Wednesday, March 27, 2013

FHISO and GEDCOM X Musings

In my post, Post-RootsTech 2013 Musings on 25 March, I stated:

"I went to the FHISO panel discussion and was disappointed by the information provided there."

I received an email soon after, and comments on the blog post, asking why I was disappointed, and I replied to the email correspondent:

"I was disappointed because my expectations were higher than reality. It seemed like the FHISO panel had nothing to say about actual nuts and bolts work on any standard. They all spoke in general terms and platitudes about the members of FHISO, how much had been accomplished getting into the standards world, and that they were working on a Call for White Papers. Robert Burkhead was the only panelist who said much about anything. I asked a question about what the "vision of FHISO" was and Bruce Buzbee was the only one who actually answered the question. Part of my question was that it seemed like GEDCOM X was going to be the GEDCOM replacement by default.

"My expectation walking into the meeting was that I would hear about progress toward a GEDCOM replacement and the other standards that would be created.  My expectations were too high, obviously.  My fault... There is no list of projects - only a Call for Papers that might eventually form a list and actual standards down the road a bit.  There was no mention of a GEDCOM replacement except that Ryan Heaton is talking nice about FHISO and vice versa.  I learned later [in a private discussion] that the GEDCOM X beta is due in May 2013, and that the FamilySearch Family Tree (FSFT) API uses it.  Bruce Buzbee didn't tell me that, but told me that the FSFT API does not includes Sources, Notes or Discussions yet, but that it eventually will.

"Reading the tea leaves, GEDCOM X will be what FSFT uses, and perhaps will be one of the white papers offered, and perhaps they will apply for FHISO approval.  A cynic would say "GEDCOM X will be the GEDCOM replacement since no other alternative was developed."  The interesting thing will be if GEDCOM X is accepted by the FHISO members and the other software providers and online tree companies. It may be that GEDCOM 5.5 and GEDCOM X have to be accounted for in any genealogy data exchanges."

My hope is that the Family History International Standards Organisation (FHISO) effort will result in a GEDCOM replacement that is open, understandable, complete, can be modified, and will be utilized by every genealogy software program and online family tree.  I was an early member of the BetterGEDCOM effort, but dropped away when I knew that I couldn't offer much to the discussion.  I have been, and still am, impatient for progress to occur towards this goal.

I did not attend the GEDCOM X session at RootsTech 2013 given by Ryan Heaton of FamilySearch.  There is a GEDCOM X web page at with more information about it. The Requirements document for GEDCOM X is at

Other RootsTech 2013 attendees have weighed in on this issue, including:

1)  Michael McCormick wrote a summary of it in My RootsTech 2013: Day 1 - FamilySearch reveals website beta and vision, BillionGraves tech plans.  The paragraph about this issue says:

"In the FHISO (Family History Information Standards Organization) class at 3pm, many of us voiced the community's opinion that FHISO was working too slowly and we wanted to see FamilySearch working with them. To the credit of both FHISO and Ryan of GEDCOMX (FamilySearch), they mentioned each other in a friendly manner. The points in the FHISO discussion seemed not to be answered to the satisfaction of many present. For example, it was asked what we have to work with today regarding a better GEDCOM model. It was asked where we might read more specifics of a suggested model for any particular standards. 

"While the answers there seemed soft and tentative, the GEDCOMX vision discussed in the next hour was well defined--an example of a modern and live (within FamilySearch) model that could be used by FHISO and altered to the community's needs. Ryan was enthusiastic about the idea of working with FHISO to adjust the 'open' GEDCOMX. The complexities were interesting. It was mentioned that the name GEDCOMX is owned by FamilySearch and requires a citation crediting them, but the things needed to implement it are all open and may be altered without permission. When we asked Ryan about why FamilySearch had not officially joined FHISO, Ryan told us that he wanted the same thing and we should take it to upper management because his recommendation was previously dismissed. We do not know why the choice was made, so it is our job to try and find contact information for the right person (that isn't easy) and tell them we want to see an official partnership."

2)  Michael Dorsey Iams commented on my earlier post and said:  

"I also attended the FHISO panel meeting and I think there was much frustration in the room regarding the lack of a plan of action. While there is consensus that GEDCOM 5.5 is insufficient for today's needs, there seemed to be no sense of urgency among any of the panel members toward resolving the situation. The words from RootsMagic, BrightSolid, & Ancestry were that they don't have any particular agenda, but would like a seat at the table. Understandable, but that does not sound like any of them are looking to take a leadership role, or at least do it publicly in front of the small number of people in attendance. 

"What I take from the FHISO tagline 'It begins here, it begins with you' is the goal of FHISO is to only facilitate the creation of the standards, and maintain neutrality, to the point of passivity. Is it not possible for a standards organization to set a goal of defining a standard by a set time? The hope seems that coalitions will coalesce out of the "Call for Papers" and drive the process forward. Given the minimal of progress over the last several years, more concrete plans are desired.

"What I wanted to see from the meeting was a statement of goals for the organization and a presentation of the strategy to get there over the next year. I don't believe any goals or commitments were made at the meeting. Although I would prefer goals for creation of a successor GEDCOM standard, I would settle for goals regarding the organization itself and building the necessary capabilities. What sort of budget and membership is required? What marketing will be done to get the word out? What skill sets are needed in the organization to make this happen? And most importantly, how are we going to get there?"

3)  Russ Worthington commented on my earlier post and said:  

"I wasn't going to jump in on this topic, but I find that I must.  There are two words that WE, the end users, need to understand. 'International' and 'Standard'. Short translation, 'VERY SLOW'.

"The current leaders of FHISO are ALL volunteers, NO corporation is provided the resources to "produce" something. As I listened to the community gathered, I came away with that community was expecting a product, or something, or progress from RootsTech 2012. The FHISO volunteers meet weekly, from around the world. I don't attend them, but [they] are attempting to pull the right folks (People and companies) to get a new standard started.

"I have been involved with Standards before. I helped fund several people to write Papers, as in Call for Papers. Taking those papers to an end product, took far too long, but the end product, when the Working Groups took those working papers and created a standard, was something that the everyone can use.

"'Upgrading' / Updating the current GEDCOM has been discussed since the Better GEDCOM days, but to me that is creating limitations on the standard, based on the change in the technologies that we have today.

"Michael Dorsey asked about funding. I am not sure that the Organisation can determine that, as it is not clear to me just how big this project is. The call for papers, I think, will help the companies involved, determine the funding level within those companies.

"My take on this presentation was positive. What I saw was some of the right groups at the table at the front of the room. Software companies, genealogists, and end users.

"What I didn't hear, and would have like to have heard, was What does a Call for Papers mean to End Users and companies who FHISO needs to sign up for this project. How can an End User participate directly with FHISO. To me, the End User can be involved in TWO ways. Part of FHISO and to be talking with my software vendor, encouraging them to be part of FHISO.

"My two cents on this topic."

Thank you to Michael, Michael and Russ for your helpful comments.  

If other attendees to either the FHISO or GEDCOM X presentations have comments, I would greatly appreciate them in Comments to this post and will edit this post to include salient comments.

I did receive a followup email from my correspondent who said that the FHISO panelists were working on a response about issues raised at the FHISO panel session.  I look forward to that, and thank the FHISO panelists for their patience and efforts.  I will try to be more patient.  

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Cousin Russ said...


Thank you for the follow up and the dialog.

During the session and discussions afterward, I thought about the expectations that you brought up. I also understand the reason for your questions IN the session.

But, I am wondering if there wasn't something else going on. So, I went back to the Schedule and I realized that this was a "developer day" session.

I am wondering if the FHISO representatives were expecting developers, but there were a number of End Users there or a different audience of blend of folks hearing about what FHISO was up to.

Again, thanks for bringing this topic up.

Just a thought.


Drew said...

mccormick is a member of the mormon 'church' and a familysearch groupie
he has always promoted gedcomx

Drew Smith said...

Just to give some needed perspective:

ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) was founded in 1947.

Its first standard was published in 1951.

So, you can either have it fast, or you can have it right, but you can't have it both ways at the same time.

Louis Kessler said...


What people need to appreciate is how hard the FHISO people have worked to get this far.

It has been mentioned that they are all volunteers and there are only a half-dozen people in the core group who have been doing all the work in their spare time.

In the course of a year, they have legalized themselves (that took many months), set up a website (they are standards people, not webmasters), and spent most of the year attracting the top organizations and companies to be willing to support their efforts as founding members, including, RootsMagic, Wikitree, ourFamily-ology, Calico Pie, Coret Genealogie, the FGS, the FFHS, Brightsolid and Mocavo.

RootsTech 2003 was their first physical ventures out as a legal entity, and the volunteers managed to raise enough money and do the design to build a professional quality booth and have representatives station it for the duration of the conference.

The FHISO panel was a last minute thing given to them just a week before RootsTech. They put together a very impressive group of people as panel members, wouldn't you say?

FHISOs goal at this point obviously is to garner interest now of the developers. The people organizing FHISO are standards people. They are not genealogy software developers. They are very willing to take the moshposh that willing developers are interested in contributing and help organize that into the standards we are all looking for.

But they will need that interest and input from not a handful, but a large number of technical people from around the world.

So no, they don't have content yet. But they have come out now and are formally seeking input for that content through their Call For Papers.

We as genealogists and developers want a new standard we can all use. FHISO is the grassroots movement that started to get this to happen.

It is in all our best interests to help this effort in whatever way we can. Blogging about it is one way. Thank you Randy, for this post about FHISO.