Modern Software Experience

2009-10-21

GenSoftReviews

One Year

About one year ago, Louis Kessler changed his page of Genealogy Software Links into the GenSoftReviews site, where everyone can post short reviews and ratings of genealogy applications.

ratings

The initial wave attention for the new site attracted quite a visitors who left a review of one or more genealogy applications. Most of these reviews include ratings. You have to read the reviews to get the thoughts behind the ratings, but the ratings themselves can be averaged. The GenSoftReviews site allows reviewers to rate of several aspects and allows readers to sort by how reviewers rated each aspect, or by the overall rating calculated from these individual aspects.

A few months after the release, there were more than 300 reviews and ratings already, enough to make a first overview that reflects the overall opinion of all these reviewers, the wisdom of the crowd. The GenSoftReviews Ranking tells us which genealogical applications are highest rated by their users- and which ones are rated lowest.

overall rating

An overall rating means little if there is only one review with ratings. GenSoftReviews calculates and shows the overall rating anyway, and show it is based on just one review, but I prefer to set a minimum, to avoid wild fluctuations of the overall score.

When I looked at the overall rating last year, I decided to restrict the ranking to applications that had at least five reviews. That was just a few months after the introduction of GenSoftReviews. The GenSoftReviews site has been up for more than a year now. I wanted to go for a minimum of ten reviews, but there were some 300 reviews back then and there are still less than 500 reviews today, so it was not immediately obvious that ten would be doable.

numbers

The 479 reviews that GenSoftReviews boasts today are far from equally distributed over the 453 products in its database. More than half the products still have no review at all. Most reviews are for the best known products.

After making a table of all products with more than five reviews, I noticed that there are a few products with 5, 6 or 7 reviews, but almost none with 8, 9, 10. The one exception is dynastree with 9 reviews.

I decided to go ahead with the minimum of ten reviews, and once again provide some notes on the products that did not make the GenSoftReviews Ranking this year.

GenSoftReviews Ranking 2009

  1. RootsMagic
  2. Legacy Family Tree
  3. Brother’s Keeper
  4. The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding
  5. Personal Ancestral File
  6. Reunion
  7. MyHeritage Family Tree Builder
  8. The Master Genealogist
  9. Family Tree Maker Classic
  10. Geni
  11. New Family Tree Maker
  12. Clooz

RootsMagic

RootsMagic is the big winner this year, moving up from number 3 to number 1. This is hardly a surprise. RootsMagic version 4 is a Unicode application that is fast, easy to use and offers many features. There was a serious beta test, and RootsMagic is now focussing on fixing all the mostly small defects that slipped through anyway with a steady stream of updates. This ranking reflects that RootsMagic customers are happy.

Second Site

However, I have to note that if the cut-off point had remained five reviews, that Second Site for TMG would still be listed above RootsMagic. There were five reviews for Second Site last year, and there are still the same five reviews this year. Since the last overview, not one user has bothered to say anything positive or negative about it.

It is remarkable to see that a utility for TMG is rated so high. Perhaps it is because it rescues the users of TMG from one of the most painful shortcomings of TMG, its inability to create a good-looking web site.

The Master Genealogist

The overall rating for TMG itself is less than impressive.
You might expect that Family Tree Maker has the highest number of reviews, but even when you add the number of reviews for Family Tree Maker Classic (13) and New Family Tree Maker (33) together, The Master Genealogist still has more reviews (62). Browsing through these reviews, it is easy to recognise two groups of users; those who are completely disenchanted with this product and those who keep raving about it.

Family Tree Maker

Family Tree Maker Classic

Neither version of Family Tree Maker fares very well in this ranking. The low ranking of Family Tree Maker Classic (version 16 and before) seems easily explained; the application has not seen updates in years and the last few updates, from version 14 to 15 to 16, were less than impressive. However, it is not as simple as that. Personal Ancestral File has not seen updates in years either, and has a fairly high ranking. Reading through the reviews, a common complaint about FTM seems to be dissatisfaction with its output, both the GEDCOM output and the reports.

New Family Tree Maker

The low rating of New Family Tree Maker (version 2008 and later) needs no explanation. Family Tree Maker 2008 is simply the worst downgrade in the history of genealogy software. The reviews of this product are raging with frustration and discontent.
The overall rating sends Ancestry.com a clear message that several reviews state explicitly: this new product still does not compare positively to the old Family Tree Maker 16. In fact, New Family Tree Maker remains a bottom-rated application that barely wins from Clooz.

Clooz

Clooz prolongates its position as the lowest-rated genealogy application. Not even applications with just one negative review dip below it. Multiple reviews note that the products does not perform as expected. What the reviews do not note is that the vendor seems to have abandoned its users. There have not been any updates for years.

Geni.com

Last year, Geni did not have enough ratings to make the list. This year, Geni saves Family Tree Maker Classic from a position in the bottom three. Twenty mostly negative reviews pull Geni’s ranking down to Family Tree Maker level, in between Family Tree Maker Classic and New Family Tree Maker. Geni.com Grumblings explains what Geni.com blunder prompted the user outrage expressed in the surge of negative reviews posted in February. Geni.com has improved since then, but users seem hesitant to post new reviews.

Reunion

Last year, Reunion topped the list. Users were still quite happy with Reunion version 9 introduced back in 2007. It is just that this year, RootsMagic and Legacy users were treated to new versions, while Reunion users were not, so focus of reviewers is predictably shifting from how great the new features to whatever is still wrong it.

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder

Despite new releases, MyHeritage Family Tree Builder has maintained its position below Personal Ancestral File and above The Master Genealogist. Some of the early reviews are ridiculously positive, sentiments in more recent reviews are mixed.

Personal Ancestral File

Despite a lack of updates, Personal Ancestral File continues do well in the rankings. Although FamilySearch continues to push this software to new users on its FamilySearch home page, it is fair to say that they have abandoned this product.

With only six reviews, Ancestral Quest did no longer have the required number of reviews for a ranking, but if six had been enough, Ancestral Quest would once again rank below Personal Ancestral File. That, and some of the reviews, shows that many users favour the speed and simplicity of PAF over the features of AQ.

Brother’s Keeper

I continue to be surprised by the high ranking of Brother’s Keeper. A brief browse through the reviews explains why its receives such stellar ratings; most reviews have been written by people who have been using it for many, many years. These users have grown so accustomed to this product that they may no longer recognise its flaws as such, perhaps even see other applications as inferior for being different. Still, there is a lesson here, most notably for Ancestry.com and Geni.com management, about the value of keeping existing customers happy.

Legacy Family Tree

RootsMagic may be number one, but Legacy Family Tree made the biggest jump upwards. It moved up from position 8 to position 2. As an aging non-Unicode application, Legacy Family Tree has fundamental limitations, but that does not seem to bother the reviewers, certainly not the many of them who note that they switched from Family Tree Maker to Legacy.

The full version of Legacy includes Legacy Charting, but most reviews do not even mention this. GenSoftReviews currently has only two reviews on Legacy Charting. Both are very positive, yet it still rates below Legacy itself.

The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding

It may seem that TNG has moved up. It is actually holding fairly steady, it is just that Second Site is not included in this year’s ranking.

more

Applications that did that make last year’s five-review minimum but did not meet this year’s 10-review minimum are Second Site, Genbox Family History, dynastree, Ancestral Quest and GenoPro.

There are nine Dynastree reviews now. These are all reviews of dynastree the web site, not Dynastree Home Edition the desktop application. If nine Dynastree reviews had been enough, it would actually rate above Legacy.

Additional applications that did not have ten reviews yet, but did already have five or more are FamViewer for the iPhone, MacFamilyTree, GenSmarts and Ancestry Member Trees.

observations

web applications

Web applications are represented well, and well loved. It even seems easier for web applications to garner positive reviews than for desktop applications.
If included, Dynastree would rank above Legacy and AniMap would rate above TNG. TNG, a web application continues to rank above PAF. Geni’s current low rating does not reflect application quality but user dissatisfaction.

ranking pattern

Like last year, I do not find myself in full agreement with this ranking, and you would probably rank them somewhat differently as well, but this ranking is certainly not random. There is a clear pattern here. Products that are fast and easy to use are near the top, while products that are slow and hard to use are found near the bottom. Products that work as as advertised and are actively maintained with updates, upgrades and fixes are near the top, while products that do not work as advertised and have been abandoned by their vendor are near the bottom. Companies that keep their current users happy by providing good support and listening to their wishes find their products near the top, while companies that disregard or abandon their users find themselves near or at the bottom.

congratulations

I once again congratulate the vendors of the top three applications in the GenSoftReviews rankings, and reward them with links to their products. But before I do so, a special mention for Dynastree. Dynastree would have taken second place if the line had been drawn at nine reviews instead of ten.
Congratulation to RootsMagic (RootsMagic), Millennia (Legacy Family Tree) and to John Steed (Brother’s Keeper) for having such satisfied users.

updates

2010-01-02: GenSoftReviews User Choice Awards 2009

GenSoftReviews now has a User Choice Awards page, and a Best Liked Genealogy Software badge for products with an average rating of 4 stars of more based on at least ten user reviews in the past year. The resulting list is not very different from the list above. The winners for 2009 are:

  1. RootsMagic
  2. Legacy Family Tree
  3. The Next Generation (TNG)
  4. Brother’s Keeper
  5. Personal Ancestral File (PAF)
  6. Reunion
  7. Family Tree Builder
  8. GRAMPS

links

GenSoftReviews

highest rated