Archive for June, 2008

Genealogists Joining Social Networks — Is it a Trend Yet?

Monday, June 30th, 2008

One of my takeaways from the Blogger Summit at the SCGS Jamboree last week was Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak‘s revelation that all of a sudden, more and more genealogy enthusiasts are flocking to Facebook. I had already heard from DearMyrtle about the growth of a nascent genealogy community in Second Life. Two data points obviously don’t make a trend, but it would appear that family historians are approaching a tipping point with regard to online social networking — and are beginning to add it to their arsenal of research techniques. But are they really? And if so, in what kind of numbers?

Smart money is clearly being invested in genealogy-oriented online communities. Geni is perhaps the best-known current example (and my personal favorite), with its emphasis on building your family tree online by collaborating with your living relatives. Not long after it was launched, well-respected venture capital firm Charles River Ventures invested in Geni at a $100M valuation. Paul Allen at FamilyLink (nee World Vital Records) has long evangelized for genealogists to embrace the power of social networking and has seemingly built much of his company’s strategy accordingly. And no less an authority than Dick Eastman has backed up his belief that “social networking sites will be the ‘next big thing’ in online genealogy” by joining the advisory board of FamilyBuilder. But are these observations representative of mainstream genealogy enthusiasts’ behavior, or do they simply reflect the vision of early adopters?

In deciding on the feature set we wanted to incorporate in our upcoming beta release of Genlighten, we surveyed a group of 500 or so existing customers of ChicagoGenealogy.com, a genealogy lookup website focused on Cook County Illinois. Social networking was only mildly important to our 230 or so respondents:

our chigen customer survey results

Of course, this result might simply stem from a poorly-phrased survey question or the placement of social networking last in the list of possible responses.

Other more credible surveys mirror ours, however. In a December 2007 report entitled “Baby Boomers and Silver Surfers: Two Generations Online”, eMarketer found that only 18% of seniors age 50-60 were interested in online social networking. For those 60 and older, the number was even lower: 14%. Since these are the prime demographics for active involvement in genealogy, websites focusing on social networking for genealogists would appear to have an uphill climb to change existing behaviors and preferences. I believe that these companies will need patience, staying power, and a keen ear for customer insights if they are to ultimately be successful.

In the meantime, I have high hopes that sites like Geni, FamilyBuilder and their imitators can make headway introducing the Facebook generation to the joys of Family History. That in itself would be a tremendously praiseworthy accomplishment.

As for our strategy at Genlighten, we’re reluctant to jump on the social networking bandwagon just yet. If and when our customers indicate a strong desire for them, we may consider adding selected social networking features to the site. But for now, we’re focused on becoming a premier source for genealogical documents. If our users want to share the documents they get from us with others, we’ll try to make it easy for them, perhaps with something as simple as an “Export to Footnote” or “Add to your Geni tree” button.

Where do you stand with regard to Genealogy and Online Social Networks? Are you using Facebook, Second Life, Geni or FamilyBuilder in your research efforts? Have you managed to convince someone else to do so? Please leave a comment and let us know.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #8

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

A questioner from the audience wants to know how to get info they want to share to bloggers. Dick points out the function of comments at the bottom of a blog post. He suggests she start her own. The questioner doesn’t want to, but just wants to e-mail her ideas to a blogger for them to post. Many on the panel indicate a willingness to do so, if the content fits.

More on comments. Steve admires the way Dick handles the negative comments he gets on his blog.

An audience member asks how to attract traffic to her blog. Shelly suggests focus and differentiation. Something unique, something niche. Before you think about traffic, think about your audience, and about what you’re going to address that’s different. If it is, people will come.

Randy suggests commenting on others’ blogs, participating in the Carnival of Genealogy. The genealogy blogger community is very accepting of newcomers. We know how hard it can be. Randy again mentions his visit with me at the booth yesterday. My gratified response that he had read my blog despite how new it is.

Dick returns to the topic of RSS. Has brought up the reader he uses. Demonstrates it to the group.

A questioner asks about which software to use to get a blog started. Steve demonstrates Blogger. Randy explains how Blogger hand-holds for you, gives you templates, let’s you have complete control, almost intuitive. Steve talks about WordPress and its various versions. George also uses Blogger. He notes that these sites have space limitations, which may be an issue for those with who put up a lot of images. Dick uses Typepad (which isn’t free). Suggests starting with a free site. Shelly suggests using colors on your blog with good contrast and readability.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #7

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Dick says he gave up on trying to enforce copyright infringement. He changed his copyright statement to let others use them for free. Now people steal his material and give him credit. He avoids the ulcer. Dick brings up Greg’s/Craig’s post about the Megan microphone incident. Laughter all around!

I went to approve a pingback from WordPress on an earlier post and missed Shelly’s comments about the decline of print publications and the advantages of sharing and connecting with others through her content.

Dick mentions that he gets more readers via e-mail than he does on the web. E-mail remains his most effective way to distribute info… his subscribers don’t always want to go to the web. George concurs.

Leland mentions RSS feeds (I raised my hand to ask about that too!) Steve has us scroll down to the bottom of his site, where you can subscribe to his site. Dick uses NetNewsWire and describes the basis advantages of RSS. The numbers onscreen climb as the reader retrieves the various feeds. Sounds like RSS is still something that many are unfamiliar with.

One of the bloggers in the room has taken a picture and posted it to her blog. Another picture is taken of the panelists looking at themselves on someone’s blog. Entirely too meta!

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #6

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Leland asks what kind of posts generate the most traffic? Megan says she doesn’t keep track of her stats. The “Annie” story generated a lot of comments, and the Genealogue parodied her, which also made her feel she’d arrived. Touts the utility of Facebook Groups… particularly for her new project on un-identified deceased persons. Has generated a surprising amount of interest and engagement.

Randy talks about “blog-a-lanches” — big responses to particular posts. Says when he links to Terry, or posts a comment on another blogger’s site, he’ll see a traffic surge. Saw this when he commented on Dick’s post about Ancestry/Rootsweb. Steve’s had the same experience… wrote a post for the Carnival of Genealogy about ethics in writing family histories. Dick commented on it, then e-mails started coming in requesting copies. Steve does check his stats. Notes his numbers are similar to Randy’s.

A questioner from the audience asks, do your blogs lead to authoring opportunities? What about copyright issues? Steve answers that anything you post is copyrighted by default. Protecting your material from infringement is another story. Craig from the audience verifies this. His URL is www.geneablogie.blogspot.com.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #5

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Shelly admits that since she started her blog, she doesn’t have as much time to do her own research! She also likes the Carnival of Genealogy. Used the prompts to motivate her to discuss her own unique ancestors. A few months ago, a Russian cousin found her through her blog and mentioned his work on time travel. Couldn’t grasp why genealogists would be interested in that!

“He’s chased his ancestors all his life… he’s gone to get the answers” will be George’s epitath on his tombstone.

Dick has mentioned one of his elusive ancestors on his blog, and has yet to get any helpful info as a result.

Leland alludes to the addictive nature of blogging. He has at times felt that if he or Dick didn’t mention something, it wouldn’t get mentioned. Felt obligated to get the news out. Now he doesn’t feel as guilt-driven, since he has so many blogging compatriots. Kimberley Powell, Julianna Smith were among the early contributors.

Leland talks about taking Google ads. They do make money, evidently! He also publicizes stuff about Everton’s, since they pay his salary. Not a bad way to make a living. Dick says it’s a part of his income, but not all of it. Do the rest of you generate any income from your blog, Leland asks? There’s a clear hesitancy on the panelists part to discuss this topic.

Dick shares an interesting experience. He has wi-fi in his van. On a Footnote user experience trip a ways back, he drove the van while the Footnote engineers worked on the site. Impressive.

Randy doesn’t receive income. Thinks Google ads not worth the effort. He doesn’t have enough traffic… has about 1/10 of Dick’s traffic. Doesn’t take ads or freebies, wants to be independent. Sounds like there might be a little competition among the panelists about license plates. Dick doesn’t take the bait on the “independence” topic. Interesting.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #4

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Leland asks about the news focus. What do the different bloggers cover?

Shelly maintains her focus on all things JewishGen… that’s what her audience is looking for from her. George uses his society blog to get the word out about all genealogy events nearby in Florida. Wants to put together a blog for regional west coast genealogy societies. Steve’s is most focused on a particular family. He wonders why he gets so many visitors? He thinks some come just to follow his translation/transcriptions as a template for their own. Dick navigates to Steve’s blog so we can all see it. Or tries to, since the network connection is not working.

Steve also keeps a calendar of local genealogical society events on his blog, which brings a sizeable amount of traffic. From talking with people at the California Genealogical Society, he thinks there’s a real need for this service. Megan mentions how helpful she finds Steve’s blog as a source of Slavic info — “someone’s blogging about my people.”

George points out that blogging isn’t that hard. He taught a workshop, and in the lobby afterwards, several mentioned to him that they had just launched their own blogs based on his tutorial.

The room is now closer to full — about 60 in the room. Shelly mentions how she gets lots of questions addressed to her at her blog. She’d love to discuss their questions publicly, but most are reluctant to have her do that.

Dick and collaborators have got the Internet working, and we’re looking at Shelly’s blog. Her posts reflect her journalistic background — they’re well composed and show a great deal of polish.

Randy suggests that genealogy blogs are like a cafe — you can pick and choose: Jewish, French-Canadian, Italian, African-American, etc.. One of the things he uses his for is to write down his own memories. Touts the Carnival of Genealogy. A group of 40 bloggers take a prompt, and post about their own genealogy in response. By viewing the Carnival, you can get to know new bloggers. 200-300 are probably posting on a daily basis.

Leland asks if Randy gets feedback on his personal family history posts… do relatives contact him? Since his blog is on blogger, Google finds his content quickly. Sometimes within hours of a post, distant relatives will respond to what he’s put up about his family.

Steve points out that when he searches for his family history online, he now often is pointed to his own blog! But it’s an advantage that blogs are searchable, whereas family info on Rootsweb is not.

George had an experience when someone posted a death certificate of one of his ancestors on his blog in response to a post. Cried sitting at the computer. Powerful.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #3

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Over to Steve Danko. Started a few days after Megan and Randy. Wanted to share info about his ancestors with others. Set out to host his documents online and give his relatives and others access to them, along with a transcription and a translation. He heard from the Genealogy Guys’ podcast how to set up a blog. Was also inspired by another early blogger. Blogged about a Polish Genealogy conference and got a big response. Posts once per day. Has connected with cousins in Poland and the UK, as well as many others. Has been very rewarding for him.

Shelly comes from a journalism background. Wrote a column for the Jerusalem Post on genealogy. JTA came to her and asked her to be their first blogger. She averred (I’m older than 20!). Maintains she needed a lot of handholding and tech help. In 2006, she started by blogging from the International Jewish Gen conference. Posts consistently 5-8x per day. Main focus is Jewish Genealogy. Has enjoyed meeting interesting colleagues through the process. Glad she wasn’t afraid to start.

Randy admits he’s a geneaholic, even has the shirt to prove it. His wife has one too! In April 2006, he said to himself, “I could do something like that”. He’s found that content is difficult to come by. By May, he was inspired in the shower to name it “Geneamusings”. Two years later, about 2000 posts. 2-3 per day unless he’s with his grandchildren or on a cruise! He’s president of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society, which he’s working hard to grow. Has started a blog for the Society, which provides outreach on a daily basis.

Randy’s themes have changed over time. Used to look for strange names in the census (“census whacking”). Doesn’t post all the genealogy news, but likes to comment on it. Still active as a genealogist. Interested in software, doing reviews of each. Mentions new websites (including us… thanks Randy!). Likes to post screenshots of his experience with new databases. Likes to be funny if he can (he often is!) Leland asks Randy’s wife if he does anything else.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #2

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

We’re just about to get underway. Dick Eastman’s blog is being projected on the screen to the panelists’ right. Will the panelists be walking us through their respective blogs one by one? Since I access the genealogy blogs I read almost exclusively via RSS, I don’t tend to see the latest ads and other content on the blogs themselves. Feedburner isn’t yet to the point where it offers me genealogy-related ads in my genealogy-related feeds.

OK, Dick Eastman has taken his seat. Paula of SCGS is offering a quick intro. She thinks this is the premier session at their Jamboree. Shelly asks the bloggers in the audience to raise their hand. I tentatively raise mine (do four posts make me a blogger?)

Leland’s discussing his deafness problem, and gets lots of laughs about how he may say some odd things based on how he’s able to interpret what the panelists and audience members will be saying. He wants to make this a fun exercise. Blogging is addictive, stressful and stress-relieving, he comments, but it can also be a lot of fun. Of 25 posts we would make a day early on, most were simply news items he ran across.

Dick starts. Apologizes for the ads at the top of his site. He started a weekly newsletter, now it’s daily. Began writing about blogs, it dawned on him that he had been writing one himself. When he began talking about them, got a lot of blank stares. Typically posts 1-3 times per day. What’s different about his? Free and per-pay section.

Megan’s next. She blogs in several forms. Started about April 2006. Hers is “utterly random”. Hard to keep it going. Very irregular: 2x per day to once per week. She views Roots TV as a kind of blogging on steroids.
Also mentions Facebook. Even easier than blogging. Genealogists are joining Facebook. Already, someone has blogged about her talk last night. Microphone dropped down her pants. She was quoted as saying “that was an interesting sensation.” Randy’s comment “but was that a geneagasm”. Laughter all around.

George Morgan takes the microphone. Started “Along These Lines”. Had to stop because he just didn’t have the time, with all the other stuff he’s been doing. His local society has gone to a blog format, ditching paper newsletters. Only two members objected. Co-hosts Genealogy Guys podcast. Makes some money from sponsorships.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

I’m in my seat for the Blogger Summit here at the SCGS Jamboree. There’s room for 75, and with about ten minutes before things get underway there are about 30 in attendance. Other sessions at the Jamboree have been SRO… wonder what that says about the popularity of genealogy blogs?

At the panelists’ table (left to right) are Dick Eastman, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, George Morgan, Stephen Danko, Shelly Talalay Dardashti, and Randy Seaver. Leland Meitzler of Everton will be the moderator. There’s a projector and screen set up, so perhaps the panelists will be sharing examples of posts from their blogs?

So far, there’s lots of joshing back and forth between the panelists, including comments on the re-enactor types wandering the halls of the Jamboree in medieval garb holding “sharp pointy things”. Wish I had a camera!

At the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree!

Friday, June 27th, 2008

One of coolest things I get to do as founder (and thus chief evangelist) at Genlighten is man our exhibit booth at various genealogy conferences. Today I’m at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, put on by — who else — the Southern California Genealogical Society. The exhibit area is jammed, and quite a few people are stopping by the booth. (Of course, the bowl of Dove chocolates probably doesn’t hurt traffic any.)

My mood at these events tends to vary not so much according to the level of booth traffic per se, but with the number of people who read our flyers and seem to “get it” — who understand the value we can offer to both lookup clients and providers. By that measure, we’re doing pretty well today.

Since I’m manning the booth alone this time, it’s going to be difficult to get away and attend any of the conference sessions. But I definitely plan on attending tomorrow’s Genealogy Blogger Summit. I hope to learn lots about how to make a genealogy blog interesting, relevant and personal. I need help with all three!