Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do you have your genealogical head in the cloud?

One of the most overworked terms in technology lately is "Cloud Computing." The term, that was coined to refer to computer tasks performed on someone else's equipment, has become so overused as to be almost meaningless. But nevertheless the movement of computer services from individual computers and networks to huge online servers is growing inexorably. So why should we care? As genealogists why would we care if, and, the three largest suppliers of cloud computing, are out there competing for business?

Let me list a few of the reasons:,,,,,, and many, many more websites.

What do all of these sites have in common? They offer an online service, keeping you genealogical data, that was previously only available on your own personal computer. Let me give you an example. Let's suppose I am just starting out in genealogy. Instead of buying a computer program to store my family information, I log onto one of the online services and start entering my family information. In essence and fact, I am using cloud computing. I began to notice this phenomena as I talked to people who had all of their genealogy on and resisted the idea of having their own computer database program. Some of these online programs offer more features for storing and sharing your genealogical database than those offered by some of the commercial individual programs available. In addition, the cloud storage companies advertise free service, although in most cases they are a lead-in to some sort of paid service.

Of course the hype about Cloud Computing is due to the involvement of huge multinational corporations who are in the process of transferring corporate computing from a localized activity to one available "in the cloud" or online. Large companies are moving many of their traditionally in-house activities like e-mail, order entry, customer management and payroll, to some other company and some other location online.

There are a whole list of technologies that had to develop before Cloud Computing could even be possible. These technologies included very inexpensive and huge storage capacity as well as extremely high speed Internet connections. In addition, the companies had to develop a way of paying for online services. Another requirement was the expansion of the Internet to be almost universally available. If we were missing any one or more of these developments and Cloud Computing would not have been possible.

What part of your genealogy would you be willing to put online? What if you realized that most of the online options include the ability to keep your data private and only available by login and password?  What if you also realized that you could access your data from anywhere, even your cell phone,  iPod or other device?

I believe the movement towards cloud computing is inevitable and will continue to play a larger and larger part in our online genealogy activities. We can now store our files, photographs and all the rest online and we can also use the online programs to organize our data, but in the future I am sure that most, and probably nearly all software will be Internet based.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It is neither. It is neutral as far as good or bad, it will be a change. Some software developers are already allowing a cut-down version of their program to be downloaded for free, but charging for a 1 year "subscription" to their software to upgrade to a full-blown version of the program.

The down-side? What happens to your data when and if you quit paying the storage or online fees?


  1. I've probably been a little bit backwards with the way I use I enter and maintain all of my genealogy information on the site and every few weeks, I download the file to my computer (Family Tree Maker 2011) because I like the reports that the software generates.

    A few months ago, a family I know lost all of their computers and external hard drives (HDTVs as well as their car!) to thieves. ALL of their family photographs were gone for good. All they had left were those they had shared with family members. That was something of a wake up call to the need for off site storage.

    A couple weeks ago, the flash drive I use for my day job got corrupted and a bunch of mysterious folders and files appeared. None could be opened or deleted. I had to reformat the drive, then the same thing happened again. Got a new flash drive.

    This made it imperative to me that I needed to join the cloud to store my genealogy documents and files. Dropbox is finishing up the initial upload of nearly 7,000 files. It's taken two or three days for this process. Well worth it. The cost is a small amount to pay for peace of mind. I continue to carry a flash drive with my genealogy files with me offsite. I still plan to store this in my safety deposit box and switch drives every few weeks.

    Paranoid? Perhaps. But why take the risk of losing decades worth of information? I don't think I could ever start over.

    I've also signed up for the new storage from Amazon. This looks like a good spot to store my music files. The file transfer is terribly slow and cumbersome. The automatic file uploader doesn't recognized my mp3 player where most of my music files are presently stored. I have yet to try this from my external hard drive (different computer).

    I've become a fan of "the cloud" in a very short period of time.

  2. I've subscribed to Carbonite for a number of years now and have found it invaluable. Also, I have public trees on Ancestry and Rootsweb. To make sure that Ancestry doesn't lose my trees I download them as GEDcoms at least once a month and they are then backed up to Carbonite.

    I still have databases on CD's, DVD's that need to be backed up. These are indexes, directories, etc published commercially and aren't readily saved on my hard drive(s). Any thoughts on how to handle these?