Monday, April 6, 2015

Resurrecting a Genealogy Forum


If you’ve been at this researching task for a number of years, you may have come to value the utility of genealogy forums. Ever since the advent of sites like Rootsweb, back in the early years of comparing notes online with fellow family history researchers, I’ve peppered a good number of forums with my queries, comments and (hopefully) useful resources.

Since every post on an online forum can potentially garner responses, this digital version of the old query system was a hit with the instant-gratification crowd. I know I certainly was hooked. Need a copy of an obit? Ask and ye shall receive. Looking for distant cousins? Hang out your “shingle” on the forum of the surname you’re researching. Focusing on a specific geographic area? There’s a forum for that.

I made it a habit to post to as many forums as possible—the more connections, the merrier, I figured.

Over the years a strange, consolidating thing happened in the genealogical forum world. While I once was able to post at Rootsweb and GenForum and the Ancestry.com Message Boards, they gradually morphed into one gigantic entity.

And one day, the inevitable happened: Ancestry—which, for all intents and purposes, was the one left holding the entire genealogy forum bag—faced the need to make some cuts. That was back when they made major revisions to their DNA program, and divested themselves of some other services they had once provided as part of their overall business plan. Somewhere, buried in all the hubbub over the shuffle, was a key change at what was once GenForum: the already existent content would be archived and accessible—but not open for further comment.

If you hadn’t been using GenForum, that was likely a change that was meaningless to you. It wasn’t, however, for me. You have to understand: I have a large number of posts at GenForum, not only requesting help or seeking researchers of like surname interests, but also asking people to come visit my blog. If I found a photo with a surname but no other identifying marks, I’d post a query with a tag line, “Come to my blog and see if this is your relative.” That hope-eternal that this post would someday garner the right readers never died.

But now, I had no recourse. If an orphan photo now had an update, I couldn’t go back to my old posts at GenForum and make that announcement. Though a chatterbox before, I—like all the other active forum participants—was now silenced.

That, of course, has been months ago. I suppose most everyone has gotten over their disappointment regarding shed product lines on account of corporate decisions at Ancestry. Even though I still get a significant amount of readership traffic generated from posts I made at GenForum, I’ve let that one go, myself.

But the other day, seeing in my stats that someone had stopped by A Family Tapestry in pursuit of a photo I had mentioned on GenForum, I decided to click back through and see what was up at the erstwhile genealogy forum I used to frequent.

I was surprised. There was a new look. Although the Ancestry.com ads were prominent, it now featured the old Genealogy.com logo. While different than before, GenForum had its own look—like a newly spruced-up digital property that someone was obviously again attending to.

One other detail caught my eye: at the bottom of the post I had clicked through to was added a section which looked as if comments could now be added. Really? What was going on here? This couldn’t have been a remnant of the previously dismantled online forum. The look here was all new.

I took the opportunity to send a note—basically to express my delight that GenForum appears to be back up and running (sort of), and also to ask about its current status. Something is definitely changing.

That, as it turns out, is what is happening. People can, indeed, respond to the old posts brought up, say, from a Google search—as long as they are willing to do so through a third-party platform, such as the Disqus service. The only restraint is that no new posts will be accepted—only responses to already-existing posts, as Jack from Genealogy.com’s Customer Solutions department pointed out in his note to me last week:


Thank you for contacting Genealogy.com Technical Support in regard to commenting via GenForum.

It is indeed possible to comment on GenForum posts using the Disqus platform. While it is possible to comment on any existing posts, it is not possible to create a completely new post/topic. In order to post a comment, users will need to either login with their Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts, or sign-up via Disqus (which is a free service). The comment box can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the page whcih contains a given post. Users can login, as explained above, by clicking on the login icon, from the upper right portion of the comment box. Users who need to sign-up via Disqus will be given the option to either login, or sign-up for a new account. The sign-up process only asks for the user's name and email address.

If you need additional assistance please let us know.

Best regards, 

Jack
Customer Solutions Associate
Genealogy.com
http://www.genealogy.com/help/
 
Though this isn’t a complete restoration of the old forum format, at least it gives back a recourse for those who still want to respond to old posts. Think of all the times you’ve done a search for an ancestor’s surname and have been led to a post at GenForum where a potential distant cousin has gabbed on and on about your own family member. Now, at least, you can talk back.

16 comments:

  1. Thanks for the update. I haven't used the forum in several years. Glad they are improving even though the new procedure sounds a bit convoluted.

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    1. It's not as complicated as it sounds, Gayle. They just are requiring people to choose a medium of online identification--to help avoid spam, no doubt. I chose Disqus, because I am already on that service, so it was very easy to get up and running, posting comments again.

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  2. I am hoping that the forum (or one like it) comes to life! I know it served a good purpose - and would do so once again - if it lives.

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    1. I agree, Iggy. While I know social media has changed the face of online genealogical connections, not everyone is on Facebook, for instance. Plus, the forum format usually allows for a better search mechanism than can be utilized on a site like Facebook (or other social media pages). Forums will always have their utility, no matter what other new service comes up.

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  3. Certainly someone out there will start a new forum?? I would think so, it would certainly take off especially if it were a free forum:)

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    1. The challenge to starting new forums is the need to reach some sort of "critical mass." If a new forum doesn't catch on with enough people, it can have that "hollow" empty feeling. Still, I know that other forums have been built, and I'm sure more will follow. We genealogy researchers certainly do like to talk!

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    2. You might look at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/ at the bottom of the page for Message Boards. There many free surname and locality Boards there and new ones can be established, I think, after being vetted. GenForum was great and I'm glad some of my old queries can still be responded to.

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  4. Dear Jacqi, I have queries up there and had no idea about this change. I'm grateful you took the time to investigate and share the results. Thank you!

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    1. You're certainly welcome, Marian! Since you have queries there, I'm sure that is good news for you, as well. That way, if you want to update any posts you had added at GenForum years ago, you may now do so. I've already begun that process, myself.

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  5. I didn't know about the change either. Even though I've looked recently for names in old posts, I hadn't noticed the ability to continue the conversation.

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    1. Oh, be sure to go back and take a look again, Wendy. I'm not sure how recent this change is, but I know you can make additions, now. I did some on my old posts just last week.

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  6. Jacqi,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/04/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-april-10.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Thanks, Jana. I appreciate the mention!

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  7. I still search there, too, but make no attempt to reply. I was just getting into the forum use when it was shut down. For a newbie like me it was wonderful. I'll sure try to reply from now on! I have attempted to contact people on old forums but those old email addresses are no longer in use :-(

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    1. T, it is a hit or miss proposition, trying to reply to those old forum posts. Still, it is worth the try. You never know; some people still do have the same old email addresses, and sometimes--even after all these years--do follow through with a reply.

      Even if you don't get a reply from the writer of the original post, someone new might see your response and want to connect with you.

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  8. Thanks for the update. I did in fact want to respond to some posts since I noted there were erroneous conclusions in the posts and would like to get them updated to see if there is more input on the real situation.

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