Modern Software Experience

2008-01-03

Genealogy is social

Social genealogy is a pleonasm. Genealogy is social. The average genealogy web site exists to find, make and show connections between people.

Traditional genealogy web sites emphasise the genealogy and family history, and are largely restricted to information about the dead. The social genealogy sites emphasise networking with the living.

new in 2007

Last year (2007) saw the introduction of quite a few social genealogy sites. Some got lots of mainstream press, so you are almost sure to have heard about them. I started with the list I had heard about, sat down and googled for a few hours to create an overview.

overview

I expected to find about a dozen sites, I found a few more, and I probably still missed a few.

category

There is no hard line between categories such as Genealogy 2.0 and Family 2.0. A collaborative genealogy application need not qualify as social genealogy. I make a few remarks on individual sites, but this is not an attempt to either categorise or review them all. It is just that if I did not mention them, I would surely be deluged with email telling me I forgot about them.

FamilyPursuit

FamilyPursuit is collaborative genealogy application That does not make it true social genealogy site, but it is likely to evolve into one.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage has already been evolving in that direction. The new homepage is clearly inspired by Geni.com’s homepage, it allows collaboration and its Smart Matching feature help find overlapping trees by other member. There is a fun celebrity-lookalike feature and a Look-alike-meter to show whether a child looks more like mom or dad.

FamilyCrossings

FamilyCrossings is more of Family 2.0 than a Genealogy 2.0 site. It offers lots of family-oriented features, but lacks the traditional family tree.

social biography

The sites in the list may have much in common, but they are not the same. They differ in features and focus. Sites like Dandelife and Story of My Life have such a strong focus on personal history, that they are hardly social genealogy sites, but they are not your average blogging platform either. Dandelife calls its social biography.

FaceBook

FaceBook is the biggest social networking site. Their FaceBook platform allows the creation of applications for FaceBook. Several companies have released genealogy applications on FaceBook. Some of these are from entirely new companies, others from established companies. Some people believe FaceBook apps to be the next big thing, so expect more companies to get some genealogy application onto Facebook. Existing players are already making claims about their FaceBook popularity.

introduction dates

I have tried to list the sites by introduction dates, which is not so easy.
It is almost de rigeur for Web 2.0 sites to sport a logo with the word Beta plastered over it, as a way to show how cool they are, and to appeal to early adopters. They start with closed beta followed by public beta, and some never remove the beta designation. Some services already existed in a different form, and did a social genealogy makeover. I have tried to give either the official start date or the makeover date, but sometimes all I could find was the official beta date. Corrections are welcome.

players

trend

It may have seemed a fad at first, but with so many new sites and even existing companies getting in on the action it is a full-blown trend. We can probably look forward to yet more social genealogy start-ups, as well as the inevitable mergers and acquisitions.

combination

The social genealogy sites combine genealogy with social networking. Several of the start-ups are backed by venture capitalist, who probably believed the entrepreneur’s enthusiastic talk about the unique value of this combination - until they saw all they other start-ups based on the same unique idea.

It is a great combination, but that also puts them in competition with traditional genealogy sites and established social networking sites.
In response to this competition, genealogy sites are adding social networking features and social networking sites are adding genealogy features.

innovation

Press releases from the new companies tend to describe their approach as the revolutionary Next Big Thing - and they invented it. There is actually very little or no innovation here. Not only does the sheer amount of start-ups in this space shows how obvious the combination is, several companies have been doing comparable things for years.

genealogical bookmarking

One site dedicated to nothing but genealogy bookmarking did not last long. mGenea, a social book marking site dedicated to genealogy started on 2006-06-01 lasted less than a year. It did not fill any void, it merely attempted to fragment bookmarking by subject. Users continued to uses general bookmarking sites and simply tag their links with genealogy.

existing services

Articles covering these new services rarely mention Genes Reunited, RootsWeb WorldConnect or the freely accessible GenCircles, services that keep trees separate, but do highlight likely identical individuals. Almost no one mentions the commercial OneGreatFamily and its automatic tree-merging either. Press releases from the companies themselves read as if they are first and only company offering web based genealogy services. Those early companies deserve to be mentioned for doing this long before "web 2.0" became the buzzword du jour.
Genes Reunited offered a Flash program to build your family tree in before Geni.com even existed. It has some 8 million members and 5000 million names - and don’t think it Genes Reunited isn’t a social website, it was created by the people who started Friends Reunited in 2000 and added Friends Reunited Dating in 2003. GenCircles has offered Smart Matching since its start late in 2001. OneGreatFamily started early in 2001 and merges trees when they contains the same individual.

issues

last one in wins

Rob Armstrong, vice president of OneGreatFamily, has criticised the new players’s "last one in wins" model of genealogy and questioned the ability of these new sites of handling a tree with 40.000 individuals in a Flash application.

He may even be right in thinking OneGreatFamily’s system is "the best, most powerful, and easiest of use of all the systems", but OneGreatFamily has to adapt to the increasing popularity of these new competitors. Most of these will just let you sign up for free and get started, whereas OneGreatFamily will only give you a mere 7-day trial of their service if you provide your credit card number first.

Update 2008-03-02: OneGreatFamily is adapting. They just introduced the FaceBook app We’re Related.

accessibility

Most of these sites require users to allow JavaScript and Flash. It would be interesting to see a standards-based service that does not require you to allow scripts or plug-ins.

The i site is so dependent on JavaScript that it does not even display its top-level menu menu without it. Such inaccessible site design makes it obvious that they are not aiming at the geriatric demographic. Many other sites in the list suffer similar accessibility issues.

That said, Verwandt.de liked the Geni design so much, that early press referred to them as Geni.com clone.

blog

Many of the social genealogy have an official blog. These blogs provide Web 2.0 cred by making the site part of the blogosphere. Some actually provide some interesting information too.

morphing

Some of the traditional sites are morphing to face the competition of the new social genealogy sites. These sites hope to build on their reputation and user base to quickly establish themselves in the social space.

Established genealogy companies are adding social features to their existing site. Done right, the combination of features can be appealing.

myfamily.com

MyFamily.com started as commercial hosting service for genealogy web sites, complete with an option for a custom domain name. It remade itself as myfamily.com 2.0 with a new look and the ability to edit trees online. It is advertising with its 10-year old domain name, which is misleading. I have generously used their official start for myfamily.com 2.0 beta in the overview of new social genealogy sites.

FamilyRelatives

FamilyRelatives started as a site that offers access to British Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) records. It added some social features on 2007-09-01 and more on 2007-11-26. These features now include profiles, messaging, ability to leave comments, announcements and classifieds.

privacy

Privacy is a big issue. I would not be surprised to see all social networking sites investigated for large-scale violation of national and international privacy laws.

The one argument that these companies have in their defence is that they did not collect and publish their data, but their users did so themselves, but a smart court will still investigate their liability for inciting privacy violations.

be careful

As a user of these sites, you have to be careful what you reveal about yourself, your family and friends. You are responsible for what you reveal, and even if your family and friends do not take you to court, you may still sour relationships by revealing illegitimate children, divorces or even birthdates.

social DNA

Social Genealogy is not the only trend. Another one is DNA Genealogy. Traditional and social genealogy sites are offering the possibility to store DNA information. Combine social genealogy with DNA and you are deep into privacy issues, yet some companies are offering just that.

GeneTree

GeneTree is a social genealogy site started by Sorensen Companies, the commercial group behind the non-profit Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. GeneTree offers several mitochondrial DNA Tests on their website, which are performed by Sorenson Genomics.

23andMe

The introduction date for 23andMe is the actual introduction date, but it was an U.S.A.-only introduction.
23andMe (your DNA has 23 chromosomes) is probably best known for having Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google’s Sergey Brin, as one of its two co-founders. That connection has no direct consequence for the privacy of participants, but can hardly not influence the future of this company. Obvious criticism of 23andMe is that, at $ 999, the test they offer, however good, is rather expensive.

patent

Famillion press releases claims patented technology for merging and connecting family trees on minimal information, but neither their press releases nor their web site tell you the patent number, and no such patent turned up in obvious patent searches.

languages

The London-based Kindo started with eleven different languages; Afrikaans, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish and Turkish. It soon added Arabic, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Even the blog entries from the team are often available in two or three languages.

Zooof is a Dutch start-up, with a decidedly multi-lingual approach. Their English homepage currently show 35 different flags in the upper right corner of their homepage to let you pick a language.

The German Verwandt.de service shows seven flags, but the default homepage is German. Well, the domain name does end in de, and they did start an American site, It’s Our Tree, that default to Amglish.

integration

Some of these services are integrating with social networking sites. They are doing this to appeal to people already a member of those sites, and outgrow their competition. For example, FamilyLink offers the We’re Related and MyWill FaceBook applications.

spam

Free services are rarely truly free. For example, according to FamilyLink’s privacy policy, you agree to receive spam (they just don’t call it that, they call it "promotional material"). What’s worse, the link to unsubscribe is not on the site, but only provided in the spam they send you: "FamilyLink may use a member’s email address to send news updates, or promotional material. Members who does not wish to receive this information of this type may unsubscribe by clicking on the Unsubscribe or change subscriber options link located at the bottom of every email.".

GEDCOM

Several of these sites offer the ability to import your already existing family tree through a GEDCOM file. Few offer GEDCOM export.

more import

Several of the services mentioned here integrate with Flickr. Amiglia supports import from Flickr and uses Riya to aid in organising photos.

Famiva offers an option to import your data from myfamily.com, and email address from Yahoo, Hotmail, MSN, Gmail and AOL. It even allows you to view updates as an RSS feed in the RSS reader of your choice.

Social Genealogy Chronological Overview

The list that use to be here has been moved into the separate Social Genealogy Sites resource.

updates

Somewhere in 2007 iFamily changed its name to FamilyBuilder, but did not issue a press release. The name change is probably because of possible confusion with the already existing iFamily genealogy application for Mac OS.

updates

2008-01-14 WorldVitalRecords becomes FamilyLink

WorldVitalRecords has changed its name to FamilyLink.

2008-05-01 Friends Reunited becomes free

Friends Reunited drops its subscription model and becomes free, but Genes Reunited and Friends Reunited Dating remain subscription based.

Recent Ancestry.com press releases claim that Online Family Tree got started in 1999. Ancestry Daily News mentioned it on 2000 Mar 10.

2008-09-19 FamilyLink renamed FamilyHistoryLink

FamilyLink née WorldVital Records has renamed the FamilyLink site to FamilyHistoryLink.

2008-09-22 MyHeritage.com buys Kindo.com

MyHeritage.com has bought Kindo.com.

2008-10-23: It’s Our Tree out of Beta

It’s Our Tree has exited Beta.

2008-11-20: It’s Our Tree renames to dynastree

It’s Our Tree has been renamed to dynastree.

2008-12-08 Social Genealogy Sites resource

Split the overview of sites of into a separate resource, Social Genealogy Sites.

2012-05-22: Kindo blog gone

MyHeritage seems to have removed all of Kindo except the home page. The Kindo blog entries are gone. The broken link has been removed.

links