Few hobbies have been more revolutionized by the Internet than genealogy.Exchanging information with others was once an ordeal that involved subscribing to a publication in which researchers placed classified ads. A reader would look for those that were promising, send a query with a self-addressed stamped envelope, and hope for replies that were about the right family. Someday.

Email and the Internet changed all that. But technology is both a curse and a blessing. Along the way came a database format called Gedcom, quickly adopted as a standard that enables users to exchange files. Or as I like to call it, "A License to Steal," because in this hobby, many think it's perfectly fine to take somebody else's years of research and post it on the Web under their names. Otherwise nice people would take the printed pages of information I shared with them pre-Internet and put it on the Web.

For me, Gedcoms (as the individual database files are generally called) also represented the installed-base problem. I began compiling information years before the format was widely available. Putting my information in the database was going to require a lot of data entry. And that kept me from doing so.

This is exactly the kind of problem businesses face when they computerize a manual process -- how to get all the information in -- and businesses delay for the same reason. Think of all those documents that would be nice online, once they are scanned and indexed.

Seeing my, own research endlessly duplicated, and much careless research on my families was always irritating. It's not advisable to chide all the culprits for stealing. And people don't take kindly to even the gentlest suggestion that their information is wrong. I've had people tell me I was accusing their relatives of lying. There's as much ego invested in family history research as in any corporate political battle.

Like many facing business issues, I realized that I had to be in the game in order to influence the process by providing rock-solid documentation to support my views.

So I started plugging my details into a genealogy software package and uploaded the Gedcom files to a popular family history site (subscription based.)

This isn't a task I like doing. It takes time away from other projects. It requires giving away more information to be copied. But, as in business, it's a matter of calculating return on investment. In this case, the return is getting my findings accepted more widely. And doing that requires a change of direction.

Grow or die. Change or be passed by. Hobbies are just like the rest of the real world.

Meanwhile, I'm furiously entering data in those Gedcoms.

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