Wednesday, February 3, 2016

For Technology: Some Problems, Some Solutions

Welcome to the 2016 BYU Family History Technology WorkshopAfter the opening keynote yesterday, speakers at the BYU 2016 Family History Technology Workshop gave rapid-fire, five-minute presentations for the remainder of the morning, first on genealogy problems needing technology solutions and then on some new genealogy technology solutions for genealogists.

Some Problems

Dallan Quass talked about judging tree quality. There are a lot of bad online trees. When you look at an online tree, how do you tell how good it is? Dallan feels it should be possible to apply computer technology to identify tree quality. Machine learning could examine the number of sources, including their type and variety, the number of warnings, the specificity of dates, the number of people in the file (too many signal the work of name gatherers), and how many of them are early people.

Mark Clement said there was a need for technology to help handle duplicates in Family Tree. New users find duplicates very confusing and disheartening when they see that message: “Merging is a complex process…” Mark said, “I think that this is a prime place where computer technology could assist.”

James Tanner complained about the lack of data transfer technology. There are hundreds of places where genealogical data files exist. If I put my data on MyHeritage, what do I do if I want to move it to another tree? Or how do I exchange a copy with another person? There needs to be standards for data exchange and GEDCOM is broken!

Heath Nielson spoke to several problems extracting data from Historical Documents. One of the biggest problems is image quality. There should be metrics produced as soon as a camera operator takes a picture. This could immediately alert them to the need to retake an image. Another issue is duplicate images. FamilySearch has done some work to see if it could be identified automatically. Another problem is identifying a zone of interest in a document, such as an obituary on a newspaper page. Image enhancement is an issue. Handwriting recognition of historical documents still presents a challenge.

Scott Woodfield addressed the 2016 BYU Family History Technology Workshop.Scott Woodfield spoke to the topic: “I Have No Control over My Own Information.” His mother was disheartened recently when someone changed her father’s name in Family Tree. Sometime in the past pencil and paper were replaced by PAF. Then PAF was replaced with Family Tree. This was characterized as a good thing, but users have the perception that “bad” people are out there changing their information. This triggers the fight or flee response. Users either enter into toggle wars, or they give up using Family Tree. Users believe they are the best job and that they have loss of control of their information. Some possible solutions are to give a personal view, to use branching version control, or enable better communication between users.

Some Technologies

About a dozen presenters talked about their new technologies and products. Most were applications that captured multimedia (video, audio, or photos), shared it (with flexible privacy), and preserved it. A couple unlocked memories and informed the recipient at some future time. Studio by Legacy Republic includes a scanner for photo albums.

Wesley Eames showed AncestorCloud, a website that allows users to post a need for some research, along with how much they are willing to pay. Researchers can then accept jobs of interest. They are still working the kinks out; about 1% of requests end in dispute.

James Tanner showed The Family History Guide – This site teaches users how to use the FamilySearch website. It features a structured, sequenced way of approaching the subject of genealogy. Learning resources are scattered all over the web and all over The Family History Guide breaks learning down into measurable resources. It also includes lesson plans for teaching family history.

Joshua Mathias showed Grandma's Pie, a website that shows your ancestors’ nationalities as a pie chart.

The Ancestry Insider's ancestor nationality pie chart

Kevin King showed a concept under development, Wheel of Family Fortune. As the user guesses letters, more information comes up to teach players about their ancestors. Kevin hopes games will get younger people interested in genealogy.


Justin Rasband and Tom Sederberg showed One Page Genealogy, which tries to solve the problem of packing together a family tree chart and still making it look good. You can download the chart as a PDF for printing. Click on a person to change the size of the person’s box, or that of their generation, or the whole chart. By using boxes of different sizes, you can best utilize the space.

Still to come: presentations by FamilySearch employees. Be warned, however. I may not be able to write them up until after Innovator Summit and RootsTech. Innovator Summit started today and RootsTech is close on its heals.

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