Modern Software Experience

2013-12-31

industry & technology

Articles extolling the virtues of 3D printing may have exceeded the number of 3D printers.

web & mobile

Twitter had an IPO. Yahoo discontinued the AltaVista search engine. The USA's NSA was revealed to be spying on almost everyone for no reason whatsoever. Bitcoin became a household word and smartphones are commodities now. QuickOffice, which Google had bought in 2012, was released a freeware. Google continued to push Google Glass despite users already being labelled glassholes. Articles extolling the virtues of 3D printing may have exceeded the number of 3D printers. The dayglo appearance of Apple iOS 7 prompted parodies.
Google upset many users by shutting down Google Reader, but new and existing alternatives fared well.

Google finished the acquisition of Motorola Mobility, and Nokia, once the undisputed leader of the mobile phone business, was bought by Microsoft. Ubuntu introduced Ubuntu for Android and the first Firefox OS phone was released, but the battle for the mobile space remained one between Apple iOS and Google Android, with Microsoft as the also-ran, and BlackBerry an historical footnote for still existing. Apple and Samsung continued to battle in courts around the globe.

Hewlett-Packard introduced and abandoned the WebOS-based TouchPad tablet in 2011. Early in 2013, Hewlett-Packard sold WebOS to LG and introduced its first Android tablet. LG is planning to use WebOS in their SmartTV.

Samsung and Sony introduced smartwartches that underwhelmed, but tablets continued to be hot. Even the Google Chromebook, which is neither a laptop nor a tablet, did very well.
Sales of Windows Phones and Windows RT tablets remained far behind. The release of Windows 8.1 could not save Windows 8 from widely being considered a turkey, and Microsoft's Scroogled campaign, although not entirely without merit, was widely ridiculed. The best news out of Microsoft was that Steve Ballmer will step down soon.

browsers

Internet Explorer had improved so much, that Google retired Chrome Frame, and is now promoting Google Chrome with Legacy Browser Support (LBS).
Opera released Opera 15, the first release of Opera based on Chromium instead of the Presto engine. The Opera Mail and RSS reader are available as Opera Mail now.
By abandoning Presto, Opera the company killed the core of the Opera product. The new product is still called Opera, but is merely yet another WebKit browser. The news was met with mixed responses, not only because Presto has long been the rendering engine to test with, but mostly because it raised the spectre of WebKit becoming the de facto rendering engine for the web.

That last thought did not last long.
Early in April, Google announced that Chrome would abandon WebKit in favour of Blink. The WebKit rendering engine was forked from the KTHML rendering engine, and now Google decided to fork Blink from the WebKit engine.
That same day, Mozilla and Samsung announced that they are working together on a new rendering engine called Servo.

Browser security improved. Mozilla decided to stop automatically running browser plug-ins, and Google decided to stop supporting the NetScape Plug-in API (NPAPI).

The announcement with the most immediate impact on the web is that several vendors are dropping vendor prefixes. Mozilla was already avoiding vendor prefixes for Gecko and Google's Blink will not use vendor prefixes for experimental CSS features, but instead keep those features behind the enable experimental web platform features flag in about:flags, until it can be enabled by default.

industry developments

take-overs, mergers and acquisitions

Back in January, Ancestry24, a South-African site, announced the closure of Ancestry24, and Ancestry24 officially closed on 2013 Oct 22. Ancestry.com bought the more than four million records from Ancestry24.

BillionGraves was acquired by Otter Creek Holdings, which already counted My Legacy Memorial as one of its subsidiaries.

OneGreatFamily placed an advertisement that the company was for sale. That advertisement is gone now.

Ancestry.com acquired Find A Grave. The Ancestry.com blog plost received many comments, as people were afraid Find A Grave might no longer be free.

A little noticed changed in ownership was the sale of the remaining rights of Burke's Peerage to Burke's Peerage Limited. The Burke's Peerage website created by Origins.net ceased operation, but all information is now available from the official Burke's Peerage website.

DC Thomson Family History Logo

BrightSolid, the DC Thomson company that owns several genealogy companies, such as FindMyPast and CensusRecords, saw some major changes. BrightSolid was split into two operating business, to wit brightsolid online publishing (BSOP) and brightsolid online technology (BSOT). Annelies van den Belt joined brightsolid online publishing as CEO, taking over from Chris van der Kuyl, and soon renamed it to DC Thomson Family History.
Remarkably, although BrightSolid is a Scottish company, the names of both the outgoing and the new CEO reveal Dutch roots.

industry developments

collaborations

This year saw many more announcements of collaboration and sharing of records, then of take-overs, mergers and acquisitions.
In January, BillionGraves records became available in Ancestry.com's search engine, in June, they partnered with GenealogyBank, providing a direct link to search GenealogyBank's newspapers, in November, their records became available on MyHeritage's so-called SuperSearch, and in December, they announced a partnership with tributes.com.

Ancestry.com and FamilySearch announced a five-year agreement that should bring a billion (actually: a milliard) records online. The announcement excels in platitudes and hyperbole without ever revealing what records will be published by whom.
MyHeritage announced a partnership with FamilySearch that adds records from FamilySearch to MyHeritage's SuperSearch, in exchange for providing matching technology to FamilySearch. DC Thomson Family History announced a partnership with FamilySearch that makes FamilySearch records available on findmypast.com. MyHeritage announced partnerships with BillionGraves and tributes.com, bringing their records into their SuperSearch.

23andMe

23andMe got into trouble with the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA published a Warning Letter telling 23andMe that it was selling products and services in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act). 23andME has stopped providing medical tests, and continues to sell ancestral tests.

SSDI

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 limited access to the Social Security Death Master File (DMF), better known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI); information used to be available immediately, now it will only become available three full calendar years after death.

Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com released new version of both New Family Tree Maker for Windows and New Family Tree Maker for Mac and updated its mobile apps, which, since the acquisition of 1000memories late in 2012, includes the Shoebox image scanning app.

Find A Grave Logo

Ancestry.com not only acquired Ancestry24, they also acquired Find A Grave, and is likely to make changes to the site. There have been no announcements about what they are going to do, but they will most likely redo the website, use the site to advertise their products and services, as they are already doing with RootsWeb, integrate Find A Grave into their search engine, and allow you to save Find A Grave pages to your Ancestry Member Tree.

MyHeritage

On 2013 Jan 9, MyHeritage introduced version 2.0 of the MyHeritage app for iOS and Android; the major upgrade is that it is no longer a genealogy viewer, but has become a genealogy editor. That seems to imply that the MyHeritage Family Graph API is no longer read-only, but MyHeritage did not release updated documentation and SDKs that allow third parties to do the same.

MyHeritage introduced the Record Detective technology, a fancy name for finding and presenting possibly related records, such as a birth record matching a death record, or census record for the same family in previous years.

MyHeritage released Family Tree Builder 7. One new feature is full synchronisation between Family Tree Builder on the desktop and your tree on the MyHeritage website, but the big new feature is that Family Tree Builder has finally become Unicode-based.

In 2012, MyHeritage was one of the companies that offered the USA 1940 census. This year, they added the 1790 through 1930 USA census, so that they are now offering all USA census, and are including these in their Record Matching service. Searching these records is free, accessing them requires payment.

FamilySearch

FamilySearch Logo 2013

FamilySearch did not make a lot of noise about their new logo, but continued to make lots of noise about replacing one version of New FamilySearch (NFS) with another, deliberately turning it into a long drawn-out event. Last year already, it became known that the new version is called FamilySearch Family Tree (FSFT). Despite the name change, it really is the same program, which essentially continues to offer the same data to the same users.

The new name doesn't change the fact that it is still a highly problematic world tree that remains eminently discommendable, but FamilySearch is eager to change that, and the coming years are likely to see slow but steady improvements through a strong focus on quality of data.

Mocavo

Back in 2011, Mocavo was introduced as a genealogical search engine. Mocavo soon allowed users to upload their GEDCOM to receive automatic matches. Early in 2012, Mocavo added direct support for Personal Ancestral File, Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, and several other popular databases. During 2012, Mocavo starting hosting digitised documents on mocavo.com, thus becoming a direct competitor to the vendors whose sites it indexes. Early in 2013, Mocavo introducing the Family Tree Viewer, which allows users to build and edit their family tree on mocavo.com. Mocavo is now directly competing with the online family tree services its indexes.

Mocavo isn't a genealogy search engine, Mocavo is an Ancestry.com-wannabe.

Now that Mocavo is is offering both records collections and member trees, we should probably stop thinking of it as a search engine. Various comparative reviews have found that Mocavo isn't better than Google, it probably isn't better than Bing either.
Mocavo naturally makes sure to show results from its own site, and doesn't excel at presenting third-party results. So, we have to wonder whether there is any fundamental difference between Mocavo's search engine and Ancestry.com's search engine. Mocavo is a company with record collections, member trees and a search engine that's good at showing its own stuff. Well, it will only let you search through more than one database at a time if you become a paying member. Mocavo isn't a genealogy search engine, Mocavo is an Ancestry.com-wannabe. Their search engine should arguably not be compared to Google or Bing, but to Ancestry.com's web search and MyHeritage's SuperSearch.
Many future developments are possible, but right now, Mocavo's most likely fate is becoming yet another cheap MyHeritage acquisition.

software

mobile apps

There were some new products and services, but 2013 was mostly a year of updates and upgrades.
There continues to be a lot of action in mobile apps. Vendors introduced new apps, and updated existing ones. Most apps are for Google Android and Apple iOS, and the best ones do not just work on phones, but take full advantage of the capabilities of tablets.
Many free apps are companions to paid products or services, but we've come to expect these companion apps, and tend to consider products and services incomplete when they don't offer them.

A trend, started back in 2011 with the SGCS Jamboree app, is for genealogy conferences to offer a conference app well in advance of the conference itself.

BillionGraves introduced Legacy Mobile, their mobile app featuring LegacyTec. LegacyTec is a technology that eliminates the need for the ridiculous idea, still propagated by some, to deface tombstones with QR-codes; just take a photo of a headstone, and LegacyTec takes advantage of the the GPS coordinates in that photo to identify it, and brings up information, not only from BillionGraves, but from other sites, such as My Legacy Memorial as well.

Personal Ancestral File

PAF Logo

FamilySearch abandoned Personal Ancestral File (PAF) in 2002, yet it was only in 2013 that they finally decided to make that official.
Very little changed with that long overdue announcement. There haven't been any PAF updates in more than eleven years, and no one expected one anymore. PAF continues to be popular, and although newer genealogy software offers features that PAF does not, it may still take many years for most PAF users to switch to something else. The only thing that changed is that FamilySearch is no longer providing PAF for download. That can be inconvenient if you need to reinstall it, but PAF continues to be available from several download sites.

FamilySearch was remarkably self-serving in recommending three products to PAF users, including Legacy Family Tree 7.5, despite the fact that Legacy lacks a core capability that PAF has, and your data is likely to get mangled if you follow that ostensible advice…
FamilySearch could have corrected their miscommendation after I pointed this out, but they didn't. This makes it painfully clear that FamilySearch doesn't recommend Legacy because it is good choice for PAF users (it isn't), but only because it is a good choice for FamilySearch. FamilySearch does not care about PAF users or their data, but only about converting PAF users to so-called FamilySearch-certified products, i.e. products that enable you to upload your data to their FamilySearch Family Tree.

MacFamilyTree 7

MacFamilyTree 7 added iCloud integration and Dropbox support, features an improved user interface, and the Virtual Globe geo-mapping view.

RootsMagic

RootsMagic 1.0 was released on 2003 Feb 4, but its ten year anniversary passed unnoticed. RootsMagic did not release a major upgrade either, but did release a minor upgrade I can hardly ignore. The Problem Alerts feature introduced in the RootsMagic 6.3.0.0 upgrade released on 2013 Jul 17 is based on ideas presented in the Integrated Consistency Checking article. Although technically not exactly the same, the Problem Alerts feature does provide the suggested experience.
RootsMagic uses background processing to run your entire database through its existing consistency checks, so that any problem persons can be highlighted on screen to draw attention to any issues it found.

Legacy

Millennia introduced Legacy Family Tree 8. Legacy 8 finally features an user-interface not unlike the award-winning Legacy Charting, and has plenty of new features to warrant the new version number, it even followed RootsMagic in introducing Problem Alerts.
The big let-down is that it still isn't Unicode-based.

Heredis Blue Logo

Heredis

BSD Concepts introduced Heredis 2014, the second major release of their Heredis Blue Suite. Their Heredis Online site, a free genealogy publication service offered to Heredis users, has been operating since 2007, but originally only offered a French user interface, now offers an English user interface too. It's worth checking out, especially if you have French ancestry, as it contains more than 200 million profiles already.

New Family Tree Maker

Ancestry.com's Family Tree Maker 2012 included TreeSync, but it was released before it was ready. Ancestry.com had to keep issuing updates for TreeSync and when it became time to create Family Tree Maker 2013, they simply had too many upset customers, too little progress on TreeSync, and too few new features, and skipped their annual release.
Ancestry.com's Family Tree Maker 2014 continued to feature improved TreeSync, and MyHeritage introduced full syncing in Family Tree Builder 7.

Family Tree Maker World Express

Without a doubt, Family Tree Maker's best new feature was the introduction of Family Tree Maker World Express (FTMWE), a limited but free edition of Family Tree Maker, as revealed in the article Family Tree Maker World Express.
Practically every genealogy software vendor offers lite or trial editions of their, yet Ancestry.com did not. The introduction of Family Tree Maker World Express changes that, but only a little bit. Upon introduction this year, Family Tree Maker World Express was only available in German and Swedish editions.
There is no English edition of Family Tree Maker World Express, and there are no German or Swedish edition of the full product.

The introduction of Family Tree Maker World Express is an interesting development. Ancestry.com is, out of view of most current Family Tree Maker users, experimenting with two major features; multiple languages and free limited editions.
MyHeritage may have garnered itself a reputation as a me-too company that for a long time simply copied whatever Ancestry.com was doing, and has certainly not stopped copying Ancestry.com yet, but here we see Ancestry.com beginning to copy MyHeritage by offering a free limited edition of their software in multiple languages.

WikiTree Logo

WikiTree

WikiTree passed six million profiles and continued to improve. During the year, there were new badges, new DNA features and and new WikiTree members, but the most important news came in January already. In January WikiTree introduced GEDMatches, which allow you to upload a GEDCOM for comparison WikiTree, as a temporary guest member, without having to contribute that GEDCOM to WikiTree.

ChronoPlex My Family Tree 3.0

ChronoPlex released ChronoPlex My Family Tree 3.0, which is notable for supporting HTML5 reports. ChronoPlex My Family Tree 3.01 added support for the OpenDyslexic font from opendyslexic.org.

Clooz 3

For a long time, Clooz held the dubious distinction of being the lowest-rated product on GenSoftReviews, not only because it was a piss-poor product, but also because it wasn't being maintained or supported at all.
Late in 2011, Clooz got new owners, and in 2012, they released a brand new product, called Clooz 3, that hardly shares anything but the name with the previous product, and really should have been given a new name. Throughout 2013, they continued to provide updates and support, resulting a much better rating for this new product.

Relative History app icon

Relative History

A lot of genealogy software is created for Windows, the new Relative History by Papillon Productions was not created for Windows, but created for Windows 8.
That may sound confusing, but that's only because Windows 8 was designed to support both desktop applications and mobile apps. Relative History isn't a Windows application, it's a Windows app, created for Windows tablets and phones. Windows apps require Windows 8 or later, and do not run on Windows 7 or earlier.

PlusGenealogie

On 2013 Jun 20, Bob Coret published PlusGenealogie, a free Chrome extension that adds handy navigation links to WieWasWie, as well GEDCOM download and quick links to GenealogieOnline. The extension is open source, and the source is available on GitHub and on the PlusGenealogie page itself.
About two weeks later, the Central Bureau of Genealogy had added code to WieWasWie designed to block the extension. This prompted Fred van Kan, general director of the Gelders Archief, one of archives providing data to WieWasWie, to blog about it.

YouWho

YouWho, mentioned last year already, went into private Beta.

single cross-platform file format

There are several clear trends in genealogy software. There is a continued focus on mobile apps and syncing, and increasing support for and reliance on cloud services such as Dropbox to transfer files between desktop and mobile aps. Another worthwhile trend is the use of a single cross-platform database format.

BSD Concepts introduced Heredis 2014, which, liked Heredis 2013, uses the same file format on Windows, Mac OS and Apple iOS. RootsMagic introduced the first Betas of RootsMagic for Android, which, like RootsMagic for iDevices, uses the same file format as RootsMagic for Windows, and they continue to work on RootsMagic for Mac.
Ancestry.com introduced new major releases of Family Tree Maker for Windows and Mac, and they now use the same file format. Although Ancestry.com still demands that you update your mobile app by first uploading your data to their site, it is not impossible that Ancestry.com is also moving to a database single file format for all supported platforms.

GENDEX

With the bandwidth we have today, we can easily upload an entire GEDCOM file, so there seems little doubt that the GENDEX file format has outlived its usefulness, yet it continues to be supported. Not only do existing GENDEX sites such as FamilyTreeSeeker (the English version of StamboomZoeker) continue to thrive, new ones continue to be created. The new GenDex Network was created by Bryan S. Larson and Rick Bisbee, to replace the TNG Network, which has ceased operation. Near the end of this year, the GenDex Network already contained more than 32 million profiles.

3D gravestones

Back in 2009, I suggested 3D photography such a Microsoft PhotoSynth, as a more respectful and less invasive approach to dealing with hard to read gravestones than gravestone rubbing.
In an article on the Society for Historical Archeology blog, Duane Quates describes that, about a year later, in April of 2010, a 3D camera was used to create a model of gravestone, revealing details that weren't visible to naked eye.

standards

GEDCOM

GEDCOM continues to be the de-facto standard for genealogical data exchange, and several vendors improved their GEDCOM support. However, not all vendors improved their GEDCOM support, at least one of them deliberate made things worse. On 2013 Jan 4, Howard Metcalfe released Personal Ancestry Writer (PAWriter) version 102. This version introduced the File | Format GEDCOM menu item, explicitly exposing and thus promoting the already existing functionality to format (pretty-print) GEDCOM files, a misfeature that bloats and invalidates your GEDCOM files.

The previously "secret" feature that took a GEDCOM file and produced a "reformatted" version of that GEDCOM file is now made explicate as the Format GEDCOM menu item in the File menu. In the reformatted version of a GEDCOM file, the GEDCOM "records" (lines starting with level 0) are separated by a blank line, and within a record the lines are indented according to their level.

SourceTemplates Initiative

The SourceTemplates initiative, unveiled late in 2011, was supposed to release templates based on Legacy's SourceWriter, but that hasn't happened yet. That is not entirely surprising, as the SourceTemplates initiative is was started by Real-Time Collaboration, and is a spin-off of their work on AncestorSync. Real-Time Collaboration created a separate company, AncestorSync LLC, for AncestorSync, but very few people heard any news out of them this year. There has been progress, there have been problems, but to most of the outside world, AncestorSync is vapourware. I've seen one new private Beta, and I may be the only one outside the company who has seen it.

GEDCOM validators

GEDCOM validators continued to improve, but all still failed a test that dealt with recognising legal and illegal characters and identifiers, a basic feature of GEDCOM validators. ChronoPlex was the first to release a slightly improved GEDCOM validator.

FHISO Logo

FHISO and GEDCOM X

The Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO) continued to announce new founding members and collect proposals. FHISO got started created when FamilySearch asked BetterGEDCOM members to create a formal organisation, so FHISO is literally what FamilySearch asked for, yet FamilySearch still hasn't joined FHISO, thus casting serious doubts on FamilySearch's ostensible willingness to participate in industry standardisation.
Mid 2013, FHISO announced that it had appointed Drew Smith as chair. There has been no news out of FHISO since, and that may be disappointing, but is no reason to despair yet.

Since FamilySearch silently abandoned GEDCOM, they have silently introduced and abandoned GEDXML, only to loudly introduce and then silently abandon GEDCOM XML. FamilySearch has been very loud about GEDCOM X by making it the subject of a CEO keynote at RootsTech, their major PR event. FamilySearch would do itself a favour by silently abandoning the entire misguided GEDCOM X project, their umpteenth attempt to dictate their own system as an industry standard, but that is not what they've done this year.

FamilySearch did backpedal by discontinuing the claim that GEDCOM X is an industry standard, but is still to make their own system the standard for the industry. They have repackaged a GEDCOM X blog post as a FHISO proposal, or rather a propaganda pamphlet. It makes grandiose claims about how great GEDCOM X is (substantive vision, best option among many), and suggests that FHISO should rubber-stamp GEDCOM X because By validating and ratifying GEDCOM X, FHISO can position itself as a leader in genealogical information standardization.. When you take the time to consider just what that sentence says and implies, you understand that it is an insult to FHISO. Verily, according to FamilySearch Java programmer Ryan Heaton, by rubber-stamping GEDCOM X, FHISO will be able to show a major accomplishment in providing a clear successor to GEDCOM 5 to which the industry can migrate, and FHISO will be in a strong position to lead additional efforts to address standardization needs that extend beyond the basic genealogical research process.

Netherlands

WieWasWie Logo

WieWasWie woes

On 2013 Jan 1, the Genlias site was shut down. All that's left is a page that tells you just that, and after a few seconds that page redirects you to WieWasWie. This happened despite last year's petition to keep Genlias running until there is a good replacement, and WieWasWie still did not contain everything Genlias did. That first day without Genlias, WieWasWie had trouble dealing with the visitor load. Through January, WieWasWie remained unstable. On 2013 Jan 31, the WieWasWie blog admitted this, and communicated that WieWasWie would remain free for now. That same blog post made the hard to believe claim that, upon introduction, WieWasWie was three times as popular as Genlias; Genlias had 3.500 visitors per day, and WieWasWie has 10.000+ visitors per day, the blog post claims.

Vele Handen

The VeleHanden (Many Hands) site is doing fine. Several new indexing projects have started, and the Dutch Militia Registers project, the project that was started upon its introduction late in 2011, was completed.

Genealogie Online

In May, the Genealogie Online site passed 20 million profiles, but increasing profiles counts are par for the course.
There were several new features, such as direct upload support by GensDataPro, and the first ever implementation of the Same Name Children Consistency Check, a genealogical consistency check I invented in 2009. To my surprise, Bob Coret discovered that it found more errors than any other consistency check.

An interesting new site developed by Bob Coret is Open Archieven (Open Archives). It is a proof of concept site that shows what can be done with open data. The Regionaal Archief Leiden provide open data, and their open data was the first to be indexed on Open Archieven, but it isn't the only data anymore. It is integrating data from several sources, through several protocols, and is not only offering this data to visitors, but has an API for developers as well. The site offers both a Dutch and an English user interface.

links

industry developments

take-overs, mergers and acquisitions

collaborations

23andMe

SSDI

Ancestry.com

MyHeritage

FamilySearch

Mocavo

software

mobile apps

Personal Ancestral File

MacFamilyTree 7

RootsMagic

Legacy

Heredis

New Family Tree Maker

WikiTree

ChronoPlex My Family Tree 3.0

Clooz 3

Relative History

PlusGenealogie

YouWho

GENDEX

3D gravestones

standards

GEDCOM

FHISO and GEDCOM X

Netherlands

WieWasWie woes

Vele Handen

Genealogie Online