The oldest (and for me the most useful) social media I participate in are simply discussion email lists with a genealogy focus. I moderate one (lightly and rarely) and I participate in another which is members-only. I find them both useful but not everyone does. They have remained informal, cooperative, and non-corporate. They have played a major part in my genealogical "upbringing" and I would be happier if they were better understood.
Two recent episodes, it doesn't much matter what list they occurred on:
(Episode #1) A vigorous discussion developed about a particular proposal to apply mathematical and programming techniques to genealogical research and proof. Some of it was too technical for me, some of it was philosophical (OK by me), some of it was basic genealogy: exactly what it is we do when we research and evaluate sources, information, and evidence. [If these terms are news to you, visit Evidence Explained or one of the ongoing groups tackling Thomas W. Jones's Mastering Genealogical Proof.]
Some folks objected to this discussion because they were relative newbies and didn't understand all of it. The point was made that all of us are newbies to some part of genealogy, and all of us have more to learn. A few people left the list because the discussion continued and was not banned.
(Episode #2) A vigorous discussion developed about a large genealogy corporation changing its search function. Some genealogists objected vigorously on the grounds that they were used to the old one; some on the grounds that the new one didn't work right. Others replied that the new one works fine once you learn it, and was in fact an improvement. They offered instructional links that had been available for a while. A few proposed specific problems they had encountered, and these were discussed. A few more defended the large corporation.
Another group, not visible on that list but visible to me since I also frequent Facebook, made oblique comments, not naming the list, about how pleased they were to have quit the list because they didn't like the ongoing discussion. The comparison was also made to a meeting, where the chair normally will end discussion that has run its course and (in the opinion of the chair) become repetitive -- apparently implying that the list could or should be run that way.
My takeaway from these two transitory episodes? Many of us have no concept of what a mailing list is and does.
In Episode #1, some people felt that the list should be like a class that was personalized to their needs of the moment, excluding all else. In Episode #2, an entirely different group had a similar feeling. They felt that it was like a meeting where discussion is devoted to reaching a decision by vote and action by the overlying organization. Both objecting groups seemed to be relying on the premise -- which I would not care to defend -- that a bright line can easily be drawn between beginners and more advanced genealogists, or between just enough discussion and too much.
But of course there is no organization; there is no class. A list is a bunch of people drawn together by an interest in advancing their knowledge of genealogy and fellow genealogists -- and who likely get very different things out of it, whether lurking or participating.
In some exchanges I act more like an instructor, in others more like a refractory and backward pupil, but neither analogy is quite right. Sometimes we share knowledge; sometimes we share ignorance. Some exchanges I delete without reading. Some of us pick up on new ideas faster than others; some of us like to argue and discuss more than others. Some of us are more interested in genealogy education than others; some of us are just fascinated by the ways different people approach this subject. Sometimes we get fascinated with trivia.
As long as the discussion doesn't become abusive -- and neither of these episodes came within a country mile of that -- it all comes with the territory. This territory has boundaries, but they are broader than usual, and often we define them for ourselves by selective departure -- using the delete key without anyone being the wiser.
Harold Henderson, "What is an email list?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]