Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Genealogy in the Cloud" Program Summary - Part 2

Gary Hoffman presented "Genealogy in the Cloud" at the Computer Genealogy society of San Diego (CGSSD) meeting on Saturday, 20 June. The talk description was provided here. My Part 1 review of the program is here.

"Computing in the Cloud " refers to Internet based software and web sites where the user does not use genealogy software on their "at home" or "away-from-home" computer, but uses software applications on the Internet (such as Google Docs, Gmail, Internet browser, investment management, photo management, music management, video sharing, social networks, online family trees, gaming, etc.). What else do you do with a computer?The "Internet cloud" is represented by this graphic (which Gary used):

In the second part of his presentation, Gary discussed how genealogists can, and are, and will, do genealogy research in the Cloud.

Today, most genealogists use genealogy software, purchased from a software vendor, on their desktop and laptop computers. From the software programs, users input names, dates and locations, write research notes, create source citations, upload photos and images -- it's all well organized in a super database controlled by the user. The user can create charts, reports and even books using this software.

In the Cloud world, genealogists will use online family tree applications such as Ancestry Member Trees, Geni.com and FamilySearch Family Tree to add, store, and update their genealogy information, including photos and images, source citations, research notes, etc. He mentioned GenerationDB based in India and a Chinese company that has family trees in Chinese characters as up-and-comers in family trees.

Where will your data be in Cloud computing? The data will not be stored on your computer - it will be stored in data centers provided by the host company of the application. Gary made the point that the hosts will probably be located in places with cheap electric power (think hydro-electric and nuclear).

What are the issues, and what are the pros and cons of Genealogy in the Cloud?

Pro: There are no files to lose, they will always be backed up.
Con: Ownership of information is uncertain.

Pro: Users can share information instantly, and collaborate with other researchers.
Con: Other researchers can change the information - what if it's wrong?

Pro: Information can be linked to documentation and records
Con: How long will the information be available?

Pro: Family tree can be added to and shown on any computer platform

Con: Who pays? There are three business models:
* Subscription - think Ancestry.com, OneGreatFamily, etc.
* Advertising
* Corporate sponsorship - think LDS church for FamilySearch

There is another option - to create your own web site with genealogy software like that provided by The Next Generation of Genealogy Software, PHPGedView and PedigreeSoft. The user purchases the software (if required) and buys hosting space for the web site and uploads their current data to the web site.

Gary noted that there are currently three types of genealogy family trees on the Internet:

1) Collections of family trees - examples are Ancestry Member Trees, GenCircles, and Rootsweb WorldConnect. Each tree is maintained as a separate entity and not merged with others.

2) Linked Family Trees - an example is Ancestry's One World Tree, where information in submitted trees are linked together but not automatically merged.

3) Collective Family Trees - examples are One Great Family and Geni where everybody works on one online family tree. FamilySearch Family Tree will be in this category.

For the linked and collective trees, the major issue is how to connect trees together correctly. Resolving duplicates is being done by:

* Automatically merging data - used by OneGreatFamily.com
* Manual tree merging -- used by Geni.com
* Combining without data loss -- used by FamilySearch Family Tree (no data loss, information can be separated at a later date if necessary)

Gary finished the presentation by demonstrating how Ancestry.com Member Trees, Geni.com and FamilySearch Family Tree deal with one person in his family tree - Effie Ann Nutt. He said that he uses Ancestry.com to do research and find records to support his research, and that he uses Geni.com to share his research with his family. He showed a screen for FamilySearch Family Tree where each person will have "folders" of records, photographs, notes, etc. in addition to the names, dates and places for their life record. FS Family Tree sounds like a wiki-type of environment to me that encourages collaboration and discussion.

He said that new FamilySearch is in version 0.9 - available only to most LDS members. Version 1.0 will extend access to non-LDS members. Version 2.0 will permit links to records sometime in the 2010-2019 period. Software vendors have been invited to connect to new FamlySearch so that the data on your computer syncs to the Cloud database in FS Family Tree. Software programs such as Family Insight, Ancestral Quest and RootsMagic 4 will do this now, and other software programs will do it later.

There are, of course, other software programs and family tree sites than those mentioned here.

I do have some comments of my own about this, and will put them in a separate post later.

Note that Dick Eastman had a good article last March titled Computing in the Clouds that covered the software issues very well.

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