Modern Software Experience


OpenGen & BetterGEDCOM

  1. BetterGEDCOM
OpenGen Logo

closed for business


The GEDCOM specification is not perfect, and FamilySearch has been derelict in its duties as keeper of the GEDCOM specification for more than a decade. Naturally, developers are more than a little disenchanted.
Many alternatives to GEDCOM have been proposed, but these did not gain widespread industry support, and GEDCOM remained the de facto standard. In the past years, two new organisations were created to address the situation; OpenGen and BetterGEDCOM.


OpenGen was created by Scott Mueller of AppleTree. AppleTree allows users to upload their GEDCOM file, and Scott soon discovered that many genealogy products create something that merely resembles a GEDCOM file. He decided that something needed to done, and started the International OpenGen Alliance.

vision and mission

OpenGen was conceived in April of 2010. OpenGen describes itself as a member-driven trade association whose primary focus is to provide an open forum for genealogy enthusiasts and professionals to share information, opinions and perspectives, insights and intelligence about genealogical information and its standardization..
The OpenGen byline is a single standard for everyone, but OpenGen does not only have a byline, it also has a vision and a mission statement. The OpenGen vision statement is To be the world’s authority for genealogy standards for data frameworks, exchange and sharing.. The OpenGen mission statement is To foster and promote the development and adoption of OpenGen data standards to facilitate greater interoperability of genealogy and family histories..


OpenGen was informally introduced in June of 2010, by Gordon Clarke, a FamilySearch employee who used to be responsible for the GEDCOM specification; he sent out mails to several parties inviting them to become OpenGen members. Through that email, FamilySearch seemed to be endorsing the OpenGen organisation. That was a kiss of death that OpenGen barely survived.
One issue with the FamilySearch email was that it was sent to a rather small group of FamilySearch contacts, with the result that persons and organisations that were not on their rather parochial contact list felt slighted.
Developers who did receive the email were not thrilled either. The email did not make it crystal clear that OpenGen is independent of FamilySearch and its parent organisation, the LDS. The initial perception that the email created was that OpenGen was an ostensibly independent organisation, that was actually controlled by the LDS, much like the LDS-owned Deseret News.
OpenGen struggled to escape the FamilySearch association the email had created.

web-based organisation

OpenGen was a formal organisation, with a charter, bylaws, board and committee members. OpenGen was also a modern organisation, that took full advantage of the web.
The OpenGen site includes a forum for discussions. The activities were managed through a Basecamp. OpenGen slides are on Slideshare. OpenGen meetings were held virtually in GotoMeeting webinars. A comparison of GEDCOM and the OpenGen data model can be found in a Google Docs spreadsheet. The data model was created in Gliffy, an online diagramming tool.
One issue with all this is that this modern approach may have been too modern for some. A definite issue is that comparatively little information can be found on the OpenGen site itself. You cannot find everything in one place, but have to gather information from multiple sites, with multiple logins.


OpenGen did not suffer a lack of interest, but it did suffer a lack of participation. Many persons and organisations signed up as member, but few attended the meetings, even fewer participated in other activities. Vendors want to stay informed about a possible new standard, but are too busy developing their current product to spend much time on something that may not pan out.
Most vendors desire something better than GEDCOM and would implement a new standard once it has gained industry traction, but without some vendors investing in it by adopting it first, a new specification will never gain that traction. It is the proverbial chicken and egg problem.

one vendor's solution

OpenGen was started by Scott Mueller, CEO of AppleTree, because of the GEDCOM issues that AppleTree has to contend with. After the first few meetings, perhaps even before that, several parties perceived this as OpenGen being started by AppleTree. OpenGen was perceived as promoting AppleTree's solution, and few vendors are willing to adopt another vendor's standard. Doing so might give the vendor setting the standard an unfair competitive advantage. Because of this of this, several parties withdrew their participation in OpenGen meetings.


For a while, OpenGen co-existed with BetterGEDCOM. FamilySearch did not support either organisation, but did pre-announce FamilySearch SORD, now known as GEDCOM X.
OpenGen was never officially disbanded, but all activities ceased early in 2011. The home page of the OpenGen site still shows the invitation for the 2011 Mar 23 webinar. The OpenGen slides, documents and data model are still available.


2014-04-14: sites gone

The OpenGen site is gone. The AppleTree site is gone too.