Wednesday, August 27, 2014

FamilySearch Blogger Dinner part II

So I promised to tell you about the rest of the blogger dinner.  They had some really interesting things to say about searching on FamilySearch

First Mark Gowan talked about the Record Hints.  They've been there for a while, but they are making things slicker with three new icons.  1) A gold icon for Record Hints.  These are places where indexing has uncovered a document that FamilySearch has been able to determine fits into your tree.  This is the same as the "Record Hints" that were previously on the right hand screen.  But the cute little magnifying class icon fits into other parts of the user experience--the pedigree chart, the descendancy view, etc.  That will help lead alot of the beginner users to the sources more effectively.  A good step in the right direction.  Other icons include 2) a blue icon for Research Suggestions and 3) a red icon for Data Problems.  These weren't really explained, but I'm excited to explore these more.  Anything that brings real research skills closer to the beginner is a good thing.

The power behind these icons is what is important though.  According to Robert Kehrer, FamilySearch has developed a really good algorithm that brings back good hints--not just hints-- an all important distinction.  Robert explained that the algorithm collects all of the person's data, and then collects all of the person's relatives and their data.  They take that whole cloud and compare it with the documents that have been indexed.  Then Robert showed us the new functionality that shows the whole family in that record and puts them on one side of the screen and shows the family from the tree on the other side of the screen.  Seeing those relationships helps a new researcher to make better decisions.  They can then go through and attach the source to each person in the tree.   This is a vast improvement over the previous user interface where you had to attach everyone separately through several steps. 

I applaud the movement toward source centricity and FamilySearch's continued efforts to make it easy for the beginner researcher to get into the documents easily.  This is a great step toward making it easier for newbies to play together with more advanced researchers.  FamilySearch will always need to work more on "newbie proofing"  One of FamilySearch's main agendas is to attract the 90%+ members of the LDS faith to genealogy.  Every step towards making it easy for newbies to focus on documents is a step in the right direction.  And as I've said many times before, that new person may have a box in the attic that solves all of your issues.  We have to love newbies if we are going to thrive as a community. But most of these screens work best with simple documents like the censuses.  Once you get into more complicated documents, it gets a little trickier.

There were the typical concerns in the room about the common tree aspect of FamilySearch.  What about the sources that are hard to interpret?  Once you get out of the censuses it gets trickier.  Judy Russell mentioned a source where her Uncle is listed as Bertie and is listed as a girl when his real name was Bert.  The regular criticism of creating a common tree rather than having individual trees like Ancestry and MyHeritage is that the records aren't clean enough to come to a common consensus.  Robert and Mark had the best answer I've heard yet about FamilySearch's position on that.  He said they are "Idealists" that they believe most of the disputes will come to a consensus.  Lots of people think they are too optimistic.  While there will be some unending disputes, we can hope that they are right.  Time will tell.  I personally love that they ask for a reason when adding a source to the tree and give us a place for discussions.  While that won't help in some sticky situations with ongoing cousin wars, at least they are providing an avenue to capture that all important document *analysis* that most databases have overlooked in the past.  I remember talking to Ransom Love and others about this in our affiliate meetings years before new.familysearch was launched.  Even back then, one could see that the person with the most time to track the database is going to win the dispute--not necessarily the person with the most knowledge.  FamilySearch has always had that optimism.  In a couple more years, it will be interesting to see if the breakdown is 98% settled vs. 2% disputed, or 80% settled vs. 20% disputed, or 30% settled and 70% disputed. One can hope.

It was also good to hear the clearest explanation I've heard yet about copyright issues related to uploading images to the database.  FamilySearch is not policing copyright upfront--they don't require you to click a button to state that you have copyright permission (like we do at  Their approach has been to state in the Terms of Use that the user is responsible for copyright and then deal with any complaints and problems that arise.  Hopefully the users will respect the copyrights of the record holders.  I know I have found some really great stuff that I'd love to add to the database, but really can't--I can only write good source citations that will point people in the right direction.  It was good to hear what the official policy and plan of attack FamilySearch is working with on that.

Finally, the best part of the night was when Robert went to attach a source to a person on the tree and lightning struck outside at that exact moment.  Considering that FamilySearch is sponsored by the LDS church, does that mean that your genealogy research can come with Divine approval?  Now there is something to really hope for. I only wish it could all be that correct.

Report from the FamilySearch Blogger Dinner Part I

I got to go to the blogger dinner last night to catch up on everything that FamilySearch is doing.  It was great seeing everyone and getting a chance to listen to the FamilySearch presenters and have some time to talk to them.  Lots of exciting new things going on.

David Rencher started out by talking about how they are ramping up the camera teams.  They are hoping to have 500 teams around the world doing digitization by next year.  He also said there are 10 images created for every one image that is indexed.  So we are in great need of more indexing.  That's still a great problem to have though.

He also said they are getting better at tracking what is going on in the Family Tree.  They are tracking people with multiple parents (especially many sets of parents--obviously a problem) and that number is starting to go down.  We are making progress on cleaning up the data that was brought in from the myriad of FamilySearch databases when Family Tree was created.  And we are getting better at putting in good data.  So that is good news too.

Then Dan Call spoke about the upcoming RootsTech conference.  I'm really excited about the two lectures they accepted of mine, "Family History Adhesive: The Science of Why History Binds Families and the Simple Tech of How to Do It" and "6 Steps to Choreograph Your Research Across the Internet" (More to come on that in a bit) The theme is "Who Inspires You?"  I don't remember seeing that theme in the call for papers. I wish I had known about it because I might have submitted entirely different stuff.  I'm always talking about being inspired by your family history (for example here and here--besides my books).  I think I have alot to say about that.

One statistic that caught my eye was that in 2013 there were 5250 paying attendees of RootsTech.  And in 2014 there were 5500.  I thought that was interesting that the profitable part of the conference only increased by 250 people.  Yet the exhibitors jumped from 140 to 170.  I think the size of the non-paying attendees (Family Discovery Day, etc.) has made this look like a profitable industry and encouraged new companies to enter the waters, but in reality, the market really hasn't grown that much.  It is disconcerting to me that the expo hall has doubled each year, and is going to double in size next year, and yet the financially vested attendees has not.  This, combined with the fact that a select few RootsTech talks have been broadcast far and wide and spawned a multitude of smaller family history fairs--without vendors--has the potential to affect the industry adversely. 

Next, Bryce Roper talked about the FamilySearch Mobile App that is now available on iOS and Android.  It is looking really good.  It can help you discover something new, add stories and links to the database, quickly add photos of sources with your device's camera, and --coolest part-- create and upload a recording.  Bryce said the recordings can be up to 15 meg (about 30 minutes).  Such a great tool for people to do interviews with.  Soon you'll be able to edit vital statistics and add people to the tree.  I'm excited to see this development as I think it will attract a whole new demographic.  We had seen FamilySearch affiliates try to create a commercial app without success--again disconcerting--but I'm glad the job is getting done.  I wish a commercial app had been a viable option because we need a stronger genealogy industry.  The Memories app is also helping to capture stories and pictures etc but according to Bryce is only available in iOS so far and is not connecting those things to the tree yet.  So more to watch for there.  This is big for youth--of course one of my passions.  I think apps for mobile devices is a game changer for anyone under 30.  It is going to be alot easier to work on this with my kids now. 

We're heading out this morning to get set up for the conference.  Mark Gowan and Robert Kehrer also had some really interesting things to say about searching.  I'll cover that in FamilySearch Blogger dinner part II shortly.  In the meantime, what do you think about these issues? 

Monday, August 25, 2014

San Antonio, Here We Come!

We are heading out for the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference tomorrow, bright and early, and we could not be more excited!  It's happening August 27th-30th in San Antonio, Texas.  Erin is joining me this year and we are so looking forward to seeing many of you there.  We hope you'll swing by the booth to visit us but also to participate in our "Outside the Box" sessions that will be happening in between classes.  We're teaming up with our good friends Lisa Louise Cooke and Maureen Taylor, as well as Diahan Southard on Saturday.  We've joined booth space with Lisa and Maureen before to offer these little mini-classes and it was such a great experience that we decided to do it again.  We really hope you'll look over our schedule and watch for Tweets and Facebook posts to remind your of our classes.  They are free to the public and only 20 minutes long, with two full-length sessions being offered on Saturday.  On Friday I am going way, way "outside of the box" with one of my mini-sessions with a Genealogy Game Show and Pedigree Challenge.  A fun story-telling contest with a twist will be thrown in for good measure.  You'll have a chance to unwind, get silly, and earn prizes.  You won't want to miss it.

I'll be there all week, until Friday night, however, Erin will be staying through Saturday.  I am coming home for a family reunion being held in honor of my great grandparents which I am so excited about.  My mother has been hard at work on a 500 page book that details their lives, including five years (!!!) when they lived in the South Pacific building schools and church buildings.  I have been helping mom with the layout of the book and it has been such a wonderful experience that I just couldn't not be there for the unveiling after mom asked me to come.  Of course I am coming!  Still, Erin will be there on Saturday to visit and help you and the classes will still go on with Lisa, Maureen, and Diahan.  Be sure to come by and see us at booth 218.

You will also want to be sure to sign up for a free e-book and a grand prize drawing from all three of us as well.  If you can't go, feel free to drop me an email at janet (at) familychartmasters (dot) com and I will send you the ebook.