Tuesday, April 24, 2007

All Done With the Move to the New Server

The move to the new server is complete. Thanks to a ton of help from Randy Winch at RootsWeb we seem to have the bugs finally worked out of the system. I also owe a debt of gratitude for terrific helpful advice from Illya D'Addezio at GenealogyToday.com. Now I'm back to work on a backlog of link requests and some massive updates I have to make across the entire site.

Monday, April 16, 2007

RE: RE: FWD: RE: FWD: Replying to the Wrong Topic

If I walked up to you and said, "I'm taking my son to the movies today," would you then reply to me with, "Do you think hamburgers are better with cheese?" Not likely. Most likely your reply would be something about the movies, thus staying on topic. And if you wanted to talk about cheeseburgers you would change the topic and we would move on.

So, if you wouldn't do this in face to face conversations why is it OK to do in e-mail or online conversations? It isn't. Following are several examples of where I see people doing this exact thing in day-to-day online conversations.

  • Mailing Lists: There are more than 30,000 genealogy mailing lists devoted to specific topics, localities, or surnames. People frequently join mailing lists and participate incorrectly. Sometimes messages are sent that are off-topic. Sometimes people reply with unrelated questions or comments to messages for specific topics. And people often send new messages to the mailing list by replying to a pre-existing message, so that the "RE: Subject Line" appears in their new message. Solutions: Find a mailing list for the topic you need and post your message there instead. Don't reply to messages unless you're actually replying to *that* topic. Start new e-mail messages to begin a new conversation and topic.
  • Message Boards: Ditto the points made above. Message boards (some call them "forums") have the same issues as mailing lists. The difference is that you receive mailing list posts by e-mail, but you have to visit a message board to read and participate.
  • E-mail: Sometimes an e-mail message, especially a genealogical query, will contain numerous topics or questions. Often, replies to such e-mails will address one or two of the topics/questions, but not all of them. As the replies go back and forth between the correspondents threads of conversation are lost, points are not made, and answers are not given. And sometimes an e-mail message is sent about the movies and the reply comes back about cheeseburgers. Solutions: Before you reply think about what you read and be sure to read it carefully—more than once if necessary. When writing an e-mail query stick to one topic per message. Or if you have three questions about an ancestor, separate them into three paragraphs that stand out and indicate separate replies for each would be best. And when you start a new conversation, start a new e-mail with a new subject line. If your conversation has changed topics it is okay to change the subject line to reflect the new topic.
  • Blogs: A blog is a personal online diary. Some people use them to post articles, to post genealogical findings, or as a substitute for a traditional web site. But the original concept is the same—messages on the blog are posted by the author. The nature of blogs allows for readers to post comments on blog entries. Blog authors can allow or reject those comments if they like. A blog is not a place for people to post comments on unrelated topics. A blog is not a place to ask unrelated questions. A blog is not a place for a reader to post a new topic. Since I started this blog I've rejected several messages that were attempts to contact me rather than actual comments on the topic the comment was attached to. Hey, if you want to e-mail me, then go through the web site and regular e-mail. If you have a comment on the topic, then use that blog feature. Otherwise, look for another more appropriate way to communicate with the author or find an answer to your question.

Overall, the theme here should be one of courtesy and common sense. Before you post a message anywhere ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my question relevant to the topic?
  2. Am I sending my question/comment to the correct person or group?
  3. Is there a better place I should take this conversation?
  4. Should I start a new topic or separate topics?
  5. Does my subject line and conversation thread reflect the intent of the original conversation or the purpose of the mailing list, message board, e-mail , or blog?
  6. If I were at the receiving end of my message would it seem appropriate and would it make sense?

All that said, this is my official rule for this blog: if you comment on my posts make sure that your comments or questions relate to the topic. If you post a comment that doesn't match the original topic I will reject the post. As simple as that—let's stay on topic folks!


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Which Genealogy Site is the Best?

I received this post as a reply to my search engine blog from a few days ago. This doesn't really apply to that topic, so I've moved it to a new topic. I'm asked this type of question all the time.

"Is there a site where genealogy websites are rated? There are so many out there and the descriptions of each are confusing to me. It seems they overlap each other an awful lot, and subscribing to more than one site will provide little more than a subscription to one or the other. Has anybody ever created a chart where they lay out what each site has access to and compared the sites in that way? I am interested in subscribing to a site where I can upload my gedcom file, but there are so many, that I don't know which would be the best.It surely would be more convenient for one huge website to contain all databases at once, but then they could charge whatever they wanted--and get away with it."

This is how I look at this topic: "Is there a book somewhere that rates genealogy books, publications, and records? There are so many out there and the descriptions can be confusing and they overlap each other. I really just want to read one book and want to know which one is the best for me to use."

That doesn't make sense, does it? You should say, "No." The reality in genealogy is that there are multiple sources for finding information on your family. Web sites aren't any different than other old-fashioned sources such as books, microfilm, microfiche, magazines, journals, or records of any sort. A web site--actually, the Internet in general--is just a new delivery system for that same old material. First and foremost, genealogy is about tracking down your ancestors through records for various life events. Start with yourself and work backwards through time.

Doing that means that I start in Washington state, move back to North Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Germany. So, I might review a genealogy web subscription service and give it 5 stars and say it is the best thing since God invented espresso. However, you might be working from Iowa to Illinois to Sweden. Or you might have Quakers in your family. Or you might have Jewish or Eastern European ancestors. Will my review for my favorite subscription service help you decide if it is right for you? No, it won't. Everybody's family is different, therefore everyone's research is different. What works for me might not work for you. So, even if there is a web site out there that reviews genealogy sites, you need to know that it is important for you to review them yourself. Review them in the context of what you need to fit your research.

The other part of this question that makes this hard to answer is the transient nature of the Internet. Web sites come and go. I add links to new sites and two months later they are gone. Datasets on web sites change. Web sites can be updated and edited any time, so one day a site is great and the next day it is awful (or vice versa). Review sites might exist out there. But if they do I think they are living an unrealistic expectation. People assume I review the sites that I link to on Cyndi's List. I don't and I can't for the reasons I outline above. I have more than 260,000 links. With the hundreds of thousands of possible sources out there how can any one person or source rate them all?

Having multiple sources, many overlapping, is not a bad thing for your research. It gives you a way to check and double-check facts or clues. Yes, it takes time to do all that. But if you thought genealogy was a quick thing to do you are definitely in the wrong hobby. It also takes a bit of organization on your part to keep track of what you do, where you've looked, and where you plan to look next. Any genealogist worth his/her salt is going to have a research workbook on their computer to keep track of the sites they've visited, on which date, and what they found (or didn't find) there.

As for uploading a GEDCOM file. . .that is a topic for another day.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Moving Day for the Site

This is just an update to let you know that I'm moving Cyndi's List to a new web host this week. This might mean that there will be some downtime. I hope it won't be long, if at all. Please be patient and all should be up and running normally ASAP.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

AOL Doesn't Like my Mailing List

Every once in a while AOL decides that I'm a spammer. They start rejecting and bouncing the messages that I send to my mailing list each day. There are two daily messages, one of which is the "What's New" post with all the new links submitted in the last 24 hours. I am not sure what triggers AOL to decide I'm a spammer. Maybe it is one or more of the links or the domain names in the links that they have flagged. Or maybe it is because sometimes I send more than one day's messages at a time when I have a backlog. I would think that AOL could add the RootsWeb mailing lists to their "accept" list, but that doesn't seem to happen.

When they start bouncing I'm usually on the no-fly list at AOL for a few days. So, AOL users start getting unsubscribed from the mailing list by the automated software. That immediately triggers the flood of e-mail I get with comments like "Did NOT unsubscribe. Do not know why I received this message." or "Why did you unsubscribe me?" or "Kindly put me back on your list." and a few not-so-nice messages. As soon as I start to get this flood of messages I ask myself three questions:
  1. Why do these people not understand that this is an automated process, not something that I did to them?
  2. Why do these people expect me to re-subscribe them to the list? They managed to do it themselves the first time they joined, so they should be able to do it again.
  3. Why can't people think first before they hit the reply button and then wait for someone else to fix the problem? It isn't my fault that AOL bounced them, but they expect me to fix it.

At my end I believe I've already done everything I can think of to prevent the AOL problems. I've contacted the listmaster at RootsWeb and they assure me they deal with AOL on these issues regularly. I have a web page for my mailing list with all the subscribe and unsubscribe instructions: www.CyndisList.com/maillist.htm. I have a section on that page with tips for AOL users on how to help make the CyndisList mailing more happily accepted by AOL's e-mail filters. And I periodically send those tips to the mailing list and I hope they read them or keep them for future reference (please!). For a while I even changed the way I was sending out the messages to the mailing list, sending them one at a time with a half-hour or more between the posts. The problem with that was that I would lose track of time and forget to send the next batch. The more obvious problem with that, for me anyway, is that the whole purpose in using the automated mailing list is to take some of the work off of me.

So, I'm done accomodating AOL users. This isn't my personal attack on them. This is just me working to preserve my own sanity. If you're an AOL user please know I'm not picking on you. I just don't have the time to clean up problems created by AOL's e-mail filters.

BTW, I sent out the AOL tips to the mailing list yesterday. So, what did I get today? A message sent to the list address (1st error) asking me to update their e-mail address (2nd error) by first confirming that I'm acceptable through their automated address book update service (3rd error).

Where's my chococlate?!!!??!!