Review: BigMarker

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UPDATE Wednesday 10 September 2014: See Update below at the end of this post for feedback on a recent BigMarker webinar.

BigMarker is a new content platform that combines the ability to host webinars – for free – along with building an online community . . . think Facebook Groups. Given many of the current issues involving the cost of reliable webinar platforms and the hesitancy of older users to join Facebook, BigMarker could be a viable solution for many genealogy societies and organizations.

The Basics

Like many websites, creating an account at BigMarker is free and once created you can update your personal profile with information including your photo.

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Once you’ve completed your profile, you’ll likely want to create a community or host a conference (which is what BigMarker calls a webinar).

Community Feature

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Basically BigMarker’s Community feature competes with Facebook Groups, but offers quite a few more options. Also, for those genealogy societies and organizations that can’t convince some members to get on Facebook, BigMarker might be a better option.

From the main page, you can add a wallpaper graphic, a logo, invite others to join and share your community via social share buttons.

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Here are some of the functions you get once you create a community – all for free!

  • Bulletin – similar to a Wall or NewsFeed for a Facebook Group – this is where you post information for your community to see. Within the Bulletin area there are sub-functions including Share, Kudos and Poll.
  • Calendar – schedule events including upcoming conferences and more. A nice touch is that when you create a Conference (see below), it gets added to the calendar.
  • Conferences – lists upcoming conferences as well as recordings of past conferences.
  • About – contact information for the Community organizer, links to external websites and social media, etc.
  • Settings – set privacy features and notification features related to the Community.

Here are some other nice features that take BigMarker’s Community feature beyond what you can do on Facebook or other platforms:

  • You can have a private community or even an “invisible community.”
  • You can charge dues for members.
  • You can require future members to complete an application form with questions to answer.
  • You can allow others to invite new people to the community.
  • You can allow community members to see each other.

Limitations – Community

Right now I’m not seeing many limitations with the Community feature. My main concern is being able to export data if BigMarker should shut down or get bought out (not that I’m anticipating this, but I know the nature of startups . . .). As I’ve stated quite often, any time you are building something on someone’s platform and supplying your own data as well as your own time and effort, make sure you have portability of data and an exit strategy.

Community as Website Substitute?

What I’d love to see happen in the genealogy community is this: smaller genealogy societies who can’t afford a web presence could and should consider using BigMarker’s Community feature. Especially for those groups where members are adamant about not using Facebook or other social media. BigMarker is easy to use, the layout is simple, has a nice large font, etc.  It is very user-friendly to our demographic in genealogy!

Webinars aka Conferences

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The conference or webinar function is what first caught my attention since I currently am paying for a webinar platform (GoToWebinar) at a cost of $99 per month for a maximum of 100 attendees. In my initial testing, I found that BigMarker’s webinar feature comes with all the functionality of the other platforms including GoToWebinar: screen sharing, uploading of slide presentations, webcam, microphone, chat (group and individual), etc. Also, there is no download needed on the part of the attendee!

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FREE Webinar – Creating a Blog Header Using PowerPoint

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In order to really test BigMarker’s conference function with a live audience, I’ll be hosting a FREE webinar this evening – Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 8:30 pm Central and you’re invited! Well, the first 100 actually . .. The topic is Creating a Blog Header Using PowerPoint and I’ll be doing a live demo of how you can use PowerPoint to create graphics for your blog. Click here to register and I hope to see you online! Also, it would be great if, after the webinar, you could either send me your feedback on BigMarker or post the info out on social media for others to see.

Limitations – Webinars

Some points to keep in mind:

  • Different conference rooms – right now BigMarker is transitioning to a new non-flash technology (using WebRTC). If you set up a conference with the new room format, you have restrictions as to web browser, attendee numbers etc.
  • Webinar vs. Meeting – keep in mind that a meeting is a different animal all together and more of a “free for all” where everyone can talk, use a web cam etc.
  • Limited to 100 attendees – you would need to purchase a monthly subscription (currently $40 a month) to increase attendance to 250. I’ve talked to the creators of BigMarker and they are working on larger seating plans for 500 and 1,000 attendees.
  • Recordings – right now there is no way to download your recording of a webinar or meeting. There are options to upload them to BigMarker’s YouTube channel as well as your own YouTube channel. But an export is needed if a society wanted to place the recording behind its member’s only section.

Webinar Update

There was a major issue with the recording from the Creating a Blog Header Using PowerPoint webinar last evening. The portion of the recording where I shared my screen to show PowerPoint (the majority of the recording) is not visible. This is a limitation of the “room type” which I selected for the webinar.

Currently, BigMarker is transitioning between two different types of webinar rooms and migrating towards one which is non-Flash based. I opted not to use that room type because a) it limits attendees to 25 people right now and b) it has limitations for attendees in terms of browser type etc. I chose Door #1, as it were, not realizing that what I shared on screen would not appear on the recording.

So lesson learned. I think that BigMarker is still a concept “in development” at least when it comes to webinars. BigMarker is likely a good choice for the conventional webinar were you share slides, but it may not work for those speakers like me who do quite a bit of screen sharing and demonstrating apps and sites on the Internet.

We’ll keep an eye on BigMarker and see how things go over the next few weeks and months.

Conclusion

We’re almost five years into the “webinar revolution” in the genealogy industry and it looks like BigMarker is a platform that could serve many of our societies and organizations. My only concern right now is for those larger societies who run a year-long program of webinars and count on placing the recorded content behind their members only section. I’m not sure I would leave the reliability of GoToWebinar – even with its expense – to migrate to BigMarker.

As with all new programs and platforms, only time will tell. I think BigMarker is a keeper and I may continue using it for free webinars to generate interest in my own books and lectures. I’d love it if a year from now, BigMarker becomes a leader in the webinar delivery business and can continue to provide its user-friendly platform especially to larger audiences of 500 or 1000 attendees.

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Who Is Your Favorite Genealogy Rockstar? 2014 Voting Now Open

genealogy rockstar 2014

Once again, John D. Reid over at Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections is hosting the annual Genealogy Rockstar Voting. This is the third year for the survey and John has compiled a list of 150 genealogy lecturers, authors and educators based on submitted nominations from his readers. Click here to read the post and access the link to cast your vote.

You’ll find names of genealogists that you already know but many that you don’t know. My suggestion is that you take a minute or two and take a name you don’t know and search for them on Google. Find out more about their focus area in genealogy and what makes them a rockstar!

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Tuesday’s Tip – Do You Make It Easy to Follow Your Blog?

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As genealogy blogs become more popular, those who read them on a regular basis are always looking for easy ways to keep up with their favorite blogs. Have you thought about the type of welcome mat you are providing for your current and potential readers? What tools do you offer so that readers can get alerted when there is new content on your site? One of the keys to a successful genealogy blog is making sure that your latest post is always available to your readers!

Offer Different Access Points

Unless you really know your readers, you can’t predict how a person will want to subscribe to your content. They may add you to a list of bookmarks, perhaps add your blog to a list of genealogy blogs on Pinterest, or add your RSS feed on Feedly or another RSS feed reader. If you only offer one or two options, you maybe sacrificing potential readers and site traffic. You can offer a variety of subscription options without making your blog sidebar appear too crowded. Review the options listed below and also check out your own favorite blogs and see how they make their blog available to readers.

RSS Feed and Feed Readers

While some who read blogs may bookmark or “favorite” the blogs they want to track, after about 20 or so link, it becomes difficult to manage. For this reason, many blogs use RSS feeds to create a “news channel link” that then can be used in “reader” programs. These programs, like the popular Feedly reader

For Blogger, in your Dashboard, click Layout, Add a Gadget and then add the Subscribe gadget. For WordPress, most templates will come with an RSS feed button built in. Tip: it is always a good idea to keep track of the URL for your RSS feed in case you want to use it as a link or share it with others.

If you want to attract Feedly users, then visit the Feedly button page to learn how to add the Follow on Feedly button in your blog sidebar.

Email Alerts

Some readers like to receive your latest post in their email. Don’t leave them to their own devices – setting up a Google Alert – just add a “subscribe” feature in your sidebar.

For Blogger, in your Dashboard, click Layout, Add a Gadget and then add the Follow By Email gadget. For WordPress, add the Subscribe 2 plugin to your sidebar (for self-hosted WordPress sites only).

Don’t Forget FeedBurner!

Another option is to create a new RSS feed at FeedBurner (http://feedburner.google.com) and then enable the BrowserFriendly and SmartFeed options in the Optimize section. Doing so will enable those with different RSS feed readers easily add your blog to their subscription list.

See What Does “Burning a Feed” Mean? and Setting Up a FeedBurner Feed here at GeneaBloggers to learn more about FeedBurner.

Other Notification Methods

Once you’ve posted new content, make sure you share the link out on your social media platforms. This means posting the URL to your post (not your blog) to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and other sites.

You can choose to automate the posting using site such as Buffer or Tweetdeck, but be careful: if you have an error in your post title or post, often you can’t “retract” those automated updates. For this reason some bloggers opt to post to social media manually or to build in other review procedures so as not to compound any errors.

Conclusion

The most successful genealogy blogs are those that offer a variety of methods to keep up with the latest content. Don’t restrict your blog to just one method or what you think is the most popular method. Realize that your readers have different habits when it comes to accessing online information; honor their choices and make sure you’re covering all the bases including RSS feeds, email alerts and social media.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.