Wednesday, May 23, 2012

That GenealogyBank meeting: my report

DearREADERS,
Thanks for your feedback to Ol' Myrt's GenealogyBank: What are your thoughts... 
Those comments were referred to several times during yesterday's interview with the GenealogyBank team via GoToMeeting. They tell me they will continue to monitor Myrt's blog for your additional comments. We like it when a website listens to it's users. Even if our ideas aren't practical or cannot be implemented immediately, at least there is dialog.

I took notes on who was attending the meeting, and made it a point to explain the importance of having a genealogist like Tom Kemp (not at the meeting) on staff to inform design decisions from a genealogist's point of view. I also described the importance of Tom's work presenting at regional and national conferences. It's all about getting the word out on the benefits of newspaper research. Branding almost becomes a secondary point there. "Developing and emerging genealogists" must learn to evaluate the reliability of newspaper records, and place them in the context of history and other surviving record groups from the places where their ancestors once lived.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did inform the GenealogyBank folks that I have known Tom professionally for many years before he joined the GenealogyBank team.

MY REPORT
Random comments in no particular order. Some are my thoughts, some are generic reactions to items I tested. However, I cannot speak more specifically, since what I looked at was only a design mock up, and it is far too soon to tell my DearREADERS what will make the final cut.
  • Had old site on my other screen to compare during the interview.
  • Sandy's professionalism in moderating the discussion...
  • Genealogybank team curious to allow me to explore options under development for site revision.
  • Careful to avoid prejudicing my reaction through the use of non-leading questions...
  • Glad they're putting emphasis on this web property, as it hasn't had a site revision in many years.
  • Some dead pages -- including lists of titles that aren't searchable, or clickable to permit searching and browsing only that collection.
  • Color makes a website more inviting.
  • A map assisted my recollection of a migration pattern for a family. (I'd forgotten Nebraska, yet I was pretty good in my high school geography classes.)
  • Trust - they never asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Thanks to the GenealogyBank team for what I consider time well spent yesterday.
  • Sandy - user support, 19 years with NewsBank
  • Ross - Director of Operations, business development
  • Ean - Interface web development
  • Amanda - web development
  • Dan - consumer division
  • Kate - from the Chester, Vermont Office

WEB DEVELOPMENT IN GENERAL
Not thinking specifically of GenealogyBank here...
After sleeping on it, it occurs to me that developing a sense of community happens when a website thinks of itself as a member of the community, rather than a reference desk. Developing a community attitude isn't just a matter of placing a Facebook "Like" button on a page. It is developing such resources as:

  • Member forums for tech support. No need to personally respond to issues 1,000 times if you have this in a message board format. Members will help other members.
  • Spotlighting, like Fold3.com. This works in at least two powerful ways. First, I can get back to something I had previously uncovered, without dredging through page after page of hits. Secondly, a summary box on the main page can link to, say, the most recent 5 discoveries, demonstrating in real time that folks are using the site and meeting with success. Kinda like pulling in a Twitter feed. This also provides interesting peeks into the site's diverse collection, and places fresh content on the home page with little effort once this is set up.
  • Education using a variety of tools - blogs, YouTube videos, online tutorials. These should focus on two things: first, use of the site itself and secondly, the methodology for incorporating your discoveries into the larger genealogy research process.
  • Interacting with your members using methods like Twitter, FB, attending conferences together, etc. 
  • Share options including email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. (I happen to like how Ancestry.com permits the view of a specific image, but if you click to view the next page, it asks you to log in or start a free 14-day trial. This provides another door for people to enter a website they may never have known about before the share.)
  • Sticky notes, or some other method for "correcting" OCR errors and improving the chances the next person will find this ancestor at the site where the new index entry is nearly immediately available to all researchers.
  • Spotlighting site-related posts from elsewhere in the geneablogosphere.
  • Honoring the work researchers do by focusing on telling their success stories in a meaningful manner. This may involve gamification of sorts. But just being interviewed and spotlighted as the "researcher breakthrough of the month" can go a long way toward building a sense of community. The prize there is having my ancestor's picture and a few related finds on the site showing up in the official blog of the site.

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

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