Are you a fan of networking? What networks do you belong to?
Dr Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language, defined Network as “any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections”. (johnsonsdictionaryonline.com – accessed 18 May 2016). What a wonderful definition! Although he would probably not have readily applied the term to the groups of friends and fellow writers that he belonged to, he would have undoubtedly recongnised the concept of spending time with other creative minds, sharing concepts and ideas and supporting others’ endeavours.
That is definitely ‘social networking’ of a kind – but what of the ever-growing importance of networking via social media? And what part might that play in family history research?
I’m a fan of the Futurelearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course www.futurelearn.com )and have now completed several, the most recent of which was The Power of Social Media, run by the University of Southampton (of which I am a proud graduate, so I’ll just give them a plug there!). The first week of the course was all about understanding social networks, and, although I admit it got a bit technical to follow at times, I was fascinated to learn about different network models. I had heard of the Six Degrees of Separation, but had not realised that this was based on an experiment conducted in the 1960s in the United States by Stanley Milgram. Since I have Norfolk ancestors and so does my husband, I wonder whether that model would have held true in nineteenth century Norfolk? Might my ancestors and his have potentially had just six degrees of separation between them? An interesting thought, though it probably doesn’t get us very far.
However, in looking at different network models I learnt that facebook is a collaboration network, where relationships are equally true in both directions, whereas in Twitter, for example, you can follow people who do not necessarily follow you back. In the most recent Sussex Family History Group journal I was encouraged to read that they planned to set up a facebook group. I’m already a member of the Norfolk Family History Society one www.facebook.com/groups/familyhistorynorfolk/ . So the other day I searched for it, asked to join and was quickly accepted. You can find it at www.facebook.com/groups/sussexfhg/ The big thing at the moment seems to be creating photo albums of Sussex villages, where people can add their photos. What a great way for those of us who have been able to visit an ancestral location to share our findings with those who live much further away! I’m waiting for West Grinstead and Shipley to appear so I can contribute to those albums!
Although I can appreciate that some people are hesitant about using social media, as long as you keep an eye on your privacy settings I think the benefits to research could be great. People post queries and questions and someone else out there may just happen to have the knowledge to answer the query or suggest where to look for the answer. What a great example of a network! Sometimes family history research can feel a bit solitary, but if, like me, you do not live close enough to get along to the meetings of the family history societies to which you belong, then an online community like this has massive benefits. Well done Sussex – let’s go for that reticulation I say!