Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Ontario Genealogical Society Webinars

Today on Facebook in the Huron County Genealogy group I saw a call for webinar topics for the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) for 2015, and it got me to thinking.  The webinars made me wonder about getting a membership, which in turn got me looking into the advantages of membership, such as resources available.  It also made me try to find the call for topics on the OGS site  In my opinion, the OGS is making some errors.

Let's start with the webinars.  You must be a member to join a live webinar, or to view an archived webinar.  The cost of a one year membership is just over $60.  This means that if I was only interested in the single webinar it would cost me the same as a one year membership.  I understand there may be a reason or reasons they only want members to participate in a live webinar, but restricting archived webinars to members only is self defeating.  Archived webinars should be available to anybody for a small fee, say between $2 and $5.  The OGS could easily allow people to pay through a service like PayPal.  Allowing anyone to access an archived webinar makes genealogy more accessible to all, especially people who are younger.  The same process/logic can be applied to the live webinars too, and unless there is a very strong reason not to make the live webinars available on a pay per view basis I would recommend allowing it.  The advantage to the OGS of charging a small fee for the webinars is that it will make money.  Another advantage to the OGS and the wider genealogical community is that by example it will raise the standards for research, allowing more accurate information to be presented by the wider genealogical community.

I found memberships with the OGS rather odd too.  An individual must join for a calendar year, there is no pro-rating, and the partial membership option charges for just more than half a year, even if you will only use it for two and a half months.  The availability of the partial membership makes it look like if you join in April you pay for an entire year.  From a technical point of view there is no excuse for not pro-rating membership, even if the OGS wishes to have all memberships renewed every January.  From a practical point of view the OGS is foregoing revenues, making it more difficult for people who wish to explore Ontario genealogy, and discouraging people from even joining due to the fee structure.  There are large numbers of Membership Management softwares available that are both free and open source.  One that I have seen mentioned a number of times is called Wild Apricot and is based in Toronto.  Incidentally, that's not an endorsement.  I simply saw it mentioned in several "best software lists".

The resources that the OGS offers to members are rather hard to evaluate, as the only way you can see the resource(s) available online is to become a member.  For example their databases that can be searched only by members.  But what are the databases?  BMD notices from newspapers and books?  If so which books/newspapers?  Strays from Ontario?  Cemetery transcriptions?  There is no list so there is no way to tell.  There is both a newsletter and a journal, but once again no information about the contents of either.  It would not be terribly difficult to post at least the table of contents from the most recent journal issues, and work back to older issues non electronic issues as time and resources permit.  As for why the newsletter is available only to members I am at a loss.  As it is like most newsletters it is about events that are coming up, member profiles, etc, just the sort of thing you want people to know to encourage them to join or otherwise become involved.  Some of the resources available to members are just plain mysterious.  Exactly what is "Families"  What are the member forms and resources?  And why is the message board completely private?  Even if they don't want non-members to post that is no excuse to keep the posts themselves private.

The OGS could do itself, and genealogists with an interest in Ontario a great service by simply by describing the resources available, and making more available, even at a small fee.  By doing so they would both increase their revenues, make Ontario genealogy more approachable to the novice and veteran alike, and increase their membership.  Currently the OGS website does not make the OGS come across as an organization that is welcoming and friendly.  While the OGS should make its own "brand", it could also take some pointers from the layout and resource availability of the Devon Family History Society.

Finally, the 2015 webinar call for submissions?  I never did find a link to it on the OGS website, but you may download the form here.  the deadline is tomorrow, Aug 15, 2014.

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