Connecting with Heritage and Beyond

Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

In 2010 I discovered and further explored a number of communities:
-This year through twitter I became more connected with heritage professionals. This sense of connectedness was a huge help when I moved to a part of Northern Ontario without knowing anyone in the heritage field. My daily interactions online helped remind me that there are lots of people passionate about history and heritage out there.
-In 2010 I also was exposed to the public library community when working with OurOntario on their Community Digitization Project. I worked with a number of small public library, participated in the OLA Super Conference, and the OLS-North conference. The enthusiasm, kindness, and collaboration in the library community made my experience a memorable one.

Looking forward:
-I have started to explore my new found local community. Despite the fact that the town and surrounding area is home to only slightly more than one thousand people I’m constantly surprised by the number of activities and choices in the area. I hope to connect with more people in this community in 2011.
-I also hope to further connect and learn from the Aboriginal community in the area. These connections occur naturally at my work but I hope to learn from the community on a level above the level required by my job.

Digital Communications

Historians have often been accused of being behind the times in terms of digital applications. This may be true in some instances, who hasn’t seen a historian fumble with a simple PowerPoint presentation. However, there are also a number of historical organizations and professionals who have embraced various forms of technology. Many of these technologies are focused on making tasks easier, including the trouble and cost of long distance communication.

One of the simplest communication focsed applications is Skype. Skype is free software that allows you to “talk” to anyone else who has Skype without a charge. You can also pay a nominal fee to use Skype to call land lines. Providing you have high speed, this is a very economical choice in lieu of long distance calling.

In addition to Skype, Dimdim is a great application for long distance group projects. Having a problem with a program? Want to share ideas? Dimdim allows you to share screens, so you can easily compare work, which ideal for anything involving groups. Dimdim is frequently used for web conferences allowing for a more open sharing of ideas than a mere conference call.

I was also recently exposed to near-time. This application is a file sharing, collaborative workspace. It is very similar to the collaborative nature of a wiki and hosts many similar features. Near-time is a bit more ascetically pleasing than the average wiki. However, the major near-time is not an open source application and may not be a practical application for many smaller organization.

Technology in the most unexpected places

Throughout the election coverage CBC has featured a segment on digital technology called Ormiston Online, which was constantly monitoring people’s responses to the election through electronic services. The CBC followed youtube videos, blogs, and a site called Twitter. The idea being that a lot of campaigning takes place online and that people can easily respond to election events via the Internet. I was originally surprised that CBC would venture into the realm of digital technology to gage public opinion, but they deserve credit for acknowledging the growing digital medium which most people depend upon.

Twitter is a service that attempts to keep people connected by having them answer one question–“What are you doing right now?” The majority of the promotional information on the site is based around connecting people with friends, family and anyone else who may want to know what you are doing at any point in the day. Twitter claims to let people be “hyper-connected” and that it “puts you in control and becomes a modern antidote to information overload.” Initially I was baffled as to why this site would be useful for political study or have any type of academic substance.

However upon closer evaluation I can see some of the merits of the Twitter site. Like blogs you can set your twitter pages up in a RSS feed reader which adds to the convince of the process. Also Twitter provides a quick, immediate look at opinion which is useful when you are attempting to gain a general overview of popular opinion. I think that Twitter could even be used in an academic setting. For example if a group of students all subscribed to Twitter and followed each others entries, Twitter could be used as a way to highlight what progress was happening on a group project.

The more I am exposed to different types of digital technology and different methods of digital communication the more options I see available for academic and historical communities. Twitter, Blogger, forums, podcasts and various other types of technology allow for an increasing connectivity between people which has the potential to greatly aid academics who desire both an academic and a public audience for their work.