Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Glimpses of GEDCOM X

One of the major news flashes at the RootsTech 2012 Conference was the unveiling of GEDCOM X, a development of a replacement GEDCOM standard for transferring data between different programs and websites.  For those unfamiliar with GEDCOM, it is how users like me share my family tree information with other researchers (who might use a different genealogy software program than I do) or to put my genealogy  information in an online family tree.

At the start of the conference, Tamura Jones on the Modern Software Experience blog posted about it in

.  Most genealogists got their first look at the vision of GEDCOM X during Jay Verkler's Keynote address on Thursday, titled "Inventing the Future, as a Community."  Jay showed this diagram to define how GEDCOM X will work:

He then went on to describe some of the requirements for inclusion in GEDCOM X as:

*  Links and linked information 
*  Embedded media
*  Clear model
*  RESTful Interfaces
*  Extensible

Somebody smarter than me will have to explain all of those.  

If you are interested in FamilySearch's vision of the future for genealogy, I urge you to watch Jay Verkler's Keynote talk on Thursday, which you can see at www.rootstech.org/live.

Some RootsTech attendees attended two talks by Ryan Heaton of FamilySearch about GEDCOM X.  The Ancestry Insider summarized the first talk in his post Ryan Heaton: A New GEDCOM.  Unfortunately, there is no syllabus for either of Ryan's presentations.  There are links, however, to three GEDCOM X websites at http://gedcomx.net, http://gedcomx.org and http://github.com/FamilySearch/gedcomx.

On the GEDCOMX.org site, the Project Definition and Project Goals are stated as:

GEDCOM X is the technological standard whereby genealogical data is stored, shared, searched, and secured across all phases of the genealogical research process.  GEDCOM X defines the fundamental building blocks of genealogical data and is the foundation of integration with the genealogical development community.

  • Discover their family and heritage, preserve their identity, and publish their life story.
  • Reduce duplication of sources, relationships, and identities.
  • Identify people in photos, in documents, on gravestones, and in other sources of information.
  • Keep track of the progress made in family research.
  • Distribute and share genealogical information.
The site also defines the Value of the Community as:
  • Development will happen more quickly.
  • The standards should meet the needs of a wider range of family history products and services.
  • The people who shape the standards will be in the best position to use them effectively.
  • We can better incorporate the requirements of the mobile and social media technologies that have already changed the way we discover and share family history.
  • Those who create genealogical apps and services should be involved in shaping the standard toolset.
That sounds all well and good, doesn't it?  Reviewing the GEDCOM X Wiki on the Github site home page (https://github.com/FamilySearch/gedcomx/wikireveals that this effort started in May 2011 at FamilySearch.  

Here is a graphic depicting the Conceptual Model of GEDCOM X:

There is discussion of this model on the page.  The home page also links to a Data Models wiki page for three different models - the Record Model, the Conclusion Model and the Metadata Model.  The Conclusion Model graphic is shown below:

I won't pretend that I understand all of this, but I hope that some of my readers do, and will use the links to these pages to educate themselves and then educate the community at large.

Lastly, there was an Unconferencing session at RootsTech on Friday with a panel discussion titled "Metadata, GEDCOM and Source Citations" moderated by The Ancestry Insider.  My notes for this session are summarized by:

"I went off at 4:15 p.m. for the UnConference panel discussion on Metadata, GEDCOM and Source Citations hosted by the Ancestry Insider.  There were seven panelists including Dallan Quass (WeRelate.org), Ryan Heaton (FamilySearch GEDCOM X ), Robert Godfrey (Google and Genealogy), John Vilburn (Ohana Software), Louis Lessler (Behold! software), Robert Burkhead (FHISO/BetterGEDCOM) and Bruce Buzbee (RootsMagic).  

"After an hour of talking about metadata, the questions finally turned to GEDCOM and sources.  Ryan summed up the GEDCOM X initiative saying FamilySearch has developed a model and now wants community involvement.  Robert summed up the BetterGEDCOM effort saying they had good community involvement but had no model work done.  Everyone wants to collaborate ...  I asked if they thought that the historical collection providers, the family tree systems, and the genealogy software companies will all collaborate?  Bruce and John said their companies would, and said that once a standard was announced that they could implement it within one month.  That's a start.  I also asked if Ancestry.com had been approached and Ryan and Robert said yes, but would divulge no [further] information.  Louis said that if the genealogy community wanted the new GEDCOM standard then Ancestry would lose market share and influence if they did not implement it.  Hopefully, someone with better note taking ability will summarize the whole thing."

That's all I know about GEDCOM X.  I hope that this does come to fruition in a relatively short period of time, with collaboration from all of the major "players."

Defining a new standard is one thing.  I think that adoption of a new standard by everyone involved - the developers, the family tree software programmers, and the family tree providers - is a significant challenge.  I'm pretty sure that FamilySearchGEDCOM standard.  I'm not so sure about all of the online family tree websites, because of the additional programming required.  Will Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, Geni, WeRelate.org, WikiTree, and other family tree sites enthusiastically adopt a new GEDCOM standard, especially if it is significantly different from the present standard?  

What about the non-North American genealogy software companies and family tree websites?  Will there be sufficient flexibility in the new GEDCOM standard to accommodate different languages, alphabets, naming systems and calendars?  

I'm sure that I've left out a lot in my discussion above.  What do you think?  What are your issues?  

Copyright (c) Randall J. Seaver, 2012

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