Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review - "Social Networking for Genealogists"

When I read that Drew Smith had written a book titled Social Networking for Genealogists, I immediately wanted one to see what I was missing out on, so I bought it online from the publisher, Genealogical, Inc. It arrived within a week and I have read chapters off and on since then. I recently finished the book and wanted to try to summarize it in this review. I have received books to review from this publisher in the past, and I soon received a review copy of this book after I had purchased it. I will donate the review copy to my local library's genealogy collection.

Drew Smith, MLS, is well-known in the genealogy community as a Director of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, a genealogy magazine author and columnist, and as a co-host, with George G. Morgan, of the weekly Genealogy Guys Podcast (and blog). Drew is an academic librarian at the University of south Florida in Tampa, and is an expert in digital technology.

Social Networking for Genealogists covers many of the new digital technologies that are being used by tech-savvy people and businesses throughout the academic, business and hobby worlds. The book, which is only 129 pages long, covers the following topics, with an emphasis on why and how genealogists can use these technologies to aid them in their genealogy research:

* RSS (Real Simple Syndication)
* Tags
* Message boards and mailing lists
* Blogs
* Wikis
* Collaborative editing
* Photo and video sharing
* Social bookmarking
* Sharing personal libraries
* Podcasts
* Social networking for its own sake
* Virtual worlds
* Genealogy-specific social networking

In each chapter, Drew defines useful terms, described what the technology is and how it works, provides several examples, and suggests ways for the reader to get involved with the technology.

The first two chapters, dealing with "RSS" (Real Simple Syndication) and "Tags," were placed up front because many of the other technologies make use of them. I have a better understanding of them after reading these chapters. For example, in the RSS chapter, he discusses information aggregators. Drew describes how to set up and use Google Reader, or Live Bookmark, in order to read one or more sources of contents (e.g., blogs or other web feeds) quickly and efficiently. However, the chapter does not discuss any other web or software based aggregators, let along mention them by name.

In the "Message boards and mailing lists" chapter, Drew shows how to find, subscribe to, post to and read messages to the Genforum message boards, the Rootsweb/Ancestry message boards, and the Rootsweb mailing lists. This chapter is probably the most complete description of what's available and how to use it, although there are many other, but smaller, genealogy boards and lists.

The "Blogs" chapter has an excellent description of how blogs came about, the pioneer genealogy blogger Ralph Brandi (which I didn't know about), the types of content that appear on genealogy blogs, and shows examples from several current genealogy blogs. Finding blogs of interest is covered in several short paragraphs, and the point is made that people who want to read a lot of blogs should use an RSS feed. The section on creating and maintaining a blog concentrates on the free Blogger platform, and describes the processes well. However, the chapter does not mention any other platforms such as Wordpress or Typepad (and there are many others).

The "Wikis" chapter ("wiki" meaning "quick") describes the development and acceptance of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Drew covers the Encylopedia of Genealogy (started and supported by Dick Eastman), and PBwiki (a site for anybody to start and maintain their own wiki). I was surprised that he didn't mention some of the other genealogy-specific wiki applications, like But then I realized that he addressed similar online genealogy databases with shared editing capability in the last chapter. I think that true wiki-type genealogy database sites, such as, deserve their own chapter or an expanded discussion in this chapter.

In the fairly short "Collaborative Editing" chapter, Drew uses Google Docs as the vehicle to demonstrate how a group of persons can create and edit documents in a collaborative way.

The Flickr photo sharing web site and the YouTube and RootsTube (a channel on RootsTelevision) are featured in the "Photo and Video Sharing" chapter. Users can upload, tag, and comment their own photographs to Flickr, and their own videos to YouTube and RootsTube. Viewers can see, tag and comment on the photos and videos also.

In the "Social Bookmarking" chapter, Drew discusses the purpose, use and benefits of using the Delicious web site to see what genealogy (or other subject) bookmarks have been listed by contributors. The user can join a network of users with similar interests, or create and share their own bookmarks, etc.

LibraryThing is the focus of the "Sharing Personal Libraries" chapter - how to search for books on the site, how to create a personal library, the ability to rate and review books, and to find other persons with books of interest.

In the "Podcasts" chapter, Drew describes how podcasting came about, and lists most of the available genealogy-oriented podcasts. He describes finding, listening to and subscribing to podcasts, and interacting with podcasters. However, there is nothing in this chapter about how to create your own podcast.

Facebook is the focus of the "Social networking for its own sake" chapter, although several other sites are mentioned in passing. He points out that social networks like Facebook can be great for keeping in contact with family and friends all over the world, and is especially useful for people with similar interests, such as genealogists. The chapter describes creating a Facebook profile (with an appropriate caution about sharing too much) and sharing photographs, notes, email, etc. with your "Friends." "Groups" for genealogists are mentioned but not discussed in much detail.

Second Life was the sole focus of the "Virtual worlds" chapter. I'm not into this (yet!), so the summary of what it is, how it works and how genealogists can use it was interesting.

The last chapter about "Genealogy-specific social networking" addresses the online genealogy databases, like Geni, DynasTree and MyHeritage (which are the only ones mentioned by name), that permit people to invite family members, then encourage communication within the invited group, and to upload family photographs, audio, video and text stories. He used Geni as the example, and discusses how to get started, add persons to the family tree, and work with the tree data.

I found this book very easy to read and understand, and the use of step-by-step examples and screen captures was effective and helpful to learning.

My sense throughout the book was that it was an overview of Social Networking, and not an exhaustive review of every possible social networking outlet. I was frustrated by that at first, but then I realized that it would be a very large book and soon out of date. By choosing the social networking sites he did, Drew managed to discuss the technology feature using an example that probably has a long shelf life.

With digital technology and innovative entrepreneurs inventing the next generation of social networking technology today, it is impossible to keep up with everything new and popular in a book with a fixed publication date. For instance, the book does not address Twitter and its emulators. My guess is that this book will be published with many more revisions, perhaps each year, in order to keep up with the social networking world.
On a scale from one (poor) to five (excellent), I rate this book a 3.5 (pretty good) with the potential to improve as the technology matures and/or expands.

Drew Smith
Social Networking for Genealogists
Genealogical Publishing Company
3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260
Baltimore, MD 21211-1953
Cover price: $18.95

1 comment:

Randall Stross said...

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