The power of community

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Syllabus for class taught by Jim Greene, Product Manager for, presented at NGS Conference 2010 and by Jim Ericson at FGS Conference 2010.

The Power of Community and the Web 2.0[edit | edit source]

Tools to Foster Collaboration and Community[edit | edit source]

Community, Wiki, Forums, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Crowd-sourcing, social networks. All are popular buzzwords in business today. What do they mean? Are there ways to apply these new tools and ideas to genealogy? This presentation will show how these new tools can make large projects, which were once impossible, possible. While technology is providing equal online access to vital data, new community tools allow us to use all of this data in an organized way. When you leave this presentation you should have a resolve to be a part of the online genealogical community, and take with you at least two or three new tools and techniques to try out to help you accomplish your genealogical goals.

Community and Genealogy[edit | edit source]

Accomplishing the Impossible[edit | edit source]

There have always been projects that were just too big to ever accomplish them, that is, until new tools and techniques were invented. Consider the engineering marvels that have come into being by perfecting manufacturing techniques and tools: the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer. Now consider the genealogical tasks that for centuries have been considered impossible, and think about the advances that can come simply by having equal and immediate access to all of the records ever kept. Obviously, this record utopia does not now exist, and in order to make it exist it will take countless hours of work. But that is precisely what a community is good at. The Egyptians discovered that a community of slaves could build pyramids of mind-boggling magnitude. We are now discovering that computerized tools can take the slavery out of modern monumental tasks and allow our current community to accomplish projects that dwarf the pyramids, all from the comfort of our own homes. The combining of powerful computers, new easy-to-use software tools, and hundreds of thousands of willing volunteers has made us realize that the once impossible is now very possible. This marriage of tools and humans is called the genealogical community, or for our purposes “The Community.” Here is what the power of the community can do:

  • Index millions of rolls of microfilm with billions of pieces of information for easy, instantaneous retrieval, in just a few years.
  • Allow new records to immediately be digitized and indexed for instantaneous search and retrieval.
  • Connect descendants to pictures of ancestors’ tombstones within hours without having to leave the house.
  • Build a family tree with billions of names that have been searched and connected from a vast database and verified with DNA as well as documented evidences.
  • Eliminate duplication and kill myths by exposing them to the bright light of original sources. After all, who will make an uneducated guess when concrete evidence is readily and easily seen?
  • Have specific research questions become visible to millions of people instantaneously, ensuring that those with specific knowledge and resources can provide the best answers without waiting months or years.
  • Have the combined knowledge and experience of all of our brains able to be tapped easily and quickly.

Tools for Genealogy[edit | edit source]

Understanding What the Tools Are[edit | edit source]

In order to use new tools, we must first understand what they are. The following tools will be examined in depth because of their suitability for performing large genealogical works:

  • Wiki–The main tool behind the world’s largest encyclopedia of accumulated knowledge, Wikipedia.
  • Forum–A next generation bulletin board.
  • Blog–A way to specialize and socialize.
  • Social Networking–Specifically Facebook and Twitter.
  • Community Portals–A new evolving tool that is really more like a toolbox for a trade.

Understanding what the tools are, and how to begin to use them, will allow you to gain practice, experience, and confidence.

How and When to Use the Tools[edit | edit source]

The following matrix will explain briefly who should use each tool for what purposes. The matrix will be amplified with examples and recommendations during the class lecture:

Tool Best Uses Audience Best Used By Not Good for
Wiki Encyclopedia.
Repository for facts and conclusions.
Index for research sources (time and place).
Place to discuss and compare.
Pointer to online resources by topic.
Broad Researchers:
Beginners -- First place to look for strategic guidance.
Intermediate -- Look for strategic guidance, but also share knowledge.
Advanced -- Research log. Store accumulated research strategies. Share knowledge and experience.
Beginners to know where to start searching.
Intermediate to validate path and share new knowledge (usually specialized).
Advanced to store accumulated knowledge and leave your legacy in a protected way.
Really large disorganized data, such as biographies about non-well-known people (you and me)
General discussions and collaboration.
Forum Ask and answer specific questions.
Broad range of topics.
Q: Anyone who is stumped.
A: Everyone with a specialty.
Everyone with specific issues or expertise.
Lengthy "How-to"'s or long detailed answers.
Facebook Subnets of people--usually organized around a acquaintances , that inter-link (6-degrees to Kevin Bacon).
Nuggets of thoughts, experiences.
Less informational more inspirational.
Find interest groups.
Communicate to many people at once.
Friends and family. Socially inclined.
Levels of users from the ocassional to the addicted.
Family and friends.
Specialists. Experts/celebrities.
Savvy Marketers.
People who don't like working with computers.
In-depth treatment of anything.
Non-savvy marketers.
Twitter Subnets of people--usually organized around a key person or skill.
Nuggets of thoughts, key learnings.
Conference notes.
Equally informational and inspirational.
Tying in with interest groups.
Communicating to many people at once.
Those who yearn to be close to a topic or person.
Those who want to learn.
Levels of users from occassional to addicted.
Key marketing tool for celebrities and products.
Academics. Collaboration.
Conference attendees or those who wanted to but couldn't.
Friends who text a lot.
Statements greater than 140 characters. In-depth treatises. Long-winded people.
Blog Thoughts, opinions, musings, successes, failures.
Follows a more literary path.
In-depth coverage of topics.
A public personal journal.
Things to do or happenings in a locale or group of people.
People with true interest in author or topic. Recognized experts, broad or specialized.
Those who want to become experts and have the knowledge and talent and just need an audience (and who have patience).
Those who like to read.
People with poor writing skills.
People with little expertise.
Common Pedigree or Tree Repository for facts and conclusions about people, and information storage about people. Family-based research = Everyone. Those who want a more permanent and public repository. Legacy leavers. Research information. Information on locations.

Reasons to be an Active Community Member[edit | edit source]

Up to this point, we have discussed some of the wonderful monumental genealogical tasks that can be accomplished with focused, driving communities. You will know more about and understand the most common and useful community tools. You will have examples of others who are using these tools. The only thing that is left is to give you some reasons why you would want to consider becoming a member of the modern genealogical community and a reason to begin to use these tools. Here is why:

  1. To give back. You have been the beneficiary of help from others throughout the years. Even the most expert genealogist did not get there immediately or without learning from others. This is how you can contribute in a very meaningful way to the growth and experience of others who are following the path behind you.
  2. Pay it forward. This in-vogue term simply means to help others without them asking and hope that they will do the same.
  3. Leave your legacy. This is the best way to make sure that when you are gone, your lifetime of learning and effort is preserved electronically for countless others who will appreciate it for all time, and not left in an attic or a land-fill by those who do not understand the treasure.