Saturday, September 15, 2007

Be your own Dick Eastman with Google' Reader Search

If you are befuddled by all those "rss" and "Subscribe to my feed" buttons, you need first to view the new free Utube video about using feed readers - | here |; and second, you need a good feed reader. I personally use and love Google's web-accessible, easy-to-use Google READER which has just added the capability to search across all the feeds I am subscribed to. Read about it in Google's official blog:

link: Official Google Blog: Find a needle in a feedstack with Google Reader

(By the way, to subscribe to a feed almost always just means "get the feed" and doesn't involve joining anything, putting your name on somebody's site, or paying one single thing, in case you don't know. And if you don't, you need to look at that video mentioned above.)

With a decent feed reader and a strong list of sites you "subscribe" to, you can locate most of those neat links Dick Eastman points you to before he gets them into his newsletter. To do it my way, all you need is a Google account.

I'll just say here - yet again - that imho, genealogists who don't have a Google account are missing the opportunity to use some of the greatest free services available - many of which will teach you about new technologies you can use in your genealogy research (like feeds!). Are privacy issues the problem? Well, sometimes I can't help wonder if the people who are worried about Google and privacy actually read the privacy policies of any the search engine companies they use. I suspect they don't.

For the family history researcher, Google offers free chat capabilities built into its web mail accounts; document collaboration with other family members using Google Documents and Spreadsheets; quick, annotated - public or private - bookmarks available from any computer with Google Notebook; web page creation with their Documents and Spreadsheets or free blogspot blogs and server space on or entire websites and webspace (using free templates) with Googlepages; free online, searchable web albums with Picasa and Picasweb; free webmaster analysis tools (APIs), etc.

Google's free online collaboration tools are excellent and, to my mind, extremely easy to opt into and out of. Their sharing options - Public & Shared or Private - are easy to locate and to use.

Google's privacy policies have been accused of vagueness, but as a long-time Google user, I have always found its privacy policies to be clear, concise, straightforward, and nonthreatening. I believe Google says - and pretty much always has - exactly what it is collecting and how it is used. Google does not collect personally identifiable information unless you give it to them outright - in a posting of some sort, for instance, or in a credit card used to purchase items with Google Checkout. And for me, the clincher is that I have yet to discover Google hiding scary information about its cookies/beacons or stashing the policies and opt-outs in obscure links like some other well-known search engine conglomerates.

Most genealogy researchers are well aware of privacy issues - especially after 9-11 and passage of the Patriot Act. Some of us are also aware that many of the new ways implemented to protect personal information have their downsides.

The best way for us personally to protect our privacy and that of our family members is, and always has been, to keep abreast of privacy issues and to advocate or protest when necessary; to keep informed about unfolding consumer frauds and scams; and to learn to use the tools available to us. Today that includes learning the best ways to protect our privacy and that of our family members online. One quick hint: it may well be not to use Yahoo with its web beacons or your Microsoft Windows Explorer browser - formerly Internet Explorer - which can only be removed with unknown consequences to your entire Windows operating system. (How scary is that?)

We need to learn how to set our browser's internet options so that by default we only save cookies we explicitly choose to save once we've closed that web browser. We need to learn about phishing. We need to read every link in every privacy policy page in every web service - free or paid - that we use.

We need to recognize that when we submit data to an family tree (awt) we have created within our subsciber accounts, it gets integrated into search results. Even individuals in those trees we mark private show up, offering other subscribers the option to contact us anonymously [ahem!] for more information about people in our not-so-private private trees. Read the fine print for yourself. You will see that it tells you that even if you opt NOT to share your ancestry family tree, users still have the capability not only to learn whether or not specific deceased individuals exist in your tree but the birth year and birthplace of the people and your username. Despite an appended parenthetical note meant to assure me that no personal information about me is included, I am not entirely persuaded. I'm not sure that I want viewers to have the capability of connecting my username with data I explicitly chose to be "private." Moreover, I certainly do not appreciate getting the sort of blanket inquiries I sometimes get as a result of this policy which ancestry declares will benefit us all.

I'm betting all ancestry family tree creators know exactly what I'm talking about. I bet they know all about the kinds of people who reveal absolutely nothing about their own connections - if any at all - to the people whose data they want me to share with them. They know all about the people who simply click on the form letter which asks the generic question, "Do you have more information about this person that you could share with me?" I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to write back and say, "Yes, I have more information I could share. But do I want to? Not today."

Come on, if you have actually read any of these blog pages or pages on any other of my TnType genealogy sites, you know that I am all into sharing and sharing freely. You can check. That does not mean, however, that I want to give all my hard-sought primary research - some of which I had to pay to locate via genealogy trips or paid subscriptions - to people who are too lazy even to add one personal line to an editable form letter or to those who obviously do not know how to use a search engine properly because if they did, they would have found heaps of my data online with two or three decent search terms. (To see what I mean, in Google or Yahoo, type in giles roane or type in roane giles. These days, you can find genealogy information about Roane County, Tennessee GILES surname individuals on your first results page.)

Okay, so while I'm ranting, I am going to take the opportunity to say, too, that I was more than a little disconcerted when I recently started getting update emails that said, " Our family tree is growing. [My username] just added [the number of people I had added and their names]." Like ancestry's inclusion of itself would make me happy!

One more thing along the lines of ranting: this entry has yet to say anything about the fact that I have easily located countless living family members; household members last known to be living with them; approximate birthdates of everybody in the household; home addresses and phone numbers; and record numbers in ancestry's "Public Records Index" database. Yet census data can't be revealed for 72 years following its collection.

People are afraid of Google?

The major reason I go ahead and create ancestry online trees that I want to keep private - despite knowing that I can't - is so that I don't constantly have to switch back and forth from ancestry to my beloved Legacy genealogy software program, a tactic which also allows me to view the people I'm currently researching on ancestry's site for from any computer anywhere - libraries, relatives' homes, etc. It also permits me to attach census images as sources to people and save that information when I don't have the time or energy to transcribe the census data.

And, yes, I am well aware that I have moved far off track from my original stated posting title. Regular readers are used to me doing that.

So, back now to Google Reader's new search capability:
Now I can quickly catch up with new information that has been posted on favorite websites and blogs - those whose feed I subscribe to - about "giles died roane" or "majors rockwood tn" or "cherokee brandon graves" etc. without visiting each site despite missing the feed for it when it was first published online.

Be adventurous. Try some of the stuff I talked about in this entry. But, hey, let's be careful out there. And watch your back. Always.

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