Friday, March 4, 2011

Cyndi's List is 15 Years Old

Cyndi's List was first published on March 4, 1996. I have a hard time believing that was 15 years ago. One of the questions I get asked a lot is how Cyndi's List got started. Each fall our local society meets to share what we did over the summer. In the summer of 1995 I bought a new computer with a blazing fast 9600 baud modem, preloaded with AOL software. I immediately started looking for genealogy resources online. I took what I had found to our society meeting in September 1995—one printed page of everything I found online. I had ten copies to hand out just in case someone else was interested. They were. They jumped on me like a pack of ravenous wolves! Our society's quarterly editor, Nancy Peterson, asked me if I would be willing to turn that into a 5 or 6 page article for the fall issue. Unwittingly, I did. And I decided I should probably categorize the web sites to make things tidier. This is how Cyndi's List was born. The following January I taught myself how to write HTML and I created a personal web site. When building the site I thought I would share my article with the links just in case anyone might find them useful. It was one long web page with about 1,025 links. The name I gave it wasn't very creative, but it stuck: Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet.

I shared my new web site and the list of links with others online via genealogy mailing lists. People started asking me to set up links to their web sites as well. So, I did, adding dozens of new links every day. I recall early on in 1996 that a gentleman told me that my page of links was too large and took too long to load. Remember, this is the early days when most people were using a dial-up connection. He had a good point, so I started building separate pages for each category of links. From that point on Cyndi's List took on a life of its own. It was a snowball, heading downhill. It was the Roadrunner and I was the Coyote. In those first days I worked on the site for a couple of hours each day. Before long I was spending 4 hours, 6 hours, and then 8-12 hours a day.

I also spent time on several genealogy mailing lists and helped by answering research questions. Between that and the link requests I was inundated each day as my e-mail grew to 500-600 messages daily. I spent less time on mailing lists and all of my spare time building Cyndi's List. My own research and my personal genealogy web site have gone virtually untouched since then. I created a FAQ and put up a "Before You E-mail Cyndi" page to try and stem the incoming flow of messages. I currently receive 200-300 messages a day, many of which can be answered with some pre-written templates.

In 1998 I was fortunate to receive sponsorship that lasted about 4 years with Sierra Software. That same year I registered the domain name and was offered web hosting by RootsWeb. Cyndi's List had become a more than full time job and business. Over the years I had some part-time helpers here and there, including my sister-in-law whose only job was fixing broken links. Five years ago I redesigned the site, as it appears today, with cleaner navigation. As of October 2007 I was on my own again, a one-woman show. I had to move the site to a paid server and advertising income drastically dropped along with the economy.

Today, Cyndi's List exists on more than 680 individual web pages, 180+ categories with more than 292,000 links for genealogical research. And I have been maintaining it the same way for 15 years—handwritten HTML. It is time for a new look. It is time for Cyndi's List to join the 21st century. I did something that is both personally and financially very scary for me. I hired fusionSpan, a web development company, to transform Cyndi's List into a database driven site. The upgrade will result in easier navigation for you and much easier maintenance for me. It should also mean a much greater reduced wait time for new links to make it into the appropriate categories. With time I hope it means I'll be able to do more writing, blogging, and researching. We had hoped to have the upgraded Cyndi's List online for today's anniversary. But, as you might imagine, transforming 292,000 links into a database is a tricky thing. We're close to having the site ready to go and might soon have a pilot version online for you to see.

Thank you to everyone who has supported Cyndi's List through the past 15 years. I hope you'll stick around for the next 15 as well! Keep an eye on Cyndi's List over the next few months because there are good things coming!