If you skip a paragraph or three, you’ll move straight to my thoughts on how we can be of greater service to our new online-connected generations.
The 21st Century
Three years ago I volunteered as Interim Webmaster. That part was easy, thanks to the gracious help of our previous webmaster! For the record, I donate to SFAA the cost of domain registrations, and the cost of commercial-grade server space and bandwidth. To me it’s all part of the package.
Upon being named permanent Webmaster, I quickly consolidated my empire, declaring myself to be the Grand High Hereditary Webmaster of the Strong Family Association of America. It’s a legitimate title, since most of my best “webmastering” ideas come from our son Jakob Barnard.
At the same time I was confirmed Grand High Hereditary Webmaster, I became the Keeper of the Historian Archives. We have 20–30 shelf feet of paper records, countless pages of manuscripts in progress, and no disaster recovery plan.
I took on the task of bringing our 20th-Century body of knowledge into the 21st Century. We now have multiple copies (of anything that has been digitized so far), out-of-state backups and hourly personal backups. I can share the Historian Archives with anyone running Windows 7 (or a Mac).
We are set up to begin collecting new/updated/additional genealogical information from our membership and/or the public at large. We are converting our books and manuscripts to a Family Tree Maker database, allowing us to far more easily disseminate, update, and publish our history over the next hundred years.
We have begun publishing our books on CD. We will never again be publishing for-real nicely-bound paper volumes. There is no need! How we publish will evolve over the coming decades. But we will be able to publish in digital format, producing the latest information as it becomes incorporated.
We actually have manuscripts available which have been continuously updated for twenty years! What kept us from publishing them? The cost of printing a book. Now, in the 21st Century, we don’t need to by stopped by a prohibitive printing cost. I click my mouse, drag a file to a different folder, and Bob Cihla burns the Book on CD on our Amazing CD Duplicator. We are ready to roll!
Of Greater Service
From my standpoint, The Strong Family Association of America has two primary purposes:
Our 20th-Century “business model” continues to work very well. We get together at our annual or other Reunions. Here in the Midwest, we get together rather more often as the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Working Group. We have regular newsletter mailings, correspondence, a member directory, and so on.
This model works well for our current membership. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” Let’s not change a thing!
What about the Internet? Sure, we have an online presence — but our content is stale. Until last week, we have not updated much of anything. I have a huge backlog of email correspondence and research inquiries. I have literally been in hibernation, trying to bring our tremendous body of knowledge into the light of day. Like anyone else, I can only do so much!
Online is now where it’s at. More and more information is becoming available online. I love the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are?” but it amounts to hour-long “infomercials” for ancestry.com. These trends all set an expectation of online availability. Most importantly of all, our younger generations have grown up with the Internet, and expect to connect electronically as a matter of course.
What can we do to be of service to the community at large, specifically the online community at large? We have the same two areas:
- We can provide reliable information
- We can provide opportunities to connect
The first point is a difficult one, because our younger community expects online information to be free! I’ve thought about this, and may have a solution.
Our current business model works. We support our operating budget with annual memberships, certain donations, and sales of books and memorabilia. From my perspective, we don’t need to change that!
There is a lot of information we CAN put online, for free, without affecting our current book sales. It’s quite the opposite, in fact! As we share more information, we are likely to get more information submitted to us for inclusion in future book publications.
We do need to keep our credibility factor high. Our information does need to be well-presented and definitive. We should be the place to come, for all things Strong!
I’ve changed my thinking. I now see one of my most important roles as sharing (hopefully) interesting facts and pieces of information online. More people are likely to find us, and thus we provide the opportunity to connect.
Opportunity to Connect
The Annual Reunion is our most important opportunity to connect. That doesn’t change!
Meanwhile, we have tried various electronic forms. We’ve done forums, mailing lists, bulletin boards, etc. Nothing has really worked. I’m not terribly interested in trying something else which might work. I certainly don’t need yet another “thing” to maintain or administrate!
I don’t see this SFAA web site to be highly interactive in the way Facebook is interactive. We don’t try to make money from the web site; we don’t have any need to retain members on the site for as many minutes as possible. (Places like Facebook want “sticky” users because they are more profitable.)
People can comment and share responses to our web site posts. People can contact SFAA staff via “contact us.” I hope to get back into the mode of answering research inquiries. I have a lot of catching-up to do! These are the more “old school” styles of online interaction. I imagine that people who care to will create their own “new school” methods of interaction and social-networking.
Out of Hibernation
The books, archives, backups, digitizing, etc., will take care of itself as time permits. I’ll have some interesting things to show at the 2012 Reunion in Sandusky Ohio! I have now moved back in to the “mode” of adding interesting things to the web site, and hopefully beginning to dig in to my gargantuan email backlog.
See you here!