Modern Software Experience

2011-12-30

Best of 2011

GeneAwards 2011

2011

Genealogy 2011 presents an overview of technologies, events, companies and products that shaped the year in genealogy, and Genealogy Trends 2011 highlights some trends.
Here, without further ado, are the GeneAwards 2011.

GeneAward Best Product 2011

Best Genealogy Product of 2011: RootsMagic 5

RootsMagic introduced RootsMagic 5, which improves upon RootsMagic 4 with new several major features and many small enhancements. New features include a Research Manager, Timeline View, an On This Day list and CountyCheck. Perhaps more important than the major new features are the many large and small enhancements that make existing features better and easier to use. Several competing products saw major upgrades this year, but there is no better all-round desktop genealogy application.

honourable mention: Ahnenblatt

Ahnenblatt is the best little-known Windows genealogy application. It is a free, well-behaved, Unicode-based and multi-lingual application that offers all the basics and then some. Ahnenblatt imports GEDCOM, and exports GEDCOM, GEDCOM XML (a.k.a. GEDCOM 6), and GedML. Its consistency check uses some awkward an confusing messages, but you should try Ahnenblatt for just its duplicate check: while other applications generate hopelessly large lists of possible duplicates, Ahnenblatt manages to highlight just the actual duplicates. Various plug-ins are available on the German forum, which has English sections.

GeneAward Best New Product 2011

Best New Genealogy Product of 2011: Vele Handen

Vele Handen (Many Hands) is a crowd-sourcing site created on the initiative of the Amsterdam Municipal Archive. The Dutch Militia Registers are the first records to be indexed by Vele Handen, more indexing projects have been announced.
Crowd-sourcing indexes isn't new, but Vele Handen is doing it right. An issue with indexing for FamilySearch or Ancestry.com is that they become the owner of the index. The Vele Handen is just a service the archives pay for. Through the Vele Handen platform, archives can have their collections scanned and indexed. Participating archives end up owning the scans and indexes for their own collections.

honourable mention: GED-inline

GED-inline is a GEDCOM validator created by Nigel Munro Parker. GEDCOM validators may be a boring product category, but they are important; they allow you to see how well the GEDCOM output of genealogy applications matches the GEDCOM specification. GED-inline filled a long-existing void; although GEDCOM 5.5.1 dates from 1999, GED-inline is the first ever GEDCOM 5.5.1 validator. Tim Forsythe's VGED was limited to GEDCOM 5.5, and FamilySearch, the creator and keeper of the GEDCOM standard, never bothered to finish the GEDCOM 5.5 validator they once started.
The release of GED-inline inspired an update of VGED, and now both support GEDCOM 5.5.1.

honourable mention: Ancestry app

Ancestry.com introduced the Ancestry app, first for iOS and then for Android. Some features require a paid account, but you can use it with a free Ancestry.com account as well. It is easy to use and isn't just a viewer like several other mobile apps, but an editor that allows you to create and edit trees on the go.

GeneAward Best Organisation 2011

Best Genealogy Organisation of 2011: BrightSolid

BrightSolid has been quite busy this year. They introduced new and improved collections on FindMyPast, like their competitors do, most notably 87 million death records, completing their two-year project to make the BMD records for England and Wales easier to use. That kind of investment in quality records is remarkable enough, but they did a lot more than that.

They worked with the Society of Genealogist to make their more than 9 million records available to society members as well as FindMyPast subscribers. They introduced the 1911 Scotland Census on ScotlandsPeople, and worked with Eneclann to introduce the jointly owned FindMyPast Ireland site offering Irish records. The recently introduced British Newspaper Archive is the result of a ten-year partnership with the British Library.
All this easily explains why they built a second data centre in Dundee.
FindMyPast worked with Pay-TV broadcaster UKTV to produce a ten-part series called Find My Past for the Yesterday channel.
The 1940 USA Census contract was awarded to Archives.com, and BrightSolid is one of their partners in the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project to index the images.

BrightSolid isn't just historical records and genealogy. They do not only own Genes Reunited and Friends Reunited, but the Friends Reunited Dating site as well, and this year they introduced dating service Swoon.co.uk.

GeneAward Best New Organisation 2011

Best New Genealogy Organisation of 2011: openSNP

OpenSNP is a non-profit, open source and open data platform for sharing genetic and phenotypic information. It accepts genetic tests results in any compatible format, and it supports several formats already. All data that users upload can be downloaded by anyone. The availability of this platform could turn out to be game changer.

honourable mention: The SourceTemplates Initiative

Nowadays, several genealogy applications support citation templates inspired by Evidence Explained, but their is no genealogy citation standard for that, and their implementations are not compatible with each other; they do not read each other's GEDCOM files. In fact, Legacy and Family Tree Maker do not even manage to read their data back in from their own GEDCOM, only RootsMagic manages to do so.

AncestorSync reads and writes the various genealogy database formats directly, and Real-Time Collaboration had to develop a model to map citations between the various applications. They contributed that model to SourceTemplates, and Millennia contributed their Legacy Family Tree templates.
There is little information on the site beyond a diagram yet, but that should improve in the coming year.

Special Recognition 2011

GeneAward Special Recognition 2011

Best Out-of-the-Box In-the-Box feature: Progeny Embroidery Charts

Progeny Genealogy makes several genealogy application. Their best known application, Charting Companion, is available in several editions; each edition is specific to a particular desktop or web application. This year, Progeny added a rather out-of-the-box and unique feature: the ability to make embroidery charts. Charting Companion can generate a file understood by many computerised sewing machines.

GeneAward Special Recognition 2011

Most Promising New Genealogy Technology: AncestorSync

Real-Time Collaboration's introduction of AncestorSync through a Public Beta created a lot of excitement, simply because they are not just pioneering a new technology, but promising a tool we would love to have.
AncestorSync isn't vapourware; the first few Public Betas of AncestorSync for Geni were slow and download-only, but did write to third-party proprietary databases format.
AncestorSync isn't a product either; AncestorSync is still in Public Beta, and there hasn't been a new beta release for months, but it is still a promising technology that I hope to see more of.

GeneAward Special Recognition 2011

Funniest Genealogy Advertisement: Ancestry.com's Santa Claus Ad

Maybe they're making fun of their questionable Dracula Claim, maybe not, but their Santa ad sure is hilarious. The Behind the Scenes video, in which Santa Claus answers a few questions is pretty funny stuff too. He accidentally slips the not-so-secret fact that part of his production facilities are on the South Pole instead of the North Pole, by carelessly mentioning penguins.

Worst of 2011

Worst Genealogy Product of 2011: Funium Family Village

Funium's Family Village is marketed as, well, a genealogy game. Despite some obvious surface similarities, calling Family Village a clone of Zynga's FarmVille is insulting to FarmVille. Repetitive though it is, FarmVille manages to be engaging, while Family Village is just plain boring.
Funium's pitch is that you can fill the virtual village with your ancestors, while learning about your heritage. The way that works is that you fill out some details about them, and the game then goes out to WorldVitalRecords to find matching records. You can think of Family Village as a We're Related mutation gone wrong, and that FaceBook app never was praiseworthy to begin with…

There naturally are some privacy issues players should be aware of, as with many FaceBook games. The real problem with Family Village is that the game is build around the notion of gamification. Funium did not contact WorldVitalRecords because they wanted to make their game more interesting, FamilyLink sponsored Funium to make a game that would require access to WorldVitalRecords. Family Village is tedious and boring because FamilyLink and Funium set out to make a game that would guide players into playing money, instead of an enjoyable game that users would be happy to pay for.
No wonder then, that despite a lengthy beta period and considerable marketing effort, Family Village failed to engage players. According to AppData, Family Village has only two thousand monthly active users.

dishonourable mention: Family Tree Maker 2012

Family Tree Maker 2012 added TreeSync, but even if it worked flawlessly, it wouldn't be good enough. That the Windows and Mac OS variant of Family Tree Maker still aren't using the same file format, and still can't read each other's files format is a serious annoyance, and that Mac OS users have to use an Windows conversion utility is plain unprofessional. That Behold, an application created by a lone developer, can read the FTW TEXT files created by Family Tree Maker Classic, and New Family Tree Maker still cannot, is more than mildly embarrassing.
However, the big issues continue to be that New Family Tree Maker is remarkably slow, memory-hungry and crash-prone. It is why many loyal users who try New Family Tree Maker switch back to Family Tree Maker Classic. This year Ancestry.com addressed those users by releasing a flyer extolling New Family Tree Maker features, but those users are not eager to pay for another low quality release. Ancestry needs to do more than address those users, it needs to address their complaints.

dishonourable mention: The Master Genealogist 8

Wholly Genes released The Master Genealogist (TMG) version 8. TMG is a dated application, but those who like TMG version 7 are sure to like version 8 better. An issue with TMG 7's Report Engine is that it does not work on Windows 7 64-bit, and a major feature of TMG 8 is a completely rewritten Report Engine that does work on 64-bits Windows.
It is good that Wholly Genes fixed this major defect, but it is wrong to call that a major upgrade and charge for it. TMG version 8 does offer more benefits over version 7 than just a working (and improved) Report Engine, but the issue remains that major shortcomings should be fixed for free, and that Wholly Genes is not offering any other fix than a paid upgrade to TMG 8.

Worst Genealogy Organisation of 2011: Geni.com

Geni.com may have improved technically, but socially, Geni managed to fail spectacularly. Geni.com is a freemium service started in 2007. In 2009, Geni.com introduced some restrictions on free accounts, and users started grumbling. Geni introduced more restrictions, users grumbled some more, and Geni backpedaled on some changes.

Geni management apparently wasn't impressed by this experience, as this year saw something close to a repeat performance. Geni restricted the abilities of free accounts again some more, users complained about the changes, Geni gave something back, but then restricted accounts in another way.
So many disgruntled users left Geni.com for other shared web trees such as WeRelate and WikiTree, that Geni's activity statistics are still significantly lower than before the changes.

dishonourable mention: FamilySearch

FamilySearch continued to neglect it responsibilities as keeper of the GEDCOM standard. This year, the first GEDCOM 5.5.1 validators appeared despite FamilySearch's disinterest.
FamilySearch could have supported OpenGen and BetterGEDCOM, but did not work with either organisation in any way. FamilySearch started an annual conference called RootsTech to improve its public image. At that conference they announced that they were creating a replacement for GEDCOM on their own, tentatively known as FamilySearch SORD. FamilySearch never explained why they are not working with existing organisations, and has continued to create GEDCOM X in baffling secrecy.

dishonourable mention: Sherwood Electronics Laboratories

In 2010, Sherwood Electronics Laboratories Inc new Branches software received a dishonourable mention as one of the worst products of the year. This year, I discovered something that earns Sherwood a dishonourable mention as one of the worst organisations of the year: Sherwood was promoting Branches with made-up testimonials from non-existing users. Sherwood ended this practice some time after the publication of the Sherwood Branches Testimonials article that exposed it.

Not-so Special Recognition 2011

Most Confusing Book Title: The Official Unofficial Guide to Using Legacy Family Tree

Millennia's The Official Unofficial Guide to Using Legacy Family Tree is an unofficial guide to Legacy Family Tree, and officially so.
That's official.
Unofficially of course…

not awarded

Worst New Genealogy Product and Worst New Genealogy Organisation were not awarded.

links

Genealogy 2011

Best of 2011

Best Genealogy Product of 2011: RootsMagic 5

honourable mention: Ahnenblatt

Best New Genealogy Product of 2011: Vele Handen

honourable mention: GED-inline

honourable mention: Ancestry app

Best Genealogy Organisation of 2011: BrightSolid

Best New Genealogy Organisation of 2011: OpenSNP

honourable mention: The SourceTemplates Initiative

Special Recognition 2011

Best Out-of-the-Box In-the-Box feature: Progeny Embroidery Charts

Most Promising New Genealogy Technology: AncestorSync

Funniest Genealogy Advertisement: Ancestry.com's Santa Claus Ad

Worst of 2011

Worst Genealogy Product of 2011: Funium Family Village

dishonourable mention: Family Tree Maker 2012

dishonourable mention: The Master Genealogist 8

Worst Genealogy Organisation of 2011: Geni.com

dishonourable mention: FamilySearch

dishonourable mention: Sherwood Electronics Laboratories

Not-so Special Recognition 2011

Most Confusing Book Title: The Official Unofficial Guide to Using Legacy Family Tree