Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Few Thoughts on the Radical Shift in Information Technology and how it Affects Genealogy Blogs

It seems like every so often, the genealogy Blogging community has to wake up and shake itself to realize that it is actually there. Joan Miller's Luxegen Genealogy Blog entitled, "Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies" along with a post by Kerry Scott in the Clue Wagon Blog, "In Which We (Finally) Discuss Taboo Stuff" and her citations to many other Blog posts are all discussing essentially the same issue; the radical shift in the nature of information technology away from the more traditional and established structure and into the online instant information world. I have written about this topic several times, but other posts by Geniaus including Genea-Bodies and "Who reads all these genealogy blogs anyway?" also brought up similar subjects. There were also several more comments and posts on similar subjects including Genealogy Blogging - For Fun or Profit by Thomas MacEntee and comments by Randy Seaver also on the same topic in Genealogy Blogging - for Fun or Profit? Although it appears to be a different issue, making money as opposed to recognition, the issues are the same.

You can look at history from many different angles including examining the material culture or documenting the history of ideas. Older civilizations before written records, are known primarily by the remains left of their physical material cultural artifacts, including their buildings, leaving us to guess at the underlying meaning of those artifacts. On the other hand, the before writing, the cultures' language, religious beliefs, social structure and philosophy all have to be reconstructed from evidence in the physical remains. Without writing, history is mostly theory, supposition and guesswork.

Genealogy definitely falls heavily on the side of a cultural artifact that can only be investigated through written records. Since there are few of us left who live with an oral tradition, almost everything about our ancestors'  past must be written to be preserved. Investigation of those records has always been the purview of those with the means and/or the time to travel to where the records were kept. In a sense, the information contained in the written records was locked up and accessible only to a very few. This was not an unique or even unusual circumstance. All information was, and until recently continues to be, controlled by a relatively small number of individuals who by education, politics or economic conditions were in a position to have access. Those individuals who had that position could literally "sell" that information to those who did not have access.

For example, newspaper publishers traded their information for your money. Governments maintained control and dominance by their "ownership" of the means of communication. Probably one of the most dramatic examples of this principle was the martyrdom of John Wycliffe, who was killed because he presumed to give the Bible to the masses. The cry of his opponents was, "The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity." Even in our present day, there are those organizations, be they commercial, political or religious, who claim ownership to information and who wish to profit from its sale and/or transmission.

So what is the Information Revolution? Why is Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, a true revolutionary when he espouses the idea that all information should be freely available to everyone? Simply put, that idea stands in opposition to the entire history of the management and control of information by the few for their own profit and benefit. The Internet/World Wide Web has put the means of creating, publishing and disseminating information into the hands of anyone who cares to participate. There are still those who control the "media" but their control is tenuous and based more on inertia than reality. In the genealogy Blogging world, any one of us can aspire to prominence. Nothing prevents someone from starting a Blog today that will become the dominant Blogging force in the future. Can we profit from our efforts? That is can we make money from Blogging? That issue moves outside of the world of genealogy. The real question there is numbers. Can genealogy, itself, generate the numbers necessary on the Web to make money from the Web? I will examine that issue in another post.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, James, for mentioning my posts.

    I had quite forgotten about this one ""Who reads all these genealogy blogs anyway?"

    The world moved on from papyrus and stone tablets and I suspect that paper based publishing may follow suit.