Saturday, February 27, 2010

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Social Networking for Genealogy

I started a new category this week: Social Networking for Genealogy. I am still building and tweaking it. It has taken me a while to create this new category because I had a hard time determining how to catalogue the links I was finding. Defining and categorizing "social networking" for genealogy isn't easy. Social networking online takes advantage of the latest technologies to offer interactive methods of sharing and publishing on the Internet. Genealogists have always been social-networking pros, since the early days of the Internet. We've used bulletin boards, newsgroups, chat, mailing lists, message boards, blogs, and more, all in an effort to collaborate. So, this isn't a new idea for us, we just have new options as technology advances.

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as "...commonly associated with web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web." Some people have referred to our use of this as "Genealogy 2.0" to indicate a special genealogical-slant on Web 2.0. Following are some of the definitions people give for the application of social networking in their web sites or services:
  • Genealogy 2.0
  • collaborative genealogy
  • lineage-linked pedigrees
  • pedigree databases
  • coordinating
  • networking
  • online genealogy software
  • online family tree creation
  • web-based family tree creation
  • web-based genealogy software and collaboration genealogy tools
  • collaborative family trees
  • family networking portals
  • online family tree building
Here I am with two dozen or more new links for web sites that all define themselves in this way. And yet, I find there are just as many differences between the sites as there are similarities in their purpose. Some of them offer the ability to create a family tree on their site. Of those, some are simple and some are complex. Many are for family history dabblers more than they are for full-on genealogical researchers. Some offer the ability to create photo albums, timelines, and communication platforms to keep in touch with families or networks. And some are free, while a few come with a fee. The only thing that defines them all is that they are interactive and collaborative and clearly a forum for social networking.

Actually, that isn't true. The other thing they all have in common is that they provide yet another platform to publish online. And that is what draws my attention more than any other thing. I doubt many users of the Internet consider themselves to be authors, much less publishers. But we are all just that. And while Copy & Paste are my best friends, they are also the enemy of quality in publishing online. It is far too easy to copy and paste and share information with others, which means it is that easy to share misinformation as well. I'm not saying that people knowingly spread misinformation. But, it happens often.

I've gotten off-track here. The issue today is how to properly define or categorize these types of sites. Normally I like to cross-reference my links as much as possible. However, there are so many options to cross-reference (photos, timelines, personal web sites, databases, etc.) and so many lines that are blurred in the definitions. When categorizing links I look at each of them as a type of publication, then determine the purpose and topic of that publication in order to properly place it on Cyndi's List. The sites I'm currently looking at have numerous purposes and numerous topics. And no two sites have the same features. So, I conclude that I will stick with "Social Networking for Genealogists" and use just a few general sub-categories, if any at all. And I will still be scratching my head as I try to properly and thoroughly catalog the sites.