Sunday, March 25, 2007

Adapting to the Web 2.0 Revolution

There have been many articles in the genealogy magazines and on genealogy blogs about "Web 2.0" applications. A number of genealogy software systems have been created - like TNG, PHPGedView, PedigreeSoft, etc.

Dick Eastman attended the recent conference at BYU, and has an excellent summary of what this is all about on his blog. Read the comments too, because they include some of my concerns about the concept.

Basically, the concept is that there will be one (and probably more) big database online that can be shared by many researchers in a collaborative manner. If I put a database online at one of these super sites (they are talking petabytes...) then someone else could comment on it, add to it, change it, improve it, mess it up, etc. Through this process - with thousands of researchers contributing - the data available for specific persons, families or lineages would become better - Dick uses the term "groomed." It would be available for other researchers to use and improve.

I want to ponder what this means for individual researchers, and for genealogy societies.

What will be the challenges for individual researchers?

1) Will these collaborative databases be FREE?

2) Some researchers that are open to change, and are computer comfortable, will adopt and promote this new way of sharing genealogy data.

3) Other researchers, who may be open to change but are not computer comfortable, will be frustrated by more new technology. In many cases, they haven't mastered going to the current online databases yet.

4) Some researchers, who are not open to change, will not want to share their data or will fear being criticized for their data records, sources, etc.

5) Many researchers will hang back and see how all of this works before jumping into the new technology.

How can the genealogy societies adapt to this new technology and better serve all of their members?

1) Initially, by having someone who is computer comfortable demonstrate how the new technology works and how it can help an individual researcher. This would best be a knowledgeable member rather than an outside speaker - someone who could mentor one or more members.

2) Create study groups or education classes to work with and bring members' computer skills to the point they can take advantage of the new technology.

3) Create education classes or use online tutorial systems to improve the basic computer skills, and online genealogy research skills, of the members.

At present, local genealogy societies are composed of several different kinds of members - those who don't use the computer at all, those who use the computer for email, genealogy software and perhaps some online research, and those who use the computer efficiently in their research. The challenge has always been to bring society members to a basic level of computer competency so that they can use the available online resources effectively. The addition of this new technology may further frustrate and challenge a significant number of researchers who are not now computer comfortable.

Needless to say, this is a very interesting and challenging time to be a genealogy researcher. I have no doubt that I will be one of those that leaps into this new concept, if for no other reason than to blog about it.

I'm reminded of the adage "the faster I go, the behinder I get."

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