Publishing family histories has become quite a discussion just about everywhere I go. I read about it online and I hear discussions when I am attending conferences. The biggest question is What is the best method to publish your genealogy?
The big answer depends on how long you want your family history to last. Are you looking for it to survive long after you are gone? Is this just your way of publishing while you continue to work on the family tree? Answers to these questions will affect the manner in which you publish your family history.
Is permanence the question when publishing?
I will admit that the costs of CD-ROM rewritable units have come way down in price. In fact, usually when you purchase a new computer system in addition to getting a CD-ROM reader, you will get a writeable or rewriteable drive. The difference between the two is that the writeable drive burns the information onto the CD-R (a special CD-ROM disk) one time. The rewriteable can burn information onto a CD-RW (another special kind of CD-ROM disk) more than once. The cost of the disks themselves is down to pennies per disk, so the cost is definitely cheap.
That is where the good news ends. CD-ROMs are not permanent. The shelf life has not been proven. Most people think they are doing well if they get a ten-year shelf life out of these discs. And in the last five years we have already seen the technology change. There are different types of CD-ROMs which cannot be read by all CD-ROM drives. If you have put the information on a CD-RW (the rewriteable kind) then you have decreased the shelf life. Each time you rewrite such a CD-ROM you affect the medium.
I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has been able to get a library to accept a "CD tree." I know librarians who won't purchase census indexes and other records on CD-ROM because of the amount of time and trouble they must expend in offering technical support to their patrons in how to use those CDs. Imagine a library of CD-ROMs of family trees, all with their own "viewer software."
Publishing to the Web
The Internet, or World Wide Web, offers genealogists a wonderful medium for publishing. The strengths are in the ability to rapidly make changes. This makes it possible to publish a genealogy when it is still a work in progress. Such publishing encourages genealogists to share their information and may be beneficial in finding relatives.
The thing that makes the Web such a great place to publish is the same thing that keeps it from being a place to publish permanently. The Web is ever-changing. How often do we return to a Web page only to discover that it has been updated or moved to another Web site? Such fluidity makes it a great place to post that family tree that you are actively working on or that you are hoping to get some help on.
However, in most instances, that Web site must be paid for. If you are not around to pay for it, eventually it will cease to exist. When looking for permanence, the Web is not the best ideal.
While the electronic mediums that we have at our disposal offer many strengths, they do not offer the one strength that genealogists in the next generations will need -- permanence. For sharing with your family and when sharing a work in progress, CD-ROMs and the Internet are good places to publish. In addition to posting to these places, don't forsake the family book -- it may be the only publishing medium that will still be in existence in a hundred years.