Join the Information Age and Sell Data

So, sitting at home in your boxer shorts on a Tuesday afternoon, watching Judge Judy reruns and complaining about the lateness of your food stamps is working out well for ya, right? After all, there’s no need to be a productive member of society when the other productive Citizens are paying you to do nothing. Throw self esteem, dignity, education, and values out the window when you’re on the welfare doles despite being able bodied and willing to work. You can stop reading now, and surf to the next porn site, as this blog is for those who are willing and able to boot strap themselves up and join in the great works of Western Civilization.

You Westerners who are joining the conversation, seeking to be rugged individualists, free market entrepreneurs, small business men and women, self respecting capitalists, captains of industry and commerce, and good providers for your home and family, will want to sit up and take note.

There is a wealth of information in the world that people pay to access. Entire websites are devoted to amassing and reselling such data. You’ve all seen sites like Ancestry.com advertised during prime time television hours. They have a generous subscriber base whom they’ve allowed (again, generously) to help them expand their informational offerings. They do this in many ways:

1. Family trees can be built on their site and searched by other subscribers seeking family connections. The work of others is resold as an added value to their subscribers, giving them added incentive to renew and continue memberships, upgrade subscriptions, and pay for added service packages. Uploaded pictures can be linked to family trees, documents cross-linked and other web addresses referenced.
2. Blogs can be posted. Some offer research tips, others speak to the specific histories of families being researched, others address issues of historical interest and still others offer peer reviews of informational resources. The blogs, hosted by the website, constitute the same “value added” services that item 1 above offer.
3. They offer the chance for individuals to not only upload digital copies of records to family trees, but for the user to take the existing records that Ancestry already has in a PDF format and input the information on those records into a searchable database. That is to say, you the user can call up an image of the census rolls from a century ago and scan through each page for your ancestors, so these pages are searched by your hands and eyes scrolling down through reams of copied papers on the internet. You and other can sit in front of your laptop and input the names and census data into a searchable field for future reference; an easier search for future users including yourself and the other subscribers. Ancestry benefits from your efforts by having not only reams of paper, but now reams of paper that are indexed by you for easy lookup.
4. Other firms are acquired by Ancestry who has purchased over one data provider on average for the past decade, and teamed with at least one other firm at the same rate. Building a business that has sets of data that are unique and not otherwise available digitally online is a critical part of being approached for a buyout by a big data provider like Ancestry.

So, what is the business plan for your new commercial effort?

You will use your laptop, digital camera and wits to create a no-overhead, low cost enterprise. This new business, through you, will locate and copy public records that are not otherwise available in any digital or database format. But, what kind of records meet these criteria? Where would you begin to look for such records?

Let’s parse it out. We’re talking about public records that are maintained at public agencies. That is to say, public records that are paid for by your tax dollars and maintained by civil servants in various “governmental” offices. Such offices are located in cities at places like City Hall where many agency offices are gathered for public convenience. Also, at the county seat, there will be a county center or county office building that has many county agencies. Furthermore, state offices, while certainly at the State capital, may also be scattered about in larger States, for instance the State courts where old case files are kept. Additionally, the federal government has all sorts of offices ranging from Federal courts, National Archives centers, post offices, social security offices, and more.

Steps to take:

1. Go to the County Recorders’ Office at the county seat building. They’ll have standard 8-5 office hours, typically, but check them out online (learn to Google if you don’t know the website).
2. Look over their public computers and ask questions of the staff: How far back do the computerized records go in time? The records prior to that time, are they on microfilm or on microfiche or in old books? How do I request such records for VISUAL review (don’t ask for copies or they will charge you a Xerox fee that adds up quickly).
3. The records to look for first, in my estimate, are Assessors Rolls going back to the 1800’s, Land (annual secured property tax) rolls for the same period, old Assessors Parcel Maps (those that existed prior to the current maps being used; usually back to about the 1960’s when such systems were started), old voters rolls, and old deed / land history records.
4. Look online for your State’s Public Records Act that provides you with the civil privilege / right to access, view and review public records. Print a copy at home or run by a Kinko’s/FedEx Store or a public library to print a copy to take with you. Read and understand the rights that you have as a taxpaying Citizen. Assert your rights with the civil servants whom YOU pay with your taxes, in order to access such records.
5. Be polite, respectful, but firm in your need to see the records. Make sure that they understand that you are doing so as a Public Records Act and Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Don’t do so at 5pm when they are closing; leave sufficient time to allow the agency to reasonably assist you.
6. Once you’ve identified a set of records that are on microfilm, microfiche, in files or in old books, plan a return schedule that is reasonable. Avoid rush hour traffic, check the agency’s holiday schedule and posted hours (watch for furlough days, lunch closures, and early closing days). Verify against local traditional holidays (Good Friday early closure, new tax roll posting days, etc…). Use MapQuest to check traffic for accidents before leaving. Plan for a few hours each week of records copying. It’s easy to take a few hundred photos in a few hours. Digital cameras are fast, compact, have great auto-focus, auto-flash and image stabilization, so read your manual carefully beforehand, and take an extra SD memory card so that you have enough data storage space. Extra batteries are good too.
7. Upload the pictures when you get home, to your home computer. Save them and back them up. Use freeware (again, Google it) that you can get online to add a digital copyright water mark to each image. This will protect your copyright. Remember, you took the picture as a photographer, an digital artist, a photojournalist, and a businessperson. This is no different than an ad agency hiring a photographer to take a picture of a downtown statue, office tower, or park; it is public areas photographed by your private camera and “film” (digital now-a-days) and on your own time and dime. Naturally it is as copyrightable as any other commercial work, without question.
8. When you have a few thousand images, set up a website through your GMail account (it’s free and easy) and offer paid subscriptions online to your records. Get PayPal (as that makes things easy for payment purposes). Continually build the collection and plan to sell to a big archive company whenever the opportunity arises.

Really, do I have to spell it out any more? Do you need to have your hand held to do this? What are you waiting for…another welfare check? Get off your lazy ass and get to work on this project.

Hell, spend a bit more and get a friend to set up a website that allows your subscribers to post blogs and family trees too so that you’re just like Ancestry and the rest. It takes a bit of money to make money, but not necessarily a lot if you leverage your own labor effectively (this means “WORK”). Go to it.

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