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.


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.

10 Ways to Create Backups and Prevent Data Loss

10 ways to backup data

The first of each month is what the genealogy community knows as Data Backup Day – a day when we commit to making sure all our research data is safely backed-up in case something goes wrong.  What could go wrong? Well how about:

  • hard drive failure?
  • fire or water damage to home office and computer?
  • theft?
  • website or blog failure?

I’ve been beset by each of these predicaments in the past and the only thing that saved me and my years of genealogy research data was a series of carefully planned backups of data. In recent months, I’ve ramped up the process to not only backup data locally to an external hard drive, but also to an online site – sort of a “backup to the backup.”  And I’ve also expanded the types of data I backup to include bookmarks, blog posts, blog templates, emails, etc. These are all important components of my research and I’d have a difficult time recreating such data and some of it would just be lost forever if there were no backups.

A Variety of Data Backup Methods

Here’s how you can get started on a sound backup plan with the following resources:

  • Flash Drive: Flash drives come in a variety of sizes up to 128GB and now with USB 3.0 becoming the new standard they are faster than ever.  Check out the reviews over at CNET and go to Amazon for some of the best prices.
  • External Hard Drive: I am still amazed at the fact that you can now get a 1 TB (terabyte as in 1,000 GB!) external hard drive for as low as $69.  Check out the wide variety available at Amazon.
  • Data Backup Services: There are a myriad of websites that allow you to backup your data, some even have free allotments (as much as 100GB for free!).  Check out the great comparison chart over at I am a big fan of BackBlaze which takes the hassle out of backing up your data. Set it and forget it!
  • Cloud Storage Sites: Which cloud storage site is best for you? Dropbox is the most popular with genealogists due to its ease of use and free 2GB data allotment. Check out this recent article at CNET to determine which cloud program is best for you and your data.
  • Photos: There are photo repository sites such as ImageBam which has no limits besides a 3MB file size limit per photo and lets you select multiple photos. If you have a Picasa account did you know you can send photos there via email? Also don’t forget you can store images in Evernote as well!
  • Internet Explorer: It seems like there’s a handy – and free – web application for everything right?  Yes, even for your Internet Explorer!  Check out Internet Explorer Backup to preserve your settings including favorites, proxy connections, security zones, cookies, user preferences, history, and more!
  • Blogger: For a time many Blogger users were frustrated with the inability to backup their posts as well as their templates – to the point that many created private WordPress blogs and imported their Blogger data. That has all changed and you can now use Blog Tools to back up your Blogger posts. And don’t forget to backup your Blogger template especially before you make any customizations.
  • WordPress: Using the BackUpWordPress plugin you can backup not only your posts but most other settings for your WordPress blog.  This neat accessory also lets you schedule your WordPress backups.
  • Google: Backup not only your Google Reader settings but almost all your Google applications including Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar with the great list of resources over at lifehacker.
  • E-mail:  besides checking out the great list of 5 Ways to Keep Your Emails Backed Up over at makeuseof, Thunderbird is a free application that lets you backup almost any e-mail system.

Data Backup Resources

GeneaBloggers has developed a resource list of data backup methodologies and solutions. Click here to learn how you can backup almost every aspect of your blog, your browser, your computer – even Macs!

Also, don’t forget to shop here at Amazon for some of the best deals on data backup software, external hard drives and more!

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

IBM PC Debuts – A Walk Down Memory Lane

ibm pc

The IBM PC, IBM’s first personal computer, was introduced today in 1981. If you were to purchase this revolutionary computer on August 12, 1981 you would have paid $1,565 USD (equal to $3,000 USD today) for a basic configuration with 16K RAM (that’s kilobytes . . . not gigabytes!) and no disk drives.

Not only did the IBM PC change the landscape of the business world, it also impacted the home life of millions of Americans as well as people around the globe. The IBM PC also impacted genealogy and the way in which we not only tracked our research, but years later how we found records and information via the Internet.

My First Encounter with the IBM PC: It Changed My Life

In 1984 I was working at the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC and one day someone placed this unusual machine on my desk. They said, “Here. You have the first IBM PC in the department. I want you to learn how to use it and then start teaching everyone else in the department how to use it.” That’s how I got started in the emerging Information Technology field – as an “accidental trainer.”

Within a year, I was proficient in not only all the basics of the IBM PC, its DOS operating system, but also programs such as Lotus 1,2,3 and WordPerfect. Here I was with a liberal arts degree from a private university working with computers. It’s funny how life takes a different direction than you had planned!

Primitive Personal Computing – 1980s Style

In recent discussions with colleagues in the genealogy field, I’ve been taking a walk down memory lane thinking about how we used the IBM PC. I’m sure to the Millennials and the younger generation how we worked seemed downright primitive.

  • Most IBM PCs had one disk drive, but eventually I worked with version that had two disk drives, allowing you to copy disks.
  • Speaking of disks, they were 5 1/4” floppy disks that came 10 to a box and had to be “formatted” in order to be used. Remember the labels you would use to designate what was on the floppy disk?
  • We kept floppy disks in large plastic filing containers, some of which had a lock and key.
  • Monitors displayed neon green text and in future years, many migrated to the “amber” monitors that were easier on the eyes.
  • Speaking of monitors, you tried not to leave the monitor on too long since you could “burn” an image into the screen. Thus we had “screen saver” programs . . . Flying Toasters anyone?
  • You had to be proficient in DOS and using the c:/ command prompt in order to run a directory listing and to copy and delete files.
  • The first spreadsheet program I used was Lotus 1,2,3 and then I used a program called Symphony which had a separate word processing program. Still, my favorite program was WordPress with its “reveal codes” and simple way of composing documents.
  • Software manuals were hundreds of pages, came in boxes with small two or three ring binders and no one seemed to ever use them.
  • We printed quite a bit with those early PCs didn’t we? The printers were dot matrix, with paper that came in a box and had holes one each side. And those printers were LOUD . . . so loud that you bought a separate noise cover so you could work in the same room!

What I realize most comparing today’s move towards “virtual” documents and apps is how much “work” it was just to use a computer. There were so many peripherals and things you had to buy. It all seems so wasteful now but that was the generally accepted practice of being on the cutting edge of computing.

And genealogy? My first genealogy software program was Family Tree Maker sold by Banner Blue software! I also remember later using Prodigy, CompuServe, and eventually the Internet to connect with others in genealogy.

What Do You Remember?

So when did you get your first personal computer? Was it an IBM PC? An Apple? Perhaps a Commodore 64 or an Osborne? What programs did you run? And what about genealogy . . . what was the first program you used for tracing your family history and keeping track of information?

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.