Monday, April 18, 2011

Genealogy Bloggers - Amateurs or Professionals?

Blogging has had a tremendous impact on the way that people can share information online, and this is even more evident in the genealogy arena. Thomas MacEntee (the Geneablogger headmaster) has initiated a week-long blogging track on the subject of professional genealogical endeavors. Having pursued a career in genealogy since 1999, this is a topic that I'm very interested (and somewhat experienced) in.

The first topic in this series is "Genealogy Blogging -- For Fun or Profit?" It's an excellent starting point, since blogging is the primary platform for non-technical genealogists to publish information online. Before tackling the "fun or profit" aspect though, I'd like to address the notion of a "genealogy blog."

From my perspective, this is quite a broad label that applies to a wide variety of blogs. The most common types of genealogy-related blogs that I've encountered are what I would call "information", "research" and "family-focused" blogs. And, of course, there are hybrids which combine elements from these categorizations.

Genealogy Information Blogs provide "news" and updates relating to genealogical events, products and services. They may reissue press releases concerning new data resources, post announcements for upcoming speaking engagements or conferences, and/or review newly published books. These types of blogs are well-suited for generating revenue as the materials being discussed are typically fee-based.

Genealogy Research Blogs focus more on the skills needed to explore different types of records, and/or share experiences involved in tracking down resources. Quite often, these types of blogs are published by professional researchers and used to promote their own services.

Family-Focused Genealogy Blogs are the most commonplace category of genealogy blogs. In the past (circa 2000-2004), genealogists were propagating family-specific information via free hosting platforms (e.g. GeoCities, AOL Home Pages). As blogging became the more widely accepting method for online publishing, the generic hosting services began to die out. In the genealogy arena, however, hosting services continue to exist for the purpose of publishing family trees online. This blog category is the least likely to be profitable as the information being shared is only of interest to a small audience.

Getting back on the fun or profit question, Thomas makes some general comments pertaining specifically to advertisements and affiliate links, but I don't think the answer is that easy. The answer is (or should be) less of an individual preference (to a degree), and more based on the value being offered.

Anyone who devotes significant amounts of time in their blogging efforts and produces meaningful and helpful posts that promote quality research and support the industry should be considered a professional and have the guilt-free opportunity to benefit financially.

On the flip-side of that remark, folks who slap together content from other sites (sometimes unethically), with the intent of generating traffic that can be driven to advertisements and/or affiliate links detract from the industry and isn't something that should be encouraged.

Whether your decide to share your knowledge and experience freely in a blog, or attempt to be compensated for your efforts, success (i.e. revenue) will only follow if your posts are of interest to readers. Having met Thomas on several occasions and heard him speak at conferences, I know that the blog series he launched this week is not an attempt to promote getting-rich-quick-by-blogging schemes.

I fully agree with Thomas's points that any advertisements included in/around genealogy blog posts should be topical and relevant to the reader, and any relationships the blog owner has to the companies being mentioned need to be clearly disclosed. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made it very clear that bloggers are also expected to comply with the guidelines they published on December 1st, 2009.

Don't be afraid to monetize your blogging efforts. There will be some readers who may complain, but most accept (and even appreciate) carefully selected/placed advertisements. A while back, I gave a presentation to a local society about my Live Roots project, and was surprised by applause when I mentioned that the search engine also uses the criteria you enter to select the most relevant advertisement available. After the talk, I asked a few of the attendees why they clapped, and the response was they actually like seeing ads that are tailored to them.

At the end of the day, blogging is just another technology for publishing information. It's no different than someone visiting your local genealogy society to give a talk, or writing a book that gets printed and sold in stores. Just because, in general, it's a free-access paradigm doesn't mean the readers shouldn't (or won't) support the genealogists behind the blogs.

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