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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.

Did a Microsoft Sample Influence the Design of a Mac Genealogy Application?

Friday, 5 Oct 2007 | by Mark Tucker

I was reading Dick Eastman’s newsletter today and came across a post about MacFamilyTree 5 beta so  I decided to follow the link to the company site to see what the UI looked liked.  To my surprise, the main tree diagram looks a lot like Microsoft’s Family.Show sample application that I have blogged so much about. 

Compare the tree diagrams for yourself:

MacFamilyTree 5 beta

  MacFamilyTree 5 beta

Microsoft’s Family.Show

Family.Show

The latest updates to genealogy software appear to have at least a graphic designer (if not a user experience designer) on the team.

Genealogists Be Aware – Desktop Software and Web Applications are Converging

Saturday, 29 Sep 2007 | by Mark Tucker

All users of genealogy software should be aware that desktop software and web applications are converging in exciting ways that will soon affect the applications they use. One way that they are converging is through something called Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).

Are there any genealogy Rich Internet Applications today? The answer is yes. At least a few. Currently, they all are created using Adobe Flash.

It might surprise you that FamilySearch Labs is on th leading edge of genealogy Rich Internet Applications with these prototype applications:

Pedigree Viewer
panning, zooming
direct-line highlighting
ancestor/descendant view
search
GEDCOM import

FamilySearch Labs - Pedigree Viewer

Life Browser
add artifact (photo, record)
edit details
associate artifact as evidence
image representing potential timeline feature

FamilySearch Labs - Life Browser

Other genealogy sites using RIAs include:

Geni
panning, zooming
enter details, support for single birth, marriage, death date
intuitive interface for adding parents, spouse, siblings, and children
appealing design

Geni

MyHeritage
2D/3D perspective, animation to help flow through tree
enter details, support for multiple facts (birth, marriage, death, many more)
intuitive interface for adding parents, spouse, siblings, and children
appealing design

MyHeritage

(more…)

Idea: Early Handwriting Tutor Software

Thursday, 13 Sep 2007 | by Mark Tucker

At some point every genealogist/family historian will come across a handwritten document that will challenge their ability to read it.  An excellant resource for early American handwriting is Kip Sperry’s book, “Reading Early American Handwriting.” The study of early handwriting is called paleography or palaeography.

My idea is handwriting/paleography tutor software that will systematically teach users how to read early handwritten documents. 

Inspiration:

Typing software systematically teaches correct fingering and allows for repetitive practice.  It breaks these down into lessons and records both speed and accuracy. What if there were similar software that would help us read, transcribe, extract, or abstract handwritten documents?

The preface to Kip Sperry’s book states:

“One of the best ways to begin a study of paleography is to read facsimiles of documents and then transcribe them word for word, letter for letter.”

The software would include the following features:

  • Instruction on how to transcribe a document
  • Handwriting styles (secretary hand, Italic hand, etc.)
  • Different modules for different languages and time periods (Nineteenth Century American, Eighteenth Century American, Eighteenth Century British, etc.)
  • Start with transcribing single letters to get to know different alphabets and styles, then single words, then word phrases, then sentences/lines, and finally on to paragraphs.
  • Expansion of abbreviations and contractions (Alexr [Alexander], Chas[Charles])
  • Arabic and roman numerals
  • Dates (7ber [September])
  • Obsolete letter forms (long s, thorn, etc.)

I imagine this software running on my desktop.  It will track my progress through the different lessons and show me my accuracy, problem areas, and maybe speed.  I can go back to previous lessons.  It would also be interesting if I could run it as a tool tray application where it would periodically, pop up a little window that asks me for a short translation.  That way I can practise a little each day.

One possible user interface idea comes from the UK National Archives site:

handwriting1.jpg
An expanded idea on this could be a website where people contribute image fragments (that are not under copyright) as well as the translations.  These could be categorized by language, handwriting style (if known), time period, difficulty level and length.  The Handwriting Tutor software could then download these “online modules” for an almost inexhaustible source of practice material.

 This idea is open to anyone who wants to work on it.  Let me know when you are finished or if anyone comes across software that does this.  Maybe the software can be sold as a companion to Kip Sperry’s book.

Useful links:

Innovations in Family.Show: Age Graph

Tuesday, 28 Aug 2007 | by Mark Tucker

The Family.Show genealogy sample application includes an Age Graph that shows the number of people in the database for different age ranges.

 Age Distribution

In the sample data included for the Windsor family the number for each range was:

  • 0-19: 3
  • 20-39: 13
  • 40-64: 17
  • 65+: 16

The graph doesn’t include the additonal 32 individuals that didn’t have a birth and/or death date.  I am not certain why the ages were grouped as they were.

This graph also acts as a filter for the people list.  Clicking on each bar shows those individuals in that age range.

It is interesting how they chose to include both statistics and navigation in the same control.

Family Tree Maker 2008 is ready for future, built with Microsoft technology

Saturday, 18 Aug 2007 | by Mark Tucker

Family Tree Maker 2008 was released this week as completely redesigned software built with Microsoft technologies.  The redesign starts at the user interface but doesn’t stop there.  This version of Family Tree Maker is built on Microsoft’s .NET Framework and uses the Composite UI Application Block(CAB) and the Smart Client Software Factory(SCSF) .  I am familiar with these technologies as I use them daily as part of my responsibilites as a Senior Software Architect building a client framework for application teams within my company.

A few weeks ago when I installed Family Tree Maker 2008 RC1, imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was built with the same frameworks that I use at work.  I can run the software and understand how it is composed at the same time.  I find myself thinking, this is the Shell, and these are Workspaces and the SmartParts. 

The following CAB terms are useful for this discussion:

  • Shell – the main window of the application that contains menus, toolbars, and Workspaces
  • Workspace – a user interface container that holds SmartParts
  • SmartPart – a section of the user interface devoted to a specific task
  • Module – a deployable unit of code that can contain SmartParts or business logic; the Shell loads one or more Modules

ftm-cab.jpg

Some of the benefits of building an application with CAB/SCSF are:
(more…)

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