' as they call it), the temptation will be great to have to maintain yet another social network.

My advice (to myself as well as anyone reading) is this — it's helpful and healthy to learn what a new tool has to offer, but unless you need to be on the cutting edge, proceed at a pace that is reasonable for you. And only YOU can judge that for yourself. Don't forget about those ancestors who are still waiting to be found. They deserve some of your time and attention too!