While there are a number of down-sides to putting your work online, I still feel the benefits outweigh the costs. Many people are afraid others will copy their work without credit, freely download their documents that cost them money to obtain, or some other such reason. While I do understand those concerns – my thinking is this: I was going to do the research anyways, I probably will never write a book about my family research, and even if I did roughly four people would buy it, so what exactly am I gaining by hoarding my stuff? In terms of down-sides, I worry more that people miscopy my information, don’t completely copy it, or *gasp* perhaps copy a mistake I’ve made.
At one time, I decided not to cite sources online. I can’t for the life of me come up with reasons why I arrived at this ridiculous course of action, but arrive I did. When I got back to researching a few years ago, the site needed an overhaul, and so did the philosophy. Now, all of the sources are listed (not all exactly up to industry-standards in some cases, but I’m working on it) so that any interested person can see where the information originates, and hopefully be assured that the data and conclusions have some basis other than “I saw it on the internet”. It’s my hope that if people are going to copy what I have done – that they copy it sources and all.
This segues to the biggest benefit I’ve experienced thus far: Peer-review. In this case, I am using “peer” simply to mean “other interested parties”. As anyone who has done a lot of research knows, as you get deeper and deeper into a research problem, it is easy to lose focus simply from staring at it too hard and too long trying to make the pieces fit. After awhile, a new research problem piques your interest, and you are off racing down that new road, leaving the old problem in the breakdown lane in whatever state of completion it was in at the time you changed direction.
Recently, a cousin contacted me with some questions about some of my findings on our common family. They were tough questions, well thought-out, and ones that forced me to review documents and re-think things in order to determine how I got where I did. In this case, looking with fresh eyes, I found an understandable but major error in my reasoning. It forced me to re-evaluate what I had done, and ultimately has lead me to a much better approach in reasoning out the problem (not to mention, a more correct conclusion). Would I have discovered these things in due course, as I eventually came back to them? Maybe, maybe not. But his questions forced me to look at the problem from a different angle than I had been looking previously. He was asking, essentially, “Why not?”, when I had been all about telling the “Why.”
If you are a researcher who has struggled with the question of putting your work online, in the words of Nike (the shoe…not the Greek goddess) – just do it. If you are someone who is looking through other researchers’ findings – please take the time to contact them with questions and concerns. And please, please, please don’t take what you find at face value. If real estate is “location, location, location,” then genealogy is “analyze, analyze, analyze.” I know that there are people out there that will not entertain ideas other than the ones they’ve put forth, but I feel it is a researcher’s responsibility to exercise due diligence.
An open (and tactful!) discussion about information, sources, and conclusions can only better the quality of information out there and we can all learn from each other. So keep “putting it out there.”