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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Genealogical Year in Review


I decided that I would do one of those end-of-the-year type of looking back to see where we have come in the world of genealogy posts and it turns out to be fairly complicated. Not just because there was  a lot going on this year, but because there is no convenient place to stop. I could list all the conferences and expos, all the meetings and other events, but that wouldn't really tell anyone what happened. So I have opted for a more general analysis. A review of the trends and changes that will affect what we do as genealogists (and what we do in a lot of other areas of our lives also) during the coming year and henceforth.

Trend No. 1: The beginning of the end of the desktop computer.
The current configuration of microcomputers dates back to the concept of a "computer in a box" illustrated by the early Apple and IBM PC computers. Of course, the flaw in this early concept was the fact that most of the peripheral devices such as the computer’s monitor, external floppy disk drives, printers and other similar items were not contained within the "box." In addition, concurrent technological developments affected computer monitors, telephones, television sets, stereo audio complements and an ever-increasing number of similar devices. Early on there were two parallel trends in computer development; ever more powerful component computers sold as "desktops" and smaller more portable computers sold as "laptops."

During the past year or so, we have seen the culmination of these trends as more and more peripheral devices are incorporated within the computer itself. Today's typical tablet or lightweight laptop computer is the current end product of this evolution. The average tablet computer made available this year, contains a high resolution camera, and Internet connection, and most of the software functionality of a desktop computer. If you also consider, the smart phone, you add the telephonic capability to the same computer functions.

More and more, computer users are abandoning the traditional desktop configuration for the more portable and convenient smart phone, tablet or laptop. See PC Sales Set to Decline For Years, Analyst Warns. Meanwhile, when was the last time that you remember a major computer manufacturer introducing an innovative new desktop computer? For example, Apple introduced an upgrade to its all-in-one-box iMac computer but there is also discussion that it may discontinue its high-end Mac Pro computer.


Trend No. 2: The migration of more software functions to the Cloud.
During the past year, we saw an acceleration in the transition of local-based software to cloud-based software. Even in the conservative area of genealogical software, the trend is towards utilization of online services in conjunction with local software. Two of the major online genealogical database providers, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, continued to provide additional cloud sourced benefits to their customers as well as local genealogical database programs. But the question raised again and again during the year was whether or not it was even necessary to have your own computer program on your individual computer? It is very doubtful, that all of the millions of users of cloud-based genealogical databases have their own individual software programs. As the functionality of cloud-based programs increases the question will continue to rise as to the advisability of maintaining your own individual database.

Trend No. 3: The saturation of the social networking environment.
There is no question that social networking has become one of the dominant forces our modern society. This includes the genealogical community. The issue is whether or not we have reached the level of saturation where it is practically impossible to absorb any further social networking options? The latest development is the creation of genealogical special interest groups online in larger social networking context. For example, in the past two or three months or as been a movement to add Facebook specialty groups and Google+ interest groups for genealogists. Are genealogists ready to give up even more research time simply to "hang out" online?

Trend No. 4: The consolidation of commercial online genealogy.
Calendar year 2012 saw an acceleration of the expansion of the larger genealogical database companies with significant acquisitions and partnerships. There's no question that this trend will continue in the future with additional acquisitions and consolidations. Whether you agree that this is a good or a bad idea, begs the issue because the forces are already in place to continue the expansion.

Trend No. 5: The realization of the insular nature of genealogical data.
This is a result of the continued expansion of the larger genealogical databases, the need for a common data interchange format for genealogy became even more crucially evident. It was agreed by the larger community, that the GEDCOM standard had become obsolete because it had not kept up with the expansion of multimedia and online resources. The year 2012 saw significant efforts directed towards initiating discussion of data communication standards. The future should see more efforts in this regard.

Trend No. 6: The advent of the unified family tree option.
One of the most significant events during the past year was the introduction of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree program as a unified online option. Although, the program remains in the development stage and is still in the process of being introduced, it may yet prove to be a fundamentally revolutionary development assuming it does not get bogged down in the data as did New.FamilySearch.org.

Trend No. 7: The continued marginalization of genealogical societies.
Genealogical societies have a long and storied history in the United States and other countries but except for some of the larger organizations that operate on a national basis, organized societies have failed to keep up with the vast technological changes especially the explosion of social media. For example, a sample search on Facebook.com for "genealogical society" brings up almost no results. If the statistics from the large online genealogical databases are correct then there are literally millions of people around the world posting fair family history information online. But with only a few exceptions, the genealogical societies seem absent from this online phenomena. Another example, the Federation of Genealogical Societies has a Facebook.com page, but at the time of the writing of this post it had 926 Facebook “likes,” while at the same time, Ancestry.com, had 389,217 likes. Very few regional or local genealogical societies have any significant presence in any of the social media. If this trend continues, the societies will continue to become more marginalized.

Trend No. 8: The consolidation and  contradictory proliferation of genealogical conferences.
In 2011, RootsTech.org began the process of consolidating genealogy conferences. The initial conference was billed as a consolidation of three previously held conferences. In 2013, an additional conference was added and consolidated into RootsTech.org. At the same time, and what seems to be a contradictory trend, there seems to be a proliferation of smaller conferences scattered all over the country. The impact of these seemingly opposing trends remains to be seen. But it is evident that the market, if there is one, for genealogical seminars and conferences may become saturated.

Trend No. 8: Automated research and source record matching.
One of the most dramatic technological advances in genealogical research has been the development of automated research and source record matching by the larger genealogical databases. Both Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com have introduced very successful and comprehensive research aids that attempt to match individuals in a user's online family tree with source records in the database. This technology has proved to be extremely valuable and accurate. If this trend continues it may well be that the genealogical researcher will be inundated with source material.

I'm sure there are other trends that I could discuss. I would be glad to entertain comments and perhaps do a follow-up blog post concerning some additional ideas.




2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this summary, James. Your number 7 is of personal concern to me as, until I helped a society with their social media accounts, I did not realise that there was such strong hostility towards moving forward in local societies.

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  2. Very interesting article. I have found the County Genealogical Societies to be very helpful and reasonable in cost as well (especially when you consider the information obtained). Hopefully people will still be aware they exist as a valuable resource. There needs to be a balance between "protecting" their identity and reaching out so people know they have important holdings that need to be considered in my opinion.

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