Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Potential of FamilySearch.org

I wonder if FamilySearch really understands the potential of FamilySearch.org? They seem to be moving towards putting the pieces together, but I have yet to hear anyone articulate the website's true potential in a coherent fashion. The closest presentation yet was from Tim Cross at the Arizona Family History Expo. He gave a presentation on FamilySearch.org/Photos and talked about storing photos, stories and documents along with the entries on Family Tree. But there seems to be one more step; making FamilySearch.org the "master copy" of the world's genealogy.

Right now the Family Tree program is mired down in its historical roots. Unfortunately, FamilySearch decided to carry over all of the data issues generated during the past 150 years. By importing data directly from New.FamilySearch.org, instead of starting with a clean slate, we are forced to confront all of the errors of the past rather than simply beginning again with a clean slate. But re-focusing the data may turn out to be a minor problem compared to the challenge of maintaining a master copy of the world's genealogy.

FamilySearch.org now has announced nearly all of the pieces of a system to completely record genealogical data online in one place at one time where everyone has access to see only one master copy of the data. They have the record sources in the form of the Historical Record Collections. They have the individual and family data in the form of Family Tree which can then be linked to the data sources both in FamilySearch's collections and externally also. They have the potential of adding in images and tying those images to the individuals and families in Family Tree. They have the further potential of adding stories about the individuals, making the dry data come alive and finally they have the potential of adding in the external source documents that are presently scattered around the world in millions of locations and doing this through digitized copies.

If they are successful in seeing the potential of this system and can overcome the difficulties of storing and maintaining the huge amount of data that will be generated, FamilySearch.org or its successor websites could become the world's master copy of genealogical information.

For example, if I could put all of my research, my data about birth, marriage, death and everything else, along with narratives and images of each individual and then add source references from around the Internet, I would have a "one stop shop" of all my data. If that could be preserved online by an organization that was dedicated to maintaining, preserving and migrating my data, the problem of losing all my data at my death could be avoided. But here is the challenge. Presently my data is more than 2.5 Terabytes of information. Multiply that by millions of contributors and you can begin to see the real problem. The challenge of data storage and maintenance dwarfs the present issues of data integrity.

Even if the data on FamilySearch.org were highly selective, the amount of data is huge even for the images alone. Fortunately, technology may make this whole scheme possible. It is not just possible, but highly likely that massive data storage capabilities will evolve over the next few years that may make my concerns moot.

The real challenge here is whether or not FamilySearch can focus on the potential they have created. Will Family Tree become mired down in the data like happened with New.FamilySearch.org or can the duplicates and inaccuracies finally be sorted out? FamilySearch appears to view the problem as recruiting more people to put in more data. It is true, if we want to capture the world's genealogy, then more people, especially young people, have to participate. But involving more people in genealogy alone is not the answer. For example, what if I were able to convince many of my children and grandchildren to help with my genealogical research? Where would they put the information? How can we collaborate when the data is so corrupted that I cannot get back more than four generations on some of my lines in Family Tree without duplicates and misinformation?

So, the potential to create a place where everyone in a family can go to see the master copy of their genealogy is now rapidly becoming a reality. But there remain significant challenges to that potential. I am confident that the issues can be overcome. I have the hope that I can begin transferring my huge accumulation of data, images, stories and sources to this master copy. Meanwhile, I guess I will just keep accumulating more.

The real question is whether or not this potential view of organizing the world's genealogy is consistent with the basic goals of FamilySearch. I happen to think that it is. This concept reinforces the religious doctrines of FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The concept benefits all of mankind, especially if you view the extent as encompassing the entire world and not just the Western Europeans and their descendants. Think of world cultures that are rapidly disintegrating and losing their heritage. Family Tree may become and could become the way to preserve the world's heritage of culture. There are, of course, two more elements missing; audio files and video files.

1 comment:

  1. A bigger challenge than whether FamilySearch can focus on the potential they created (imho) is whether users can accept other people's changes and cooperate.

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