I had a chance this week to read a new book written by Drew Smith: Social Networking for Genealogists. Social networking is a new term; I cannot imagine such a book being written three or four years ago for anyone, let alone for genealogists.
Wikipedia.org describes social networking as:
A social network service focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as e-mail and instant messaging services.
Social networking has encouraged new ways to communicate and share information. Social networking websites are being used regularly by millions of people.
While it could be said that email and websites have most of the essential elements of social network services, the idea of proprietary encapsulated services has gained popular uptake recently.
Drew Smith obviously agrees that "Social networking has encouraged new ways to communicate and share information." He describes Flickr, YouTube, blogs, wikis, photo and video sharing web sites, and much more, always from a genealogist's point of view.
After the introduction, Drew Smith starts off with an explanation of much of the terminology which one encounters in social networking sites. He starts with an entire chapter devoted to RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which strikes me as an odd choice. To be sure, RSS is used by many social networking sites, but it is not integral to understand the usefulness of such sites.
The later chapters focus on the various kinds of social networking services. Author Drew Smith includes descriptions of many of the more popular online services: message boards and mailing lists (which have been available for more than 25 years), blogs (Geneablogy, Steve's Genealogy Blog, Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, the Genealogy Blog Finder), wikis (Encyclopedia of Genealogy), collaborative editing (Google Docs), photo and video sharing (Flickr, YouTube, RootsTube), social bookmarking (Delicious), sharing personal libraries (LibraryThing), Podcasts (DearMYRTLE's Family History Hour, the Genealogy Guys Podcast), social networking for its own sake (FaceBook), virtual worlds (SecondLife), and genealogy-specific social networking (Geni, Dynastree, MyHeritage). He also provides screen shots of most of those services.
All in all, this book provides a good introduction to social networking to the genealogist who is not yet familiar with the concepts.
Genealogists may be reluctant to adopt social networking. After all, most genealogists probably got along fine without social networking sites for years; so, why should they change? The same was true for many past technologies: the World Wide Web, e-mail, genealogy software, and even personal computers. Many people were slow to adopt these new tools simply because they were accustomed to researching without them and did not understand the capabilities that each new tool provided. I wasn't around to see it, but I suspect the same resistance met the typewriter when it first became available: “I never used one before, so why do I need it now?”
"Early adopters" usually try new tools when they first become available and experiment to see if these tools have any usefulness for our interests. If so, these pioneers report to the rest of us about their successes and failures. Drew Smith is such an "early adopter" and pioneer. He has experimented with the latest tools available and is now reporting to other genealogists about his own successes and the successes of others that he has witnessed.
Perhaps the best summation of this book was written by the author in the Introduction:
If you think that social networks might have possibilities for you, Social Networking for Genealogists will confirm or refute that possibility and will also get you up to speed quickly.
Social Networking for Genealogists is published by Genealogical Publishing Company and sells for $18.95 on the company's web site at: http://www.genealogical.com/products/Social%20Networking%20for%20Genealogists/5446.html.