We’re living in the future

Concert Crowd (Osheaga 2009) - 30000 waiting f...Image by Anirudh Koul via Flickr

I’ve been on a genealogy kick lately. Starting about a month ago, I signed up for ancestry.com and started trying to track my family tree. At the time, I had about 120 family members (from a prior attempt at using Geni.com), so I imported that into ancestry.com and got to work. Four weeks later, my tree is up to 850 people, and I have branches of the tree back to the 16th century, with ancestors identified on all but one continent. It’s pretty thrilling.

But that’s not what prompted me to write today (I’ll have a longer post about this new addiction of mine before long). It dawned on me this morning that I now completely take for granted the connectivity that sites like Facebook, Buzz, and Twitter provide me. Let me provide a couple details:

  • In the course of doing my family research, I came across an article about someone I believe to be a cousin of my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Problem was, I couldn’t read it, and Google Translate couldn’t translate it. I posted to Buzz and Twitter asking people what language it was in (here’s the Buzz thread) and in just a few hours learned that it was in “Upper Sorbian” – a language with just 40,000 speakers left.
  • Two days later, a friend of mine found a Sorbian group on Facebook with 100 members. I joined, and posted a question asking anyone for guidance on how I might go about getting it translated. A day after that, a fellow group member went ahead and translated the entire article for me.
  • Monday, I posted to Buzz how much fun I was having with my family tree. In that thread, David Schmidt from Germany recommended a beta site from the Mormon church, Family Search. What I hadn’t mentioned in my post was that I’d hit a brick wall on my grandfather’s mother: didn’t have her parents names, and though I had her maiden name I couldn’t find anything about her before her marriage to my great-grandfather. One search in Family Search revealed her marriage license, which provided her parents names… from those two data points, in another 30 minutes I had the next six generations of ancestors for that branch of the tree.
  • And it’s not all genealogy. Yesterday, Wente Vineyards tweeted that they were giving away tickets to Friday night’s concert at the vineyard. They asked who the most athletic member of headliner Scissors For Lefty was, and a quick trip to Scissors for Lefty’s website revealed that Stevie was a triathlete. Bingo: free tickets to Friday night’s concert.
What’s amazing to me is that we’re still in the early days of this. For every person on the Internet on Facebook, there are more than two who aren’t. Brands are still only just figuring out how to use social media to connect with fans. And stories like the above — while indicative of what can happen when you’re connected to each other through tools like Facebook, Buzz and Twitter — are still the exception for most people rather than the rule.

I’ve been on the internet for 20 years. The pace of innovation in the last 2 years — particularly in how people interact with each other online —  is breathtaking. It’s a fun time to be working on the tools that make stuff like this possible.

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2 responses to “We’re living in the future”

  1. Nice work, Rick. FamilySearch is a great resource, and the LDS Family History Center has local branches with experts who can help answer any questions if you do get stuck.

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