On a recent CNBC show about Facebook called "The Facebook Obsession," there was a short interview concerning a lady named Kari Tridle who found her birth mother on Facebook. The account generated a moderate amount of discussion about the utility of social networking sites in the aid of genealogy. In my own experience, Facebook has connected our family to relatives who we had lost contact with almost 60 plus years ago. One cousin is living in England and we would probably have never found her any other way.
How valuable is this connection with long lost relatives? It turns out that these particular cousins had almost no information about their own family. They were actually looking for us. It is highly unlikely that any of my end-of-line long dead relatives are on Facebook.
I can't help comparing a general social networking site such as Facebook with a site dedicated to genealogy like GenealogyWise. The entire GenealogyWise website is dedicated to genealogy and related issues. There is no "what I had for breakfast" and "you should see what my cat just did" types of posts. Although both are blatantly commercial, there is really no comparison between the genealogical utility of the two sites. Now here is the conundrum, GenealogyWise.com has a Facebook page! There are a number of Facebook utilities that will record your communications with your relatives and even seek them out like familylink.com.
Familylink.com is the parent company that has WorldVitalRecords.com and a whole list of other websites. A few things are sure, this is a fast growing Internet area, it is highly commercialized and it is becoming pervasive. Most of the genealogy software programs now have their own Facebook pages. Most commercial businesses are jumping on the Facebook bandwagon and adding Facebook to their Websites and Blogs.
It would be almost impossible to investigate the links between Facebook and the genealogical community. It looks like to me that almost every Blogger I am aware of also has a Facebook page. I try hard not to make comments or to broadcast my daily activities on Facebook, I hope to preserve a modicum of privacy, but that does not seem to worry the rest of my 200+ friends. In the last hour we have a number of comments about pets including cows, dogs and other animals. We have discussions about the news, the weather, school, dates, weddings, computers, ancient manuscripts and about anything else you can or cannot think of. So how does genealogical research benefit from all this noise?
A Facebook search on the term "genealogy" returns hundreds of results (Facebook does not tell you how many hits your search returns) many with up to thousands of people who have clicked that they "like this." Some of the sites are sort-of miniature blogs with posts giving information and talking about research. I have had Genealogy's Star on Facebook for some time and occasionally get comments about the Blog posts from Facebook readers.
So far, I do not see a clear view of how Facebook and other social networking sites will ultimately benefit genealogy. It is clear that they excel in finding people, but I view most of the noise on Facebook as a distraction from "real research." It is almost as bad as having a telephone ring all day long with sales calls. I also find the short blurbs to be almost as confining as Twitter. I have used Twitter for some time and keep being amazed by the constant addition of Followers.
OK, now that I have given my opinion, do social networking sites have the potential of advancing research or are they only forums for talking about research? So far, I have seen few connections between any of the social networking sites and source documents, other than advertisements for commercial websites. The sites have taken over the function of the old bulletin board programs for posting inquiries about finding families and doing research. The social networking sites have also taken over a major part of the advertising world. I suspect that once the run-up is over for sites like Facebook and Twitter, genealogists will turn their attention to more productive sites with substantive information and data. I do think the dedicated sites like GenealogyWise have more immediate utility. It appears to me that people may be using the sites as a way to avoid doing any actual research. It is a whole lot easier to simply post an inquiry than actually do anything like real research.