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

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cutting through the haze and focusing on the issues

I had an interesting comment to a past blog, as follows:
The trouble with Blogs and many on-line resources... I have found that I can go on-line and find many... too many... resources that cover nearly any topic of interest to me. However, often I can read 10 or more sources and never learn much of anything beyond what I learned from the first two or three sources. This on-line chatter tends to hover on the surface of the topic and I struggle to find reliable resources that get into enough depth to actually help be get past the basics.
I am not sure where this commentator is looking. But there does seem to be some confusion about the nature of the "on-line" resources. It isn't clear if the comment is directed at research into particular ancestral lines or merely the need for general information about genealogy. If the comment goes to the issue of "news" such as the introduction of a new genealogy program or expansion of a website. It is true that the comments may be superficial and repetitive, but there is no need to read more than one of the "news" category of post and in most cases, the headline or title alone suffices for the information conveyed. It is true, anyone can spend an inordinate amount of time reading the same reports over and again, but why would you choose to do so?

Today for example, I received an email notice from a major online subscription service announcing the acquisition of millions of new records. Within a few hours, the story had been repeated by a number of the bloggers in posts. If I read the original press release, unless there was something in the posts that was different, I can simply ignore all of the other repetitions. This is one of the main reasons for using an aggregator program such as I can view the blog posts and other website updates in a news stream format and decide rather quickly whether to look further at an article or post. I guess I am puzzled as to why someone would read the same comments 10 or more times?

Blogs act as the "news reporters" for the genealogical community. Their function is similar to the local newspapers and magazines of the past. If you look at Google News on any given day, for example, you will find a breaking news story that will be picked up by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of local news outlets and repeated with little change or commentary. The same thing happens, only more so, with broadcast news services. Personally, I have almost entirely stopped listening to or watching any form of broadcast news. The reason is simple. It is lineal. If I want to know what the traffic or weather will be in my community and I resort to the TV, I have to watch a half hour or so of mindless chatter and commercials to get the one or two items I am truly interested in. In consequence, I have gone almost entirely to online individual news sources.

Perhaps if the commentator is caught up in superficiality and he or she needs to focus more on limiting the amount of time spent on any repetitious topic. Most of the news is simply not informative and lacks relevance to anything going on in my life. Focusing on a topic requires levels of filtering, whether you are talking about news in general or specifically about genealogy. What this means is that news is news, not in-depth research. If you find a topic of interest mentioned in the news, you will likely have to go beyond the posts and articles to find more information.

Perhaps and example from a recent topic would be helpful to illustrate the point. In looking at the stream of topics, I see several posts entitled, " Adds 23 Million Records and 121 Million Newspaper Pages From Around the World." OK, the title tells me about all I need to know right now about that topic. But if I were doing research on the website, I might want to read further and see if the new records were helpful to my current research needs. In fact, rather than read the article, I would probably go directly to and look at exactly which records and time periods are covered by the new acquisitions.

The blog post articles from the press release serve a valuable function of calling my attention. But whether or not I follow up on the article is entirely up to my current research needs. In my reader, after noting the first post, I would simply mark as read everything else pertaining to the story.

I receive the same comments about my blog posts. Last night, someone commented that they read my blog regularly, but said, "You write way too much for me to read everything." Yes, that is what happens in the news and comment world. There is way too much to read everything, so we have to use the tools we have, such as readers or aggregators, to cut through the haze and focus.


  1. This is a great and insightful post, James. I agree about news announcements being posted over and over again. The same information ripples through the genealogy blogs like wildfire. It's not all bad, I guess, for there may be some genealogists that will appreciate the information.

    Your missive has made me want to be a better blogger. Thanks!

  2. It’s actually a nice and useful piece of information. I am glad that you simply shared this useful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.