21 May 2009

Book: Learning how to network!

Sometimes it seems that we jumped almost overnight from ink and quill pens to electric typewriters and then to the Internet. Advances in technology and tools appear so rapidly that it helps to have a book to explain all of the possibilities.

Family history researchers must be aware of how to access the daily additions of genealogical information on the Internet, provided by myriad sources, including companies, organizations and individual researchers.

I just received "Social Networking for Family Historians" from author Drew Smith.

A digital genealogy expert, Drew has always been interested in family history. He's well-known to the genealogy community as co-host of the Genealogy Guys Podcast and also writes for Digital Genealogist magazine. He is a realtime University of South Florida academic librarian.

"Social Networking for Genealogists" (Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, Maryland, 2009) isn't a big or heavy volume, yet its concise 129 pages offer the nuts and bolts of how the social information revolution can benefit all of us in our quests.

It covers, in a very easy-to-read way the building blocks of social networking. Today, these include podcasts, RSS, tags, wikis, genealogy social networks, general social networks, message boards, mailing lists, sharing photos and videos, collaborative editing, blogs, sharing personal libraries and virtual worlds. While no one knows what the next new thing will be, I'm sure Drew will write a sequel.

Each chapter begins with a definition, provides screenshots and explanations and also ends with a list of activities to get involved with that technology.

The focus is on finding specialized communities of other people who want to know about the same things we do. While we may have social networks closer to home in the physical sense, technology has provided us a way to connect with individuals who may live on the other side of the world but who are just as interested in a specific locality, subject or name as we are.

Drew reminds us that for 10 years, online social networking sites and services have seen a remarkable increase, and some have been designed exclusively for genealogists. We also use general networking sites for genealogical research (such as Facebook and Twitter, which Tracing the Tribe has previously commented on).

Each chapter in the book also provides a "getting involved" list. For the chapter on RSS (syndication), activities include:

- Set up an account at a free aggregator website, such as Google Reader.

- Subscribe to one or more web feeds by visiting one of the social networking sites.

- Read items of interest from the feeds you've subscribed to.

- Organize your feeds into categories.

Tagging sometimes confuses beginners, but think of it like labeling a shelf of spice jars. Spices can be alphabetically classified by name, by spice color or through a personal system. For example, I put the spices used most frequently up front, the most easily accessible in my kitchen.

In tagging Tracing the Tribe posts, I look for the big picture. I don't tag, for example, the name of a specific Jewish cemetery or the specific city it is in as those tag lists will quickly become unwieldy. Instead, I use the big picture tag of "Jewish cemetery," but also add tags for the state or country. A reader looking for a Jewish cemetery in Germany, would search for "Jewish cemetery Germany" and see what posts come up under those terms.

Drew offers definitions for the tagging chapter:

- tag (noun): A word or short phrase used to identify or describe some item of information (such as a textual entry, photograph, or video) in order to make to easier to find later.

- tag (verb): To assign one or more tags to an item of information.

- folksonomy (noun): An informal classification system resulting from a large number of people applying tags of their own choosing to items in a repository of information.
Folksonomy? That was new to me. Drew's experience as a librarian gives him a unique insight to classification issues. Information is only as good as our ability to access it quickly and easily, which means the classification system must make obvious sense to the majority of people who use it.

Tagging also reflects the new information added to our knowledge, and how it is serious business as performed by passionate, interested and experienced researchers and genealogists.

Of course, he includes a chapter on blogs, where he details blogging and social networking, blogging and personal research; blogging, news, personal opinion; finding blogs of interest, creating and maintaining your own blog(s), and getting involved with blogging.

His activity list for getting involved includes:

- find and read one or more genealogy blogs of interest, using the Genealogy Blog Finder.

- Subscribe to one or more blogs, using a feed aggregator.

- Comment on a blog posting that you have enjoyed, disagree with, or can provide an answer to.

- Create your own blog about genealogy using Blogger.

- Tag your blog postings so that others can find them more easily.

- Maintain a blogroll on your blog to help others find interesting blogs that you enjoy.

- Allow others to comment about your blog postings.

I was also interested in Drew's chapter on virtual worlds (Second Life), as I haven't had time to read too much about it. I still don't think I'm ready for it, but who knows what will happen later on?

While the book is more targeted to newcomers faced with so much new technology and likely overwhelmed, more experienced researchers will also better understand the concepts and tools detailed by Drew.

Knowledge is our business, so we are always learning.

No comments:

Post a Comment