Boy, the time does fly! Thirteen years have slipped by in almost the blink of an eye. It seems like only yesterday that I sent my first e-mail newsletter to about 100 people, mostly members of CompuServe's Genealogy Forums. None of them knew in advance that the newsletter would arrive; I simply mailed it to people who I thought might be interested. In 1996 nobody objected to receiving unsolicited bulk mail; the phrase "spam mail" had not yet been invented. I shudder to think of doing the same thing in today's Internet environment.
In that first newsletter on January 15, 1996, I wrote:
Well, it's started. This newsletter is something that I have been considering for a long time, but I finally decided to "take the plunge." I've subscribed to several other electronic newsletters for some time now and have found them to be valuable. On many occasions I have said to myself, "Someone ought to do a weekly newsletter for genealogy news." One day the light bulb went on, and I decided that perhaps I was that someone.
I hope to collect various bits of information that cross my desk and appear on my screen every week. Some of these items may be considered "news items" concerning events and happenings of interest to computer-owning genealogists. Some other items will be mini press releases about new genealogy software or other products and services that have just become available. I may write a few articles about things that are not genealogy-related but still seem to be of interest to me and probably to the readers. This may include articles about online systems, operating systems or other things that affect many of us.
You will also find editorials and my personal opinions weaving in and out of this newsletter. Hopefully I will be able to clearly identify the information that is a personal opinion.
The expected audience of this newsletter includes anyone in the genealogy business, any genealogy society officers and anyone with an interest in applying computers to help in the research of one's ancestors.
I chose to distribute in electronic format for two reasons: (1.) it's easy, and (2.) it's cheap. In years past I have been an editor of other newsletters that were printed on paper and mailed in the normal manner. The "overhead" associated with that effort was excessive; I spent more time dealing with printers, maintaining addresses of subscribers, handling finances, stuffing envelopes and running to the post office than I did in the actual writing. Today's technology allows for a much faster distribution, and it is done at almost no expense to either the producer or the subscribers. I want to spend my time writing, not running a "newsletter business."
Since the expected readers all own computers and almost all of them use modems regularly, electronic distribution seems to be the most cost-effective route to use. It also is much lower cost than any other distribution mechanism that I know of.
The original plan has been followed rather closely in the thirteen years since I wrote those words. The newsletter still consists of "events and happenings of interest to computer-owning genealogists," "mini press releases about new genealogy software or other products and services," and "a few articles about things that are not genealogy-related but still seem to be of interest to me." I have also frequently featured "editorials and my personal opinions."
One thing that has changed is that the newsletter was converted from a weekly publication to a daily effort more than four and a half years ago. I still send weekly "collections" of all the articles by e-mail to all Plus Edition subscribers as well as shorter e-mails to Standard Edition subscribers. I am delighted with the change to a daily format. There is a lot more flexibility when publishing daily and, of course, I can get the news out faster. Reception of the daily edition has been gratifying. In addition, the newsletter is now available on the eogn.com web site, using a professional e-publishing platform, complete with RSS news feeds and other technology, all of which make life easier for subscribers as well as myself.
Another feature that I like about the current daily publication is that each article has an attached discussion board where readers can offer comments, corrections, and additional information. The result is a much more interactive newsletter that benefits from readers' expertise. The newsletter originally was a one-way publication: I pushed the data out. Today's version is a two-way publication with immediate feedback from readers.
The 2009 newsletter does differ from one statement I wrote in 1996: "Today's technology allows for a much faster distribution, and it is done at almost no expense to either the producer or the subscribers." If I were to re-write that sentence today, I wouldn't use the phrase, "at almost no expense." I would write, "...at lower expense than publishing on paper."
Since I wrote the original words thirteen years ago, I have received an education in the financial implications of sending bulk e-mails and maintaining web sites, complete with controls of who can access which documents. I now know that it costs thousands of dollars to send tens of thousands of e-mails every week. There are technical problems as well. Someday I may write an article about "how to get your account canceled when you repeatedly crash your ISP's mail server."
The truth is I did crash mail servers a number of times in the early days of this newsletter. And, yes, I got my account canceled one day by an irate Internet service provider. I was abruptly left with no e-mail service. The Internet service provider discovered that their mail server crashed every week when I mailed this newsletter, so they canceled my account with no warning. I also have encountered significant expenses for hardware, software, web hosting, bulk mailing services, and office expenses. In order to carry on the effort without breaking the piggy bank, I split this newsletter into two versions: a free Standard Edition and a for-pay Plus Edition. At least the newsletter now pays for itself, including paying for a professional grade bulk mail service.
The list of people “behind the newsletter” has expanded. For the first twelve years, it was produced by Pam Cerutti and myself. I wrote the articles and Pam served as editor, converting my writing into readable English. She also functions as a business advisor, confidante, and good friend. She has done this for nearly every newsletter since the very first edition.
Pam has edited nearly every newsletter article despite the travel schedules of both of us; sometimes we both have been in hotel rooms but in different countries. I well remember one week several years ago when I was writing newsletter articles from a hotel room in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and Pam was editing the articles from her hotel room in California. (We both live in Massachusetts.) In fact, tonight she is in Massachusetts and I am in New Zealand, but the newsletter is going out anyway, complete with her edits.
As a computer professional, her travel schedule has been at least as hectic as mine. She and I have passed the proposed newsletter articles back and forth by e-mail time and again. Thanks, Pam. I couldn't do it without you.
One major change of the past year is the addition of more writers. George G. Morgan, Lloyd Bockstruck, and Michael John Neill now all contribute articles to the newsletter, and I believe it has become a better publication due to their efforts. I expect to soon announce still another author will join this newsletter. The newsletter now contains a wider variety of articles than ever, and I believe it now addresses even more interests of genealogists than ever before.
In the third issue of this newsletter, I answered questions that a number of people had asked. I wrote:
I hope to issue this [newsletter] every week. ... I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice. Also, the first three issues have all been much longer than I originally envisioned. I expect that the average size of the newsletter within a few weeks will be about one half what the first three issues have been. Do not be surprised when you see it shrink in size.
Well, I was wrong. The first three issues averaged about 19,000 bytes of text. The newsletter never did shrink. Instead, the average size of the newsletters continued to grow. The weekly e-mail Plus Edition newsletters of the past year have averaged more than 100,000 bytes each, more than five times the average size of the first three issues. In fact, each newsletter today is bigger than the first five issues combined!
So much for my prognostication!
As several people have mentioned recently, this newsletter continues to grow with more and more articles published every week. In fact, you receive more genealogy-related articles in this newsletter than in any printed genealogy magazine. Subscriptions for the Plus Edition of this newsletter also remain less expensive than subscriptions to any of the leading printed genealogy magazines.
In thirteen years I have missed only eight weekly editions due to vacations, broken arms, a stroke, hospital stays, airplane accidents, and family emergencies. Yes, I broke both arms one day and still missed only one newsletter as a result! I found typing on a keyboard to be difficult with two arms in casts. The following week I wrote about speech input devices as I dictated that week's newsletter into a microphone connected to my PC. Several months later, I suffered bruises and wrenched my neck severely when I landed my tiny, open cockpit airplane upside down in a treetop and then fell to the ground eighty feet below. Yet I missed only one issue as a result of that mishap. Last year I suffered a minor stroke. The next newsletter was a bit "slimmer" than usual while I spent several days in the hospital. However, I was able to produce a full newsletter the following week and every week since.
Hopefully I have become more cautious over the years: I stopped flying tiny airplanes. I am extra careful when walking on ice. I have changed my diet. I also have written more than 650 weekly newsletters, totaling more than 45 megabytes of text. Someday I really do have to learn how to touch type.
Because of this newsletter, in the past thirteen years I have traveled all over the U.S. as well as made multiple trips to Canada, England, Mexico, and to the Caribbean Islands. In fact, tonight I am in New Zealand, more than 9,000 miles from home. I would never have a chance to travel to genealogy conferences in such places, had it not been for this newsletter.
Because of this newsletter, I have met many enthusiastic genealogists. Because of this newsletter, I have had the opportunity to use great software, to view many excellent web sites, and to play with lots of new gadgets. Because of this newsletter, I have discovered a number of ancestors. I am indeed fortunate and have truly been blessed.
To each person reading today's edition, I want to say one thing: Thank you for being there and for making it possible for me to enjoy three of my hobbies: genealogy, computers, and online systems.
Also, one other sentence I wrote thirteen years ago still stands: Suggestions about this newsletter are always welcome!