Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: The Twitter Book

Publishing info
Title: The Twitter Book
Author: Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
ISBN: 9780596802813
Price: $19.99. US
Subjects: Web/Internet Application

Normally when I need to research a technology topic for a presentation or an article, I like to scour the Internet for my references and examples. I’ve always felt that I would be able to get the most up-to-date information that way. It just seems like published tech books would be too out-dated too quickly.

Recently I was supposed to facilitate a workshop on Social Media in Museums for the Arkansas Museum Association (it had to be canceled and we are working on rescheduling). Due to other work projects, I knew I wouldn’t have the time to search the Internet and figure out which references were reputable and which weren’t. I particularly needed to research Twitter since it was the newest (and hottest) of the social media apps, and although I use Twitter personally and professionally, I also realize I’m not an advanced user. I needed a trustworthy reference, a reference that would cover a lot of aspects about Twitter at once (particularly the parts I wasn’t familiar with), and I needed it all in one place. In short, I needed a book.

I’m familiar with O’Reilly Media Inc. because a lot of their books are in my house. I’ve never read any of these books; they’re my husband’s books. They are the books of a computer programmer and developer. Even with their cute black and white cover art of animals, they intimidate me. These are the books for REAL computer people, not a regular computer user like me. So when I first searched Amazon for Twitter books, I was apprehensive when O’Reilly’s ‘The Twitter Book” came up.

Knowing my husband holds O’Reilly in such high regard, I thought I could spare a few minutes to look over the Amazon page and see how much of it I might be able to understand. I was pleasantly surprised and added it to my list of possibilities, then a few weeks later while at my local bookstore, I took more time to peruse the pages and ultimately decided to get it.

The 234 page book is divided into 6 chapters covering how to get started, how to “listen in,” how to participate in conversations, how to share info, some advanced skills, and to finish it off a chapter devoted to how businesses should use Twitter. The book is indexed, and on many pages quick Twitter Tip balloons are included.

The formatting is great. The writing on every page is precise and gets straight to the point, and the authors do not fall into techie jargon. Every page includes words or phrases printed in color and bold text so you see the main points at a glance, while chapter references are in color so they are also able to see. Each facing page gives some type of artwork (i.e. screenshots or graphs) to further demonstrate authors’ points.

I can see where some readers may get intimidated by the shear number of third party URLs that are included in this book, but I appreciated all the information. I will say that it might have been helpful to have included a separate index of just the URLs that were included in the book. They also include the names of a number of Twitter users; however, I feel that they don’t always do a good job of explaining who these users are.

Overall I feel that this is an excellent book for those just jumping into Twitter or those looking to bolster their knowledge of this hot application.

Tim O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc. and Sarah Milstein is the cofounder of and during her time on the senior editorial stuff at O’Reilly she developed the Missing Manuals series.

You can find The Twitter Book here:

Note: I purchased this book at my local bookstore.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Using Social Media to Put the Life Back into Your Home Part 2

Note: This is the second half of an article that I wrote published in the HHMAG RAG, Historic House Affinity Group Newsletter Volume 9, Issue 2, August 2009, pg. 7 although I have made updates to it.

Last week I discussed two social media platforms that I think Historic House Museums can use to help the public connect on a more personal level to the home and how to get started with them. Today I want to get down to the more nitty gritty ideas of content.

Suggested Content
Now that you know the basics and have tips to get started, let’s get to the heart of the matter. What can Historic Houses do with these media to make the house more like a home?
If you have diaries from the people who lived in your historic home, consider blogging their diary. Consider the journal postings on and

I personally would love to read a blog entry where there is a picture of something in the house accompanied by diary excerpts about the object, perhaps about it being delivered or if the item was a gift. If the family purchased the object and you have the receipt, consider scanning the receipt and including a picture of it in the post. Suddenly you have an entry that shows me a beautiful picture of your home, and you've made the family more real by including their words and thoughts about that object. You show me that your house wasn’t just a building, it was a home, and the objects in that home meant something important to the people who live there, just as my possessions in my home are important to me.

Depending on the people who lived in your home, their diary entries may be short enough to post on Twitter. My husband's grandfather wrote short diary entries every day for decades. Just everyday observations, such as: “Brought the cows up from the back pasture, mended the south fence.” (Note 11/4/09: Little did I know as I was drafting this back in the Spring that the Massachusetts Historical Society was getting ready to do this exact thing with John Quincy Adams’ diaries.)

If your museum doesn't have this type of record, perhaps you could write generic tweets about the type of work that would have been going on that day or time of year. If you have living history presentations, talk about the actions that they will be doing that day. As I’m writing this, we are getting ready to harvest the potatoes in our working garden, and I’m planning on tweeting about it. I like this idea because it brings back to life aspects of rural living that the majority of people don’t have to deal with anymore. Consider this: How many people today take the time to hang their rugs up outside to beat the dust off? I’m told that is something my great-great grandmother did religiously, but frankly it never occurs to me while vacuuming that you used to have to do it that way.

Twitter is all about personal, conversational communication. Imagine what it would be like if, among the posts about what jelly people are eating on their toast or where they're stopping for coffee, there were posts about people drawing water from the well in order to even be able to cook their breakfast! Imagine using Twitter to remind the public what life used to be like, and what daily activities and tasks used to be necessary for survival.

Some quick ideas for other things to blog or tweet about:
- Things your visitors say (you know they have some great quotes)
- This day in history or other factoids (the more it relates to your home or area the better)
- Behind the scenes information (big projects, recent finds/donations, disappointments)
- Quirky information about your institution or home

But remember that since Twitter is about conversation you need to interact with your followers -- ask them questions, comment on their tweets, and encourage them to give you feedback through Twitter. Just like in a conversation, you have to be a listener and a talker.

I believe Historic House Museums can turn social media platforms into very helpful tools just by answering the simple question “What are you doing?” Tell the public what you are doing!

Recommended Twitters:
John Quincy Adams -
Lakeport Plantation -
Monticello -
Mount Vernon -
Shiloh Museum of Ozark History -

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Using Social Media to Put the Life Back into Your Home Part 1

Note: This is the first half of an article that I wrote published in the HHMAG RAG, Historic House Affinity Group Newsletter Volume 9, Issue 2, August 2009, pg. 7 although I have made updates to it.

I love going to historic house museums. My favorite ones are those that make me feel like I’ve been transported back in time. I love it when I feel like I’m a guest being invited into someone's home for a visit. Take a moment to consider that statement. Notice the words I used: guest, invited, home, and visit. Historic House Museums have an opportunity to shine above other institutions like science centers and nature museums by conveying intimacy and being personal.

Unfortunately, Historic House Museums aren’t always the best at conveying these characteristics through their online presence. However, I feel that the new wave of social media and networking sites can really help historic house museums to make those personal connections. There are a number of sites out there, and you need to take time to find out which one might work best for your institution. I’m guessing there will be at least one that can be a great tool for you to connect to your audience.

The Basics
First, everything I’ll cover in this article is free. You have to create accounts with these services, but they are free and you don’t have to install anything on your computer (although there are free tools you may find useful). You will, however, have to have access to the Internet. Second, I would like to suggest that it is fine to start out as just a follower or a reader. See what others are doing first and decide if you want to do the same for your museum or if there’s something different you would do.

I’ve picked two types of social media to discuss:

Blogs – Online web journal; the term comes from web log. You can choose to setup a blog on your institution's website, or you can use a free service such as Blogs are like essays, articles, or presentations, and even though most blogs give readers the ability to comment people seldom do so.

Twitter – Free networking and micro-blogging (posts can't be more than 140 characters) service found at A post is called a Tweet and individuals often post several Tweets a day. People sign-up to follow other Twitter users. Twitter is to blogging what instant messaging is to email: it’s very conversational and interactive. It is also more immediate, with almost real-time responses. It has been described as the global version of the office water cooler.

Blogs and Twitter can complement each other nicely, so there's no need to exclusively use one over the other. They do have their strengths, however: complex ideas are best suited for blogs, while visitor interaction might be a better fit for Twitter.

Tips for beginners:
Even if you don't think you will ever blog or tweet, you might sign up for the services so you can secure the name of your institution. After all, it would be a shame if you later decided you wanted to tweet or blog and someone had already used your name.

If you sign up for Twitter I would also suggest signing up for a free alert service such as You can use this to track mentions of certain words and phrases used in posts, such as your museum's name, staff member names, or the phrase "historic house museum." Whenever any of those words or phrases are mentioned, the service will email you. This can be an important way to keep up with what the public is saying about your museum.

When you are ready to start posting or tweeting, don't over-think it. It will come across in your posts if you are trying too hard, which can be a major turn-off in this environment. Remember: it’s about being personal.

Also, if you just do marketing announcements, people will feel like you're spamming them, which is another turn-off on social networks. Instead, think about ways to be personal.

Initially everyone is concerned about the time required, but it doesn't have to take that much time. Generally, the public neither expects nor wants businesses and museums to post tweets as often as regular people do. Start small and tweet every other day or just once a week. We often write most of our tweets after staff meetings, because that's where we get our ideas. For example: "The tree guys are coming this afternoon to pull up the stumps left over from the ice storm. . . . Should we tweet about that?" Yes! Even include a picture, if you can.

The other fabulous thing about these types of media is that most of these services tie-in to each other, so you can kill two birds with one stone. For instance, I have my personal twitter account configured to send my tweets to my Facebook page, and I have my blog set-up to do the same thing. I only have to write one thing, but it goes to two different places and reaches two different audiences for me. It is a repeat of information for a small percentage of my friends, but most of them admit that a lot of times they overlook the information on one site or the other, so they don't realize that it's a repeat. The important thing to remember is to include some posts that don’t go to each application. You need to login to these applications and post something specifically for that venue.

Next week I’ll share some ideas for content to post through these platforms.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A New Way to See the Beauty of Morning in Northwest Arkansas

Last Friday my day started out unlike any other: I was up at 5:00 am. For those who know me well, they understand that this is nothing short of a miracle. I'm more a night person than a morning person, but that day I had somewhere special to be.

I had been invited to a sneak peak of a new James Turrell skyspace at Crystal Bridges. I wasn't sure what to expect. I hadn't really understood any of the literature I read about what a skyspace is. When I asked around, no one could adequately explain to me what it was. They would try a few words and then just get lost in their thoughts. At this point the responses all became the same: “Just go, it will be like no other experience you've ever had.”

I'll try to explain the experience, but like so many before me, I'm sure my words will clumsily convey the event.

First let me describe the structure. From the walking trail you can see the native Winslow/Fayetteville stones that cover the outside. The circular structure seats 21 adults, with the seats and basket-weaved backrest made out of limestone from Topeka, Kansas. The beautiful floor is made of stones from Paris, Arkansas. The floor directly below the opening in the ceiling is black. I can't remember what is made of, but it almost looks like soil, and is raked in a Zen-like manner.

Photo of the inside of the skyscape.

Did you catch the part where I mentioned the hole in the ceiling? Yup, that's the key. It's a stainless steel oculus about 10' in diameter. It allows you to look at the sky without a visible horizon line, which gives the viewer a feeling like the sky is coming down on you. Not in a Chicken Little way, though! It's much more gentle and peaceful. The magic doesn't stop there. Turrell installed an LED lighting system in the recess at the top of the seat backrests. The lights are computer-controlled and programmed to match the changes that occur in the sky during sunrise and sunset.

The show lasts for about an hour, and it is an amazing experience. Never in my life did I expect to experience the sky appearing hunter green or turquoise. At one point the sky went from a wonderful midnight blue to royal blue to corn flower blue. Other colors that stuck with me because of their vividness were royal purple, mauve, and lavender. The intensity is just indescribable.
At this point the sky looked purple to my eyes.

It was also interesting to talk to the other people present and discuss what colors they were seeing, because everyone had their own experience depending on where they were sitting and how their brains perceive colors. For instance, the person next to me has cataracts, so she experienced the colors with more of a yellowish hue than I did.

Taken at 7:24 am.

Taken at 7:26:11 am.

Taken at 7:26:41 am.

When the show was over, it really did not seem like an hour had passed. Several of the staff members from Crystal Bridges had mentioned that other Turrell skyscapes are often used for meditation, and it is easy to see why. I don't know what kind of setting the other skyscapes are in, but this one is situated perfectly for my tastes. I love the woods, having grown up in woodlands, so I felt right at home nestled in this skyscape, and there is also the added treat of a lovely babbling brook. Combine that with the fact that the leaves are changing here in Northwest Arkansas right now, and I was over the moon!

To really put the finishing touches on the experience, plan to bring some hot chocolate and a blanket to snuggle under (although you don't have to worry about your bum, because they went for the seat-warmer upgrade in this skyscape).

The plans are to open the Turrell skyscape to the public when Crystal Bridges opens, so I'm sorry folks, but you'll have to wait a while longer. Although I will say it was a breath-taking display of colors, and I can't wait to experience it again.

Note: All photos were taken with my iPhone.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Marketing or Spam

Recently there was an interesting discussion on the Museum-L listserv about email marketing and if it can become spam. Several people said it wasn't because you opt-in to these mailing lists. I thought I would share my responses here too.

I have to say I have felt spammed by email lists I have opted into before. It is a slippery slope and I think businesses need to be considerate when using contact information given to them. Here are some of my guidelines.

1. Have clear opt out instructions (I also appreciate the chance to tell you why I'm opting out. Do I think you abused my email or had I just joined for the past six months because I was getting ready to take my vacation there and I wanted to do research). Also when I opt out honor that. Don't stop sending me emails for a month or so and then start up again.

2. If possible have opt out options for specific topics or events (if I have a conflict and know I can't go to your event I appreciate not hearing more about it, if possible).

3. Have clear subject headings (I REALLY appreciate this because if I can't opt out for specific events I can tell by the subject if it's the aforementioned event I have a conflict with and I can delete it with out reading it).

4. Frequency is a biggie with me when it comes to multiple emails about the same thing. I feel there should be a week minimum before sending out the next email. The frequency of emails can increase the closer you get to the event to act as reminders, but I feel you should stop at one reminder the week before and then one the day before. The exception is if you have breaking news (i.e. only so many tickets left, it's sold out, tickets were returned so more are available now, weather cancellation procedures). Also include more details in follow-up messages, perhaps behind-the-scenes information. What hors d'oeuvres are going to be served? What's the color scheme? What has the staff had to do to get ready? Don't drop names like who the caterers are or what company the wait staff is from. That seems too PR-ish and is off-putting.

5. Give clear information as to how often you are going to be emailing me. Am I going to be getting daily specials/sales, weekly event listings, only big event details? Also give me the option of what I want to get from you. I'm a huge podcast listener so I like getting the frequent iTunes email about the podcasts they want to highlight. I'm not interested in a weekly email about what hardware products are on sale so I did not opt-in to getting those emails.

6. Use multiple means of communicating. Don't just use email, use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media apps as well. I think it would be cool to get an email from a museum then see a video on YouTube that they made wherein they ask one of their volunteers why they are looking forward to the event. If it comes from a different venue and in a different medium it doesn't feel like I'm being inundated by spam.

7. Make it feel personal. Write in first-person when possible, give the tone a person to person feel. Don't use a lot of the standard PR phrases and view point. If you use the “marketing talk” I'll feel like you are trying to sell me something and I'll often shut you out, but if you make it personal then I feel special and I feel like you are personally inviting me, as your friend, to your party and that makes me want to attend.

So there are my thoughts.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book Review: Listen Up! : Podcasting for Schools and Libraries

Title: Listen Up! : Podcasting for Schools and Libraries
Author: Linda W. Braun
Publisher: Information Today, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-57387-304-8
Price: $29.50 US
Subjects: Internet in education; Libraries and the Internet; and Podcasting

When I learned that Leo Laporte (TWiT) had done the forward to this book I figured it was a pretty safe bet that it would be a stellar reference for podcasting and I was right.

Linda W. Braun set out to create a book that would explain podcasting to schools and libraries without the necessity of a lot of technical knowledge and I think she has achieved this goal marvelously.

The book is broken into six chapters: This Thing We Call Podcasting; Before You Get Started; Real Life Examples; What Makes a Great Podcast: Developing the Content; What Makes a Great Podcast: the Technology; and Get the Word Out. The table of contents breaks the chapters down further into subtitles and sidebars making it easy to find the section you want at a glance. Each section is well organized and short enough to fit into the busiest reader's schedule. It's amazing that Braun was able to cover the entire topic of podcasting pretty thoroughly in under 100 pages.

This book includes some great features that will help any one new to podcasting. Readers should definitely check out the accompanying website to the book where they can find links to all the URLs in the book as well as a copy of the XML code for creating a feed and more. Planning worksheets, resources list, and a glossary are also included.

I do have a few criticisms of the book. Braun could have entitled the book "podcasting for educational organizations" and perhaps broadened her audience. Everything that she covers can be applicable to museums, science centers, nature centers and various other educational groups such as 4H clubs or scouting groups. I also would have appreciated more interviews with podcasters. Braun includes an interview with a library podcast and a college podcast, but I think interviews with different grade-level teachers and students could be beneficial as well. Finally,
the reader must keep in mind that this book is geared toward the novice podcaster. You won't find a lot of in depth detail on how to pick equipment out, how to publish the podcast, or how to trouble shoot your feed, although the references that she includes do go more in depth.

Overall, I think this book is a must have resource for anyone involved with an education organization that is considering starting a podcast. If you consider yourself technologically challenged this book will help you see how easy it really is to podcast. Or if you need that extra bit of ammunition to help convince others that your organization should be podcasting I'm sure you'll find it in these pages.

The author, Linda W. Braun, helps educational institutions figure out how to integrate technology through her job as an educational technology consultant at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online. Her educational background includes a MS in Library and Information Science from Simmons College and a ME with a specialization in Computers in Education from
Lesley University.

The book's website:

Note: I checked this book out from my local library.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Go to an Educational Technology Conference

I recently got to go to the Educators' Technology Conference. It was actually organized by teachers for teachers so some people wonder why I went. Well in my opinion it is important for museum professionals who are planning on using technology in their museum to know what technology is being used in schools so you know if what you are creating is compatible.

It was very enlightening. It was fabulous, but not surprising, to learn that teachers are looking for educational content online for use in the classroom. Their looking for audio, video, worksheets, presentations, in short anything to aid them in teaching their students.

The disappointing revaluation is that they often don't know where to look or they are blocked from going to the sites they know about. There was much discussion about the websites and, two fabulous sites dedicated to offering a place to find safe content for educational purposes. I was shocked to find out that many schools have blocked these websites. When I asked the teachers why they were blocked no one could really give me an answer.

I was exstatic to find out that many teachers are looking for podcasts to use in the classroom and that most of them are using iTunes to do so. Score one for our museum since we're listed in iTunes. Some teachers are fortunate enough to have access to iTunes in their classroom, but other schools won't allow iTunes to be installed. I was disappointed that no one I ran into at the conference had heard about iTunes U. It's sad because we are posting a lot of educational content that way. I will say everyone I talked to was excited about iTunes U after I explained what it was. So how do we get the word out that our museum is in iTunes U?

The other thing that surprised me was how little interest teacher's seem to have in getting content from local providers. They talked a lot about National Geographic, Discovery, and the History Channel. None of them mentioned our museum, AETN, KUAF, The Encyclopedia of Arkansas, or the Museum of Discovery not to mention all the other museums, libraries, and centers in the state that are publishing content online. It's sad that they seem to be missing all this great information that's in their own backyard.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Book Reviews

I'm often asked to review books on tech topics and I'm finally getting some time to work on it. Currently, I'm looking at a couple of books on podcasting, because I'm pretty knowledgeable on the topic and I think it will be easy to decide if a book is helpful on that topic. However, I would love some suggestions on books that you think need to be reviewed.

I've also been asked to write an article on podcasting for a Botanical Garden publication. I'm pretty excited about that as I love the outdoors and gardens, but I don't often get to do a lot of work with them.

I've also started diligently working on an exhibit that I've been put in charge of to open in 2010. My plan is for it to be our first publicly curated exhibit and we will have the public vote on what artifacts will actually be included in the exhibit.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I have a presentation that I've done a couple of times that exams low-cost technology that can be used for museum applications. At the moment I'm spending some time looking at some new apps to add to the list.

On the list are two video editing programs and two photo editing programs.

What I'm most excited about is a simple little app called Readability. It's a bookmarklet that let's you decide how you want to view a webpage in order to read it (and print it if you like). When I demoed the Firefox plugin Nuke Anything, there was much rejoicing. User could delete annoying flashing ads and happily print their content without the ads wasting toner. But you had to do it one ad at a time.

Now some of you might be thinking who worries about wasting toner. But when you are in the non-profit world, especially during a recession, you are always looking for a way to eke out every penny's worth.

Well Readability is ten times better. It gets rid of everything at once and you get to decide the final format of the content you are trying to read. You get to pick the font, margin, and style. It's still in the experimental stage but the makers have made it so it works with most major browsers. They say it isn't 100% effective all of the time so they are looking for issue reports and comments, but it has worked every time for me. I'm in Heaven because reading on the Internet has just become so much easier.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Museums in Mourning

The museum world is in mourning.

Today a man walk through the doors of the US Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and shot a guard. Guards had to return fire for the safety of the visitors at the museum, including a group of 165 eighth graders there on a field trip.

The guard, Stephen T. Johns, subsequently died at the hospital. The Holocaust Museum will be closed tomorrow and flags will be flown at half mast in his honor.

I've been to DC twice and of course my favorite place is the mall. So many fabulous museums in such close proximity. My most recent trip to DC was last August. It was a wonderful trip and the first time my husband had been. On our last day in DC we stopped to get frozen lemonades after we had finally been asked to leave the Natural History Museum because it was closing time.

It was such a lovely evening to be sitting on a bench at the Mall watching the sun set after a hot August day. We watched some guys playing football and there were little girls turning cartwheels in the grass. It was so peaceful.

In my mind that image has been changed. A shot rings out and everyone scatters for safety. The football is left abandon on the field. Peace is lost.

I can't imagine being one of the guards. Have they ever had to fire their guns before? I'm sure it has changed their lives forever. Their peace is lost.

I can't imagine being on the staff of the museum. When they go back to work in a few days they will be missing a coworker, a friend. Their peace is lost.

In my mind there are just certain words that should not go together in phrases. A new phrase has been added to this list: museum shooting.

The museum world has changed. I think most people in museums feel that museums are peaceful establishments of knowledge and learning (unless it's a children's museum - then it's a loud, fun crazy place of learning). That was changed today. Our peace was lost.

The museum world is not only mourning the death of Officer Johns, we mourn the lost of our peace. Tomorrow every museum should have its flag at half mast.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I Need to Do WHAT for My Job?

One of the things I love the most about my job is the unexpected things I need to do for my job.

Tomorrow my parents are coming to visit me because it's my birthday. While they are here I need to get my dad to teach me how to square dance and call so I can then teach our education staff for the camps that we are having this summer.

How many people get to say, "yeah, I need to learn to square dance for my job"?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


My current projects are many and varied.

For the museum I'm currently cataloging and organizing a very large manuscript collection of papers from the International Order of Odd Fellows. I'm also trying to catch-up on editing some podcast episodes and planning an exhibit that will open in 2010.

I'm in the process of writing an article for the Historic House Museum Affinity Group newsletter and I'm putting together a workshop on social media for the Arkansas Museum Association.

On the personal front I'm currently working on creating a portfolio.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Looking Outside the Museum World

Recently at AAM 2009 in Philly I went to a session called "Eye On Design II." The point of the session was to have ten people from the museum world look outside the museum world for inspiration. The concept is not new to me and I think it is important for anyone to look outside their career field for inspiration. Frankly, it's a pretty simple way to keep the creative juices flowing.

Until recently I have always looked to the education field for inspiration. I mean after all there are a lot of similarities. Both fields have the goal of instilling knowledge. Both often have inadequate budgets and all to often staffs are not really paid what they are worth. Through several educational podcasts that I listen to I've found teachers are fabulous resources for figuring out how to achieve wonderful things with no budget.

But this session at AAM has inspired me to open my eyes even more and search out other fields that can inspire my work in museums.