Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Commenting on Commenting

I comment daily on the blogs of genea-bloggers I read and enjoy, and rarely on what might be called “commercial blogs." Commenting for me enhances the sense of community I get from being a genea-blogger.

I know from experience it is difficult to dedicate a lot of time and effort to a posting and never know if anyone has read or enjoyed my efforts. Knowing how this feels, I let my fellow genea-bloggers know when something they have written has connected with me. My experience is that almost all genea-bloggers do the same.

I didn't get into blogging to be another Dick Eastman. He has the market cornered and does an admirable job. I wanted to blog for the pure enjoyment of creating with a group of people who didn't roll their eyes and yawn every time I started talking about my latest genealogy project. I wanted to learn with a group of people who had continually demonstrated they were willing to share their expertise. I wanted to benefit from their comments on my work.

A post on the Freakonomics Blog entitled "Who Comments on Blogs, and Why?" received, as you can guess, a lot of comments on why people do and do not comment. One reason people stated they didn't comment was the fear that they would be ridiculed. Others, like me, said they commented because they were looking for a sense of community and gravitated to blogs that offered community.

Chad Milliner, a Content Specialist for The Generations Network, Inc. (using the screen name Amanuensis), in a comment on "To Cache or Not to Cache: The Definitive Answer" wrote this about genea-bloggers:

"From the most recent posts that on the genealogical blogs right now, the genealogical blogging community appears to be an insular clique focused more on patting each other on the back than they are on actually creating something to benefit the genealogical community."

I personally think Chad is wrong. I think the genea-blogging community welcomes all comments and new genealogy bloggers into our community without reservation. Whether they are here to agree with us, compliment us, offer a differing opinion, or are looking for a sense of community, they are welcome. I have never known anyone to be ridiculed for commenting on a genea-blog.

On a daily basis I read posts and comments from genea-bloggers that are of benefit to me and to the entire genealogy community. I sincerely hope, I have written a few.

So if you are new to the genealogy blogs, welcome! And please leave a comment!


Blogger Randy Seaver said...

Hi fM,

From one insular clique member to another, I think Chad is all wet. There was a range of opinion on this issue, but none of it came down on the side of Ancestry from bloggers.

There were a lot of comments on Eastman and Juliana from non-bloggers that expressed a lot of anger at, and some sympathy for, Ancestry.

There were a lot of message board comments - almost all angry at Ancestry - those aren't the bloggers - those are the users and readers.

Good post! [note pat on the back here]

September 4, 2007 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Please let me pat you on the back for commenting.

I could find no blog or online presence for Chad/Amanuensis. It would appear from the number of comments posted by him to EOGN, that Amanuensis' blog is the comments section of Eastman's Newsletter.


September 4, 2007 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Becky Wiseman said...

Thanks fM, [insert pat on back here]

I've never been part of a clique before. . . At the time I thought the comments by Amanuensis were meant to be antagonistic toward the genea-bloggers. I did a search then to see what I could find on Amanuensis but didn't locate anything about a person by that name. Though I did find it interesting that the definition of "Amanuensis" is that it "is a Latin word adopted in various languages, including English, for certain persons performing a function by hand, either writing down the words of another or performing manual labor."

It makes one wonder if he was "writing down the words of another" or expressing his own thoughts. How did find out that Amanuensis was Chad Milliner?

September 4, 2007 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


I thought I had seen that screen name before (remember me and those dictionaries), so I checked past EOGN blog comments and found Amanuensis with a link to his APG page. It gave his real name and I found him and his employer through a Google search.

He didn't become anonymous until the discussion regarding his employer.

And yes, I find the meaning of his name very interesting. [pat on the back for Becky here]


September 4, 2007 at 7:11 PM  
Blogger Bill West said...

So,umm,let me get this straight?

If we commented negatively about
Ancestry we are a clique?

Well,at least I'm in good company.

Oh oh. Did it again.

September 4, 2007 at 11:50 PM  
Blogger Janice said...


I too read Amanuensis' comments on various message boards and blogs, and had a gut feeling that he had to be an Ancestry.com employee. When he began to "attack" the people blogging, instead of sticking to the facts or situation, I saw that as an act of desperation. Kudos on discovering his identity, as it certainly puts this comments in a different light.


September 5, 2007 at 5:51 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Welcome to the clique of good company!


See, those dictionaries have come in handy!

I'm sure the objects of his "anonymous" attacks would certainly view him differently knowing this.

I do think we should give Chad a break. He must have been too busy windexing his glass house to mention his conflicts of interest.

Get a rock!


September 5, 2007 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger Jasia said...

I spent 45 minutes last night writing a comment to this article and then just as I was about to hit the "publish" button my computer crashed. I was too tired (and frustrated) at that point to write it over again.

Today I see that the other bloggers hit on most of the points I was going to make. So let me just congratulate you fM on your wonderful sleuthing and another well written article. I enjoyed it tremendously!

September 5, 2007 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Sympathy for your computer crash. Can't live with them - can't live without them.

And to Amanuensis, it's not nice to try to fool footnoteMaven!


September 5, 2007 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger Susan K said...


Fascinating. The things you learn (in that comment thread, I learned of your legal background. Who knew?).

The lines being drawn in that discussion are pretty clear. Amanuensis speaks on behalf of the parent company of Ancestry.com (in that sense, the name "amanuensis" is well chosen).

And then there are those whose positions range from "my content is behind your pay-wall/subscription-wall."

Okay, there are definitely two ways to look at the issue. Mm hm.

As to his statement regarind "Insular clique" ... that sounds too much like "echo chamber" (a term I've heard lots in the tech and political blogging communities). I want to unpack that a bit.

I feel welcome in this group of geneabloggers, as the familyhistorian tech geek oral history member. It doesn't feel insular. What it feels like to me, is a happy meeting among those who blog online and who participate in the genealogy carnival.

How "I'm glad I found you!" translates to "that group is nothing but an echo chamber" I cannot fathom. But I say that as a participant, and not an observer.

I could see how, from an outside perspective, it would seem that "those geneabloggers" are a kind of mob. After all, word spread about the issue pretty quickly, and response was present and vocal and inside the search engines right quick. And the same people tend to write comments on the same set of people's blogs.

Hm. We are an insular clique because...

...we use feedreaders?
...we've linked one another?
...we're on one another's blogrolls (er, put that on my ToDo list. Create blogroll)
...we're comfortable with web tools to get our opinions out there quickly?

or are we an insular clique because each of us, present in hypertext on the web, amplify one another's responses about Ancestry.com's policy of site scraping?

I'll dismiss that last option for a moment, and go back to the one where pose this one

Hm.. the second half of his statement is also interesting: Allegedly, we do not provide much in the way of benefit to the greater genealogical community. (GGC)

That needs unpacking too.
What is our stated purpose? A bunch of individual purposes. Do each of us have a website that is supposed to benefit the GGC? Does Amanuensis know better than the sum of the clique members what our aggregate mission is and is he the best one to judge whether we're living up to that? Hey, if our mission is to post what we're doing and deliver pats on the back, then we're doing pretty well. My statements of Amanuensis's presumption aside, I think he's looking at this group through his own lens. Prolly fair to say vice versa.

But I just got a fone call with info that I was waiting for and must leave this topic and get back to work.

September 7, 2007 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Susan K said...

All that said, Comments posted on websites rock. That is all.

September 7, 2007 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


A really excellent and insightful comment.

Legal background - well, I didn't want to discuss the legal community, whether or not it had responded and our ethical obligations (which I feel very strongly about) without disclosure. I do, however, blog for the sheer enjoyment of it and discussing every legal issue that comes along seems far too much like work.

Amanuensis directed us to the free articles on Ancestry by genealogical luminaries without disclosing he has articles there. Self-promotion?

He defends Ancestry's actions while decrying our protestations as that of an insular clique without disclosing his employer is the subject of the discussion. He could not have been more insular.

There are many situations on the Internet where anonymity is prudent. Not, however, where your credibility is at issue. His credibility is questionable.

Comments - without them we'd be talking to ourselves.


September 7, 2007 at 2:40 PM  
Blogger Susan K said...

oops, I see that I left a sentence unfinished. I had an error message altercation with blogspot, and so had to click brower's back button to get earlier versions and try to re-finish the loose ends. Unsuccessfully. Ah well.

So, to complete this thought, about why we are insular cliques ...
I'll dismiss that last option for a moment, and go back to the one where we are an insular clique because of the software tools we use. We are an insular clique due to our Mad Web Skillz. ;)

So let's dream up other tech tools that will then take on a social form of their own. HTML, RSS, etc. makes us An Enemy of the People! (or something)

Your latest comment gets to the heart of the issue: Disclosure. If you say what kind of dog you have in the hunt, or who's paying you money (and, therfore, where your loyalties lie), then that's to the good. The reader can say, Okay, I can accept what she says based on that, and judge accordingly.

Amanuensis has posted enough under that pseudonym where (s)he can establish a reputation. It's quite a step up from "Anonymous" (or, on slashdot, "Anonymous Coward"). There's a persistent identity, but still insufficient disclosure. That lack of disclosure doesn't strengthen Amanuensis's case. I'll still read the statements and judge accordingly, but without giving Amanuensis the benefit of the doubt for saying so up front. I will judge accordingly.

Your point re: insular lands a bullseye right in that troublesome territory I call projection (I'll see your law background and raise you my behavioral psych background)-- I find it valuable to look at someone's criticisms of other groups or factions (especially if they're expressed with vehemence) and see whether that critique might be better understood as self-description.

September 7, 2007 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger DutchessPreserver said...

Hi all,

I'm not a genealogical blogger but I do follow them - see the latest that our little friend "Amanuensis" is up to with his latest comments here:
"Family Tree Maker 2008 Service Packs" - Eastman Blog

Now our little friend is a disspeller of illusions - one has to wonder if Ance$try really brings home "the" bacon for him or if what he really meant was Ance$try brings home his bacon - if you know what I mean? ? ? . . . . . .

Maybe now I am an genea-blogger after all.

September 13, 2007 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Welcome! I went to EOGN and read Chad/Amanuensis' post.

Comments should, as yours, address the blog post in question.

Chad/Amanuensis' post did nothing but attack your opinions and defend Ancestry (again). He offered nothing of value to the original blog post.

The comments section of someone else's blog is not where you attack the opinions of that blog's commenters. The post I mentioned, "Who Comments on Blogs, and Why?", listed this as one of the major reasons people were afraid to leave comments.

A disheartening trend has certainly developed with this one commenter.

Chad, if you have so many opinions, get a blog!


September 13, 2007 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I didn't notice any ridicule or self-aggrandisement. I sometimes read some ridiculous opinions based on limited understanding of the facts, however. I have found some who read a line or two and think they've grasped it all. These commenters are not genealogists--they are empty cans, and empty cans make the most noise.

This and other blogs in the genealogical community provide news, views and methodologies that are of significant value. Even so, an empty can also may find a voice here. Freedom is grand.

Happy Dae.

September 15, 2007 at 12:00 PM  
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December 29, 2009 at 6:23 PM  

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