For the past several months FamilySearch has been quietly growing a presence on Facebook and on Skype. It began with just a few pages focused on Ohio and one or two other states, but has turned into a much larger initiative with more than 100 pages and more than 20,000 “likes.” For the non-Facebook users, a “like” is when someone goes to the page, sees something he or she likes or wants to promote to their friends and clicks on a button that indicates it is something they like. 20,000 likes is a very respectable number for Facebook pages.
There are a few very interesting things about the new help resources on Facebook in particular. First, they are locality based. Those wanting help can visit the page for the state where they are researching and interact with other interested researchers. Many questions have been posed in the past and users can browse these questions. The second interesting item is that while the pages are sponsored by FamilySearch and they monitor the activity, the majority of the administrators and those who answer questions are not associated with FamilySearch at all. They have either simply volunteered to be an administrator, or have seen a question on the site that they want to answer.
To my knowledge this is the first use of Facebook in this way and it has many interesting implications for genealogy as well as for help in general. For genealogy help it is interesting because increasingly many genealogists are using Facebook. It is a way to interact with other genealogists and with family members in the same place. Facebook has more than a billion users. It has incredible potential to change the way we think about receiving and giving help.
The Skype pilot is also interesting. FamilySearch has set up group chats where individuals can gather and discuss topics and answer questions. Like Facebook, the questions are available for all to see and participate in the discussion. Skype has the added advantage of being real time, however. This can be very helpful in getting quick answers to questions or having a real time interactive dialog with one or more others who are focused on similar areas of research as yourself.
Finding the Facebook and Skype pages is easy. Just visit wiki.FamilySearch.org and search for Research Communities on Facebook or Research Communities on Skype. It is an interesting experiment and it will be instructive to watch the results. If you are looking for some help, this is a great resource to try.