Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Doubting Thomas

During last week's Jamboree conference in southern California, I noticed one thing: I barely managed to Tweet one item.

Yes, me. Actually, I haven't posted on Twitter much for the past several months. Nor on Facebook. As far as connectivity goes, I guess I've been losing my touch.

Wondering whether that might have been the case for other Jamboree attendees, I took a look at the official hashtag designation on Twitter, #SCGS2017. After all, despite thirty minute breaks between each conference session, I found myself running all day long, every day. Besides taking notes, checking the online download of syllabus material for each class, making conversation with fellow attendees, and cruising the exhibit hall, I hardly had time to think of anything else, much less talk about what I was doing.

Perhaps the classes were packed with more noteworthy material this year? I did find plenty of stuff to write down—but that sort of one-liner entries makes for more Twitter-worthy fodder than the mug shot plus look-which-class-I'm-attending-now comments. In my book, Twitter should be a conversation, not a monologue. So why couldn't I post a few entries of my own? Was I really that breathless and focused on just being there?

When I gave that social media question some thought—admittedly, in the relatively rare lulls encountered in the week's proceedings—I couldn't help but dwell on Thomas MacEntee's very depressing assessment of the State of Blogging:
Over the past two years I have been able to document a notable decline in genealogy blog traffic while at the same time a greater increase in social media traffic by genealogists and family historians.

Granted, my main focus when reading Thomas' statement was his report of the "notable decline" in blog traffic. For a blogger, that sort of report hits hard. After all, this is a blog you are reading. If enough of you don't bother coming by here anymore, I might not have enough of an audience to want to continue using this blog as my virtual stage. I do, if you haven't noticed, enjoy having an audience.

However, there have been other eras in flux, in which the then-current technology has been forecast as doomed to fall into disrepair and neglect. Technologies come and go—even books have been predicted to be among the formats soon to be forsaken. Besides, in the MacEntee assessment, Thomas did later add, "Blogging is not dead; it's just that the blog post itself cannot garner enough traffic without social media as a partner."

So what about that social media? Yeah, those Tweets I didn't churn out throughout that information-ripe weekend conference run. What about that?

While analysis of data will always trump a snap decision about what's current, I can't help but recoil from such assessments. Statements have come and gone about what's hot and what's not—even genealogy itself has taken the heat for sliding numbers in the past, with predictions that the "fad" will eventually lose traction. In our increasingly niche-market-inspired world, though, it's my guess these dire predictions won't turn out quite as assumed.

In some cases, we might see either-or yield to both-and scenarios: books and e-books, blogs and Facebook, in an ever-expanding information market. On the flip side, with ever-shrinking free time versus expanding content, perhaps it will become the battle between doing and being. After all, I can't get much actual, you know, work done while I'm posing for selfies in all the right places.

Then, too, there is a difference between what's possible to achieve as a content generator and what's possible to consume as a media customer. As the media ramps up more dense information squeezed into the same space, it becomes harder to dive for deeper meaning per unit of time invested. The more information coming at us at the same time, the less of the message we are able to grasp per information unit.

Perhaps what Mr. MacEntee is really signifying by his dismaying assessment last month is that the kind of blog traffic which would generate click-throughs to other material (most likely ads) has, for online content entrepreneurs, gone down. In other words, the type of reader who lands on one virtual property but can be quickly lured away by a bright-shiny to another web space is now failing to show up in sufficient numbers on blogs-as-commercial properties.

Breathe a sigh of relief, all ye who blog for altruistic purposes. Your goals are not the same. It is still okay to generate content for purposes other than income generation—especially in the traditionally giving field of family history. It is still okay to think large thoughts and transmit them in mere, humble words. It is still just fine to take the time to craft your work unhampered by the kind of frenetic multi-tasking said to assure simultaneous appearance in all the "right" virtual places.

Doing a project takes time. Often, that action cannot yield sufficient results when sabotaged by demands to simultaneously talk about what you are doing. Sometimes, it's got to be do first, then talk later. If that's the way it was at a simple conference last week, it's surely the way it will be for the more significant accomplishments of life—at least, if we actually hope to ever make them. 


  1. Hi Jacqui, I follow your blog daily and always find a reason to come back whether it's education, information or best of all inspiration to continue 'the search' when my family history 'finds' are stymied.
    I would label today's post food for thought. I've been a bit turned off by social networking lately and viewing it as a bit of a necessary evil.

    1. Gayle, your comment--and those of the others following yours--is a perfect example of why blogs are still useful. We need to think of blogs as a stage for meaningful conversation centered around specific topics.

      I'm glad to see you draw inspiration here from stopping by! We are all crafting our own stories, but sometimes need that boost of inspiration.

  2. Blogs for me as a reader! I question whether reading 140-character-snippets of thought can be worth my time. Similarly, while a picture on Facebook could be worth a thousand words, it can also _imply_ a lot of things that aren't quite true or significant. "Let's all act like we're having fun and learning a lot." How many times has photo-taking interrupted a meaningful conversation that you wanted to continue? How many times has a friend approached to talk to you but observed that you were busy on your phone and therefore moved on? Give me a well-reasoned blog over "social media" any day!

    1. Perhaps Facebook has become our era's version of "keeping up with the Joneses."

      Great points, Marian, on the sensitivity needed in developing a well-mannered approach to use of phones and media. How ironic that so many people yearn to connect--and see social media as the ideal mechanism to achieve that--but stymie their own desires with the use of those very "connecting" tools.

  3. I read the same statement about the decline in blog traffic and also in Thomas' explanation of transitioning his Geneabloggers.com into a new site. At the same time, I received several queries from distant cousins recently who stumbled on my blog. If you are writing to share information and make stories & photos available without concern for click-through traffic, your goals are very different from someone who is publishing for a commercial purpose. I don't use Facebook for genealogy, I find the blog to be a better platform for me and the fact that distant cousins & family still find it useful is enough to keep me posting.

    1. Coupling our blogs with the powerful search capabilities of resources such as Google has made connecting with distant cousins more possible than ever dreamed before. Not to mention, it's encouraging to read reminders of that scenario, like the ones you mentioned through your own blog, Patrick. Thanks for bringing that up!

  4. I think you might have to have a phone to tweet. My land line doesn't count.
    Tweets and snapchat and even facebook all take time...and really what do they accomplish, well facebook may connect you with other people...as will a blog and you have left so much more on your blog for cousins should they show up! :)

    1. Actually, you can use Twitter via computer, as well, Far Side--if you want to use your time that way :)

      You are so right about how much can be left on a blog for people to find. Instead of the "push" of many forms of social media--being the one out there, wildly waving my banner in the hopes that someone will notice me--search engines convert blogs into a "pull," drawing others to the information I've planted online that they are seeking. Our blogs may contain those unnoticeable needles in the haystack, but Google is the magnet to zero in on connecting that searcher with just the right needle. Yes, eventually, the cousins do show up! You know it...and I'm discovering that, too, finally!

  5. The fact that I can still get comments on posts I did 3 years ago, means my blog is serving its purpose...to document stories, and make connections! Can't imagine Twitter and Facebook will do the same.

    1. Absolutely, Jackie! It's really a partnership with those powerful search engines that shines daylight on our blog posts, even years later--an essential utility.

      But the additional key is realizing, as you have, just what purpose you intend your blog to serve. That is actually the measuring stick we should be using to determine whether to continue blogging--not someone else's assessment of whether a platform is "out of style."


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