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The Web's Impact on Family History

There is a high likelihood that if you are reading this article, you have already seriously impacted your family history. That’s because mostly digitally savvy people read this blog. You probably have accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, and an onslaught of other websites and web services. All of which leave a huge digital trail for an increasingly preferred research tool – the web – and its major innovation – search.

Consider, for example, the Scobleizer. Do a search on his last name – “Scoble” – and you will notice dozens and dozens of search result pages about “Robert Scoble.” You’ll find a similar, although not as overwhelming trend, for other well-known web personalities by querying a last name only.

These individuals, of course, are not the only people who have these surnames. It is debatable whether they are the most important. Yet Google and other search engines, by far and away, claim them as the most relevant results for their last names.

That’s mainly because they are technology savvy. They, unlike their relatives, were knowledgeable enough to start a blog. They, unlike others with their last name, have a peer group of connected individuals constantly linking to them. They, unlike their ancestors, have occupations that exist because of the web.

The impact is significant. It would take considerable effort to re-write Scoble’s dominance of the “Scoble” search query. The consequence is that Robert Scoble has essentially eradicated the web’s history of the Scoble name and presently defines all references to it. Anyone trying to learn about the history behind the Scoble surname via the web, which again, is now a primary resource for research, would be hard-pressed to do so. Even this search (i.e., scoble last name meaning) does not return helpful information.

Is Scoble an extreme case? Sure. But there are plenty of similar scenarios. My last name, for example, yields a dominance of results for “Yarmosh.” I can assure you I am not the most important Yarmosh ever. I’m certain many in my family would argue this point.

Search results evolve over time but it is not clear how they will change from generation to generation. Will Robert Scoble forever be the “most important” Scoble? Will I always be the “most important” Yarmosh? We are still at the outset of a first generation shaping the web and subsequently, search results. It remains to be seen if our first-mover advantage allows us to forever maintain digital dominance and re-shape/shape the history of our families.

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