Archive for February 5th, 2012

February 5, 2012

Google Me Some Shiny New Genealogical Data

by C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon

Google was at RootsTech 2012. Google was a Keynoter, Google was a Vendor and Google was a presenter. Google was in the house. The tech gear had some Android devices in the audience too.

Only Apple had more technology there. Unfortunately, it was among the users, developers, and presenters. Tim Cook bring Apple to RootsTech 2013!!! Your customers deserve Apple to give the same presence as Google. As I said in my last article, iPads, iPhones, MacBooks (mostly Pro, but some Air) — the attendees were so tech laden you would have thought Ubiquitous Computing had arrived. Isn’t there a recession? Where did all these tech warriors come from? These were users a bit more than developers. Bloggers were numerous, most wore Mardi Gras beaded necklaces so they were recogizable. Then you had secret bloggers such as Stanczyk. Everyone was a genealogist. Users encouraged Vendors/Developers with praise and requests for more/better technology. Oh and make the tech transparent.

But this is about Google. Before the conference I had written the Google tech off as too low brow to bother with. Then Jay Verkler showed up — who is apparently the Steve Jobs of genealogy. He was the Keynoter on day one. Stanczyk is a genealogist and I have been to genealogy conferences before. These are usually staid affairs. Genealogists are … how should I put it … umm, old. It is not unusual to see octogenarians and nonogenarians (90’s). But the energy in the auditorium of 4,200 conference attendees was electric. These were not stodgy, Luddites. Notebooks and pens were almost nonexistent!! People were excited and very much anticipating — what, I do not think we had a clue, but expectations were off the charts.

Jay did not disappoint. He was personable and masterful in his presentation skills. Mr Verkler is a Visionary like Steve Jobs and the audience knew it and responded. It was Jay who weaved the vision which everyone now wants ASAP. He brought up Google and my eyes were prepared to glaze over. I did not even record the Google execs’ names [shame on me]. They were good! They had prepared for RootsTech and they showed brand new tech and also Microcode. I do not have words to express what I saw, but everyone in the audience wanted it.

Google showed Microcode which would be a Google Chrome plug-in and appear as a widget/icon in the address bar that can do amazing search/exchange tricks in a Web 2.0+ way. It would utilize Historical-Data.org in some unspecified way to do this genealogy magic. It was beyond amazing. Google created a genealogy plug-in!! Google is apparently also coordinating in an API-like way to transfer these search result magics into other websites like FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc. that put this magic into the beyond amazing realm.

Firefox and Safari take note if you do not want to see a massive shift to Chrome. I am pretty sure all genealogists will use Chrome when Microcode widget arrives.

February 5, 2012

Is GEDCOM Dead? Date/Place of Death, Please?

by C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon

The RootsTech Conference is living up to its name. Everywhere there was a sea of: iPhones/Androids, iPads (in huge numbers), and laptops. Even the very elderly were geared up. Google, Dell, and Microsoft were at RootsTech. — why not Apple, especially since their customers were present in LARGE numbers??? [note to Tim Cook have Apple sponsor and show up as a vendor.]

According to Ryan Heaton (FamilySearch), “GEDCOM is stale.” He went on to speak about GEDCOMX as the next standard as if GEDCOM were old and/or dead. They were not even going to make GEDCOMX backwards compatible! In a future session I had with Heaton I asked the Million dollar question, “How do I get my GEDCOM into GEDCOMX”? After a moments pause he said they’d write some sort of tool to import or convert the existing GEDCOM files. Well that was reassuring??? So they want GEDCOMX to be a standard but FamilySearch are the only ones working on it and they have not had the ability to reach out to the software vendors yet (I know I asked).

My suggestion was to publish the language (like HTML, SQL, or GEDCOM). I asked for “railroad tracks“, what we used to call finite state automata, and what Oracle uses to demonstrate SQL syntax, statements that are valid with options denoted and even APIs for embedding SQL into other programming languages. Easy to write a parser or something akin to a validator (like W3C has for HTML).

Dallan Quass  took a better tack on GEDCOM. His approach was more evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. He collected some 7,000+ gedcoms

GEDCOM Tags

and wrote an open source parser for the current GEDCOM standard (v5.5). He analyzed the flaws in the current standard and saw unused tags, tags like ALIA
that were always used wrong, custom tags and errors in applying the standard. He also pointed out that the concept of a NAME is not fully defined in the standard and so is left to developers (i.e. vendors) to implement as they want. These were the issues making gedcoms incompatible between vendors. He said his open source parser could achieve 94% round trip from one vendor to another vendor.

Now that made the GEDCOMX guys take notice — here was their possible import/conversion tool.

The users just want true portability of their own gedcoms and the ability to not have to re-enter pics, audio, movies over and over again. RootsTech’s vision of APIs that would allow the use of “authorities” to conform names, places, and sources would also help move genealogy to the utopian future Jay Verkler spoke of at the keynote. APIs would also provide bridges into the GEDCOM for chart/output tools, utilities(merge trees), Web 2.0 sharing across websites / search engines / databases (more utopian vision).

GEDCOM is the obvious path forward. Why not improve what is mostly working and focus on the end users and their needs?

FamilySearch get vendors involved and for God’s sake get Dallan Quass involved. Publish a new GEDCOM spec with RailRoad tracks (aka Graphic Syntax Diagrams) and then educate vendors and Users on the new gedcom/gedcomx.    Create a new gedcom validator and let users run their current gedcoms against it to produce new gedcoms (which should be backward compatible with old gedcom to get at least 94% compliance that Quass can already do)!

Ask users for new “segments” in the railroad tracks to get new features that real users and possibly vendors want in future gedcoms. Let there be an annual RootsTech keynote where all attendees can vote via the RootsTech app on the proposed new gedcom enhancements.

How about that FamilySearch? Is that doable? What do you my readers think? Email me (or comment below).


P.S.
       Do Not use UML models to communicate the standard. It is simply not accessible to genealogists. Trust me I am a Data Architect.

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