Documenting Family History Online with Microblogging

Nowadays so many different social media platforms exists that we can struggle to know which ones to use. Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn or Twitter? Should I use two or more? If so, which ones? If I choose two, then I must learn different methods of posting. Something so simple — wanting to show a few people a photo of you wearing a clown suit for halloween — gets overwhelming when thinking about sharing family histories online.

When sharing our photos in real time is so easy, sharing online can seem like too much bother.

I have almost 15 years of experience working online in blog and microblog mediums. I offer here an introduction to microblogging, the cons and pros of microblogging your family history for you as family historian and how I use microblogging as I document my grandfather’s extensive photography archive.

What is Microblogging?

Microblogging is a particular medium or method of sharing or broadcasting information that falls into the blogging form. A blog is a website that offers discussion or information. Short for weblog, a blog consists of posts displayed in reverse chronological order. All types of blogs exists: personal, corporate, informational, collaborative and microblogs.

A microblog is a blog in condensed format. Microblogs showcase content with smaller bits of information, such as short sentences, single images and video with no commentary. If a person writes a 12000-word piece on a personal blog, they will share the same information on a microblog in 2 to 3 sentences and 50 to 75 words. This is the method I use to combine blogging here and microblogging at Instagram.

Why Not to Microblog

Let’s start with the bad first. The reasons to not microblog through services like Facebook or Instagram are two: ownership of the structure and ownership of the material.

Facebook and Instagram use complicated software to create their services.

Think of the software as a kind of housing complex. Facebook and Instagram work like super, specialized landlords. (I overgeneralize here but I think the metaphor still works) They own the building and we move in with our stuff, our photos and short sentences about family members and comments. We use these services so frequently we forget we don’t own the house where we keep our stuff.

All is well for a time. Then one day Facebook gets broken into and millions and millions of stuff (i.e. accounts) are deleted, including yours. Or Facebook gets sold and immediately taken offline by the new owners. In either case how will you access your stuff, the digital photos you’ve uploaded, the sentences you’ve written and the comments you’ve received?

The second con about using non-hosted microblogging serves pertains to ownership of material. These services can use one of your images in promotional materials or profit-making ventures without telling you or reimbursing you. To my knowledge this hasn’t happened, but it can. So a good rule to follow is let the user beware.

Neither of these scenarios will probably come to fruition in our lifetimes. I am someone, however, who likes to know the cons as well as the pros.

Why Microblog?

Now on to the good.

Easy and quick posting are the two main reasons people like microblogging.

In about 3 minutes you can have post on Instagram showing your grandmother getting out the vote in 1939. Add a sentence or two about her and her inspirational life, hit share and you have just microblogged. Super duper easy.

Another reason to microblog is the sheer number of people using platforms like Facebook and Tumblr. I maintain an account for W. R. Allen Photography on Instagram and this blog. Which one do you think has more followers and activity?

The difference doesn’t compel me to ditch this blog. Blogging offers a multitude of positive reasons for starting and maintaining a site for your family history. Longer posting capabilities, ability to link to important websites, articles and, most importantly, continued ownership of the material makes blogging a no-brainer for me. But blogging or microblogging aren’t opposed to one another.

Blogging complements microblogging. With Instagram and this blog using WordPress I handled the image below in two different, but complementary, methods.

My grandmother, father, Scottie the dog and my grandparent’s 1955 Oldsmobile 88. Shot at Maroon Lake, elevation 9585 feet. The Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado are behind them.

I use the Instagram account to connect with other family historians by sharing a photo and writing some sentences about the image, like I did with this single photo about my grandparents Oldsmobile 88. I use this blog for longer pieces with more detail that contain several photos. In this piece I included the same photo to write about the different Oldsmobiles my family owned.

If time and ease are top priorities microblogging is your answer. Sites such as Facebook and Instagram offer fun and easy ways to share your beloved family photos and histories with family, friends and family historians around the world.  In a few minutes you can create an account, post a few photos and begin the wonderful process of sharing your family history online.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions using the contact form.

Good luck!

Jay Sennett

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