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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Doing genealogy in the cloud

Cloud computing is buzz word with so general a definition to allow the term to be used for almost any Internet related activity. It is not so much a specific activity as it is a general description of how work is being and will be done using the Internet. I see the term pop up repeatedly in genealogy blogs used for almost all types of computer/software activities. Nevertheless, the buzz word has some validity in describing the movement of various activities from being localized to being web based. For example, if I take a picture with my digital camera and upload the image using Google's Picasa program on my computer to Picasa's Web Albums, I am using cloud computing. By definition I am using software (the Picasa Web Album) which is out there on the Internet rather than on my local computer. There are thousands (perhaps now millions) of other examples.

If you use New FamilySearch or Ancestry.com or any of dozens of other online programs to store all of your genealogical information (or any other web based service) you are involved in cloud computing. To quote Alan E. Mann, manager of Genealogical Community Services, told a session at BYU's Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy on April 26, 2010, "Instead of people working on data in their computer and keeping a safety backup of on the Internet, people will work on their data on the Internet and keep a safety backup on their computer."

My experience with the Internet goes back to the text-based days of using University computers to access various LISTSERV accounts and accessing databases via the NSFNet (later the ANSNET). In those days we used Gopher, WAIS and FTP Archive to access data and transfer information. My first introduction to the World Wide Web came in 1993 at Scottsdale Community College. We heard of a new development called the Mosaic web browser. At that time we logged in and found all of six web sites that we could access. There are few times in my life when I know I have seen the future and that was one of them. I instantly recognized that this was it, the whole world was going to change and change quickly. Within a few months, Mosaic was replaced by Netscape Navigator and the number of web sites began to increase exponentially.

So why would I be surprised by a cloud computing concept. The truth is, I am not. It is the inevitable development of the integration of all of our computing functions. The name may presently have some advertising appeal or novelty, but the concept of providing both hardware and software functions from a remote location has been implicit in the development of the Internet from the very beginning.

The real challenge is to those of us in the genealogical community to even grasp the potential of being able to have your information accessible anytime, anywhere by anyone. If you want to read more about Cloud Computing as a concept start with Wikipedia.

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