Monday, April 16, 2012

What's a blog for, anyway?

When Bret Lang (of Internet development fame) first explained the concept of blogs to Ol' Myrt, I was intrigued. The Internet was just beginning to earn it's place as a tool for genealogists. Back in the 1990s "genealogy" had a few websites of note that contained mostly message boards and transcribed indexes of original records.

Bret was producing DearMYRTLE's Family History Hour in it's original carnation, through live Internet radio streaming. After Hurricane Charlie devastated our offices in Port Charlotte, Florida, things changed radically. I tried valiantly for about 12 months to produce podcasts on my own, and truly learned how much work Bret did on the technical side of the production.

But thanks to Bret's suggestion, blogging seemed the way to go to produce rich, fully searchable "how-to" content and get the word out beyond my usual set of DearREADERS who were primarily from within the AOL environment. (Gosh, that was eons ago, wasn't it?) I had the domain, but blogging is a lot easier than creating a web page for each post.

Blogging has become my life, through thick and thin. During hospice caregiving and personal health issues, my posts were less frequent, but the medium was still blogging. Turning on "comments" in a moderated format, brought a new dimension to my posts as reader feedback moved from my in-box to the blog post in question.

Inviting conversation about a genealogy topic means people may actually use the tool, research method or record group being discussed.

I got into Second Life just to keep in touch with how other family historians do their work, and thinking that I'd find a younger crowd. As it is, genealogists are amazingly adaptable to technology and we now have an official Second Life Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

On reflection, for several years even before RootsRech 2011's live video streaming, I'd been moving my efforts into demonstrating via the Internet rather than talking about how to do something. It's a natural extension of speaking with interactive PowerPoint screens. Webinar technology has enabled this to extend on a broad basis. I like to see demonstrations of a process rather than read a long blog post with screen shots. I realize reflects my personal preference for audio and visual demonstrations. It's how my brain works.

During a webinar, the interaction with attendees is invigorating, especially when they report back to the group that they just tried what we were talking about and it works! That's real-time learning.

Blogs and webinars each have their place. For instance, a process described in a blog might then lead to a webinar on the same topic. Also, it's probably easier for someone to scan a blog post for interesting content than to listen to a 60 or 90 minute webinar where only 15 minutes might prove useful. For folks like my friend Elsie, having a print-out to follow when learning a new process is the way her brain assimilates information.

Lately, I've been thinking  about using Twitter and Facebook on a dedicated basis. Why? To once again, get the word out beyond my usual set of DearREADERS. Just as there are probably thousands of my DearREADERS who don't use Twitter or Facebook, there are probably thousands of Twitter and Facebook users who don't know about DearMYRTLE. Reaching more people fosters conversations among groups with diverse interests. I didn't realize how differently researchers "think" in other countries until my work with the BetterGEDCOM group.

It didn't dawn on me until a week ago to use the #DearMYRTLE to field questions during a webinar, since the Twitter feed can outlive the limits of a 90 minute webinar. That Twitter feed can also invite participation among those who didn't attend the webinar.


Getting people talking is Ol' Myrt's #1 goal. Brainstorming new ways of research, and embracing technology are subsets.

Content development is Ol' Myrt's #2 goal, but thankfully, I don't have to do it all myself. There is much worthwhile content being created every day by others. Ol' Myrt here cross-posts many press releases from the big players in the industry, either on DearMYRTLE or GeneaPress. But it is just plain quicker to send my followers a link via FB or Twitter posts, so they can read posts I consider worthy of their attention.  FBing and tweeting are a lot quicker than  composing a blog with an enticing quote about that person's post, inserting a link for further reading

Whatever the author wants it to be. It can be public or private. It can be formal, complete with footnotes. Or informal, though always giving credit where credit is due.

Ol' Myrt shall continue to blog, but note that you may also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for content that doesn't make it to my blog, but is no less noteworthy.

My cell phone number, however, remains private so my grandchildren can have immediate access.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont