Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are Bloggers Really the New Experts?

Last week Michael Hait's wrote a thoughtful and thought provoking post called "The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts”?" on his blog Planting the Seeds.  In his post he discussed whether genealogy bloggers are perceived as the new experts because of the shift from traditional media to the internet and social media as the source for information and news.  I would strongly encourage you to read Michael's post before diving into this one.

I had so many reactions to Michael's post.  Some of which I agreed with and some of which I didn't. He covered quite a lot of ground in that one post. I am going to try to address it here. Be warned that this is a highly opinionated piece. As I can tend to be capricious at times, perhaps I can be persuaded to change my views at a later point, but this is where I stand now.

I am going to break this up into two posts:
1) Signs of the New Paradigm and the Old Paradigm
2) Is the Genealogy Paradigm Shift a Good Thing or Bad Thing?

Part 1 - Signs of the New Paradigm and the Old Paradigm

Signs of the New Paradigm

I would agree with Michael that bloggers have come into their own.  Originally disregarded and ignored, genealogical bloggers have quite a bit of clout now.  Using Joan Miller's post "Genea-Bodies: the New Somebodies" was a very good example of this transition. I think the important thing to keep in mind here is Joan's statement "We became Rootstech’s biggest cheerleaders because we cared and we were engaged." This pretty much encapsulates it for me - passion.  Bloggers have drive, passion and a voice which they want to share whether anyone is listening or not.  In the end it turns out someone was listening.

Michael said the paradigm shift really hit home for him when 1000memories.com featured “five of the genealogy community’s top thinkers” to comment on their recent survey results.  This is where we start to diverge in opinion.

Michael said "I doubt it is coincidental that three of the five genealogists chosen write popular genealogy blogs. This is a perfect example of the paradigm shift in genealogy."

I think this has less to do with a paradigm shift than working the current paradigm.  The fact that 1000memories.com identifies those people as genealogy's top thinkers is a matter of opinion (not that I disagree with it).  It's their opinion and they are projecting that opinion. It doesn't really matter if the folks are or aren't genealogy's top thinkers. The fact is as genealogists we are taught that when we evaluate a source we need to consider why it was created and by whom.  In our journey through critical thinking we know that it is often more important to evaluate news/information sources than record sources.  All five thinkers chosen are very forward thinking and technologically focused.  That fits with the direction that the company is projecting with the results of their survey.

I hate to quote singer John Mayer but I'm going to do it anyway.  The song Waiting on the World to Change seems like an appropriate anthem for this discussion of a paradigm shift.  In the song Mayer sings, “Cause when they own the information, oh / They can bend it all they want.” 

My point here is that commercial entities are going to choose voices that best support their direction or goal.  And even more importantly, the identification of certain people as leaders in an industry does not suggest that there aren't equally as important people in the industry who aren't being featured.

Again, in no way am I detracting from the five top thinkers.  I have high respect for them all and agree that they have a tremendous voice within our community.  But we need to err on the side of caution when a commercial entity that is relatively new to the scene is given the opportunity to define the leaders of an entire industry or community.

The Global Paradigm

Michael began his post discussing how the distribution of information has changed in the world.  Many real-time events are captured on twitter before they hit main stream media.  It's very important to remember that this is a global paradigm shift and not just one within the genealogical community.  Every aspect of our society has been altered by the change in how we receive and filter information.

Likewise, the phenomenon of blogging and bloggers is not unique to the genealogical community. Both technological shifts and paradigm shifts see their initial growth by "early adopters."   Typically what happens is that the "small guy" with the entrepreneurial mindset initiates dramatic change then the establishment steps in after most of the risk is gone and co-opts the new technology or paradigm.  A simple example of this would be Apple and its development of the iPad.  Now that it has caught on all the other technological manufacturers are jumping on the band wagon.

Michael then goes into a lengthy discussion about ASG and the old paradigm.  He lists many examples of how the members of ASG altered the field of genealogy.  It think it's very important to remember that before they became the establishment they were the innovators, changing the face of genealogy and meeting the needs that were required at that time.  In the same way, tomorrow's establishment will be made up of the genealogists who are meeting the needs of today's genealogy.  What we need right now is very different than the foundations that were laid over the last 40 years.  And that's a good thing because it shows that we are progressing and building on what has been established.

I think we what are experiencing with social media and blogging in genealogy is similar to the iPad example.  The only difference is that the establishment is waiting a much longer time to adopt the new paradigm.  I have absolutely no doubt that the traditional establishment will adapt to these shifts. They are simply being more cautious.

Therefore the concerns about a broad range of varied skills being on display within the genealogical blogging community shows that we are still in the early stages of development.  Already the foundation of a more mature adaption is being laid with the entry of Barbara Mathews, CG (The Demanding Genealogist blog) and Meldon Wolfgang (Mnemosyne's Magic Mirror blog).  Others will surely follow as they find value in blogging and internet outreach.  Perhaps the more rapid example of this within our own community is the use of webinars as an effective, innovative, educational format.  Members of the established "old paradigm" are embracing this more quickly than they are blogging.

Continue on to Part 2 where I discuss whether the paradigm shift is a good or bad thing.


  1. Very nicely answered Marian!Looking forward to reading Part 2.

  2. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments on my post. This is exactly what I wanted to happen.

    Above you write, "What we need right now is very different than the foundations that were laid over the last 40 years. And that's a good thing because it shows that we are progressing and building on what has been established."

    Are you defining "what we need" by "what is being done"? Ultimately, all of the social media innovations--from blogging to Facebook and Twitter--are only the means of communication. But what progress is actually being made? In my opinion, much of the praise being given to Geneabloggers as a whole has nothing to do with *actual genealogical research*.

    The "old paradigm" focused on research--using and sharing research techniques that work in various situations, tending toward more and more advanced techniques. These advanced techniques constituted the breakthroughs, the progress in the field of genealogy.

    Under the "new paradigm" this no longer seems to be the case. We as bloggers often discuss very simple genealogical concepts, which are great for beginners, but do not progress the field. Some "Geneabloggers" rarely discuss research at all. This is fine if their research is published elsewhere. But how can we, in a field of research, base leadership on anything other than the quality of research?

    Do we need, as a community, leaders whose strength lies in communication or in research ability?

  3. Great topic for exploration and conversation. I entered genealogy through technology, THEN relatives started giving me documents. Blogging was my first attempt to communicate what I was learning. I find these sorts of posts both fascinating and necessary to help newbies like me grow. Until recently I didn't realize that I was part of ANY paradigm, much less a paradigm shift. I really look forward to Part Two.

  4. This is a really important discussion for all of us to have. Sometimes I think that all the new gadgets and software programs get attention and a discussion of research takes a back seat. I would love a survey of how genealogists spend their genealogy time - I think it might help us take a long, hard look and get a handle on our [you choose] hobby/passion/addiction. I wrote directly on Michael's blog about the issue of gatekeepers - and I think a serious discussion needs to take place in this regard as well.

    The genealogy community is made up of such a wide variety of people with differing interests, backgrounds, and service. As someone with only about 5 years in and having attended a few seminars and conferences in various places - I will say oftentimes the "elite" or "in group" is not all that inclusive [on the other hand I have also been warmly welcomed and encouraged in other groups].

    The good news is that we are having these discussions and I hope that through Google+ it could be focused in one place so we don't have to try to figure out where the discussion is [it would be nice to gather posts and/or note them in one place so as not to miss any of the discussion].

    There are some great innovators in genealogy blogging, technology, research, websites, etc., and we are at a crossroads with more attention paid this subject on TV [with WDYTYA] and in some school curriculums. We need to take advantage of this attention in a good way, make sure our blogs add to the discussion [rather than pile on at times], include research as a major goal, and not be so caught up in the shinny penny syndrome [adopt it just because its new or pretty]. A great deal of food for thought! Thanks for the discussion.

  5. Hi Marian,

    I should have read your PT1 before I posted on Michael's blog. I think many of us have similar concerns about what we are and what we are doing as bloggers and such. I won't repeat, here, what I wrote there. Just go there, lol. The conversation continues in many places. And that's a good thing!

    Peace & Blessings,
    "Guided by the Ancestors"