|Making genealogy engaging for the common person requires a broader vision. A big part of that is using technology to make genealogy easier. But the more important question is "What makes genealogy engaging to someone who has no experience?"|
That really is the core of the problem my team is dealing with every day. It sounds simple but it is a monumental challenge. It is hard for people who think that the status quo experience with genealogy is interesting to understand what it would take for the rest of the world to share our sentiment. So what is it that will capture the interest of ordinary people? How do you take that interest and convert it into actions that will successfully find ancestors without the interest waning? Here are some interesting things we’ve learned about what gets and keeps the interest of ordinary people.
- Sharing pictures, records, maps, audio clips and other artifacts of their family. Ordinary people love to see pictures of their ancestors, the records of their lives and any other artifact related to an ancestor. In some ways this is like scrapbooking. As they look at these items they are trying to get a sense of the ancestor’s life journey. They are trying to find the parallels between themselves and their roots. Even items which aren’t directly about their family but are from the same place or time can add meaningful texture.
- Stories. Ordinary people are interested in stories about their family. Again, they seem to be trying to appreciate the life of the ancestor. Learning about the ancestor somehow helps them understand themselves better. It boosts their self-worth to realize that their ancestor did something great, funny, unique or just survived. While stories that relate directly to an ancestor are most meaningful, some stories that are about others in similar places, times and events are also meaningful. Stories add texture.
- A sense of community. This is an area we are just starting to explore. There seems to be something appealing to ordinary people in just knowing that others are interested in the same people, stories, pictures, times and places and being able to communicate with them. The ability to see who else is interested is powerful.
- A sense of relation. Ordinary people seem to like knowing how they are related to others (both living and deceased). They aren’t very good at figuring this out themselves but are interested in the information when it is offered.
- Immediacy. Ordinary people (at least in 1st world countries) have an expectation of immediacy. They don’t want to search for a picture or record of an ancestor, find out where it is and then write a letter to request a copy or wait 3 weeks for a microfilm to come in. If they can’t see something immediately they aren’t likely to be interested.
- Short bursts of time. You have a matter of seconds to convince someone coming to a website that they’ve come to the right place. Once you’ve got them to stay on your home page you have a few more seconds for them to determine how to access what they’re looking for. If you’re lucky they’ll give you two tries to produce the desired result. Once they’re convinced that the desired results are available you may get them to give you 5 or 10 minutes of their time. I point this out not because I think all genealogy experiences are web-based but because it shows how sensitive ordinary people are to succeeding in short bursts of time. Ordinary people need to get something meaningful done in 10 minutes or less. When they come back to the activity later they need to be able to pick up where they left off without losing any time.
- Don’t want to be trained. Ordinary people (varies slightly by culture) don’t want to read the manual and don’t want to take a class. We cannot rely on manuals or training to get ordinary people involved.
- Don’t like to feel stupid. Ordinary people don’t like to feel stupid (as it turns out this isn’t limited to ordinary people). There are some classic examples of this but one that is fairly ubiquitous is search. There are lots of ways to stump people with search: complex search forms; pages and pages of ambiguous results; and my favorite, 0 results.
Please comment and add to the list of things that would interest ordinary people.