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Louis Kessler’s Behold Blog

Re-evaluating the Future of Genealogy Software - Wed, 12 Mar 2014

I have been busy the past couple of years. Busy trying to assemble my thoughts about the genealogy software of today and the software for tomorrow. I’ve had my eyes open and I’ve been listening intently. The winds are changing somewhat and course corrections for all developers are required if they want to satisfy genealogists’ future needs.

Since 2012, my ideas have been further advanced.

I listened intently to the goings on from RootsTech 2013, and then again went to Salt Lake City for RootsTech 2014 (giving a talk) which included a valuable day for developers coined the Innovator’s Summit. I gave seven talks on the 2013 Unlock The Past Cruise from Sydney Australia. I wrote an 8 page article comparing genealogy software for the October 2013 Family Tree Tracker magazine.

I helped form and helped grow the Genealogy and Family History question and answer site on StackExchange. I got significantly involved socially in genealogy through Twitter and Google Plus. I’ve kept in tune with all the new software that’s come out and how people feel about their software through my GenSoftReviews site. I experimented with smartphones and going paperless. And I’ve blogged.

I’ve talked or otherwise communicated directly with many notable people in the genealogy field one on one and shared ideas wit them, including technologists like: Tamura Jones, Tim Forsythe, Ryan Heaton, Dovy Paukstys, John Ralls, Tony Proctor and Bill Harten; with genealogy developers including Tom Wetmore (LifeLines), Richard Thomas (Clooz), Luc Comeau (GenViewer, Legacy), Darrin Lythgoe (The Next Generation) and Bob Velke (The Master Genealogist); and with notable bloggers including Dear Myrtle, Dick Eastman, Randy Seaver, James Tanner, Jill Ball and Alona Tester.

Over the past two years, I’ve taken my ideas about genealogy software to task. These are some of the new important conclusions I have come up about future genealogy software that few developers today are considering:

1. Genealogists want to keep their own data separate. Many online shared trees  are trying to come up with one “conclusion”. That is okay as long as they allow everyone to keep their data separate and retrievable again. They do not want others destroying their years of work.

2. Genealogists want to share. They want to put their data online and they want to send their data to their relatives and allow their relatives to read it. But they don’t want others just taking their data blindly and adding it to other databases.

3. They want connectivity. They want to sync to their online database. They want to sync data between multiple programs. They want all synching to be fast  and failsafe.

4. Data input must be simple. Input is the number one time taker. It’s got to be streamlined and fast. If it takes 5 minutes to set up a single source citation, do you think the average person will look forward to entering all their sources?

5. The program must know what is wanted. Few people want to set up their own options any more. They expect the program to give reasonable defaults that work without fiddling. They don’t want the program to ask them a half dozen questions whenever they open or save a file.

6. Portability. Is there a phone app for that?

7. Social, social, social. Tweet this. Like that.

8. No thinking required. When did you last see someone under 40 read the documentation, or use the help file? If three tries don’t do it, then it doesn’t work.

9. Useful. Nah. Forget it. Just make them spend thousands of hours entering all their genealogy data. Why bother trying to make it useful?

10. Fun. Give them a goal. Make the numbers go up. Make it a game.

Watch how the young people are using computers. They are the 99%. We old fogeys are the 1%.

Going Paperless and Laptopless - Sat, 15 Feb 2014

Last week I used #RootsTech to attempt the start of what may become a radical change to the way I work.

It started with an experiment. I had said in an earlier blog post what items I would be carrying with me. At RootsTech 2012 the list included my digital camera, my cellphone, my laptop, a pen, a binder with my notes for the conference, and extra looseleaf in the binder to take notes during the talks. This year, I replaced all that with my Windows Phone. I also debated about the pen, and ended up taking it with the goal of seeing how long I could go without using it.

When I posted on Google plus about doing this, one response was that I was very brave to leave my laptop at home. But since I was giving a talk about Windows Phone for Genealogists, I thought doing this would add to the experiment.

The number one best thing about this experiment was the freedom I found I had. I no longer needed to carry a bag with a binder and/or laptop. Both my hands were always free. I could whip my phone out of my front pocket whenever I needed to take a picture, record some notes, check the schedule, do some live tweeting or check my email or the #Rootstech Twitter feed. As it turned out, I never used my pen, and instead opened OneNote to take down short notes and took a picture for anything more.

During the Conference, the phone was perfect for all my needs. But I do admit there were a few tasks where I missed my laptop. At night, I would go to my hotel’s business center and use their computer to do my blog posts and update my websites. Those tasks are possible on my phone, but the tools aren’t as good, multiple windows can’t be viewed side by side, and my 60 word per minute touch typing speed gets slowed down considerably. Maybe in a few years these problems will be solved and the smartphone can be used for everything.

This may just be the beginning of a bigger experiment - to see if I can start going paperless at home as well. It’s a different way of thinking for a guy who has for years kept shelves of binders and books full of organized written material.

13 Genealogy Programs from RootsTech - Mon, 10 Feb 2014

At #RootsTech there were many vendors in the exhibition hall. I’m not sure what the total number of booths was, but it must have been close to 200. I think it took me over 6 hours to thoroughly go through the hall and talk to quite a few of the vendors.

I’m always interested in any new genealogy software that’s available. Every program has something that’s different and unique, and the types of new programs tell the direction new software is going.

So while wandering the hall, I made a list of the software that didn’t sound familiar, and then I checked them at GenSoftReviews to see which were new and which I had to add.

Here’s the list of programs I thought I hadn’t heard of before:


These are New Programs
They weren’t on GenSoftReviews.

1. Just Family – A shared photo library library and family journal. You can access your files from the web or on your iPhone.

2. Legacyshare - An online platform to capture, preserve and share your individual and family history. Currently in beta.

3. Photo FaceMatch - Helps you identify people in old family photographs and manage your photo albums. You can compare photos to determine the likelihood of matches to photos of known relatives. Finished 3rd in the RootsTech 2014 Developer Challenge. It uses the EclipseIR SDK (see below).

4. Halftale - An online site for collecting stories through collaboration of family and friends. It is like a blog that allows story collaboration with text, video, or pictures. This site is in beta.

5. Family.me – A private social network where families build their family tree and share stories.

6. Trunx - Record your life and stash it in private. Trunx lets you capture, organize and store photos and videos privately in the cloud, freeing your device to do all the things it was meant to do. Runs on iOS. An Android app is coming.

Adding those 6 programs to GenSoftReviews brings it now to 777 programs.

These were Already On GenSoftReviews
My brain freeze wouldn’t recall that I had already added them.

7. File Grove - “The Genealogy Digital Filing System” - Digitally preserves, organizes, and shares your family history files, images and documents online.

8. StoryPress - A free mobile application for iOS or Android that helps you make and collect spoken stories. The stories are then uploaded to the StoryPress website where they can saved and shared.

9. Puzzilla Descendants Viewer - Lets researches see descendants from FamilySearch’s FamilyTree using compact symbols that reveal patterns in collateral-line research. This program did not have a booth, but it’s Bill Harten’s baby (who is often called “the father of GEDCOM”) and it was on his card.

10. Saving Memories Forever - An iPhone app that helps you record your family stories with relatives as an MP3 file. The recordings can be stored online, categorized, private, secure, and permission based. This program won the RootsTech 2014 Developer Challenge.

This one was Not Available Yet (i.e. Coming Soon)
The vendors had a booth and were at RootsTech, but their products weren’t.

11. AncestorCloud – It’s going to be a social community for genealogists. They’re launching soon and if you sign up, you can be in their first private beta group.

These are the Ones That Fooled Me.
They’re not software or even online software, but a service:

12. RootsBid – “The Tool You Need to Dig Up Your Roots”. You can go there to hire someone to do some genealogy work for you. You post what you’d like done and optionally the amount you’re willing to pay, and people willing to do the work bid down to do your work.

13. EclipseIR – This is a company that makes identity recognition software. They provide various Software Development Kits for programmers to include in their programs. They do various tasks including intruder detection, facial recognition for photos or videos, search for individuals based on physical characteristics (hair color, height, clothes, etc.) as well as facial recognition on mobile devices.

So how many of these programs have you heard of before?