Monday, May 8, 2017
Six Years and (Still) Counting
It's been six years since I sat down on Mother's Day, 2011, and composed my first post at A Family Tapestry. It took all of those six years for the view count on that one introductory article to make it up to a measly 243 hits, but enough people came through, over the ensuing years, to garner five comments from kind people (even if one of them was my niece). Things like that take time to grow.
Since that first post, a lot has happened in the genealogy blogging world. Genea-guru Thomas MacEntee came, saw, conquered—and decided to move on. His blog roll of "over 3,000 genealogy and family history-related blogs" is now frozen in time. This may not be a surprise to those who, like Julie Cahill Tarr, noticed the decreasing rate of posts in the genea-blogging community—and hypothesized about causes for such a change.
Meanwhile, in the commercial genealogy world, the numbers seem diametrically opposed to the (presumed) plummeting readership in the for-free blogging world. Television productions sponsored by the likes of Ancestry.com and ads for DNA test kits ratchet up the public's interest in finding their roots. Wouldn't that spill over into the domain of genealogy blogs?
I know my numbers, though modest, have increased over the years. For that, I'm thankful. But I also see the uptick in my analytics following the airing of Who Do You Think You Are? or Finding Your Roots or the Genealogy Roadshow. A little genealogical inspiration can go a long way in influencing audiences to seek other like-minded options.
But...blogs? This is the age of tl;dr. Social media should be just the fix for this, not blogs. Right?
Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow instigated a lively conversation on her blog recently when she asked, "Is Genealogy Blogging Dead?" Her conclusion: "Blogging isn't dead; it's just different." Just like movies didn't kill book lovers and ebooks didn't crush print publishers, I suspect blogging has its own niche. And yes, it is changing.
Despite a shifting readership and corresponding change in reasons people pursue genealogical information, I think there will continue to be a group of people still finding blogs to be a useful—or at least enjoyable—investment in time.
Perhaps, though, the difference between genealogy news services (or other professional genealogy blog outlets) and avocational bloggers is that the one writes for the bottom line—payout from what the readership will consume—while the other writes from the heart. For the voluntary blogger, there is little to no financial incentive; we write what we want to say. That is not exactly a promising business model, to say the least. Nor does it accurately predict whether the pull of an audience will still be there to draw the best out of us as we write, tomorrow.
I've always maintained that this voluntary blogging should actually be a conversation, not a monologue. Though that may not be the inspiration leading other genealogists to continue blogging, I know it has been for me. As long as I still feel there is someone there stopping in, periodically, to talk back at me, I suppose I will continue the practice. And I have faith that there are still people out there, willing to give a shout out—or at least an understated tip of the hat—to fuel my resolve to keep going.
Perhaps my alarm at these questions about the demise of blogging fingers a conviction that this is not so much an issue about blogging, per se, but about community. As the genealogy world has moved from face-to-face society meetings, to queries sent to print newsletters and journals, to chatting in online forums, to Facebook groups, as long as we are able to maintain a collective sense of community, that is the important goal.
Genealogy research may seem like a solitary endeavor, but for that very reason, it needs to be counterbalanced by our reaching out, plying each other with our hypotheses about research and organization and all things genealogical—if for nothing else, for the humanizing touch of bouncing our ideas off other minds. When I see signs of people advocating rolling back the carpet and retracting yet another venue for connections, I become alarmed, and want to serve up an antidote.
I wonder how many of those languishing blogs cited in others' observations experienced a corollary drop in reader comments; in a be-the-change-I-want-to-see epiphany, I start thinking I should share the burden by going out and commenting on others' blogs in the hopes they can be resuscitated. After all, nobody wants to perform for an empty auditorium.
Will there be a seventh year for A Family Tapestry? Though we can never guarantee the future, as long as I have a story to share, an ancestor crying out to be remembered, and some friends to cheer me on as I write, I intend to run this relay race another year.
I hope other bloggers continue to join me, despite the whispers (or maybe shouts) of those thinking it's time to dismantle the venue and head for the next big deal. As small as our genea-blogging world may be, we are still making a contribution. Whether our posts are just the thing someone needs to read today, or the answer someone will stumble upon in ten years, we've hung out our digital shingle for others to find. Let's encourage our readers to get vocal and talk back—make our posts an invitation to visit, not just read and move on.