[Editor's Note: Genealogist, Tech-Head, and IDG Contributor Michael Maglio continues today in his series of tech-related blog posts from RootsTech 2013 with this third installment. For the first in the series, read "Is RootsTech More Roots Than Tech?"]
For technology to evolve, sometimes the metaphor needs to change. Think of the 90s when most of us switched from text based computing (DOS) to windows based graphical computing. Even now, that interface is evolving again into an ‘app’ centric model. I have no doubt that the computing user interface will change many times in my life.
What about the genealogy metaphor? Genealogy is and has been centered on the person and their events. Historically this view of our ancestors has been dry and uninteresting. This week at RootsTech we’ve been talking about making genealogy more accessible to all groups and more interesting (entertaining) for the next generation. How do we change the interface? My own experience working with the teen and twenty crowds is that they want to know about the drama. What hardships did their ancestors face, what wars did they fight and what dirty little secrets did they hide? They want to know the stories, not the vital records.
From a knowledge management point of view, organized data becomes information. Information is then absorbed and recombined to be disseminated as knowledge. Knowledge is inherently formatted for easy consumption. The ‘story’ of our ancestors is synonymous with the creation of knowledge. A story is entertaining and memorable. The story format worked extremely well for millennia before writing was invented.
We’ve come full circle. The story is the new metaphor. As I walked around the exhibit hall, the story theme was everywhere. How do we capture, record, document, preserve, present and tell the story of our ancestors? I was very happy to see that the ‘little guys’ have embraced the new metaphor. The best new ideas come from the fringe.
What is most important is that all of these companies have taken different approaches to the ‘story’. Unfortunately, they won’t all be right. Each had a different focus. They centered their ‘stories’ on photos, maps, documents, timelines, objects or right to the story itself.
Objects, documents and maps play a supporting role. They are data to our knowledge.
Photos are a great way to tell a story. A virtual album captures an entire event. You can add story content to each photo. Yet, focusing on the photo gets in the way of the story. The image itself wants to tell its own story. Photos are invaluable, but should only be there to enhance the larger story.
Jumping right to the story was the most popular direction. A few folks offered prompts to get your stories started. They seemed to be just methods of story collection, missing the bigger picture. I’ll give Travis Peterson and halftale.com an honorable mention for having a clean, intuitive story interface with great collaborative capabilities. They did miss tying things back to genealogy though.
I have to agree with the RootsTech judges that Tammy Hepps and Treelines.com was the most innovative and well-conceived story focused application. The story is the center. You can draw upon your imported genealogy and its key events to develop your story outline and select the characters. Then just start writing. A good story can’t be prompted; it unfolds and grows. Connect your photos, documents and maps to enrich the story. Publish.
The story flows in a well-designed interface along a timeline (animated Treelines) without being constrained by it. Underneath beats the heart of true genealogy program with facts, documents and sources. Welcome to the new genealogy metaphor.
The application is missing a collaborative element, but hits the mark with all of its features. Considering that Treelines just launched this week, I’m not worried about the development team filling the minor gaps quickly. This is the type of innovation that I came to RootsTech to find.
This is an opportunity for a win-win situation. We can start building our ancestral stories and spread the word about this new storytelling platform. Our support will help Treelines be successful, grow and in turn enrich our family histories.
Repeat after me, change is good.