Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Conversation with David E. Rencher - Part 2

This is the second post in a series that transcribes parts of my telephone conversation on 21 April with David E. Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer for Part 1 is here.

Part 2 continues with more information about New FamilySearch:

Randy Seaver (RS): We're all spoiled by Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Legacy and Reunion, they all react really fast to input data. I can add ten people in five minutes, not with notes of course. Will the family tree aspect of New FamilySearch be able to match that speed?

David Rencher (DR): I don't know if it matches it, we'll certainly have the convention to do it. The beauty of it is that you can still use those products, and upload your data, so you can still choose to manage your data the way that you like. That to me is a big win - we don't force you down one particular path. If you still like all of the convention and the feature set and the experience that you use with a Legacy or RootsMagic, then you can continue to use that product and I'm sure that they will continue to add to that feature set, and continue to make it a better product. The beauty of it is that you can do both.

If you like the convention of the way we've set up our data entry, and you're comparing a Version 4, 5, 6 of an existing product to Version one of this product, our product will get better over time. We'll get the feedback, we'll go through the iteration cycles, and things will improve. Whether it will be comparable or not, it's like time testing turning on your phones - when you do the head-to-head test some of them turn on faster than others.

RS: The software folks are trying to find ways to synchronize to New FamilySearch, aren't they? If I add ten people to my database, and I already have 20,000 on New FamilySearch, I can go to the software and press a button and my ten new people, my four notes and my five sources, will go onto New FamilySearch.

DR: We've shared the code with them [the software companies] to make sure that they're compatible with the product. That's something that we wanted to ensure and it's not an exclusive with anybody. That's something we want to make sure is available and out there and if that's the way people want to choose to participate, then that's great with us.

RS: When can we expect the non-LDS members to have access? Is there a crystal ball there?

DR: I don't know that I have a crystal ball. From all accounts, I don't have a date. Hopefully, either later this year or early next year. We're hoping that it's soon. There are some things that I want to make sure that the known challenges and issues are identified, or that we have an answer for, they may or may not be fixed yet, but at least we can share the genealogical community that "yes, it is on our radar, yes we understand that it doesn't work exactly the way you want it to, and yes we are going to fix it." Those are the kinds of messages that we will have to make sure the people will understand, and that the people will withhold judgment on the "new baby" until it matures a little bit.

RS: There's always the maturity issue, isn't there? We've seen it on Ancestry and Footnote and the others. And your site too.

DR: We all remember those images painting across our screen at a slow rate.

RS: Technology is amazing. I look back ten years, and I look at what I was doing and how I was doing it. In ten years from now, it will be really impressive.

DR: Exactly. And whose crystal ball can predict?

RS: Will I as a non-LDS member be able to read all of the information for a person on New FamilySearch?

DR: All of the information except for the LDS ordinance data, there's no real reason to have that data. All of the genealogical information will be open to the public.

RS: Will I be able to contribute to it - to add content to a person?

DR: Absolutely. In fact, we welcome your content and your contributions. One of the things we want to do in a very collaborative nature is to reduce the amount of effort and duplication that people do on a particular research problem. If you and I work on the same problem, and you and I end up spending ten dollars a pop on the same vital record certificate, to the tune of six, eight or ten certificates, that's a lot of money that we could spend on something else for the same problem. So we really hope that people will collaborate and be able to do that. That's going to require a mindset change because as genealogists we are not used to having our data out there where virtually anybody can view it, share it, and contribute.

What happens today is that you and I get together, and we develop a relationship and I reach a point at which I say "I think I can trust Randy with my data" and therefore I will expand my little network here to include Randy and he's now one of my trusted confidants, and I'm confident in his research ability and his attention to detail, and he thinks like I do as far as approach, and now you're there.

In a Wikipedia approach to genealogy, if you will, that's a completely different world. In a collaborative environment where anybody can play, we don't have that gradual disclosure, the ability of bringing each one of those people into our trusted circle of confidants, one by one. So what we do instead is we monitor what's going on - a "watch this page" mentality which says "somebody just changed this data" and I get an email alert and I go and look at it and now I may agree or disagree with the change the person's made. If I disagree with it, the beauty of the collaborative nature of it is that I can immediately contact them and say "I'm curious, why did you do this, in this way?" They may say "Oh, I may have messed that up, did I mess that up?" "Yeah, you messed that up." In which case they may back out.

RS: So, it will be like a wiki environment, like WeRelate, or some of the others?

DR: It will be a collaborative effort in which we are working together to solve genealogical problems and share data. The beauty of it is that down the road, as we are able to add artifacts and other things, then the evidence is right there. Now when I have my source data, I can actually attach the artifact, and you can actually see the document, not just the reference of the source citation for the document.

The other thing that is going to smoke out is that you and I, right now what isn't transparent to us, is when you are working on, let's pick a common name, say John Williams; you go out and claim a record for the John Williams you are working on, and I claim the same record for the John Williams I am working on, even though they are two completely different people. That is masked right now, to us, because we don't see it unless we happen to read each other's work, and happen to notice that we both cited the same record. In a collaborative environment, when we go to attach the same record to two different parts of the pedigree, with two completely different identifiers, it's going to alert us, and so it will say "This John Williams record is already attached to this John Williams over here in the pedigree, are you sure you want to attach it?" Then we can suddenly pull back the covers and say "oh wow, we're both claiming the same guy." Isn't that kind of neat?

RS: And long term, you're providing a lot of those records with the Family Search Indexing of all the microfilms and all of the databases. It's been my view for years now that when you get the probates and the lands and the taxes and the vitals all imaged and indexed, that a lot of the brick walls are going to tumble.

DR: I think that's going to happen. The other thing that's going to happen is that from these types of pedigrees, we're going to be able to determine where the ends of the lines are, so we're going to be able to determine where people are stuck. When we can determine that, then we can determine as a community where to apply our resources, to figure that out, and figure out what the solution should be.

RS: So everything you've told me about this, it sounds just like what I saw on the Life Browser some years ago, when you had that on the Family Search Labs. I loved that, I loved the vision of it.

DR: The same guys that tested the Life Browser are the ones that are continuing to develop these, and Family Search Labs is there to be able to test concepts, and we gather feedback from people. That's what happens in this environment and it's really kind of neat.

In the next segment, we will discuss Family Search Indexing and more!

I'm curious - what other questions should I have asked David about New FamilySearch? Or what wasn't explained well? Please send comments - perhaps David will read them and respond to them either in Comments or via email to you or me.

Isn't collaboration wonderful?

1 comment:

James Tanner said...

Thanks again for your insight and interview. It has been really helpful to my understanding of the process. I guess I am a little more hopeful there is a ray of light at the end of the New FamilySearch tunnel. My major issue is, of course, the tangle of misinformation surrounding my own family on NFS. When you get unrelated individuals added into families or one generation added as their own grandparents, or the same individuals added as a child, then a parent, then a grandparent with no documentation and no way to sort out the mess, what do they intend to do? Ignore that problem? I can give dozens of examples with Person Identifier Numbers of all of these problems. Another problem is the refusal of some people to even communicate much less collaborate. We have people who a actively antagonistic to changing their inaccurate information. I will do another blog post with an analysis of the information in my parents' and grandparents' files to show how the information is almost braided in with wrong information. That is the main issue I would like to see resolved. Give me a way to correct the data and I will do it.