An Interview with the Founder of the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives.
The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives website is the work of one person, founder, curator, designer, developer -- Paul K. Gjenvick. He has tirelessly worked on the Archives since 2000, donating his time, efforts and money to keep the information available to the public. As the Archives receives no public support, Gjenvick manages two careers - one is his passion for history as evidenced by this website, and the other is drawing a paycheck as a Search Engine Optimization specialist / Webmaster / Designer from other companies. I sat down recently with Mr. Gjenvick to discuss the Archives and below are some of the responses to the questions.
You've been operating the Archives online for over eight years now. What would you say have been the most rewarding experiences?
When I initially launched the Archives online in January 2000, my plan was to make the Archives self-sufficient within three years. What that meant was it would make enough money through limited advertising to pay all of its expenses including hosting, software, and purchasing historical documents. The most rewarding experience was when I have been contacted by teachers who utilized the materials - especially about immigration in the early twentieth century, in their classrooms. Other rewarding moments come from visitors who found information on their ancestors and expressed their gratitude for my website.
How about your least rewarding experiences?
The least rewarding was having to acknowledge to myself that there was a limit to what I could do, as available resources, stated in its simplest components as time and money. On a good year, the Archives has an annual gross revenue of about $1,000 - and in leaner years like 2008, the figure is likely to be closer to $600. So it would have to be least rewarding experience of the Archives has been its self sufficiency - or lack thereof.
What's the hardest part of managing the Archives' Website?
It has to be managing the perceptions of our typical patrons. Our patrons including researchers, genealogist, educators and students often judge this website as they would ancestry.com, genealogy.org or familysearch.org - all well funded, well done websites with perhaps hundreds or thousands of employees or volunteers. Through the eight years of the Archives' online existence, there has never been a paid employee or volunteer. Judging from the volume of email we receive daily where people ask us to look up information for them or send them a [free] copy of a passenger list, etc. I get the impression that their is a perception that the Archives is a public institution.
You recently added polls to the Archives' website. What kind of insight has it provided you?
I have actually had polls of various types running on the website for several years. The previous polls were geared to how people used the website. With the re-launch of the new Archives website in February 2008, I switched to asking our patrons how they would rate the website. I also use a pop-up open-ended poll that is managed by a third party firm that has provided a lot of information on how people perceive this website.
What kind of responses have you received so far?
The poll is designed to solicit responses from 4% of the visitors - presumably on their exit from the site. In reality, the pop-up poll often is triggered before the patron has a chance to view much of the site. The overwhelming majority of the responses have been negative - with an average rating of 5.4 on a scale of ten for those who were unable to locate what they originally came to the site for.
For those who were successful in finding what they were looking for, the average rating went to 8.0 on a scale of ten. Over 4% of the responses rated the website a zero - which, if you thought about it, makes it sound as if your site doesn't deserve to live. But the realty of it lies with the current conditioning of people to respond quite negatively if they thought you should have something, but didn't have what they wanted - this rates a zero or one.
Ouch! That must hurt!
I was actually somewhat prepared for the really negative responses by the polling company - they warned that more people will find fault with a website and focus on the negative aspects. What I've learned in the few months of using the open-ended response poll is that people often perceive it as either you have it or you don't. When you have it, they rate it based on their experience on ease of use, content, etc. When you don't have what they were looking for, it becomes a zero, one or two.
It's a much different approach than I would use, perhaps since I have been a webmaster for 8 years and realize the amount of work that goes into making and managing a website. To me, a rating of zero, one or two would mean a MFA (Made for AdSense) site that simply provided no material had offered only paid links to other websites. Other websites qualifying for a zero rating would be those that pushed [unwanted] software or spy ware on your computer.
Interview conducted during October, 2008