Modern Software Experience

2010-12-31

Best of 2010

GeneAwards 2010

2010

Genealogy 2010 presents an overview of some of the technologies, events, companies and products that shaped the year in genealogy.
Here, without further ado, are the GeneAwards 2010.

GeneAward Best Product 2010

Best Genealogy Product of 2010: RootsMagic 4

RootsMagic 4 wins once again. That is not because RootsMagic introduced any major new features, but simply because it is still the best application, with the competition way behind.
RootsMagic 4, introduced in 2009, was a complete rewrite. Since its release, RootsMagic continued to fix defects, make improvements and enhancements to all aspects of the application. RootsMagic did introduce a few new features this year. None are major ones, but the small features they introduced, such as word-wrap or an Unused Places List, are useful ones.

One big feature many international users are looking forward to, the multi-language support they promised last year is still being worked on. That is a bit disappointing, but releasing software when it's ready is an approach that I agree with, and one some other vendors should hurry to adopt.

GeneAward Best New Product 2010

Best New Genealogy Product of 2010: FindMyPast Full GRO BMD Indexes

FindMyPast spent the resources necessary to truly unlock the General Register Office (GRO) Birth, Marriage and Death records.

On July 15, FindMyPast announced that they were now offering fully indexed birth indexes for 1837 through 2006, with improved, rescanned greyscale images. It took more than thousand people two years to index a quarter million names, but it makes a big difference.
Before the release of this full index, all vendors, including FindMyPage used a page index; an index that merely contained the first and last name on each page. Search results included each page that a name could conceivably appear on. Searching through all of these possible results, only to find that most did not contain the name you are after at all, not only really tried your patience, each page view taxed your wallet. This was the norm  for birth indexes until FindMyPast decided to do a full name index.

In November, they announced a similar improvement for marriage records. The problem with searching for marriage records is that both spouses occur separately. Finding the matching index record requires finding an record with matching registration district, volume and page numbers. It used to be that you had to do so manually, but FindMyPast created MarriageMatch; it created full indexes and lets its computers find possible matches for you.

honourable mention: Family ChArtist

I don't like Adobe Flash much, but I do like Family ChArtist. Family ChArtist is a web app that lets you import a GEDCOM file to create and print various genealogy charts. It does not support ANSEL, but it does support UTF-8, UTF-16 and even the illegal Windows ANSI. While many new applications can only handle small databases, Family ChArtist handle large ones with ease. That Family ChArtist has less features than competing desktop products many genealogists already have isn't its weakness, but its strength. Family ChArtist keeps it simple, and the charts look good.

A problem with Family ChArtist remains its dialog drama; every time you want to save your work, you have to fill out a dialog box with four fields. Every time you want print your chart, you have to fill out your entire address again. It is maddening. Back in early April, GenerationMaps promised to fix that, but ¾ year later, they still haven't done so.

honourable mention: webtrees

Webtrees is a fork of the PhpGedView project. Webtrees is PhpGedView, but without all the backward compatibility for all the add-ons and features that have been added over time. Webtrees is simpler, leaner and meaner. There are less features and less options. The most obvious change is that users can no longer pick a database system; webtrees only works with MySQL. The trade-off of the reduced choice is a more reliable and faster product. Webtrees is PhpGedView rejuvenated.

honourable mention: Ancestral Quest Basics

Incline Software's website looks even more dated than their Ancestral Quest product, but looks can be deceiving. Ancestral Quest is technologically ahead of many other, often better-looking products. Ancestral Quest (AQ) is Unicode-based, has excellent GEDCOM support and is not lacking in features.
The code for an early version of Ancestral Quest served as the basis for Personal Ancestral File (PAF), and the two products continue to be quite similar. Ancestral Quest is the only product that can read and write PAF databases, so current PAF users can start using Ancestral Quest without having to convert their database first.
Just days after FamilySearch dropped Personal Ancestral File from their homepage, Incline Software introduced Ancestral Quest Basics, a free edition of Ancestral Quest. Ancestral Quest Basics seems the ideal replacement; very compatible, similar look and feel, more features than PAF, and still free.

GeneAward Best Organisation 2010

Best Genealogy Organisation of 2010: BBC / Wall to Wall

The BBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, produced by Wall to Wall, is a global hit, both as an original series shown around the world, and as a franchise. The series and franchise have not only introduced many people to genealogy, but even to genealogical research. Each episode of Who Do You Think You Are? shows some celebrity tracing part of their family tree, by visiting archives to discover things for themselves. 2010 not only saw the continuation of the Who Do You Think You Are? series and other national series with local celebrities, but also the first NBC Who Do You Think You Are? series (USA) and the first Verborgen Verleden series (Netherlands).

honourable mention: 23AndMe

In June, 23AndMe send 96 customers the wrong DNA test results. Mistakes happen, how you act upon them matters. 23AndMe did the honourable thing; they not only contacted those 96 customers privately, they publicly admitted the mistake, they investigated how it happened and took action to try and prevent it from happening again.

Special Recognition 2010

GeneAward Special Recognition 2010

Most Improved Product of 2010: Geni.com

Anyone who has read Geniology knows that I consider Geni.com's approach to collaborative tree building problematic, but there is no denying that Geni.com takes their competition seriously, and continues to improve the Geni.com application.

These improvement range from little things, such as the ability to rotate your photo, through new profile pages and incremental enhancements to collaboration and merging, to big things like the introduction of sources, a crowd-sourced multi-language user interface and an API for accessing Geni.com. Oddly, one of the most important apparently most controversial features, Curators, did not rate a blog post.
Geni.com deserves kudos for not only crowd-sourcing their own user interface, but for open-sourcing the tr8n application they developed to do so as well.

GeneAward Special Recognition 2010

Best Dead Product of 2010: Personal Ancestral File

Personal Ancestral File is dead, long live Personal Ancestral File. More than eight years after they stopped maintaining and supporting Personal Ancestral File (PAF), FamilySearch finally dropped all pretense that PAF is a current product. FamilySearch has finally stopped promoting PAF; Ten days ago, they updated the FamilySearch web site, and PAF is no longer featured on the homepage.

Many new genealogy applications are not half as capable as PAF is. PAF is Unicode-based and has near-perfect GEDCOM support. PAF's user interface is dated, and FamilySearch coded PAF to be intolerant of same-sex marriages, but PAF is quite usable. PAF offers multiple views, handles large database with ease, offers many reports and charts, and includes such handy features as a consistency checks, global search & replace and a relationship calculator.
PAF continues to be well-supported by many genealogical add-ons, some specifically created for PAF. PAF is strongly associated with GEDCOM and remains the closest thing we have to a reference GEDCOM implementation. Ironically, practically every major genealogy application and utility imports PAF databases directly.

GeneAward Special Recognition 2010

Most Promising Product Category of 2010: Mobile Applications

Not an award for any particular product or vendor, but recognition of a product category that is becoming increasingly important, and not only has products from the usual suspects, but is also seeing a lot of new product from new vendors.
The platforms most popular with vendors are Android and iOS; several iOS applications are available in separate iPhone and iPad variants, with the iPad variant taking advantage of the bigger screen.

Worst of 2010

Worst Genealogy Product of 2010: MyHeritage Family Tree Builder 5.0

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder version 5.0 may be an improvement over version 4.0, but the installer and the application continue their evil ways, installing stuff without telling or asking you, tracking your usage of the application and continually trying to trick you into uploading your data. Their standard install option installs stuff the standard uninstall does not remove. MyHeritage Family Tree Builder behaves like malware and should be treated as such; avoid, handle with extreme caution, terminate with extreme prejudice.

dishonourable mention: Ancestry.com Family Tree Maker 2011

Ancestry.com sells Family Tree Maker 2011 as a new product, but it really is no more than a Service Pack with updates and enhancements. Family Tree Maker 2011 does not even feel like Family Tree Maker 2010 Service Pack 2, but as Family Tree Maker 2008 Service Pack 5.

Defects reported for Family Tree Maker 2008, even defects reported before the release of Family Tree Maker, defects first reported for the Family Tree Maker 2008 Beta, have still not been fixed. The latest Family Tree Maker isn't as defective and unstable as Family Tree Maker 2008, but it is still far from recommendable. It continues to be slow and memory-hungry. Family Tree Maker's GEDCOM support continues to be pathetic; it still doesn't support either ANSEL or UTF-8, and still writes invalid GEDCOM headers.

A complaint specific to New Family Tree Maker is that even Family Tree Maker 2011 still doesn't read most FTW TEXT files that Family Tree Maker Classic creates, while Behold, an application created by a lone developer, does. Ancestry.com could and should release a free FTW TEXT to FTW GEDCOM conversion utility, but still hasn't done so. And oh, it would be nice if Service Packs for Family Tree Maker were easier to find.

dishonourable mention: MagiKey Family Tree

No product is perfect. Several aspects of MagiKey Family Tree could be improved, such as its limited support for events, but one major issue overshadows all others; MagiKey Family Tree is so crash-happy that it is practically unusable. If MagiKey Family Tree wasn't a decade old already, it would have been a serious contender for Worst New Genealogy Product.

Worst New Genealogy Product of 2010: StamboomNederland

StamboomNederland (Family Tree Netherlands) is an epic disaster. What should have been the Central Bureau for Genealogy's Big New Thing became a public embarrassment. Kensas, the company that developed StamboomNederland, did not meet the deadline, so the CBG had to rush StamboomNederland out before it was finished. However, months later, it hardly seems to have improved at all.

StamboomNederland ticks practically all the wrong boxes. Its terms & conditions are a copyright grab. It is impossible to delete the GEDCOM files you've uploaded. StamboomNederland even demands money the moment you decide to export your own data.
StamboomNederland is ugly, makes bad use of the browser space, and its English translations were apparently done by a drunken first-grader. That the user interface is unintuitive, illogical and awkward to use is a relatively superficial issue that could have been fixed by now. Sadly, StamboomNederland is also a hastily slapped together technical monstrosity. It is unacceptably slow and immensely memory-hungry. Sometimes the 2D tree works, sometimes it does not. It does not only lack what we commonly think of as genealogy consistency checks, it actually lacks all consistency checks. StamboomNederland is also a privacy fail; if you make your tree public, StamboomNederland makes your email address public. Its ostensible collaboration feature is merely multi-user access, and the management of project members does not work.
StamboomNederland has ridiculous limitations such as a maximum of 50 characters for place names. Search is a slapped-on feature that offers just one search box and not even the most basic search options. It has an utterly confused notion of sources, and its GEDCOM import is sure to disrespect your years of carefully documented research by simply listing the GEDCOM file as the source of all information. StamboomNederland will also mess up your database by adding many notes containing XML equivalents for GEDCOM tags. Trying to work with sources within StamboomNederland is an immensely frustrating experience. StamboomNederland is not reliable at all, the Interne fout (Internal error) page is the one you'll see most often. StamboomNederland is so bad that, if it did not have a CBG logo, the CBG would warn against using it. The CBG should pull the plug and get a more capable company to develop a replacement.

dishonourable mention: Gaia Family Tree

Gaia Family Tree looks good, but is a very problematic product. In the early versions, its convoluted registration procedure did not work, making it impossible to use the application at all. Gaia Family Tree's failed to import every GEDCOM file I tried. Gaia Family Tree even fails to import its own ostensible GEDCOM files! Gaia Family Tree looks glamorous, but is a brainless beauty.

dishonourable mention: Family Tree Maker for Mac

Ancestry.com re-introduced Family Tree Maker for Mac. The good news is that it is a native MacOS X application, but there is lots of bad news. Feature-wise, Family Tree Maker for Mac is Family Tree Maker 2010 (the 2009 version), not Family Tree Maker 2011. The file formats of the Mac and Windows application are not identical. The Mac applications is more expensive than the Windows application, and users of the Windows application do not get a discount.

Ancestry.com rushed Family Tree Maker 2008 out after an ill-received Beta, and it promptly won the GeneAward for Worst Genealogy Product of 2007. Apparently neither that nor the many users complaints mean anything to the Ancestry.com honchos; they hurried Family Tree Maker for Mac out as well.
Ancestry.com should make sure that Family Tree Maker 2012 for Windows and Mac offer the same features, use the same file format, and sell for the same price. Even better would be to sell both on a single disc for a single price.

A more fundamental issue is that Ancestry should be concentrating its resources on fixing the many problems, defects and shortcomings of New Family Tree Maker for Windows before spreading these resources over a Windows and Mac variant.

dishonourable mention: Sherwood Branches

Branches has an awful installer. Branches has limited functionality wrapped in an ugly, awkward and unfriendly user interface. Its graphical select and export export and select is no more than an ill-conceived gimmick. Its GEDCOM support is pretty good, but its support for GEDCOM dialects is so poor that Branches is prone to crashing upon importing a random GEDCOM file. Branches is slow and so memory-hungry that it frequently crashes with an OutOfMemory exception. To top this off, the Sherwood Electronics website promotes Branches with a made-up endorsement.

Worst Genealogy Organisation of 2010: FamilySearch

Ten days ago, FamilySearch updated their website and they stopped promoting PAF on their home page. However, throughout most the year, FamilySearch continued to promote a product that they stopped developing, even stopped maintaining eight years ago. Since version 5.2.18 released in 2002, not one reported defect has been fixed.

FamilySearch continues to disregard its responsibilities as the keeper of the GEDCOM standard. The latest GEDCOM version, GEDCOM 5.5.1, is available on their developer site now, but that is about it. There is no GEDCOM site anymore and they have nobody working on the GEDCOM specification anymore. A few months ago I asked for copies of early GEDCOM specifications. So far their reply has roughly been we don't know where to find that
FamilySearch even lapsed the registration of the gedcom.org domain. The GEDCOM standard needs a new home, with an organisation that appreciates the privilege and takes the responsibility of maintaining a standard seriously.

FamilySearch keeps saying that New FamilySearch (NFS) will be released Real Soon Now. Perhaps next year. We've been hearing that for a decade now. Meanwhile, other social genealogy sites are thriving, and that is not because these sites are relatively small. Ancestry.com Mundia's has more than two billion profiles, OneGreatFamily has 180 million profiles and Geni.com has about 100 million profiles, about half of which are in a single connected tree. It is high time that FamilySearch either puts up or shuts up; either release NFS or admit failure.

dishonourable mention: MyHeritage

For MyHeritage management, 2010 is the year they acquired The OSN Group (Verwandt.de, DynasTree) and Zooof. For the Verwandt.de and Zooof users, 2010 is the year MyHeritage did not respect the terms and conditions of these sites. For 425 + 1 genealogy bloggers, 2010 is the year in which MyHeritage decided to insult them by awarding them top genealogy site badges, while explaining that the badges are for not being a top genealogy site…

2010 is also yet another year in which Family Tree Builder software continues its evil ways, messing up your Windows system and your browser settings. Family Tree Builder continues to try and trick you into uploading your data. Although MyHeritage presents upload of your data to MyHeritage as a backup, they introduced a backup service for your data on MyHeritage, which is not included in their already considerable subscription cost.

dishonourable mention: Millennia Corporation

Millennia has not bothered to fix defects reported years ago. Legacy Family Tree does not work on Vista 64-bits. Throughout the year, Millennia focused on adding LDS features, when they could have been developing or improving genealogy features instead. Perhaps, if Millennia focussed on genealogists again, Legacy wouldn't take hours to do a consistency check, only to hang before finishing it…
Let's hope Millennia comes round and manages to surprise genealogist next year with a completely rebuild Legacy 8.

Not-so Special Recognition 2010

Most Useless New Genealogy Site of 2010: GenealoGee

GenealoGee is an AllTops knock-off. We don't need either GenealoGee or AllTops, because we already have such sites as Bloglines and Google Reader, Digg and Diigo. GenealoGee is not only useless, but is actually the worst place find genealogy blog posts; all the copy & bloggers hurried to sign up, but most original content bloggers did not. Most GenealoGee posts are press releases, daily webring reminders, content copied from newspaper sites, recycled posts and other highly unoriginal material. Most of the good genealogy stuff is in the many blogs not listed on GenealoGee.

Genealogy Vapourware Award 2010: New FamilySearch

GenSeek has been vapourware for almost two years, but New FamilySearch (NFS) has been vapourware for a decade. After more than ten years of promises about how great their social genealogy site is going to be, NFS is still stuck in Alpha release (internal testing only) with not even a Beta in sight. Duke Nukem Forever will be in stores before NFS goes Beta.
Perhaps FamilySearch should stop throwing money at this project and buy Geni.com instead.

not awarded

Once again, Best New Genealogy Organisation and Worst New Genealogy Organisation have not been awarded.

links

winners

RootsMagic

FindMyPast Full GRO BMD Indexes

BBC / Wall to Wall

honourable mentions

Family ChArtist

Webtrees

Ancestral Quest Basics

23AndMe

Special Recognition

Geni.com

Personal Ancestral File

Worst

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder 5.0

StamboomNederland

FamilySearch

dishonourable mention

Ancestry.com Family Tree Maker 2011

MagiKey Family Tree

Gaia Family Tree

Family Tree Maker for Mac

Sherwood Branches

MyHeritage

Millennia Corporation

Not-so Special Recognition

GenealoGee

New Family Search