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Monday, May 18, 2009

Cloud Computing and Genealogy

Cloud computing or "utility computing" is the term being used to describe applications, data processing and storage on the Internet. Two of the biggest players in the online world are also the forerunners of this new concept, Google and Amazon. The present challenge of this exploding area of computing is a lack of a environmental standard for data so that data stored in one "cloud" can be used in other data storage centers. Forbes.

Genealogists have been using the basic concept for years, with such services as Ancestry.com's Family Tree and TribalPages.com. Even though it is not presently open to the general public, New FamilySearch/Family Tree also has the potential to become a major repository for genealogical information.

Storing data online is not a new concept. FamilySearch has had the Pedigree Resource File for years, what is newer is online collaboration. Google offers Google Docs, Google Video and Google Sites. The process is described by Google as Google Docs enhancing "your company's productivity suite and eliminates the need to collaborate with attachments. Employees can start a project with software like Microsoft Office, and use Google Docs to share files with coworkers for collaborative editing. Everyone accesses the same online copy of the file in Google Docs, so there are no attachment compatibility problems, inbox storage quota issues, or versions to reconcile. When the group is done editing, you can keep the file in Google Docs, or export it back to the original format." Google.

Some of the newer online genealogy services make the same claims. Articles have been written about collaborative genealogy for the past few years, (see Family History) but these programs suffer the same limitations discussed in cloud computing, lack of a uniform standard for easily sharing information across programs and applications. GEDCOM is a useful standard for file transfers, but it is cumbersome and difficult to use in a collaborative environment. There have been a few attempts to establish a common method of exchanging information, such as the Genos Project of Northface University in South Jordan, Utah, but little progress has been made.

Today, if you use a program such as TribalPages, you can have family members sign on and collaborate research and information, but the information is "locked up" in the TribalPages Website (or any other Website for that matter). Even if you have your data accessible in Ancestry.com, there is no easy way to transfer data and collaborate between programs short of downloading your data to your own computer and reloading it into another online program. Each program, such as Ancestry.com, TribalPages etc. operates with its own passwords, file structure and other proprietary issues.

Cloud computing advances the concept that true collaboration may be possible through the establishment of cross-program standards. As for now, collaboration is limited to a site specific effort. This area will undoubtedly become a major issue in the near future.

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