At last! I can now talk and write about this. I am delighted to accept a position on the Advisory Board of Familybuilder™, a software company that builds genealogy and family-oriented applications for online social networks. The company’s flagship product, Family Tree, is the first genealogy application to be introduced on Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and Hi5.
I suspect that most genealogists have not yet heard of Familybuilder. In fact, I had not heard of the company a few months ago. However, when I discovered this online service, I was impressed. I believe that social networking sites will be the "next big thing" in online genealogy. I am delighted to have a small role in guiding that growth.
Online social networks such as Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and Hi5 are large groups of individuals that are tied together by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as blood relatives, business acquaintances, church members, social club members, individuals with common interests, similar employment, or any of hundreds of other factors. In short, social networks are groups of people who share an interest or a relationship.
However, humans never have one single interest or relationship. As complex humans, most of us have multiple interests and relationships. If you think of a single interest as an "island," we have tens of thousands of islands. However, every person who has an interest in two or more different islands forms a bridge between those islands. A person can navigate from one island to another by asking a friend to make an introduction.
In the world of genealogy, I might be interested in the EASTMAN family genealogy. If someone on the Eastman Genealogy "island" is also descended from the SIMMONS family, he or she may know someone in the SIMMONS family who is also interested in the TOLLER family. I, too, have a second interest in the TOLLER family, and I can use my friend researching SIMMONS (and EASTMAN) to introduce me to the person who is researching TOLLER. After a bit of discussion, I can find out what that third person knows about TOLLER, and I also offer whatever knowledge I have. Even better, perhaps he or she has still more acquaintances who can help even further. These people might be acquainted in person or only online.
It all sounds complicated when written out, but it is exactly the kind of thing that humans have been doing for thousands of years. We interact in social networks at church, in school, at the office, at the barbershop, and in the grocery store. We connect people together so much and so often that most of us don't consciously think about it. The new Internet-based social networks are simply extensions of age-old human interactions; only the online networks now allow us to reach people more quickly and easily than ever before.
Even better, the online social networks bridge geographic challenges in a blink of an eye. The individual genealogist in a small town in Iowa can quickly contact a friend in New York City who will then introduce him or her to another acquaintance in Brisbane, Australia, and so on.
Social networks work on the FOAF principle: Friend Of A Friend. Such networks have existed since the beginning of time. In recent months, this age-old human activity has moved onto the World Wide Web and has exploded in popularity. Thanks to Familybuilder and several of its competitors, genealogy interests have been added to the online social networking phenomenon. I believe these new online resources for family historians are going to mushroom.
When I first awoke to the possibilities of online social networks for genealogy purposes, I looked at what the various online services were offering family historians. Most of them offer great services, but I was particularly impressed with Familybuilder. In my opinion, they "do it right."
Apparently a lot of other people agree: as of April 1, 2008, over 10,000,000 family member profiles have been built with Familybuilder across these social networks. Think about that number for a second: ten million member profiles are already built with Familybuilder, a service that only launched ten months ago!
It appears to me that most of the people using FamilyBuilder are newcomers to researching their family trees although there must be a few exceptions. This is exactly the audience that genealogy societies, companies, and individuals have long dreamed about reaching: ten million newcomers. Those of us who write books, newsletters, and magazine articles, hold seminars and conferences, sell software or otherwise serve the genealogy marketplace have a great opportunity to reach a huge, new audience.
Individual genealogists have perhaps an even better opportunity: a chance to contact online distant relatives that otherwise would have never been identified.
Unlike most of its genealogy social networking competitors, Familybuilder is built on top of existing social network services. The company doesn't have to go out and recruit newcomers to social networks. Those customers are already online today and are presently using Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and Hi5 for multiple services, whatever service interests each customer. Familybuilder offers one more service to an already existing audience. In short, that audience is already within reach.
Social networks operate on the "word of mouth" principle. Or, to use a phrase that I have used in this newsletter for more than ten years, "word of mouse." If you use social networks to expand your circle of contacts and each of your contacts does the same, and each of THOSE contacts does the same, and so on and so forth, the capabilities exist to introduce more people to a fascinating study of their own family histories. If we assume that those first contacts are your relatives, and each of them contacts one or more of THEIR relatives, and each of those people contacts one or more of THEIR relatives... well, you get the idea. We soon have a huge number of people interested in family history, each pooling his or her knowledge of their ancestry and extended family with an ever-expanding number of relatives. The knowledge of the group can soon expand far beyond what any one individual could have done on his or her own.
Now you see why I get enthused about the concept of using social networks for genealogy. Several such services exist, and I like them all. However, I am particularly impressed with Familybuilder, especially its huge number of personal profiles built in a short period of time with only word of mouse... uh, word of mouth publicity.
I am delighted to be on the Board of Advisors of Familybuilder.
By the way, I am also delighted to serve on the same board as Scott Heiferman, CEO and co-founder of Meetup. Scott also co-founded Fotolog, the #1 social network website in six South American and European countries. Fotolog was recently acquired by Hi Media, a Paris-based interactive media company. Scott also founded i-traffic (a top online ad agency in the 90s) after working at Sony.
Here is today's official announcement, as written by Familybuilder:
Familybuilder Welcomes Renowned Genealogist Dick Eastman To Its Advisory Board
-- Leading voice on technology and genealogy joins the Familybuilder family --
New York, NY -- April 28, 2008 -- New York City-based Familybuilder™, the fastest growing genealogy application on the Internet, today announces that esteemed genealogist Dick Eastman has joined its advisory board. Dick Eastman is the author of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter (http://blog.eogn.com), a daily electronic publication with more than 50,000 readers. Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter is a pivotal source of information and support for the genealogy community. Dick Eastman joins high profile technologist Scott Heiferman, the CEO of Meetup, on the Familybuilder Advisory Board.
Familybuilder is fast becoming the Internet's favorite social tool for people interested in genealogy and family history. Unlike stand-alone online genealogy services like Ancestry.com and Geni.com, Familybuilder is positioned to leverage the social graphs of multiple online social networks at once to help people find and communicate with relatives, build family trees, preserve family history, track family activity and more.
Dick Eastman kept his first genealogy database on 80-column punch cards. He's been a leading evangelist preaching the benefits of technology to both national and international genealogical organizations. His foray into the world leveraging connected networks to further his pursuits in family research and genealogy dates back to starting the Genealogy Forum -- one of the Internet's first online forums for genealogy -- on CompuServe in the early 1980s. Eastman also wrote "Your Roots: Total Genealogy Planning On Your Computer" published by Ziff-Davis Press and is former editor of Genealogical Computing magazine. Eastman served as a consultant and guest on the Ancestors television series on PBS.
"Familybuilder is doing some amazing things for genealogy," said Dick Eastman. "There are millions of people who use Familybuilder's Family Tree application to help them build their family trees and research their family history online and this is giving the science of genealogy a serious boost. Connecting with family members on social networks is a far cry from researching family roots from the local library with a pad and pencil. Familybuilder represents the future of genealogy and I'm very happy to come on board as an advisor.”
"We're excited to welcome Dick Eastman to our advisory board," said Ilya Nikolayev, CEO of Familybuilder "Dick's prowess in the world of genealogy is second to none, especially in the intersection of genealogy and technology. We're honored to have Dick on our team to help Familybuilder chart ahead and prove to the world how genealogy on social networks is the new frontier for both professional and arm-chair genealogists everywhere."
Familybuilder™ is a NYC software company that builds genealogy and family-oriented applications for online social networks. The company's flagship product, Family Tree, is the first genealogy application to be introduced on Facebook, Bebo, and MySpace. Family Tree can be found on Facebook at http://apps.facebook.com/familytree, on Bebo at http://apps.bebo.com/familytree and on MySpace at http://myspace.familybuilder.com or via the company's website at http://www.familybuilder.com. New York-based Familybuilder launched in June 2007 and is privately held.