RootsTech 2014

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

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is Facebook Family History?

A recent FamilySearch.org Blog post raises some interesting points in an article entitled "Facebook is Family History." I guess I am not really "in" to Facebook since the post makes the following assertion:
Most of us are using Facebook at least once a day. Facebook is second most popular website in the world. That is impressive since it has only been around for 10 years. With Facebook, you can keep up with the latest news on your friends and family. There are over 1 billion active monthly users on Facebook. On average, people spend 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month with an average of 20 minutes per visit. Facebook has become a 21st century journal. For many people Facebook is family history.
I have to admit, I do not use Facebook every day. I use Google+, Linkedin.com and Pinterest.com much more than I do Facebook.com. What I do with all these is re-post my blog posts every day so it appears that I am on the website every day. I also get email notifications of any posts people make either mentioning me or directed to me. So I use Facebook almost exclusively for communication.

So what about the assertion that Facebook is family history? My first level of answer would say that whether or not this is really true depends entirely on your definition of genealogy. If you define family history broadly enough, you can include everything on the Internet as family history. I think the FamilySearch post is using a very broad definition. This is not bad. Here is a quote showing what they are talking about:
Young people are telling their stories on Facebook. They tag people. They are posting photos that document their lives. We know their history and it includes the dates, facts and how they feel about what is happening in the world.
I guess I would have a little disconnect in accepting this statement as fact. Whenever something comes up about Facebook, I spend some time going back through recent posts to see what is there. Somewhere buried in the photos of cats, dogs and links to YouTube videos, I am sure there are nuggets of "history" but there is a huge bunch of noise (in the engineering sense) online that obscures any of the important personal issues. I decided to look at the Timeline of some of the people I know very well (such as children etc.). Yes, I would have to agree, there are a few things on their Timelines that could be considered to be family history. But the content of the Timeline was extremely spotty. Almost all the posts fell into the category of commentary, communication and sharing other websites. There was very, very little actual historically connected information. Almost all of the "facts" were dates and places that could be easily discovered from other sources. But what about stories?

I began to search for stories on Facebook. Not the ones passed around the Internet about all sorts of people and places, but real, personal stories that one would put in a biography or personal history. Let me mention that the individuals I looked at were very "active" on Facebook. There is no easy way to see the number of individual posts (unlike the total number of blog posts) but in going back a year of so, I was able to find a half a dozen posts that could be construed to be family history.

Now, I think we have a much larger issue here. The Internet is really our collective history. As we do research in the future, we will be able to mine the data on the web and reconstruct the entire lives of those who "lived on the web." Not just from Facebook, but from hundreds and thousands of other websites. But, and this is a huge exception, we can only do this if there is a huge amount of digital preservation going on. What guarantee do we have that Facebook or any other website will exist tomorrow or anytime in the future. Back to the post, here is another quote:
Social media is one very important tool that future generations the world over will use to remember us. Facebook is people getting excited about family history. Embrace it!
What if I do "embrace" Facebook. Do I really want to rely on Facebook to preserve my digital heritage? Maybe I do. Maybe I don't. Maybe I should start putting the information into a more permanent format or venue so that future generations will have something to look at.

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