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

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Doing Research in Real Time

In a presentation given by FamilySearch staff "Doing Research in Real Time-An Exhilarating Collaboration Experience!" (F308), at the National Genealogical Society 2010 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. , presented by Alan E. Mann, AG®, Robert Raymond, and David E. Rencher, AG®, CGSM, FIGRS, FUGA, the presenters outlined suggested tools for real-time collaboration. This presentation has now been incorporated into the FamilySearch Research Wiki.

Online collaboration has various levels of participation. At its most intensive, we now use Google Talk to do video conferencing. Depending on the speed of the various connections, you can carry on a conversation in real-time and both sides of the conversation can view the other. Many years ago, the phone companies (with a lot of articles in Popular Science magazine) touted the possibility of video phones. Now, with an very inexpensive video cam (or camera) and free software, the video phone is a reality. The FamilySearch team did not discuss this option, but left open this possibility.

We use three different programs, Google Talk, mentioned above, AOL Instant Messenger and iChat with our Macs. iChat is by far the best for the simple reason that you can carry on four simultaneous conversations, but all three do a reasonably good job of keep with with family and aiding in research.

Almost all of the programs listed by the FamilySearch team, require both parties to have the same set of software tools. In other words, if you want to use Google Docs for collaboration, all of the parties to the collaboration have to have the same software installed on their computers. One limitation not mentioned by the team is the problem of working with less sophisticated users who may not be able to install the programs, much less use them effectively. The whole idea of online collaboration works wonderfully with a group of highly technical participants but bogs down considerably when you have to explain how to use the word processor or even how to connect with Facebook.

I am also disappointed that the FamilySearch team did not include in their list of collaborative tools. Quoting from a recent article on WeRelate by Jrich, "As a user, what strikes me as different from this typical behavior, in regards to WeRelate, is that WeRelate is not about your genealogy. Even your ancestors that happen to be in WeRelate aren't about you, they are about reaching a consensus about what was. You have no more right or authority in regards to that page than someone who might even be a non-descendant."

Although I might have said this differently, I think that this summarizes the essence of online real-time collaboration. It isn't about you, it is about the information and reaching a consensus.

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