Saturday, August 16, 2008

Geni.com - Everyone's Related?

I went to the Computer Genealogy Society of San Diego meeting today at UCSD and heard Keith McCarty speak about using Geni.com. He demonstrated the bells and whistles of the web site and fielded many questions from seasoned genealogists skeptical of the genealogical capabilities of http://www.geni.com/.



The "About Us" page at the web site says:

"Geni is a tool for understanding and staying in touch with your family.

"Geni lets you create a family tree through our fun simple interface. You can expand your tree by adding relatives' email addresses. They will be invited to join your tree and can add other relatives. Your tree will continue to grow as relatives invite other relatives.

"Each family member has a profile which can be viewed by clicking their name in the tree. This helps family members learn more about each other and stay in touch. Family members can also share photos and work together to build profiles for common ancestors.

"Geni is private. Only the people in your family tree can log in to your tree and your profile. Geni will not share your personal information with third parties.

"We will not sell your email address or spam you. Users control which communications they would like to receive from us.

"Geni was founded by former executives and early employees of PayPal, eGroups, eBay, and Tribe. It is backed by venture capital firms Founders Fund and Charles River Ventures.

"If you have any further questions, please contact us."

Keith took the group through most of the features of Geni.com in his enthusiastic presentation, using his own Geni.com web site as an example. He demonstrated the use of Geni to upload and share genealogy information, while providing a collaborative social networking site for families to share their photos, stories, videos, family news, birthday and anniversary greetings, etc.

I think that Keith's mission statement says it all - "His mission is aligned with Geni, which is to create a single family tree for the entire world. He also strives to introduce non-genealogists into the wonderful world of genealogy, through a fun and interactive environment."

To me, the benefits of Geni.com include:

* An easy-to-use online family tree that facilitates collaboration between family members, especially younger people who live in the online and digital world.
* The ability to search for specific surnames in public member trees.
* The advanced privacy options available to keep information within a family group.
* The ability to upload a GEDCOM file - up to 15,000 persons.

The drawbacks to Geni.com for genealogy researchers and/or family members include:

* Many trees are private and can be accessed only by invited family members.
* Requires the invited family members to be online, and to be able to upload text, photos, videos, news items, etc.
* The genealogy information requested and provided is not professional quality - this is not genealogy software capable of creating books or reports.

The last point was the one most questioned by the audience of about 55 computer genealogists. The problems with Geni.com as a genealogy tool include:

* Many trees are input with the married name of the wife of persons, rather than the maiden name.
* Dates are input and displayed as MM-DD-YEAR rather than DD-MM-YEAR.
* Sources must be put in the discussion fields as text.

The real benefits of using Geni.com are to connect with living relatives and to ask/persuade them to add information (names, dates, places, photos, stories, news, etc.) to the family tree. This is vitally important for all genealogy researchers.

While the emphasis on Geni.com is currently on the Family Networking side, the Genealogy Research side is where the potential development may occur as families connect deeper into their ancestral past. It is likely that families that share distant relatives will find each other, and merge trees together. It is probably that, in these cases, interest in genealogy research will deepen. All of that is good news for dedicated genealogy researchers.

Keith mentioned that Geni.com will have a premium service in a few months, and the company will probably jump into the business of creating family tree charts, coffee table books, and other products. He said they were investigating partnering with Ancestry, FamilySearch and other genealogy information providers to permit searching for ancestral information.

It seems to me that http://www.geni.com/ is a very useful tool for putting more families into the larger Genealogy Web, especially young family members who are online and digital savvy.

5 comments:

TamuraJones said...

"The problems with Geni.com as a genealogy tool include ...Dates are input and displayed as MM-DD-YEAR rather than DD-MM-YEAR"

Couldn't agree more. Formats like that cause unnecessary confusion. Alas, Geni's edit box present the three date components in that antilogical order and Geni's profiles show dates in "MMMM d, yyyy" format.
It would be best if Geni used either the ISO 8601 date format ("yyyy-MM-dd") or the "d MMM yyyy" format that GEDCOM uses. Agree with the other two points (maiden names and sourcing) too. Not using maiden names is not just massively annoying, it is plain wrong.

Still, Geni's features matter little as long as it is limited to fairly small databases (a maximum of just 15.000 individuals) and its interface is about as interactive as a sleeping snail.

John said...

Entering input as MM-DD-Year or DD-MM-Year is fine - you need to be able to tell the software, though, which is your preference. Americans will be more comfortable entering it as MM-DD and Europeans more comfortable with DD-MM.

The order of the display doesn't matter either, as long as the month is spelled out, or abbreviated, and the year has four digits. It's when the month and date in the display are both numbers that it's going to be confusing, regardless of the order of the data.

keith said...

I would like to thank everyone for the feedback. As you know, Geni has only been around for a year and a half. We have come a very long way since our inception but we are still heavily developing the product. It was great to hear the reaffirmation of the direction that we are going. Everything that was brought up, in terms of features, is already on our road map.

Although Geni may not be a replacement for your current genealogy program, right now. It definitely makes a good supplement. Engagement amongst family members is something that Geni is trying to accomplish. For a genealogist, this means more content to further their research as well as a medium to share their genealogical research. We hear the same story over and over from genealogists which is, "my family just isn't interested." The interest level of the content amongst the family is not the problem. The problem is the medium in which the content is shared. When genealogical content is shared through a medium that is easy to interpret, fun to use, and offers features that even non-genealogists are interested in, then the response and engagement will be much greater. That is what Geni can offer.

To answer John's question, Geni currently offers MM-DD-Year eg August 18, 2008. In the near future, when we start to Localize Geni, we will offer different ways to enter and display the dates.

Once again, I would like to thank CGSSD and all of the attendees for enabling me present Geni to them. It was a pleasure.

Thank you,

Keith McCarty
www.geni.com

FredHoonen said...

** The order of the display doesn't matter either, as long as the month is spelled out, or abbreviated, and the year has four digits.
I also agree with the idea to use the GEDCOM date format. That's one we already know.

Phil said...

I totally agree that you should be given the choice of formats. My father was FAMOUS for using the European format. It used to drive me crazy! ....It was the 13th day of the 13th month, we will call it Smarch, a la Homer J Simpson

Phil
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