Friday, September 11, 2009

Using Facebook

Tomorrow I am attending the meeting of the Southern California Association of Professional Genealogists. At this meeting, I am going to share my ideas about using Facebook.

I have not always been a fan of Facebook but I do think it is becoming an essential tool for genealogical networking, providing information/resources, and keeping connected with family. I use Facebook and Twitter, personally and for my work at FamilyLink, which includes managing the social network site GenealogyWise.

For those not familiar with GenealogyWise, GenealogyWise is a social network for genealogists, like Facebook but strictly for genealogists and with less bells and whistles. It’s a place for genealogists to meet, share information, blog, upload video/photos and attend genealogical chats.

Facebook has become very popular among genealogists and for a good reason. It is a great way to network, access resources, learn what’s new in the world of genealogy and collaborate with relatives near and far. Recently, I have had the opportunity to attend two conferences where I used Twitter and Facebook to post information that I learned while attending various presentations.

Not everyone is so enamored with Facebook, as with anything that is on the Internet, there are some concerns that members have. The two that I hear the most often have to do with time and privacy. Many, with good reason, see Facebook as a waste of time. And as we all know, anything on the Internet can becomes a time waster if you don't set some limits. I use Facebook as a tool. For me, it's the way I connect with family and with other genealogists. I choose not to play games or take quizzes on it. I am not saying that there is something wrong with you if you choose to do these things. I just want to point out that it's important to limit activities to those that you believe benefit you. Facebook is only a time waster if you allow it to be.

Typically though, the big concern potential Facebook members have is privacy.

The good thing about Facebook is it allows other to find you. The bad thing about Facebook is that it allows others to find you. Ok, you know what I mean, you may want to network with other genealogists but you may not necessarily want your high school boyfriend/girlfriend to find you.

Here are some of my ideas for interacting on Facebook. These aren’t original ideas, just ones I tell those considering using Facebook. I have also included some links that may be of interest.:

1. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Just because Facebook has blanks for where you live, what high school you went to, etc…doesn’t mean you have to fill them in. It may not seem like a big deal to you at first but revealing too much could backfire.

2. Decide what you are comfortable with and then set privacy settings to control who can see your information. The Privacy settings are under the Settings link on the top toolbar on Facebook.

3. Make a rule about who you will "friend." As genealogists, we often have people “friend” us because of our common passion, genealogy. In the case of those who present to genealogy societies, we may have people who have heard us speak ask to be our Facebook friend. I tell those in my audience to go ahead and friend me but it is also a good idea to send a message with that friend request stating how I know you. That way I know that I “know” you and you are not just a random person wanting to add one more “friend." Let’s face it, in some cases it may not seem like a big deal to friend someone but you are potentially giving them access to a lot of your personal information, thoughts and the thoughts and photos of family and friends.

4. Be careful about what you write. It’s kind of like the old saying that goes something like, “better to have people think you are fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Be careful what you write on your friend's wall or as comments to their postings. Remember, they will not be the only people who see it. Their friends will also see it.

5. Use the Inbox to send a private messages to your friends and family. In one case, I saw a posting on a mutual friend’s wall where the person included her address and phone number. This may not be information you want your friend’s 500 “friends” to see.

6. You can choose any image as your profile picture, so if you are uncomfortable with your current picture being on the Internet, then choose a graphic or something more obscure.

7. I think, most of all, remember that this is your public face. If you are a professional in some field, and your boss and other coworkers, clients are your Facebook “friends” you may want to pick and choose what is on your page. If you like playing the Facebook Mafia game, you can hide that so all your friends don’t see how many hours you put into playing that game. And I’m not picking on the Mafia game, there’s a score of others that I know some of my friends enjoy. People have been fired for what they post to social networking sites. Just a thought.

Some links that you may find useful include:

Facebook Blog

All Facebook

10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

Books about Facebook on Barnes and Noble

How Genealogists Use Social Networking
By Gena Philibert Ortega (with the assistance of my fellow geneabloggers)
(available on the WVR Blog)

Geneabloggers Twitter Tip Sheet

Social Networking for Genealogists by Drew Smith


Thomas MacEntee said...


Great post and good advice on Facebook. One that I will add is to always read the Terms of Service (TOS) on any site where you enter personal info. It is your duty to see what that site will do with that data (allow 3rd party vendors to see it, advertisers, etc.).

Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

Great article, Gena!