Doing Genealogy on the Web
This page consists of relevant technical
computer information that I want to share with my
family and website visitors. If you are looking
for information about Genealogical Software, then
go to that section of our genealogy resources page
Genealogy is about connections and sharing information, and that often means participation in online forums and mailing lists, and sharing data files. We need to be able to do that responsibly and without fear of generating spam and getting viruses, and this page is dedicated to making that possible.
I will be continuing to work on revising this page to make it a more valuable, user-friendly resource for my friends and family. So, do check back every few months or so for updates. And feel free to contact me if you have suggested improvements.
Most people I know seem to think that spam is inevitable, but that is not true. It is only as inevitable as you let it be, and there are a number of things you can do to prevent having to deal with unwanted email. I went for over a year without receiving any spam at all at several email addresses, because I took these precautions.
Although many of the best techniques are fairly high-tech methods for webdesigners, there are a number of simple steps that the common person can take.
Do not put your regular, private email address in online directories. When you sign up at many services, they will ask you if you want to list your address. If you don't want spam, say "Do Not List My Address in Public Directories."
The challenge is that of how to enable family members and fellow family history researchers to find you, without making yourself vulnerable to spammers.
If you need to join mailing lists, or give your address to get access to a website, set up one or more special, separate addresses at a free service such as yahoo, fastmail, or gmail for such instances. If you start getting spam, you will know which website(s) or mailing list(s) it's been generated from.
Also, all reputable email providers have spam filters. You can set up filters so that only mail with your name or from the list goes to the inbox, and everything else goes to the Spam Folder.
I have an address I set up that I use for list mail that is public. Most paid and some free services (such as gmail) will let you set up filters to forward selected email to another address. I set up a filter so that ONLY official list email gets forwarded to my regular address. That way, if spam goes to the inbox, I still will not see it as it won't get forwarded to my primary address. Err....as long as the list moderators stay on their toes. ;)
Some people embed images of the "dot" or an "at" symbol as part of their addresses, in the hopes that spambots will not figure out what their addresses are.
People often just write out the words "dot" and "at" in their addresses. I think it is only a matter of time, however, before spam bots are programmed to decipher that simple puzzle.
Some people place their addresses in an image file. I do not recommend this as the address cannot be read by people who are visually impaired or use text browsers.
The following generates an image for an email address, but remember it is only accessible to people who can read images:
Some people also create clickable links for sending them e-mail.
On my contact page here, in order to let people choose which spam-prevention method of getting my address they wish to use, I have given people choices. One is that of identifying an image using Recaptcha:
Another option is to figure out my address from a paragraph I wrote explaining the address in a way that spam bots are not likely to decode.
Some people also embed invisible additional characters in their email addresses, which are not seen by humans using standard browsers, but are seen by spam bots.
There are a lot of excellent webpages about how to prevent spam. The next two user-friendly discussions are provided by a commercial software vendor. I am including them as resources here as they have some good tips, and not as an endorsement of the product:
How do spammers find me?
How Can I Reduce the Amount of Spam that I Receive?
The next resources are very good general discussions:
Preventing Spam Mail
How to prevent spam
The following websites discuss various techniques for hiding your email address and preventing spam. The next two are probably the most thorough that include examples for novices as well as professionals:
For web designers: hiding from email spiders
Hide your email address on websites http://labnol.blogspot.com/2006/03/hide-your-email-address-on-websites.html
Free Email Encoder to Encrypt Email address
And, whatever you do, don't open up the spam you receive! Spammers sometimes embed little trackers that are triggered if you open up their email. When you do that, the spammers can find out who you are, and then are likely to send you even more spam. See the following interesting study which explains how they do this more thoroughly.
If you are a MS Windows or Internet Explorer user, you know how vulnerable you are to worms, viruses, and malware. But if you haven't already installed virus protection software, then read on.
I have known people who absolutely refused to install virus protection software because it cost too much, was hard or frightening to install, or slowed their computers down too much. I list reliable sources of free anti-virus software below.
Before you decide that anti-virus software would make your life more difficult, ask yourself how much more difficult it would be if some strange virus invaded and took over your computer, duplicating and corrupting files, filling up your hard drive, stealing your addresses and sending them to spam bots.
Recovering from that kind of situation is a very expensive, time-consuming proposition. Sometimes the only solution is to wipe out everything on your computer and take it back to the factory settings. It obviously is a lot easier and less expensive to prevent it, than it is to repair the damage and recover from such an attack.
Also, if you think that you can protect yourself from viruses just by not opening strange email or attachments, you are wrong. Your friends could be accidentally sending you a virus they don't know about. It is absolutely essential that you install some kind of virus protection software because you can also get viruses from websites you visit.
The good news is that there is highly respected, free virus protection software available, called AVG, that many professionals rely on. Check out their website at http://www.grisoft.com.
Free virus protection used to come in the Google Tool Bar, you could previously find at http://pack.google.com. But was discontinued in 2011, according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Pack. While you may be able to find copies for download elsewhere on the web, it may not be the best option any more.
The Google_Pack package included, among many other things, Spyware Doctor and the Norton Security Scan, both of which can still be downloaded and installed separately. However, be forewarned that if you do not like the free Norton utility, it is not easy to uninstall, and most people do not like it.
But if you have a Microsoft computer, the Microsoft Security Essentials program works very well and is free from Microsoft.
If you want to learn more about tips and tricks for preventing infections with viruses and other malware, there are many, many thousands of excellent articles on the web about this topic.
Learning how to make occasional backups of your system is very important. Every system has some sort of backup utility. If you don't know how to use it, then ask google to help, or find someone who can help you learn, and then mark your calendar to make backups regularly. We all fail to make backups as often as we should, and usually learn the hard way how important it is to always have a recent backup.
If you just surf the web and read email online, then once or twice a month may suffice, unless you bookmark important sites when you are surfing that you don't want to have to search out again should something serious go wrong with your system.
Think about how much work has gone into the files you have created or modified in the last day or two, or the last week, and ask yourself if you would want to have to do that work all over again if your system fails and has to be restored from a backup. That should give you a good idea how often you should make your backups.
Sometimes backup files can get corrupted, so I recommend keeping more than one backup, like keeping two or three around, to be on the safe side. One of my friends also recommends keeping at least one backup off site.
FTP, which stands for "File Transfer Protocol", is a way to transfer files from one computer to another computer or to a webserver. If you have your own website, it enables you to design your webpages offline and then upload them to a webserver, instead of having to use the templates provided online by the server. It also is used to upload Gedcom files to genealogy sites, and to share files of any sort with other users.
Emailing files to people is convenient, but the more of us who send big emails, the slower the internet. Ever notice how slow the net gets at certain times of day? I consider that a traffic jam, and the heavier the traffic, the slower it's gonna be. If you need to share a private file, consider putting it at a password-protected file-sharing site or on an ftp site.
I personally was unable to find any file-sharing sites that would provide easy, password-protected access to everyone, and that is one reason I recommend using FTP. Another reason for using FTP is that if you are sending private genealogical data via email, it poses a security risk because that email is going through lots of places before it gets where it is going, and my techie friends do not trust sending anything requiring secure protection via email. Too much malware is out there breaking in along the way.
Data placed at FTP sites can be accessed with ordinary browsers even though it is password protected. It is also possible to put both the user name and the password into your URL, but I recommend that you do not do that because it poses a security risk.
How could that pose a security risk? As a Webmaster, I gather site statistics, and one of the pieces of information available in those statistics is your browser's cache saying the last few sites it visited. If you put the user name and password into the URL, you are making it easy for someone else to pluck that information and get access to your FTP account. I personally only have access to the referring URL, but I have seen ads for some statistics counters that will gather much more information about previous sites visited.
If you are using a browser to access data on an FTP site that is password protected, do not try to put it in your Favorites or Bookmarks. So far, everyone I know who has tried going back to our family FTP site using their Favorites or Bookmarks, has been unable to log in properly or get access to the private directories. You need to put the address, login name, and password name somewhere safe and then type it into the address bar in your browser each time you want to go there. You will be prompted for the username and password and, once you finish logging in, you can click on links and look at files.
When you are done, please be sure to close the window if you are using a shared username and password, as most ftp sites will not let anyone else log in until you close your connection (i.e., close the window in your browser or log off in your ftp client).
If you want to upload files to an FTP site, you will need to use an FTP client (see the following paragraphs for recommended FTP clients). To use an FTP GUI client, first you go onto the Internet however you normally get there. If you connect to the net using a browser, do not put the address in your bookmarks or favorites list if you want access to a password-protected site. Instead, you will need to type the address into the address bar in the FTP client. So, after connecting to the Internet, you open the FTP client while you are on the Internet, and enter the URL of the ftp site into the address box. Sign in with the user name and password, and then you can drag and drop files just as you do with your browser.
If you use Windows, one of the very best FTP clients around is CoreFTPLite. Excellent help for coreFTP and coreFTPlite users is available online at http://coreftp.com/forums. [NOTE: the coreftp site apparently requires SSL, check your security settings if you have trouble accessing it.] Troubleshooting of basic user problems is probably best done in the general Core FTP Client subforum. You also might find a specific answer to your questions by using their forum Search feature. If you are a member of my family, then call me so I can walk you through using coreFTPlite if you need help.
If you are a Mac user, Cyberduck has had rave reviews. For more information about Cyberduck installation, go here and to download it from a site recommended by the professionals, go here. If you are in my extended family, then I can walk you through using Cyberduck on the phone if you need help.
If you use Linux, FTP comes preinstalled on all distributions, although not all have a GUI client. Linux folks type "man ftp" or "ftp -help" for details. For GUI clients for your flavor of Linux, search your distribution's forums and home page.
If you are worried about computer security, using SCP is a much safer way to transfer files to or from another off-site computer than is FTP. And, when associated with SSH, one can then use SSH to run a computer remotely, rather than just having the ability to upload, download, or move files around.
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Content Last Modified March 30, 2012