Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Building a Better GEDCOM - my ruminations

I mentioned the Build a Better GEDCOM Wiki over a month ago and urged genealogists interested in improving genealogy software to participate in the discussions, the testing and development of an improved standard that all genealogy software can use. The discussions are ongoing about not only GEDCOMs, but also genealogy research standards.

One of the most interesting pages on the site is the What's Wrong with GEDCOM? page.  Click on the Discussion tab and see what people are saying.

And now there is a Build a Better GEDCOM Blog, with DearMYRTLE, GeneJ and Russ participating.  Russ used a small GEDCOM file from Family Tree Maker 2011 and imported it into a number of other programs, with interesting, and different, results.  These tests highlight the problems with current genealogy software, I think.  Read their posts and comment if you have a question or suggestion.

From my own blog posts about FTM 16, FTM 2011, RootsMagic4 and Legacy Family Tree 7, readers can see some of the problems I've encountered, both real and imagined. 

It's a given that most researchers don't really care about the standards, they just want software that works for them - is easy to use, is quick, looks good, produces decent reports and charts, and creates a GEDCOM file that can be shared with other researchers, ported to another program or uploaded to a website. 

I think that most researchers buy one program and use it and hope that the GEDCOM it creates will be adequate for uploading to a website or importing to another program.  Implicit in that is that the GEDCOM from one program can be read and understood by another program.  Also implicit is that the GEDCOM file created uses standard terminology.  The current GEDCOM de facto standard is apparently 5.5. 

It's apparent to me that not every software program can accurately create a GEDCOM file fully complicit with GEDCOM 5.5 standards.  If so, then the data in my GEDCOM file from FTM 16 would translate into exactly the same information in FTM 2011, RootsMagic or Legacy.  It doesn't.  I don't know whose fault that is, but I would like to find out.

Shouldn't every genealogy software program provide a fully compatible GEDCOM file to the 5.5 standard?   Which ones do?  I don't know, but I'd like to find out.  What would be left out if they did? 

I understand that this is not simple, and I understand that the different software companies have added content specific to their own programs in order to add features not incorporated in the GEDCOM 5.5 standard. 

I've invested several months of time to improve my own database - fixing data errors, adding many sources for facts, standardizing place names, etc. I found that adding and editing sources and source citations was easily handled by FTM 16.   In order to do the standardizing place names task as quickly and easily as possible, I imported the FTM 16 file into Family Tree Maker 2011.  Am I now "stuck" with using FTM 2011 forever now?  I guess I am if the task to correct the GEDCOM creation and exportation errors in FTM 2011 or the GEDCOM importation and translation errors in another program is too onerous to pursue. 

One method that looks like it might transcend GEDCOM is a program like GenBridge, which reads genealogy software databases in their native format and creates a database file in the native format of another genealogy software program.  That sounds wonderful, but is it sufficiently developed to be offered commercially, and will it be continuously updated as genealogy software programs mature and change over time?

Build a Better GEDCOM envisions a much larger task, and it is a significant challenge to complete.  If you have some expertise in this area, I hope that you will participate in the discussions and creating solutions.  I am heartened to see Bruce Buzbee of RootsMagic and Louis Kessler of Behold! at least reading and commenting on the site and the blog. 

If you have a problem with one or more aspects of GEDCOM or with a specific software program, then raise your issue at Build a Better GEDCOM and volunteer to help solve it.

UPDATE 16 December:  For some reason, Blogger did not accept a comment from Tamura Jones on this post.  He tried six times, and I received the comment in my email each time, but the comment disappeared shortly after it was posted.  I don't know why and did not delete the comments myself.  The comment was cogwent and helpful.  Here it is:

Tamura Jones has left a new comment on your post "Building a Better GEDCOM - my ruminations":


Randy,

I announced the Building a Better GEDCOM blog more than a week ago, in the best way possible; inside the third GeneaBlog Awards :-)
GeneaBlog Awards 2010

My recent Direct Import article discusses the pros & cons of direct import over standardised formats. This is a general software architecture article, not specific to genealogy, but it does discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using a third party component for direct import.

- Tamura

5 comments:

GeneJ said...

Hi Randy:
Thank you for spotlighting the BetterGEDCOM effort.

We are user-driven. BetterGEDCOM is seeking out information and consensus at an international level, independent of any genealogical organization.

All our work is being done on the wiki and blog, both "open door" workspaces.

The dialog covers both a short and long term objectives; different approaches to methodology as well.

We are learning how these work spaces can be used to find balance and reach consensus.

Thank you again! --GJ

Russ said...

Randy,

Would it be OK if I create a link to some of your Blog entries on the BetterGEDCOM Blog where you have had these experiences.

I am suggesting that we share your experience some how.

I am for cross posting this sharing of our research so that the developers and those contributing to the BetterGEDCOM Wiki have at least one place to see real user experience when Sharing information.

Not that they don't already know, but don't want to leave our experience to chance.

Please let me know.

Thank you,

Russ

Myrt said...

THANKS for the shout-out, Randy.

The next step at BetterGEDCOM is a large group meeting where the "techie" types determine a time line for implementation, and a method for agreeing at each step on the way.

It's amazing the amount of work folks have put into the wiki and the blog.

As an end-user, I am learning a lot about communicating with the "techie" types.

Tamura Jones said...

Randy,

I announced the Building a Better GEDCOM blog more than a week ago, in the best way possible; inside the third GeneaBlog Awards :-)
GeneaBlog Awards 2010

My recent Direct Import article discusses the pros & cons of direct import over standardised formats. This is a general software architecture article, not specific to genealogy, but it does discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using a third party component for direct import.

- Tamura

Tamura Jones said...

Randy,

I announced the Building a Better GEDCOM blog more than a week ago, in the best way possible; inside the third GeneaBlog Awards :-)
GeneaBlog Awards 2010

My recent Direct Import article discusses the pros & cons of direct import over standardised formats. This is a general software architecture article, not specific to genealogy, but it does discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using a third party component for direct import.

- Tamura