|Author Explores Social Networking for Genealogists|
Text and Photo by SIFRIYA DEVIN
On June 10th, the Genealogy Research Center on Info Island was treated to a special talk by real life author Drew Smith, also known as Drew Rodinia in SL. As the author of “Social Networking for Genealogists.” Smith expounded on the many ways current Web 2.0 technologies and social networking tools can be utilized for various levels of genealogical research and collaboration. As a real life librarian at the University of South Florida and the Director of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, Smith brings a unique perspective as both a researcher and librarian concerned about helping patrons in their genealogical pursuits.
As librarians, we are constantly aware of how Web 2.0 technologies enhance social connections and project collaboration. However, Smith’s book insists that these technologies are ideal for genealogists because of their range of influence, flexibility and ease of use. Over the past decade or more, genealogists have flocked to the web for records searching and pedigree sharing. Several sites have included ways for these researchers to connect based on shared family branches or record transcription. Prior to Web 2.0 developments message boards, DNA or surname specific websites have been the extent of genealogical collaboration.
Smith’s book explores the many new ways genealogists are connecting. In fact, according to Smith, almost any social networking tool out there is beginning to appear on the usage radar of genealogists. Some social networking companies are beginning to realize the potential popularity with genealogists and are creating applications that make connecting research even easier.
The most popular and accommodating social networking site being used right now is Facebook which has added applications to help family members find other relatives and share family history information. This site has also attracted genealogists due to the interest of specific groups that allow genealogists to discuss overall techniques or industry developments. Part of the appeal of Facebook is the instant and private sharing capabilities among friends and family that includes photo and video sharing.
Smith insists that photo and video sharing is a hot area of interest in the genealogical field which has meant increased traffic for Flickr, YouTube and other free content sharing sites. Part of the popularity with Flickr is the tagging capability that allows genealogists to tag surnames or historical locations that can aid in or enhance family history research.
As a more genealogical friendly method of social networking, Smith points to three main social networking sites out there that have been gaining in popularity and have been designed purely for the genealogical purpose of connecting cousins researching the same lines: Geni.com, MyFamily.com and MyHeritage.com. MyFamily is an offshoot of Ancestry.com while the other two genealogy social networking sites are stand alone sites. These sites not only allow linking among relatives, but also sharing family trees, photos and other documents to help make connections between researchers that may not have been made without the tree matching capabilities. According to Smith, Geni.com is the site he recommends in this area because the ease of use and simple design indicate they “got it right” when designing a site suited to genealogists. However, users should note that these new social networking sites are free only to a point and then require subscriptions to fully take advantage of the many features. Another fact of interest with these sites, as well as with Facebook, is the concern over privacy. While research usually involves deceased ancestors, the connections being made are between live researchers/cousins which, therefore, require these sites to limit content viewing to within a short number of generations. This has not been met with universal acceptance, but the issue is still complicated and these sites are constantly attempting to balance sharing/collaboration with privacy.
These social networking specific sites are only a small portion of the tools being utilized. Smith notes that Wikis are becoming popular for family history collaboration as different members of a family can add their portion of the research to a document which can be published later as a more thorough product. Local Historical Societies are also utilizing Wikis to showcase local history collections. These collections have the opportunity to grow as locals can add their own contributions to biographies or recollection pages. He notes that Google Docs are also being used by multiple family members when coordinating family information for reunions and small publications. As with the main impetus behind Web 2.0 technologies, Smith emphasizes the importance of “benefiting from the wisdom of the crowd.”
Besides contributing to surname or research specific applications, genealogists are now also taking advantage of RSS feeds, podcasts, link tagging, and even book cataloguing with tools such as LibraryThing to coordinate look-up efforts and instructional tid-bits. As expected, Second Life has also become popular as a way to meet and discuss methodology and issues as they arise. Podcasting is one area of specific interest to Smith since he co-hosts “The Genealogy Guys Podcasts” along with George G. Morgan: http://www.genealogyguys.com/ This podcast is a great way to keep up with the ever-changing face of social networking and how it relates to genealogical developments. Smith noted during the in-world talk that while his book is an overview of how to utilize these social networking tools for genealogical purposes, things have already changed since the release date earlier this year. This only confirms that the social networking craze is a vital and evolving technology worthy of monitoring as we strive to assist patrons in all of their information seeking needs.