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Louis Kessler’s Behold Blog

RootsTech Carry Arounds - Fri, 31 Jan 2014

#RootsTech last minute organizing includes figuring out what you’re going to be carrying around with you. I’ve assembled the things I’ll be carrying with me.


Lets go clockwise starting from the left.

  1. In addition, or maybe instead of the name tag that RootsTech will supply me, I’ll be wearing the custom name tag I made myself and wore at RootsTech 2012. I’ve added my 2014 speaker badge to the side of it. This was inspired by Kerry Scott’s January 2012 blog post: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges.
  2. A stack of business cards to give to anyone who wants to know who I am.
  3. My Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone, which will be the star of my Windows Phone for Genealogy talk on Thu, Feb 6, 10:30am, Ballroom F.
  4. An extra battery pack for my Windows Phone. Even though my phone has a good 10 hours of normal-use life to it, heavy use as I expect to give it at the conference will likely use it up in a half a day. The battery pack is worth about one and a half recharges and will add 15 more hours of use.
  5. This is the small connector to connect the battery pack to my phone. The phone, battery pack and connector are small enough to all fit in my pocket while connected and while recharging my phone. It takes about an hour for a full recharge and I can use the phone while its recharging.
  6. This is a laser light pen, that puts a red dot on the wall that I’ll use during my presentation.
  7. In the center of the picture are my blogger beads. I got these from Pat Richley-Erickson (Dear Myrtle) at RootsTech 2012. I’ll be wearing them. They allow GeneaBloggers to be recognized.
  8. I forgot to put this in my picture, but a USB pen. It will have my lecture on it. I’ll also have the lecture on my phone and on my Sky Drive One Drive just in case. And maybe if at Innovators Summit, or a vendors booth, or at the Family History Library there’s some program or data I want to take home with me, I’ll have the means.

What is also notable is what I won’t be carrying this year:

  1. My laptop. In fact, I expect to function quite nicely with just my Windows Phone, and I’m not even bringing my laptop with me. In 2012 I had an old-style Samsung flip-phone, my Canon PowerShot SD600 camera and an extra battery and an extra SD card in one pocket. Those as well are being replaced by my phone and its battery backup.
  2. My binder full of my prepared information on the lectures I wanted to see, the syllabi for them, and other info about people, software, FSDN, BetterGEDCOM, Salt Lake City and more. This is all replaced by my phone with the information in Office documents instead. In 2012 I wrote notes about the lectures that I wanted to blog about that evening into the notebook. This year, I’ll see if I can get away with using One Note on my phone instead.

One I’m debating:

  1. A pen. I don’t expect I’ll need to write anything on paper for myself, but its always handy if there’s a contest to enter, or some information you need to write down for someone else, say on the back of the business card. It doesn’t hurt to have it in one’s back pocket … unless you sit on it.

They are currently all piled up in a corner of my office waiting for Tuesday when I leave for Salt Lake City. (Except my phone, of course, which I carry all the time).

What will you be carrying at RootsTech?

The RootsTech Syllabi - Wed, 29 Jan 2014

With #RootsTech 2014 just a week away, the Syllabi from the sessions now are available.

I am going to the conference this year. Now that the syllabi are out, I make sure I browse through them to confirm that the sessions I previously planned out still are the ones I want to go to. But even if you’re not going, reading the syllabi is the next best thing, and you will likely learn a lot from them. So I highly recommend you browse through them, whether you’re going to the conference or not.

One option is to download the zip file with all the sessions. I put it in a RootsTech 2014 folder on my computer and then unzipped them there. Unzipping creates two folders, a sessionfiles folder for PCs, and a _MACOSX folder for Macs. You can delete the one not applicable to you.

Inside there are 159 folders each representing one session. Most folders usually contain one file in them, but a few have multiple files. Each folder is named with its session number, e.g. GS1134. The files in the folders are named also with its session number as well as the author’s name, with a few also having the name of the session, e.g. GS1134_Klosky-BridgingTechnology.docx.

Personally, I liked the organization of the RootsTech 2013 Syllabi much better. They had a top level folder for each day, and the folder for each session were named with the time and the name of the session, e.g. 0945-Ask_the_Expert_Genetic_Genealog – well at least the first 31 characters of the session. I liked this much better, so I spent about an hour to rename the folders so that I could easily find the sessions by date and time.

Doing this also allowed me to check if all the sessions had syllabi. Most do. I only counted about 67 that don’t, compared to the 159 that do. Many of those missing syllabi are from the Developer and LDS sessions. The RootsTech submission mechanism make it appear that there was a deadline for your syllabus or your talk might not be accepted, so most people put theirs up.

Now for the syllabi themselves. They are all in either pdf or docx format. Many are nice outlines of what the talk will be about. A few contain the actual slides. But some qualify almost as full research papers and are very detailed. Here’s a few examples:

RT1508 - Lisa Louise Cooke - How to Use YouTube for Family History: Setting Up Your Own YouTube Channel

RT1088 – Ancestry Insider – Do It Yourself Photo Restoration

RT1941 – Judy Russell - Doing Time – Prison Records as Genealogical Resources

In my own case, I did my syllabus a little differently and set up a questionnaire asking people to fill it out and bring to the presentation. I send a message to RootsTech when I submitted it stating that it was a bit unorthodox as a syllabus and I’d make it more traditional if they wanted. But I didn’t hear back from them and they published it as is, so I guess it was okay.

So fill out my questionnaire and then bring it with you to my talk on Windows Phone for Genealogy on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in Ballroom F.

How Good are GenSoftReviews Ratings? - Sat, 4 Jan 2014

It’s been over 5 years since I set up GenSoftReviews. My goal was to have a website, sort of like TripAdvisor for travelers, that would allow comparisons of Genealogy software from reviews and ratings by actual users. During that time, users have provided over 1900 reviews for hundreds of different programs.

A few interesting trends have emerged over that time:

First, the majority of the reviews are either from people who really like the program and give it 4 or 5 stars, or who have some major complaint with the program and gave it only 1 or 2 stars. Complaints include the inability to get the program to work on their machine, the program crashes, loses data, poor customer service, or some other problem that may or may not actually be the fault of the software or the company.

Geni was one program that had several policy changes that caused a long series of user complaints and bad reviews. First they eliminated their free account. Then former free account holders could not access their own data unless they paid for a subscription. And they could not delete their account or data. These problems and the number of people who encountered them have resulted in Geni being unable to raise its overall rating above 2 out of 5.

It is really difficult for any program to get up to an overall rating of 4.5 or more out of 5 if they have very many reviews with any of these sort of complaints. As a result, the programs that rise to the top of GenSoftReviews in ranking tend to be stable programs with a dedicated user base who like the program, that are less prone to user problems or major failures. This includes programs like Ancestral Quest, Ahnenblatt, PAF, The Next Generation and Brother’s Keeper. Their users know what they’re getting, have used that program with confidence for many years, and are treated to a stable design with few updates.

Second, it is difficult for a technically advanced program to get up to an overall rating of 4 out of 5. Those people who understand and appreciate what this type of program provides them will give the program a very high rating. But there will be just as many people who are either not willing or not interested in learning how to use the advanced features who will dismiss the program as being complicated. Those people will argue that the program is not easy to use.

The Master Genealogist is an excellent example of such a program. It gets many glowing reviews from people who love the program. It gets just as many from people who can’t stand it. A program like this will consistently sit in the 3.6 rating level as every two great reviews are offset by a poor review. Some of the interaction in the reviews between the two different sides gets a little heated from time to time, and on occasion I have had to go in and moderate some of the more colorful dialogues going on there.

Another technically advanced program is Gramps, which got good reviews from its Unix users in its native environment, but not from Windows and Mac users who it throws for a loop. This past year I separated Gramps on GenSoftReviews into the three platforms, and sure enough by placing the reviews of the Unix version with those who use it natively and understand Unix, the rating of Gramps went up to 4.15 allowing it to attain a Users Choice Award. But Gramps is a rare case where the program could be segmented with its primary user base. That’s not possible for programs like The Master Genealogist who will unfortunately have to suffer with the naysayers.

Third, it is difficult for any of the very popular and feature filled mainstream programs from attaining a rating very much above 4 out of 5. These programs get lots of votes and appeal to many people. But they include so much and do yearly updates adding many new features. When you have such an all-encompassing program, it will never be perfect. You will usually like most of what it does, but there’s those one or two features that you don’t like, or are different than what you need. As a result, few people give these programs 5 out of 5, since few people will think of them as perfect. Most will therefore consider the few faults and give the program a very good rating of 4 out of 5. The fact that the program does so much actually works against itself in the ratings here.

In this group you have programs like RootsMagic which you’d think should have a higher rating than 4.11 and not be rated lower than programs like Ahnenblatt and PAF. Or the program Legacy, which just slipped to 3.95 in 2013 thus not qualifying for a Users Choice Award for the first time in 5 years. It will be interesting to see what effect the newly released version 8.0 of Legacy will have on its ratings during 2014.

The original FamilyTreeMaker (up to Version 16) has won User Choice Awards and was another popular and feature filled program in the same mould as RootsMagic and Legacy. The current rewritten FamilyTreeMaker should have been expected to do the same, but it has been plagued by releases having performance issues and bugs, as well as unfavorable comparisons by users to the original version. It is almost surprising that these complaints have taken the current FamilyTreeMaker’s rating down to nearly 2 out of 5.

So then back to the question of how good are GenSoftReviews ratings?

I don’t think the ratings should be used to directly compare one program to say which is best or which you should try first.

Instead, what the ratings give is a benchmark that the individual program should strive to maintain or improve upon.

It’s my hope that developers will see and use the ratings and reviews of their products on the GenSoftReviews site to address applicable user concerns and improve upon their software. Doing that will raise the overall level and quality of genealogy software and will benefit all genealogists everywhere.