One of the most disconcerting things I heard today is that genealogy should wait for technology to come along and just ride on its coattails. I may be paraphrasing a bit. Genealogy has been waiting for the right tech to come along, that’s true, but should it? Because we wait, we adopt slowly and we adapt to tools that were not meant specifically for genealogy.
I talked to a ton of folks today about products, applications and websites. There are many companies out there trying hard to provide more records. Let’s call them the ‘big guys’. Four out of five of them have subscription models. It appears that the subscription dollars are going towards more records and not into innovation. They are all providing essentially the same service.
That leaves innovation to the ‘little guys’. The ‘little guys’ are carving out niches and adapting old or current technology to fit genealogy. They are doing a terrific job by providing solutions that take the focus away from the record and putting the focus on the story or event. Unfortunately the ‘little guys’ don’t always last very long.
There was quite a bit of talk about engaging the next generation. How do we make it exciting for them? How do we make it a ‘game’? I don’t think the ‘game’ model is right. It lacks a certain amount of seriousness. Try to remember what got you interested in genealogy the first time. I love solving the mysteries in my family. My experience is that the next generation wants to hear about those mysteries and the juicy stories of their ancestors. Who’s going to start writing the applications that generate the stories directly from the records or present the data in a mystery solving interface?
I do think that developers should design with genealogists in mind, adapt the software and applications to us. I keep looking for ‘new’ and ‘wow’. Here is the closest definition that I have to what I’m looking for – imagine a combination of Facebook, Wikipedia, Blogger, FamilySearch or Ancestry [you fill in the blank], Twitter, Instagram and Google Maps. Yes, I want all of that in one application. As a genealogist, I live in all those apps and it’s a lot of jumping around.
Picture for a second that you are creating a record for your great-great-grandparents. As you enter their marriage (a record that was readily available digitally), you want to know more about the town where the marriage took place. Click – encyclopedic data about the town is at your fingertips and it is date context sensitive – images and facts from the date they were married. Another click and you are joining a conversation about events that took place in that location. Click on a map and you can see your ancestors journey across time and location. Every record has tons of metadata, every photo is cross referenced with dates, locations and the people in them. I want the application to not only tell me there are new records for me to review, but also to tell me that two or more of my ancestors lived in the same town or fought in the same war or moved to Missouri because it is geographically similar to living along the Rhine. Our family histories are incredibly interconnected, our genealogy applications should be also.
Is anyone writing this kind of genealogy application? No. Am I holding my breath? No. I am satisfied knowing that most of the tools needed to create a rich family history are out there. They are being provided by the ‘big guys’ and the ‘little guys’. You will also find a great cross section of this technology at RootsTech 2013.