Thursday, May 17, 2012

Photos and Digital Hoarding: A Growing Problem

I recently read an article on digital hoarding.  It was definitely eye opening and it made me realize that I am actually an email hoarder.  I have thousands of emails still sitting in my three in-boxes.  I haven't deleted them because whenever I go to do so, I stop myself, thinking I may need something in them down the road.  This is really not a good strategy.  Chances are I won't need anything in these emails and if I do, most likely I can find it on Google or ask for it to be re-sent.

I have a much easier time with photos.  Maybe it's because I've been in the industry for many years.  There are lots of photos we take that we really don't need.  With digital, we can take 100 pictures of the beautiful sunset on our Hawaiian vacation.  But really we could probably do with one or two of those, and delete the rest.  Those other 98 are taking up space on your hard drive, cluttering your computer, and slowing your computer down.  Not only that, it slows you down too, because the more pictures you have, the more time it takes to find the one you need!  Multiply this by the extra pictures taken at your child's soccer game, family events, and everyday moments, and this can add up to a lot of extra photos clogging your computer!  When you download your pictures, do you go back and delete the photos you don't need?  Most people don't.

I actually go through the deleting process a second time in a lot of cases.  When I download my pictures (and I try to do it as soon as possible after the event), I go through and delete the ones I don't need immediately.  By doing this, it's a quick and easy job versus something that becomes more overwhelming the more you let it pile up.  But I also take a lot of pictures that I share.  I don't need all those pictures, but I take them because I know how much other people appreciate them.  I upload them to a photosharing app and cloud storage app called Linea, and share them with the others from the event.  If anyone else at the event was taking pictures, they can also upload them to the same "Line" of photos, allowing everyone that was at the event to view all the photos in ONE place, add comments and captions, and export any of the photos they want back to their own computer in the same resolution that they were uploaded in.  Linea is a free app, and it works on PC and Mac, iPad, iPhone and Android.  I like this because everyone in my family uses something different.  Its also private and secure.  The only people that can see your photos are the ones you shared them with.  If, like me, you have a lot of photos to store, you may want to consider a subscription for unlimited cloud storage.   There are lots of other sites you can use to store your photos such as Dropbox, Carbonite, Flickr, Picasa, and more but I personally like the viewing mosaic and other features of Linea that I mentioned above.  But for the record, I am a Dropbox and SmugMug user too.

Once I've uploaded to Linea, sometimes I go back and delete other pictures I know I won't need.  For example, I take a lot of pictures for my kids' sports teams.  At a game, I might take hundreds of pictures.  Ultimately, I don't need all those pictures.  I really only need and want the ones of my own children.  So I go back and delete the others from my computer after the season is over and I've shared the photos.

My backup system consists of cloud storage for my photos, and an external hard drive for all of my files.  My photos are the one thing on my computer I'd be devastated about if I lost, so they're backed up in several different ways.  One thing to note when you are backing up everything to the cloud, make sure your photos are being backed up in full resolution.  In the last few weeks during my photo organizing seminars, twice I have run into people who have used cloud storage companies to back up their entire computer.  Unfortunately these two people had their computers crash and had to rely on the cloud storage company to retrieve their data.  In these particular cases, their photo files came back as thumbnails.  They weren't saved in the original resolution and so for all intensive purposes, these folks lost their photos, because you really can't do much with thumbnails.  Needless to say, they were devastated.  So, do your research when choosing a cloud storage option.  But, cloud storage should be part of your backup plan, regardless of who you use.

If you want to read more about digital hoarding, check out this article from the Wall Street Journal.  As for me, I think I am going to go clean out one of my in-boxes.  Maybe I will find it easier if I do it one in-box at a time!  What about you?  Are you a digital hoarder?

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Disorganized Chaos of My Photo Life

by M. Shannon Hernandez

I am a VERY organized person.  I have a notebook and calendar in which I record everything for my business (on paper, with a pen), and then promptly transfer the information over to the computer and place on my blog, in my newsletter, into my digital filing system, or on the calendar.  All my spices are neatly labeled, on the top of the jar, so that I can find what I need quickly when I open the drawer and peer down.  I have 16 upcycled spaghetti sauce jars, all lined up in a row, which have been labeled with a professional label maker and hold my dried beans, rice varieties, lentils and grains.  I only buy purses and backpacks with a minimum of 3 pockets and pouches for easy identification of all the "stuff" that must go into the bag.  I have over 2,000 books, and they are categorized by genre on the shelves of my office and living room.  And my closet?  All pants hang in one section, by color, all skirts in another, by color, and all my get the point!

But, something has happened in my photo life!  Mounds of photos sit in bags separated by theme or trip or event.  (I must give myself a little credit.)  Unfinished scrapbooks, complete with notes of what will go where, have been on my shelf for YEARS.  A single ziplock bag holds all of my photos and momentos from a magnificent trip I took to Ireland in 2005.  My wedding album of two years ago is collecting dust, and so are the photos sitting next to it!  Photo storage boxes, albeit with tagged organizers, are stacked -- cluttered with pictures begging me to document my life.

And these are just the printed photos.

Let's talk about the digital photos.  My life is a wreck!  I have pictures on my iPhone camera (current count 1523), photos I have loaded in Instagram, pics hanging out on the Project365 calendar, and all over Twitter and Facebook.  I have a mass storage device, which has over 19,000 photos waiting to be....???  What?  I don't even know where to begin.  I can't find photos I know I have because I haven't tagged them or named the albums when I imported them.  (I knew I should have--but just kept telling myself, "I would 'get to it.'")  My family uploads albums and albums to photo sharing sites like Picasa and Snapfish.  At one time, I was religious about following the links and viewing and printing the ones I wanted, but then the email notifications started sitting in my inbox, later to be deleted because of this feeling of adding more to the chaos of my photo life made me panic.

I am overwhelmed.  I need help.  And until a month ago, I had no idea where to begin.

I met Michelle Nahom, Marketing Manager for the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, via Twitter.  I was astounded!  Wow -- there were really people that would help you organize your photos?  I began following her blog, and then I had the opportunity to meet her at a photo organizing seminar she held in conjunction with Arista Camera in Bronxville, NY.  At the seminar, I listened, in awe to the number of people who were completely at a loss in their photo organizing, just like me.  Stories were shared of massive amounts of family memories and history being lost because the computer crashed or the hard drive was lost, or the online photo sharing site went out of business or accidentally deleted their files.  I learned I was a photo hoarder--and my husband too!  We fit the definition "to a T"--2,127 of our photos are either of sunsets or flowers.  I mean really--who needs 2,127 photos of anything, let alone sunsets or flowers?!

I left that seminar feeling empowered to change my disorganized digital photo life.  I have laid out my own personal plan for "dealing" with all of these pictures.  One night a week, I am purging photos--getting rid of the duplicates, blurry photos, or photos that don't even have a story.  It's a start.  The next phase will include creating categories and event titles, thus organizing them by theme.  After all of this, I plan on consulting with Michelle again and figuring out how I want to display certain photos throughout my home.

The biggest revelation I had at the seminar (besides how much help I needed!) was that I was not enjoying my photos, which are living memories of my past.  Not only was I not enjoying them, but I was not able to share them with other people, because I had "hidden" them away in digital files I couldn't track, name, or find.

If you have "found yourself" in any part of this story, I encourage you to start small, just like I did.  Follow Michelle's blog and Pinterest boards for practical tips and visual solutions to getting organized.  Begin going through your photos one night a week.  (To be honest, this "task" has turned into a "jog down memory lane" and I look so forward to it, because I am reliving my memories as I "work.")  Attend a photo organizing seminar in your community.  You can find Michelle's events on her Event tab on her blog.  The key is to take small steps in your personal quest of photo organization, so you can get them off your computer and shelves, and begin enjoying the visual memories of your past!

M. Shannon Hernandez, owner and designer of Sage & Time Designs, is a stationary designer in Brooklyn, New York.  She works closely with clients around the world to design handcrafted and custom stationary for their personal and social lives.  As a result of attending Michelle's seminar, she is now using a photo sharing software for her clients called Linea.  Linea also offers cloud based storage and syncs across all devices including PC and Mac, iPad, iPhone and Android, so your photos are accessible to you anywhere, anytime.  Linea has been a tremendous resource for organizing event design concepts, drafts of stationary designs, and inspiration boards in one, private location.  Both Shannon and her clients comment with feedback, on the photos in Linea, thus keeping all the design details of upcoming events in one place, which provides perfect tracking, excellent written and visual communication, and superior customer service.  You can learn more about Shannon on her blog, on Facebook at Sage & Time Designs, and Twitter @SageTimeDesigns.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Telling Your Family Story

by Jen Baldwin, Ancestral Journeys, Breckenridge, Colorado, USA

Families collect many photographs, artifacts, art projects, heirlooms, even written memoirs over the generations.  These items can be combined to create an inviting and beautiful family history.  With just a little extra work online, however, that story could easily grow to include facts, geography, and history.  I would like to introduce you to genealogy.

Pick a rainy day on your calendar, and then pick a family line to work on.  Will it be your maternal or paternal ancestors?  What about your spouse's family?

Think back to all those Sunday dinners, holidays, and special occasions when your family would sit around the dinner table and swap stories.  There is truth there; and it deserves to be remembered.  Write down as much as you can.  If you chose to share your project with family members, they will be able to contribute their memories, also.  Photos will be brought out of boxes, heirlooms and momentos will be handed around, and those stories - the ones that must live on - those stories will be retold again.

Start with what you know, or with what you think you know.  Even a rough outline here will get the job done.  So grab your pen and notepad (or your iPad!) and make a few notes.  Here's an example:

  • Grandma Helen Jones lived in Auburn, Washington.  She died there.
  • Her husband was Terrance Alvin.
  • They had children Paul, Terrance Jr., and Samantha.

From this, you can add details, and the big three are BMD: Birth, Marriage, Death.  If you are unfamiliar with the dates and locations, call a family member that might have a good idea.  Even a close guess is enough to get you started.

With those few facts, you can start looking.  I will offer you a few sites beyond  (Don't get me wrong, and sites like it are wonderful and useful.  However, if you're not a committed researcher, there are other ways to get the information you seek without paying any fees.)

  •  The LDS community has established the largest genealogical library in the world, they put more online every day.  A good way to get census records, which can give you a lot of information on just one page.
  • Bureau of Land Management GLO If you had an ancestor that homesteaded somewhere in the United States, you will almost certainly find their information here.  The benefit is that it gives you an exact location - down to the Township and Range.  You can pinpoint their land on a map; along with having the nearest town, county and state.
  • Go to the local library, and access the HeritageQuest database.  I have yet to hear of a library computer system that does not have access to this great resource.  There are several searches you can conduct: Census, Books, etc.  Try them all.  Another great way to get census images, and is easier to search with less information that other sites.
  • A quick internet search will identify local resources for the area you are looking in.  Utilize organizations such as Trails to the Past, US GenWeb and the local historical societies.  Many have searchable databases, and you'll never know what you will come across just by typing in your surname.  
  • Google.  Utilize all of its features, including images, maps, books, and reader.  You never know what you will find on a genealogy or history related blog, or in the details of a county plot map.  

Be forewarned!  Genealogy is very addictive.  There are many that have fallen to the "itch" with an innocent glance at a family tree.  The thing about genealogy is you never really answer all the questions.  We make history every day, and every day more is available online and in other resources.  You will literally never get to it all.  If you are not prepared to commit, walk away.  Just.  Walk.  Away.

If you do choose to begin your own ancestral journey, there are numerous resources available online, and a happy-to-collaborate community just waiting to help you.  Chances are, you have a cousin somewhere out there in the world that is looking at your family.  Might be a 2nd cousin, or a 5th cousin twice removed.  Either way, you have an ancestor in common, and it's possible that you have a cousin across town that you never met.

No matter what you do, take the time to digitally document your family heirlooms.  This is known to most people as taking a picture.  Try to be a bit creative, and have some fun with the project.  Find unique back drops, combine elements to tell the photographic story.  In this manner, you can share at least some of your family story without having to let go of those precious items.  One of my favorites is seen here, on this blog.  It is a photo of my father's tin baby cup, and it was passed down to me when my first daughter was born.  I set the shot with a picture of my father, the original owner, holding his brand new granddaughter about 30 minutes into her life.  When I showed him the picture, it brought tears to his eyes.

Your family story is unique; there is nothing else like it in the world.  I encourage you to begin your journey today.

You can follow Jen on her blog, Ancestral Breezes, on Facebook at Ancestral Journey and on Twitter @ancestryjourney.