Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

“Just in Time” Genealogy Document Digitization

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

In a fun blog post entitled “The Genealogy Instant Answer Line“, Arlene Eakle educates her impatient (and by implication, naive) clients on just how long it’s going to take to pole vault them over their brick walls:

Please do not expect to have your 20-year problem resolved, with documentation, with full analysis, with pertinent comments and follow-up in supporting sources, in 20 days.  Not happenin’–with your ancestry nor anybody else’s.  When you engage me to solve your hardest-to-find ancestor and link him to an unknown family unit, allow sufficient time for me to do it.

I love this kind of candor. Arlene’s obviously a truly professional genealogist who’s going to be completely straight with you. And she’s clearly right. You probably wouldn’t have come to her for help unless yours was the kind of problem that needed her unique divergent thinking skills and research expertise, applied over months, not days.

But what if the “Instant Answer” was available from a single offline document?

Would it be realistic to expect to have that document retrieved on the same day you decided you wanted it? What about if you wanted it in an hour? A few minutes?

“Just In Time” On-Demand Genealogy Document Digitization

Consider the following (admittedly contrived) scenario. You’re browsing the Family History Library catalog online  at about 9 pm Central time on a Thursday evening. You notice there’s an FHL film (say 1671673) that has a pretty good chance of holding the marriage record for your great-great-grandparents. It hasn’t yet been digitized and indexed on the FamilySearch Record Pilot, unfortunately. You could go to your local FHC tomorrow and order it for $5.50. It’d probably arrive in 2-3 weeks.

genealogy_pagerBut what if you wanted to know RIGHT NOW if film 1671673 contains that marriage record, or if you should try a different research avenue instead, all without interrupting your genealogy flow? What if you could log onto a website, enter that film number, and immediately see a list of people who were at the FHL right this minute and who could go pull the film for you? What if the researcher you selected could then browse through the film on a reader, locate the marriage record you’re after, scan it directly to a digital image, and upload that image to the website for you to view and download, all within about 15 minutes of receiving your request?

We have the technology…

As it turns out, this scenario is completely plausible. In fact, here at Genlighten we’ve already begun building the infrastructure to make it real. It will probably end up relying on web-enabled smartphones and make use of Twitter’s APIs. Clients who want this kind of near-real-time response will need to pay a premium for it. But the cost of this service will still be comparable to that of requesting the film.

So… are you interested?

Can you think of a situation where you might use this? How much would an “Instant Genealogy Answer” be worth to you?

Nine Questions with Banai Feldstein

Monday, February 8th, 2010

banai_feldstein_provider_avatar

I first met Banai in August 2009 at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia. I was struck immediately by her intensity and passion, her technical savvy, and the degree to which she was connected to other researchers and leaders at the conference. She was one of only a few attendees who “live-tweeted” from numerous conference sessions. I quietly hoped to one day recruit her as one of our providers, and was thrilled several months later to see that she had signed up.

From BanaiFeldstein‘s Profile

Banai specializes in Eastern European research — including Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, and Belarus– and in Jewish research. She’s the President of the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society and an APG member.

Nine Questions with Banai

1) How did you get started doing genealogy lookups/research?

I was living in Nashville when I had a relapse of the genealogy bug. A few years later,  I wasn’t getting any web design clients, so I figured I could move to Salt Lake City and not get any web design clients there, but at least I could do more genealogy research. I also hoped to turn it into a business, which I have.

I’ve read many times that you should find something you love to do, then find a way to make money at it. I’ve always loved puzzles and detective work, and that’s what genealogy often is.

2)      Do you have a genealogy “superpower”? If so, what is it?

I am really good with languages. Some clients ask for records in languages I haven’t worked in before, and I tell them so up front, but they trust that I can do the work anyways. I usually can. Dutch was tricky, but all the Eastern European languages I’ve found pretty easy.

3)      Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved?

My mother has told me numerous times that she had an older sister who was given up for adoption. Late last year, I found her birth record. We’re still in the middle of trying to find and contact her now.

4)      What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated lookup request?

My favorite potential clients are the ones who provide me with specifics: locations, dates, religion. When they ask for something generic like “Polish research”, that doesn’t help. If I lived in Poland, maybe I could do something, but I need to know the exact location to know if I have access to any records. When they openly share their information, that’s the best query and gets the most thorough response as to whether or not I can help. Also, it’s good when they’re at least slightly organized. Figuring out what they’re asking and putting their family information in order takes extra time.

5)      What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?

There is nowhere else on Earth like the Family History Library.

6)      What technical tools do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?

The FHL provides the equipment for me. I just need to bring along my flash drive.

If I have to order a record from an archive, then I use my trusty CanoScan LIDE, which I’ve had forever. This scanner has travelled all over with me, scanning photos and documents from relatives too. It’s one of those 1 inch tall scanners that fits right into my large laptop bag.

7)      Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Plenty. I can do almost anything at the FHL. It’s just a matter of entering it all into Genlighten.

8)      What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a lookup provider?

They should be very familiar with the archive and the records that they want to provide. Know which record types and years are available, the hours of the facility, any costs involved, and be sure that they can get there often.

9)      What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing lookups?

I love improving my house. It was neglected for at least three owners and empty for two years before me, so it needs a lot of TLC. The current project is refinishing the hardwood floors.

I love ice skating and the Utah Olympic Oval is conveniently a few blocks from my house.

I also love to write. I’m the newsletter editor for the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society (as well as the president now), so I get some genealogy writing in there several times a year. I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November. And I just started a  blog this year; I’m enjoying the extra writing.

Lookups BanaiFeldstein Offers

Jewish Polish Birth Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Marriage Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Death Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Birth Records & Translation, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Marriage Records & Translation, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Death Records & Translation, 1830-1900

Eternos: Preserving your Tweets, Facebook Photos, Gmail and RSS for Future Generations

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Well, that didn’t take long.

A few weeks back, I posted about Bud Caddell’s idea for a Social Media Time Machine that would “Preserve and Curate My Social Media for Future Generations.” This weekend, I was followed on Twitter by a startup that looks like they’re trying to build exactly that. It’s called Eternos.

What Does Eternos Do?

From what I can tell right now, Eternos lets you backup your Tweets, your Facebook status updates and photos, your Gmail account and an RSS feed of your blog. You can browse through your  “artifacts” using a timeline format. If you’re not into social media, Eternos lets you upload and store standard content such as photos and videos. I’ve let it connect to my Twitter account, and that seems to work fine. It’s cool to be able to access the older tweets that Twitter.com typically won’t let you see. No luck syncing with Facebook yet though.

eternos_tweet_timelineHow Much?

It’s free during the beta period, and they’ll offer the usual “Freemium” pricing plan after that. That typically means that basic functionality will continue to be available for free, while a paid pro account will be needed to access the coolest features (including ones they’ll add over time.) Sounds reasonable to me.

Am I Excited?

I like what Eternos is doing… it seems like it’s got a lot of potential. Right now (as one would expect for a minimum viable product) it does the basic things it needs to do. They’ll iterate based on early customer feedback and add additional capabilities over time, I’m sure.

What I don’t see yet is the “Wow!” factor… the sense that they’re adding something uniquely valuable on top of the archiving function. In my post discussing this idea, I mentioned that I wanted to be able to look backwards in time and see relationships forming and evolving. Will Eternos tackle that? Are they developing some cool social media algorithms up there in Seattle? We’ll see!

Social Media Outposts — Personal vs. Corporate

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

As we get closer to letting a few potential early adopters preview Genlighten in private beta form, we’re taking a few tentative steps towards establishing some new social media outposts on the web in addition to this blog.

Up until now, I’ve shifted back and forth here between sharing personal anecdotes and talking about Genlighten milestones and strategy. I’ve done the same with my Twitter account, casually mixing the personal with the corporate. As we start to approach the point where Genlighten becomes an authentic business rather than merely an extremely expensive side-project, it feels like it’s time to give the corporate entity and the CEO their own respective social media channels.

Genlighten — the Corporate Web Presence

What’s that mean going forward? For one thing, Genlighten now has its own Twitter account: @genlighten. There aren’t many updates there yet, but eventually that’ll be the account for our users to follow if they want updates on new features, scheduled maintenance, unscheduled downtime, special events, etc..

The Genlighten blog will remain our formal corporate communication channel — the place to hear what we’re up to, how we view the genealogy marketplace, and what we think we can offer that’s unique. But in keeping with the typical guidelines for a corporate site, I’ll probably inject my personal life here a bit less than I’ve done in the past.

We also now have a Genlighten fan page on Facebook: try this link, or just type “genlighten.com” into Facebook’s search box.

A YouTube channel (for Genlighten how-to and help videos) and a Slideshare.net account (for presentations) are still in the planning phases.

Me as CEO and Co-Founder

Because I want to continue to communicate in an informal way with the Genlighten community as well as with friends, family and colleagues, I’m now maintaining a personal blog at nicelittleniche.com. Since Genlighten, family history research, and the entrepreneurial worldview are such a huge part of my life at the moment, you can expect my nicelittleniche posts to focus on those three areas. But you’ll also get the occasional update on my family or the fun things we have going on when we’re not Genlightening.

In case you’re wondering, the title for the personal blog was inspired by a visitor to our booth at a Genealogy Conference last year, who, when she heard what we were up to, said without the slightest hint of condescension: “Oh… that’s a nice little niche.” [grin]

I’ll continue to share 140-characters-or-less views of my day-to-day experiences via my personal Twitter account, @hikari17.

And if you just can’t get enough of us…

…You can also follow my account on FriendFeed here. That way you’ll get both the personal and the corporate perspective in one place.

Thanks!

GeneaTwits — A Twitter app for genealogists

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Twitter logo

Randy Seaver posed the question yesterday on his blog:  Are any other genea-bloggers Twittering? One non-scientific indicator might be the number of new signups on the Twitter Family History Group, which has roughly doubled in size (from 20 to 40) since Randy’s post.  Or the number of tweets per day containing the word “genealogy”, which is about 28, according to Twitter Venn.  So it appears that the number of genealogists on Twitter is small but growing.

As Elizabeth O’Neal points out, that was true for Facebook as well “in the olden days” — i.e., early last year.  Could Twitter eventually grow to become a useful service for genealogists… the next trendy genealogy hangout spot on the web?  If so, then I have an idea to toss out to any similarly-inclined wannabe genealogy web entrepreneurs.

Suppose that all the genealogy enthusiasts out there in the Twitterverse — I’ll call them “genea-twits”, for lack of a better name — were to include the surnames they’re researching in their genealogy-related tweets, and use a special hashtag in front of them, say the ^ (caret) character.  For example, if I happened to make a noteworthy discovery on my Fillebrown line, I would put ^Fillebrown in my tweet celebrating that find.

Then, suppose someone were to build a web application which aggregated just the tweets in the Twitter-stream with those ^Surname hashtags.  The site could create a ranking of surnames and their popularity, offer a list of recommended genea-twits to follow, perhaps even allow for a simple form of social networking based around specific surnames, localities, or research techniques.  The result would be a site that aggregated real-time research efforts of genealogists across the globe, and connected them with all the immediacy and spontaneity of a 140-character Twitter post.

Imagine if you were at your nearby family history center cranking away on a microfilm reader, and you were struggling to parse a name on a microfilm image.  You could snap a picture using your iPhone and post a tweet with the image and the ^-tag for the related surname.  Fellow genea-twits could then look at your image and — in quasi-real-time — offer their insights and suggestions.

Or what if you were pounding away at census records on Ancestry at two in the morning, and had an idea about a connection you hadn’t considered before.  You could dash off a genea-tweet with your hypothesis, and let your “followers” who happened to also do genealogy at odd hours take a crack at it.

The model for this service would be StockTwits.com, a site that aggregates stock-related tweets using the $-hashtag (e.g., $AAPL, $GOOG, etc.)

Here at Genlighten, we’re too busy getting our own website up and running to devote serious time to building GeneaTwits.com.  But if someone else would like to tackle it, I’d be happy to offer advice and encouragement.  Heck, I’ll even spring for the domain name!