Modern Software Experience

2012-08-31

FamilySearch abandons GEDCOM X push

history repeats

FamilySearch has a remarkable history of abandoning their own standards. They abandoned GEDCOM, which had become and still is a de facto industry standard, simply because they believed that they themselves did not need it anymore. Few people know that FamilySearch abandoned GED XML, because FamilySearch themselves never published the GEDCOM 5.6 specification that contains it. It is widely known that FamilySearch made a lot of noise about GEDCOM XML, which they also called GEDCOM 6.0, and even provided a Beta specification about a year after the initial draft, but then abandoned that as well.

FamilySearch is aware of the poor reputation regarding standards it created for itself. When they opened up the GEDCOM X site, the GEDCOM X FAQ page on the GEDCOM X contained two questions and answers that address the concern that FamilySearch might abandon GEDCOM X as well:

What if GEDCOM X goes stagnant like all the other standards efforts?

It won't.

But what if it does?

Well, the licenses are open; you could fork the project. But you'd want to seriously consider the danger of community fragmentation.

GEDCOM X

Late in 2011, I revealed the GEDCOM X project, and genealogy vendors starting looking through the source code for FamilySearch's new standard. Early 2012, during their RootsTech show, FamilySearch confirmed that GEDCOM X is their new standard for the industry.
During his speech, former FamilySearch CEO Jay Verkler claimed that FamilySearch and others are working on GEDCOM X, but did not identify those others. In the more than half a year since RootsTech 2012 not one genealogy company has publicly expressed support for GEDCOM X.

history

FamilySearch presented their GEDCOM X project only after the OpenGen and BetterGEDCOM efforts got some traction.
However, some investigation into the origins of GEDCOM X showed that parts of the source date back as far as 2008. That naturally raises some questions about the project history, the actual influence of OpenGen and BetterGEDCOM, and why, if FamilySearch really wanted it to be some community project, it was not introduced much earlier.
One can speculate that the project originally had a different goal.

The key fact remains that GEDCOM X is a proprietary FamilySearch standard; the project's source code is published, you can comment upon it, you can even code for the project, but all the key project decisions continue to be made by FamilySearch behind closed FamilySearch doors.

FamilySearch has drastically repositioned their GEDCOM X project, and has abandoned their push for GEDCOM X as the new industry standard.

GEDCOM X abandoned

About a day ago, FamilySearch announced that it has abandoned GEDCOM X. Well, perhaps abandoning isn't exactly the right word, but that sure is the essence of it. FamilySearch has drastically repositioned their GEDCOM X project, and has abandoned their push for GEDCOM X as the new industry standard.

In his 2012 Aug 29 GEDCOM X blog post Hello, [I am] GEDCOM X, Nice to Meet You. Again, FamilySearch employee and GEDCOM X project leader Ryan Heaton drops the claim that GEDCOM X is the new industry standard, and repositions GEDCOM X as just some FamilySearch open source project.

GEDCOM X changes

There is more than the blog post. That blog post is merely an announcement. Many little and not so little things were changes before that blog post was made.

The GEDCOM X home page used to claims that GEDCOM X is the industry standard.... It does not say so anymore.
The project commit for this change and other changes made a few days ago reads site content scrub and update, removing claims to GEDCOM X being a 'standard'
The one-line description for the GEDCOM X project still reads The neXt GEnealogical Data COMmunications standard, but that is probably just an oversight that will be rectified soon.

FamilySearch has quietly dropped any pretense that they won't abandon GEDCOM X.

I doubt that the brief It won't answer in the GEDCOM X FAQ removed any vendor's doubt that GEDCOM X's future was uncertain, but FamilySearch just removed that text completely.
If you browse to the GEDCOM X FAQ today, you won't find any attempt anymore to reassure you that GEDCOM X won't go stagnant anymore. There's not even a hint that those two questions and answers used to be there. FamilySearch has quietly dropped any pretense that they won't abandon GEDCOM X.

The GEDCOM X project continues as the FamilySearch open source project it already is. That FamilySearch is no longer reassuring us that GEDCOM X will stick around suggest that FamilySearch is already planning to reduce the staff assigned to the GEDCOM X project.

Now that FamilySearch is no longer trying to push GEDCOM X as an industry standard, other companies may be more willing to invest in and support the GEDCOM X project, but few are likely to bother with GEDCOM X until FamilySearch itself is using it.

FHISO

During his RootsTech keynote speech, the former FamilySearch CEO not only talked about GEDCOM X as if FamilySearch is the company to make a new standard for the industry, but even as if the Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO), born from the BetterGEDCOM project, did not exist.
That has not stopped leading genealogy companies like Ancestry.com and RootsMagic from joining FHISO as a founding member. Recently, WikiTree joined, and more genealogy product and service vendors are expected to follow.

When the GEDCOM X site opened up, the GEDCOM X FAQ contained this:

Have you heard about BetterGEDCOM, OpenGen?

Of course. We've heard about them and many others who are making efforts to standardize genealogical technologies. We applaud the work of everybody willing to contribute to the standardization effort, and we hope they will continue to contribute their voices.

You may have to read that twice to fully grok what it does and does not say.

That text is gone now. This is what the GEDCOM X FAQ contains today:

What about FHISO?

We like FHISO, and we're trying to do what we can to support their vision. We're looking forward to seeing what comes of their good efforts. See Whence FHISO.

That is a significant change in FamilySearch's stance.

background

The GEDCOM X: FamilySearch First article already drew attention to the background for these drastic changes. That article was triggered by the previous GEDCOM X blog post, which is a classic case of Foot. Aim. Shoot..
At RootsTech 2012, Jay Verkler was trying hard to sell GEDCOM X as a community standard. In that blog post, Ryan Heaton, the GEDCOM X project leader, explicitly states that GEDCOM X is not vendor neutral, but that FamilySearch comes first, heck, that FamilySearch is the only real requirement for GEDCOM X.

FamilySearch's chequered history made it hard to gain support for GEDCOM X already, this right-out admission that they were not even going to try to be vendor-neutral made it impossible.
There must have been some serious discussion within FamilySearch on how to proceed the past. The latest GEDCOM X changes and blog post tell us what FamilySearch decided; they've abandoned the GEDCOM X standardisation effort. The GEDCOM X project is not gone, but FamilySearch is no longer pushing for their GEDCOM X to become an industry standard.

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