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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A Twitter of Genealogists

Do you tweet? Or maybe twitter? In plain English, are you using Twitter? If you are, have you connected with other family historians?

What is Twitter? Twitter is a popular micro-blogging platform, which is quite hard to describe to anyone who hasn't used it, but I'll try. Think of it as a kind of global tea party where members communicate using public messages which are limited to 140 characters. People find all sorts of uses for the service, some chat to friends, some share useful links, others post research questions. It isn't designed specifically for genealogy - most users seem to be techy types - but there are number of family historians using the site.

How do I find these people? Very easily! If you go along to Twitter Search, and type 'genealogy' into the search box, you will come to a page listing all the people who have been talking, or tweeting, about genealogy. If you click on a user name - it's the link at the start of each message - you can go to their profile page and find out more about them. Don't go mad and befriend them all, take a look at their profiles to see what else they tweet about, click through to any blogs or websites they list, and if you think they seem interesting, then click the follow button.

You could also try searching for more specific subjects. I have had limited success doing this, but if your research interests are quite popular you may have more luck.

Now what do I do? I can think of two main uses for twitter for genealogists. First, you could simply use it to socialise with people who share your love of family history. If you are anything like me that is an end in itself because, despite it's growing popularity, it is still something of a minority interest. However, you could also make use of the collective wisdom of both your new Twitter friends and also their networks by asking research questions. And of course, you can share any useful resources you have found. If you include the hashtag '#genealogy' in your message it will be found by others who may decide to follow you too.

I don't understand all this terminology! No problem, here's a quick guide:

Tweet - a message limited to 140 characters.
Retweet - quite simply, the act of reposting a tweet.
Hashtag - an identifier such as #genealogy used to make it easier to search for specific subjects or words.
Follow - the act of connecting with, or befriending another twitter member.

Anything else I should know? Usually, at this point I would explain a little about networking and about the Twitter community being a two-way street. In other words, don't hesitate to ask for advice, but do try to offer help too, make your tweets a conversation, not a monologue. However, most family historians are very skilled networkers, so this advice is probably redundant. 

What about bells and whistles? Twitter doesn't have any. I think the simplicity of the service is one of it's most attractive features, members don't have to cope with a steep learning curve because it is pretty much a case of what you see is what you get. There are numerous complementary services and tools though, for example: Twitpic, which lets you share images, or Tweetburner, which shortens long urls (useful given the character limit) and also tracks their use. You will find many more applications, tools and useful information at the Twitter Fan Wiki.

I hope you found this quick guide useful, if you have any questions don't hesitate to leave a comment.

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