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buspar 2007 | November | ThinkGenealogy
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The Future of Genealogy Software is not “Hard to See”

Thursday, 29 Nov 2007 | by Mark Tucker

Many years ago I was (incorrectly) singing the words to the song, “Que, Sera, Sera” and my wife pointed out my humorous mistake.

Instead of singing:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see

I sang:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not hard to see

This personal joke has been used many times since then and has never failed to deliver a cheerful effect.

I think that the author and design leader, Bill Buxton, would agree that the “future’s not hard to see.” In his book, “Sketching User Experiences: getting the design right and the right design,” Bill stresses the importance of looking at least 5 years down the road when designing user experiences and adds:

Now most people say that you cannot predict the future, much less five years out. They use this as an excuse for not making the effort, or even contemplating it. I believe that this reflects a lack of training, technique, or responsibility on the part of design or management. (page 209)

He then goes on to quote William Gibson from an NPR interview on 30 November 1999:

… the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.

Buxton gives two examples. The first computer mouse was built in 1964 but didn’t reach widespread use until about 1995 – 30 years later. The idea for the CD came around 1965 but it wasn’t until 25 years later in 1990 that the industry reached $1 billion. From idea, to design, to prototype, to first production, to ubiquity takes time.

Bill then makes this statement that I would like us to consider:

If history is any indication, we should assume that any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old. (page 215)

Innovation Future Timeline

 This made me wonder if this could be applied to genealogy software. What has happened over the last 10 years that could affect the design and innovation of genealogy software over the next 10 years?

At first nothing came to mind, but then I thought of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, “Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian” which was published in 1997. In 2007, the much expanded “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace” was released. We are now beginning to see specific examples of Elizabeth’s work showing up in genealogy software. In a podcast interview by Dick Eastman, Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens indicated that the software Clooz version 2.x was influenced by handouts she received from Elizabeth Shown Mills. Another example is from a podcast by DearMYRTLE where she interviews Geoff Rasmussen about Legacy version 7. In this interview, Geoff gives a sneak peek of one of the major new features which is source citation following the standard set by Elizabeth Shown Mills. There is still much work that needs to be done in this area such as online databases providing better source citations. I talk about this in my previous post about Jumping Curves. So you see, the future is not so hard to see.

Another area that I want to point out is the Genealogical Proof Standard which was also created in 1997 by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Other than its use in the certification process, you don’t hear much about it. But this standard is useful to researchers of all levels to help them get as close to the truth as possible. At some point genealogy software designers and developers will realize this and incorporate it into future genealogy software.

There are probably many more examples of ideas, technology, and methodology that exists today that will help us better see the future of genealogy software.

What things should be added to this list?

As a genealogy community, I hope we aren’t thinking:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see

Share your thoughts as the future is ours to see.  I hope that is not hard to see.

Jumping Curves by Better Online Source Citation

Wednesday, 7 Nov 2007 | by Mark Tucker

According to Guy Kawasaki  (author, speaker, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, etc.) one key point to great innovation is “Jumping Curves” which means moving from the curve where everyone else is to a new curve.  The folks at WorldVitalRecords.com have been talking about this concept lately which is where I heard about it.  See ”How To Innovate And Change The World” by Whitney Ransom and “Jumping Curves At WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com” by Yvette Arts.  The second article asks for suggestions about jumping curves.  The following is part of an e-mail that I sent in response:

I like the fact the WorldVitalRecords geocodes all records added to their site.  Why you are at it, why don’t you add source citations in metadata/xml form following the conventions in Elizabeth Shown Mills book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace

Currently source citation is hard.  When it is available, it is in text format that must be copied and pasted into your genealogy program.  But source citation is vital so that proper evaluation of evidence can be done and so that constant re-examination of the same records can be avoided.  If when you click on a document to download the image, the link was instead something like an rss link that has metadata with it (think rss enclosure tag) and if that xml format were a standard then genealogy software could read the information, add the image to the application, and add the proper source citation.  What could be easier for a user than every time a document image is downloaded from an online database, the source was automatically cited?  The software developers would be half way there as they would then just need to add a way to manually add the same information for offline sources. 

The first analysis that needs to be done with a source is to determine if it is original or derivative.  The metadata could include this information already.  The next step would be to have the metadata for derivative sources include the source provenance all the way back to the original.  Who would be in a better position to know that than the site owner who negotiated with the owner of the source content?  This identification would then only have to be done once correctly and it would save many family historians/genealogists from doing the same work and sometimes incorrectly. 

Now the metadata would also be available to search engines and special source searches could be created to find and aggregate the information.  Think about what Google, Technorati, Digg, del.icio.us, Facebook or others could do with this type of information.

  1. Creating a source citation metadata standard. 
  2. Being the first records site to metadata source cite all their content. 
  3. Making it extremely easy to cite online sources. 
  4. Creating a whole new way to search for records. 

Now talk about jumping curves!

Some of these ideas I have shared before in Expanded Vision of Genealogy 2.0.

Happy curve jumping.

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