There are hundreds of genealogy programs and almost all of them use GEDCOM to for importing and exporting their data. GEDCOM (which stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunications) was developed near the beginning of time and the last revision (5.5.1) was drafted about 15 years ago. It provides a data definition to allow transferring about 98% of the basic data and sources and notes between genealogy programs.
In developing Behold, I have become quite familiar with the way various programs export their data. Behold attempts to read any and every one of them, and pull out all their data - even if they don’t follow all the standards and have their own quirks. My experience is that for the most part, GEDCOM does a decent job.
I think GEDCOM only needs a few tweaks: maybe convert it to XML and make it Unicode. Add Places and Citations at the record level. And update its handling of media files. But there are some people that think that it needs more.
A new site has been created called BetterGEDCOM and its at bettergedcom.wikispaces.com. This is where a number of interested people in the genealogical community have decided to get GEDCOM updated and include what they think is missing. It is in a Wiki format, so anyone can contribute. There is a lot of discussion going on, and to tell the truth, a lot of it is even beyond me. They are trying to do everything from including an Evidence-Hypothesis-Conclusion model, to adding roles, tasks, groups, templates - you name it - into GEDCOM. They’ve brought up 6 different genealogy data models from the past and have proposed several new ones already.
The discussion is overwhelming. To be honest, I don’t see how it is going to come together. There are a lot of very smart people there and several expert programmers and genealogists who seem to be having a great time just enjoying the act of discussing and dissecting all the parts. I have participated fairly actively on basic concepts which I feel strongly about, but the interest seems to be in the stuff that’s a little bit more abstract and a little less practical.
I really hope they come back to earth and accomplish something. I’ve suggested that they concentrate on developing a formal document. Maybe they can start with the GEDCOM 6.0 XML draft and fix what’s wrong with it and add what absolutely needs to be there. They can come out with a GEDCOM 6.1 and propose it to the genealogy community. That, I believe, will have a chance. Anything more (which I compare to a GEDCOM 10.0) would be too far removed from existing GEDCOM to make it easy to get developers to convert to.
If BetterGEDCOM starts to get somewhere, it will be interesting to follow and to be a contributor to. This will be a real test to see if the Wiki model for communal development does work. Will it converge to something that becomes the accepted successor to GEDCOM? Or will it fade out into nothingness as frustrations over the progress or lack thereof results in waning interest and people leaving the initiative.
It’s still too early to tell, but the participants had better start producing something tangible soon.