Initiating conversation: let’s talk about web content (part 2)

Colin Harris, Superintendent of Special Collections reading rooms. Chosen site: cyndislist.com

‘I am a founding member of Oxfordshire Family History Society and I’ve long been interested in family history. As a phenomena it surged in popularity in the 1970’s. In about 1973 there was great curiosity (in OFHS) in Bicester as everyone was interested in the popular group, The Osmonds (who originated from Bicester!). Every county has a family history society and I would say it’s they who have done the lion’s share of the work. All of their work and indexing…it’s all grist to the mill in terms of recording names and events.

So the website I would like to have access to in 10 years’ time is cyndislist.com, which is one of the world’s largest databases for genealogy. In fact it’s been going for over 21 years already. This was launched on the 4th March 1996. The family history people have been right there from the very beginning, it’s been growing solidly since then; it’s fantastic. It covers 200 categories of subjects, it has links to 332,000 other websites, and it’s the starting point for any genealogical research. The ‘Cyndi’ is Cyndi Howell, an author in genealogy.

Almost every day the site is launching content that might be interesting in some particular subject. So just going back within the last couple of weeks: an article on Telling the Orphan’s story; Archive lab on how to preserve old negatives; The key to family reunion success and DNA: testing at a family reunion! Projects even go beyond individuals…they explore a Yellowstone wolf family. There is virtually nothing that is untouched. Anything with a name to it has potential for exploration.

To be honest, I haven’t been able to do any family history research since 1980, but I am hoping to do some later on this year (when I retire). All these years that have passed has meant that so much is available to be accessed over the internet

Actually I’d love to see genealogy and family history workers and volunteers getting more recognition for the fantastic amount of industrious and tech savvy work they do. Family history is something for people from all walks of life. Our history, your history, my history is something very personal. As I say, 21 years and going strong; I’d love to see the site going stronger still in 10 years’ time.’


 

Pip Willcox, Head of the Centre for Digital Scholarship and Senior Researcher at Oxford e-Research. Chosen site: twitter.com

Twitter is an amazing tool that society has used to show the best of what humanity is at the moment…we share ideas, we share friendship, fun and joy, we communicate with others around the world, people help each other. But, it shows the worst of what humans can do. The news we see is just the tip of the iceberg – the levels of abuse that users, particularly minority groups, receive is appalling. Twitter is a fantastic place to meet people who think very differently from us, people who come from different backgrounds, have had different experiences, who live far from us, or close by but we might not otherwise have met. It is so rich, so full of potential, and some of what we do with it is amazing, yet some of what we do with it is appalling.

The question for the archive is “which Twitter?” There is the general feed, what you see if you don’t sign in. Then there are our individual feeds, where we curate our own filter bubbles, customizing what we see through our accounts. You can create a feed around a hashtag, an event, or slice it by time or location. All of these approaches will affect the version of Twitter we archive and leave for the future to discover.

These filter bubbles are not new: we have always lived in them, even if we haven’t called them that before. Last year there was an experiment where a series of couples who held diametrically opposing views switched Twitter accounts and I found that, and their thoughtful response to it fascinating.

Projects like Cultures of Knowledge, for example, which is based at the History Faculty here at the University of Oxford, traces early modern correspondence. This resource lets you search for who was writing to whom, when, where, and the subjects they were discussing. It’s an enormously rich, people-centred view of the history of ideas and relationships across time and space, and of course it points readers on in interesting directions, to engage closely with the texts themselves. This is possible because the letters were archived and catalogued over the years, over the centuries by experts.

How are we going to trace the conversations of the late 20th and the early 21st centuries? The speed at which ideas flow is faster than ever and their breadth is global. What will future historians make of our age?

I’m interested from a future history as well as a community point of view. The way we are using Twitter has already changed and tracking its use, reach, and power seems to me well worth recording to help us understand it now, and to help explain an aspect of our lives to future societies. For me, Twitter makes the world more familiar, and anything that draws us together as a global community, that reinforces our understanding that we share one planet, that what we have in common vastly outweighs what divides us, and that helps us find ways to communicate is a good and a necessary thing.’

 


 

Will Shire, Library Assistant, Philosophy and Theology Faculty Library. Chosen site: wikipedia.org

‘It’s one of the sites I use the most…it has all of human knowledge. I think it’s a cool idea that anyone can edit it – unlike a normal book it’s updated constantly. I feel it’s derided almost too much by people who automatically think it’s not trustworthy…but I like the fact that it is a range of people coming together to edit and amend this resource. As a kid I bothered my mum all the time with constant questioning of ‘Why is this like this, why does it do that. Nowadays if you have a question about anything you can visit wikipedia.org. It would be really interesting to take a snapshot of one article every month or week in order to see how much it changes through user editing.

 Also, I studied languages and it is extremely useful for learning new vocabulary as the links at the side of the article can take you to the content in other available languages. You can quite easily look at different words or use it as a starter to take you to different articles in other languages that aren’t English.’


 

 

 

 

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