“Mobile computing is the fastest-spreading consumer technology in history,” according to the MIT Technology Review. Estimates project that the amount of web traffic from mobile devices will surpass that of regular computers by 2015.
FamilySearch Mobile Apps
Thursday I attended “FamilySearch's Mobile Family Tree Apps,” presented by Todd Powell, FamilySearch senior product manager. While there has been a small bit of research on using SMS messaging (“texting”) to add to the Family Tree, FamilySearch’s emphasis is on smart phones, iOS and Android.
The FamilySearch.org website is now being designed using a principle called Responsive Web Design (RWD), a design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience regardless of the size of the viewing device. FamilySearch’s approach to mobile apps is to provide functionality that doesn’t duplicate what can be done using the FamilySearch.org website. “What can I do on a mobile device that I can’t do anywhere else?” Since mobile devices aren’t always connected to the Internet, a lot of work is going into the disconnected experience.
FamilySearch is working on two mobile apps.
One is Family Memories. It can be used to takes photos, write stories, and record audio. One day it may support video, but for now it is too difficult to screen them for appropriate content. You’ll be able to do all this while you are offline. Once you get to a place where you can connect, the app uploads it to your Memories page on FamilySearch.org. The app allows you to tag people in photos, but not attach them to the tree. That will come later.
Family Memories is being developed on iOS, but it will be extended to Android later. Powell showed a slide with the planned release schedule, but I couldn’t make sense of it quickly enough. Did anybody else out there catch what the schedule was?
The other FamilySearch app is Family Tree Viewer. Family Tree Viewer allows viewing a portrait pedigree, ancestor details, parents and siblings, spouses and children, sources, and photos and stories. You can tap a source to get to the image. (I can’t remember for sure, but I think your browser is activated to view the image.) You can generate and print PDF copies of the same four chart types as Family Tree. Some number of generations—maybe the first six?—will be downloaded to the device and stored there for offline viewing.
Family Tree Viewer is close to alpha release for Android phones and will go beta at the end of March. (An alpha release typically occurs internally when a product is feature complete and development is shifting to testing and bug fixes. Beta release occurs when the product is fairly stable and needs to be tested by a larger number of people in more situations than the organization can provide internally.) The Android version is a couple of months ahead of the iOS version.
Soon you will be able to add the photo of a source to Family Tree. You’ll be able to choose a photo or take one, and then add a source title. It will be added as a source to the selected individual.
By the end of the year it is hoped that the app will support adding to the tree while disconnected, and then later synchronized. Photos are not geo-tagged, but that is a feature they would like to add.
There are no current plans to provide an app for FamilySearch indexing. Indexing will be supported through the regular browser and only when connected to the Internet. (Has the pendulum swung too far?)
Ancestry.com Mobile Apps
So there I was, sitting at a luncheon with a kind couple from Michigan. (No, they didn’t hold up their hands and point to where they live. However, the luncheon presenter did.) We were talking Sweden when the conversation veered over the border. “I have one Norwegian line,” I said. “Oh, really? What county?” I haven’t looked at that line in a decade. Hang on one moment. I pulled out my smart phone. I clicked on the Ancestry App. I downloaded my tree, and voila, I knew the county of my Norwegian line.
Friday I attended “Take Your Research Anywhere with Ancestry.com's Mobile App,” by Jason Butterfield, Ancestry.com, director of product management.
Ancestry.com is set to release a Find-A-Grave mobile app very soon. Emails to beta testers went out Thursday. To the right is a photograph of the new app. (What did you expect? I was sitting in the back of the room and I suffer from familial tremors. You get what you get.) The app will search the 112 million memorials and 90 million photographs on FindAGrave.com. You can search for cemeteries. You can take photographs and create memorials. You can make and fulfill photo requests. And you can mark the GPS location of a grave. The initial version will be iOS only. (The Android app available today is not an official, Ancestry.com app.)
Ancestry.com currently has two mobile apps, Shoebox and the Ancestry app.
The Shoebox app allows you to take photographs of documents or photographs and automatically upload them to your Ancestry Tree. For my review of the app, see “Shoebox From Ancestry.” There’s a couple of features I noticed Friday that I didn’t mention in my review. When tagging a person, start typing and the app will show you matching names from your Ancestry Tree. When entering location, start typing the location and the app will show you a list of matching locations. Select a location and the app will show it on a map.
The Ancestry App allows you to view and make changes to your Ancestry Tree. When you download the app, you can login with your Ancestry user id, but you don’t have to have a subscription to create a tree.
Butterfield said the family view is so good, people have written him to say they sit their iPad with the family view next to their computer as they work on their tree on their computer.
Ancestry.com inserts world events into your ancestors’ timelines to give context to their lives. For example in the screen shot above, the small event between 1817 and 1850 indicates that in 1837 “the French inventor, Daguerre, invented the daguerreotype. Tap on the event to see additional events of that decade.
To add a photograph to an event in the timeline, first tap on the event and then tap “Add Photo.” You can take a new photograph, or select from the existing photographs on your camera. Photos attached to an event will show on the timeline.
Any changes you make will show up on your Ancestry Tree on Ancestry.com.
The main difference in features between the app and the website is the lack of historical record search on the app. However, it is possible to launch a search for an ancestor in your tree. Switch to the person’s gallery and tap Find Sources. This will launch a browser with the search parameters set.
Most of the information from your tree is downloaded when you first select the tree, but not photos and source images. If you are going away and want particular photos or source images on your device, view each one once on the device. They will be downloaded and cached on your device.
You can connect your tree (or is it your account?) to Facebook to help you pull in living people to your tree. If you connect a tree to your Facebook account, Ancestry.com will not post to your Facebook wall. They just look at your connections, looking for family members. They look at more than your friends. They will also look at the friends of your friends.