There is no doubt that technological changes have had a tremendous impact on almost every aspect of our society. But there are some changes that have a more direct impact on genealogical research. As I noted recently, there is another huge shift occurring in memory storage devices for computers. This change will affect current storage practices and our existing computers, smartphones, cameras and other digital devices. Because of these current major shifts and their effect on genealogists and genealogy, I decided to post a review of some of the more obvious trends and their effect from my perspective.
It is hard to decide where to start, but I think the underlying shift from isolated, individually dedicated devices to those integrated with the Internet is almost complete. I mentioned recently, that I went into a phone store because it is time to renew my cellphone contract. Except for three cheap models, every cellphone in the store was a "smartphone" requiring an Internet data connection. Although it is still possible to have a cellphone without a data plan, the selection of unconnected phones is extremely limited. As this trend continues, phones without an Internet connection will virtually disappear.
This particular trend is merely an example of the general overall trend to integrate network connection with practically every type of device containing electronics; from cars to toasters. Continuing, this network integration will increase the isolation of those who still remain outside the online community whether by choice, economics or physical distance. In genealogy, there is a clear movement to connect local computer programs with online resources. At this point, the trend is to have a local program that synchronizes with a large online database, but there is a definite trend towards abandoning the local aspects of computer programs and providing the programs entirely from the Internet. One good example, outside of the genealogy area is the shift by Adobe.com to supply its software through an online license rather than selling individual programs in boxes. This Adobe product is called the Creative Cloud and with one monthly purchase payment, you get access to all of the Adobe programs for download to your computer. I see that this trend has now spread to Microsoft.com where their office products are being offered in the same way, all of the products for one price paid monthly. Since the total of the monthly costs is less than the annual cost of upgrading the programs, anyone who regularly uses the products sees the advantage of having automatic upgrades without a yearly large payment.
In genealogy this trend is starting with the larger online subscription services integrating their desktop programs with their online databases both for family trees and data sources. Connection to an online data source is becoming an important factor in the viability of any genealogical software program. Both Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com have sophisticated local programs that connect directly to their online family trees and also synchronize and integrate data from the databases. FamilySearch.org's Family Tree is also integrated to some extent with quite a few programs. Programs that do not connect to some type of online service will become marginalized and will likely disappear. Although there is no indication that either Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com will allow third-party programs to share connections to their online databases, it is possible that this could happen. In the case of FamilySearch.org it is already a fact of life, although the exchange is limited to connections with Family Tree and not to the Historical Record Collections. The process of adding sources to a local programs is being developed into an automatic process after selecting the source.
At the next level, this integration of local and network programs and services will affect almost every aspect of genealogical research. An initial example is Ancestry.com's Shoebox.com program that allows a smartphone user, with the phone's built-in camera, to take a photo of a document and then automatically upload the document to the Ancestry.com Family Tree program and attach the document or photo to a specific person in the file. Most of the more progressive genealogical database programs presently have dedicated apps for smartphones and tablets.
This article started to get pretty long and I decided to break it down into sections and continue in future posts. I look forward to the next time.