Many of you are familiar with the idea of social networking; and most people these days participate in some fashion whether personal or professional. But what exactly IS a social network? In general terms, a social network is a group of people and/or organizations tied by one or more specific types of interdependency – like ideas, friendships, financial exchange/ trade, etc. Traditionally this concept has applied to physical relationships; the social network consisted of an individual’s group of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances as they exist in the ‘real’ world; people we’ve met and have some form of regular face to face exchange with. But as with everything else, the internet has allowed us to VIRTUALIZE our social network and increase our reach into the world.
Online social networking is exciting because it provides an outlet for exchange between people who might otherwise never meet and share ideas . This provides an opportunity for enrichment, not only to those involved at the time, but through the record of that exchange, it can also allow others to be enriched by it. It also allows for a kind of evolution to occur in the subject itself as new ideas, techniques and methods are infused into it- it can become a better thing and grow as well.
Social networking goes way beyond your traditional social networking sites/ services. Since 2000 and even more recently (like in the last 4 or 5 years, from what I have seen) the idea of social networking has EXPLODED onto the scene with hundreds of different sites available to use, with hundreds of different ways to use them, depending on what you’re looking to do. From the more recognizable general use sites like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook to the more topic specific sites like Geni.com (genealogy), imeem.com (music) as well as StumbleUpon.com, FriendFeed.com and Digg.com (online communities for rating and sharing online content and websites)- even Shutter Fly or Flickr (online photo sharing/commenting communities) and now Twitter and other micro-blogging sites like identi.ca. There are literally 100′s of ways to get information. I have listed here some of the sites I’ve actually used, but there are definitely a LOT more out there.
In my mind, there are 2 types of social networking experiences.
There’s the ACTIVE/ACTIVE kind where we participate by providing updates and posting our own personal content, interacting with the content of others, engaging in discussions, etc (like the Facebooks and Twitters of the world). The active experience consists of claiming an affiliation with people and/or groups and then interacting with it on a regular basis.
Then there is the 2nd type, which is the more ACTIVE/PASSIVE type of social networking, as with blogs, or sites like Topix. I call blogs a social networking experience because you can interact with them or not and identity and common interests are involved at least to a certain degree. A community is also created who shares in the common interest and experience with the item (audience). There is also the possibility to interact directly with other members of the community either by engaging in a comments discussion or directly contacting via email. The creator of the blog has put themselves out there, and the reader is a passive user who can garner all the info that user has to offer with or without interacting with it on a deeper level, with or without profile type information (by commenting or asking questions).
Furthermore, these passive sites are generally non-exclusive in the way that Facebook and Twitter are (you have to be a member to see or interact with the content). For example…You can go to topix.com and look up any topic you want and narrow it down by region- even comment on it without being a member, including the forums (I actually DID this just now) – OR you can register as a member of the site, create a profile and turn this into a much more active experience.
OK- now that I have given you a really good idea about what a social networking site is- HOW DO WE USE THEM TO GET GOOD GENEALOGY INFO??
I think of social networking the same way I think of attending a convention (common interest groups) or going to a cafe (blogs, etc). [Only, it's virtual which allows for a couple key differences]. I also think similar rules of conduct apply as well: When you’re at a convention, you behave with a certain professionalism – when you’re at a cafe, you conduct yourself with a certain level of maturity, etc. You overhear discussions, ’bump’ into people, you have a conversation, etc. What you take away from it is entirely up to you- maybe you become friends, maybe you don’t! (Of course there are going to be unprofessional, immature or just plain creepy people out there as is the case no matter where you go- just use your common sense).
There are 2 major differences about the virtual world created by social networking (besides the obvious fact that it’s not ‘real’). One is that you can check out the people you’re interacting with by visiting their profile, seeing what others have to say, etc. Of course people can falsify their profile data which is why I would never recommend online dating, etc- but still…I believe I’m not unique in my honest approach to life and my interactions with others. The second, and in my opinion the greatest difference, is that there is a record of past conversations and you can get what you’re looking for there too! When you’re talking to someone face to face, your conversation is only recorded in your head and then the words dissipate in the air. Conversations, discussions, comments, etc on the public forum leave behind a record (unless you exchange private direct messages (DMs)). Something someone said 2 years ago can be just as helpful and relevant today. An additional benefit here, is that you can pursue the conversations and exchanges at your own pace, in your own time, and you can see the recommendations of others and revisit these things over an over again.
The best way I have found to get a rich online social networking experience as it applies to everything (including genealogy, of course) is to PARTICIPATE- even just a little bit, but the more you interact the more you can get from it. Join multiple sites and multiple groups- ENGAGE in the discussion, ADD to the conversation, ASK your questions and GIVE your point of view in a POSITIVE manner. This will allow you to get noticed, gain information and build your network of like minded people. This will allow you to stay on top of current events as they apply to your area of interest as well as become engaged with the community at large- and it doesn’t require more technical savvy that what it takes to check email or surf the ‘net. PLUS, it can be fun!
Take Facebook for example (since it’s very popular and well established and I already know it very well ! ). Signup is very easy- you simply click the ‘sign up’ link, enter your info and follow the prompts and WHAMMO you’re a member. You can upload photos, add friends etc- all with easy to use interfaces. Then you can import your email contacts and add friends that you already know that way, provided they too are on Facebook – or you can invite them to join you there. There’s a search bar at the upper right hand corner of the site- here you can enter someone’s name, a subject or keyword etc and it will take you to your search results, from which you can pick and choose what groups you join, what pages you become a fan of, who you add as friend and so on. I just ran a keyword search on genealogy and there are over 500 results for genealogy groups, over 300 separate events, and thousands of people either attending or joined, all participating and contributing in some way. This is just ONE social network. MySpace had nearly 60,000 results for genealogy- so you see how easy it can be to get started!
Find Genealogy Blogs
Geneabloggers: vetted by site administrator
Directory of 1341 active genealogy blogs
Progenealogist’s top 25 Geneablog List– Someday We’ll be on this list!
Noteworthy Social Networking Sites
Please read my last blog post Leveraging Online Resources for Meaningful Genealogy Research Issue #1 – Quality Data to better understand how to use the data and info you get through social networking.