Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All a-twitter

twitter "If you aren't familiar with Twitter, it is one of those things, like MySpace, that sounds totally ridiculous and stupid when you first hear about it," says user, Eric Nuzum. Yet, millions are finding it a totally cool way to follow real time news of friends, family, coworkers, genealogy community members—even world news.

Posting messages ("tweets") on Twitter has been compared to micro-blogging, since posts are limited to 140 characters. It's not surprising, then, that many bloggers are also experimenting with Twitter. Bloggers can use tools like TwitterFeed to automatically post a notice on Twitter each time they publish to their blog. However, critics of this practice feel it is a misuse of the Twitter community, prefering that users continue to use news readers for notification of new blog posts.

Paul Allen, owner of World Vital Records, says that one of the keys to obtaining real value from Twitter is carefully choosing who to follow.

Most of the people that I follow on Twitter are not posting what they just had for lunch or what they are watching on TV. Instead, they are smart people answering the question, “What did I just learn, read or think that is important to share?” I don’t follow people on Twitter that post inane comments. But I do follow dozens of venture capitalists, employees at Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Web 2.0 startup companies and even a congressman from Texas. By carefully selecting whom I follow on Twitter, I have chosen to tap into an information stream, a constant flow of ideas and links from hundreds of the smartest (and most vocal) people on earth.

Allen appreciates the brevity of Twitter posts. With hardly more than a glance he can learn many things from many people.

Like other bloggers, I am also experimenting with Twitter, wondering what place this tool might earn in our future. You can find me on Twitter at . In addition to notification of new blog articles, I've added one other feature you won't get by coming directly to my website. Whenever adds a new database, day or night, I'll post a notification of the new database and a link to it. Can you get that from's Twitter postings? No! Can you get real-time notification of new content announcements from or her blogs? No! My Twitter posts are the only shop in town. The "tweets" on me. (Ha! It took a long time to lead up to that pun, but you had to know it was coming.)

Just don't tell Bryce, or any of the other super-programmers at One of them could code up an RSS-compliant copy of the existing webpage, , so quickly your head would spin. (Bryce can do it in a day. It will take the company 5 times as long to roll it live.) The secret is that each database is listed with a post date. That makes it possible for me to mashup the page and feed it into Twitter. That's what will also make it easy for a clever developer to provide an RSS feed with the same information. Too bad they haven't taken the time to do so. Content may be king at, but product management's minds are elsewhere.

They could also add record counts, name counts, and image counts like they have to the new search card catalog. And they could...

So many ideas, so little time (to suggest them all!)...


  1. If you could get to twitter when they add new papers I would (almost) be in heaven! Thanks!

  2. Insider- Good suggestion. We recognize RSS feeds are being used increasingly for tracking status updates from websites people like. Twitter is playing this role as well for some people.

    We recently made some improvements to our RSS feeds on our boards for similar reasons to what you mention here. We are looking at what it would take to RSS-enable our new/updated databases list. We'll keep you posted.


    Eric Shoup
    VP Product, Ancestry

  3. Fortunately, you don't have to be a clever developer to get an RSS feed of new/updated databases. You can use a service such as to create your own for free. Plug the following feed url into your RSS reader of choice and you'll get the latest ancestry updates:

    It's a barebones feed with the name of the database and a direct link to it.

    Hopefully some day ancestry will create their own, more robust, RSS feed. It would be great if it contained a description for the new databases and a list of changes for updated ones.

    I'm also hoping for the day they provide translated db titles for their non-English databases so I don't have to copy and paste them into Google Translate to see if they are relevant to me or not.


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