The recent announcement by Ancestry.com concerning the discontinuance of the Family Tree Maker program points out some very interesting aspects of the genealogical software market and the use of software by researchers. Probably the most thought provoking thing about genealogy software is its total irrationality. From some of the over 9,000 responses to the Ancestry.com announcement, you would think that the genealogical world was ending. But the reality of the situation was and is well encapsulated in the software reviews of Family Tree Maker and most of the other genealogical software products on the market. Online rating systems are common. Nearly every major online vendor has some sort of user rating system. Reviewing everything from books and restaurants to cars has been a part of the world for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years. Many of us had Samuel Johnson (b. 1709, d. 1784), the well-known critic, on our reading lists in high school or college. Software programs, like everything else sold in the general marketplace rise and fall on reviews.
Fortunately, with no thanks to any of the larger genealogical organizations, there is an independent and totally user oriented source for accurate and possible acerbic reviews of genealogical software of all kinds. That outlet is GenSoftReviews.com maintained by Louis Kessler. It is that time of year when Louis compiles a list of the top products for his Users Choice Awards. These awards are calculated as follows, quoting from the announcement I received by email:
The 7th annual Users Choice Awards have been announced at the GenSoftReviews website based on more than 900 reviews submitted by users during 2015.
33 programs were eligible having a minimum of 10 reviews, at least one review in 2015 and still being sold and supported by the vendor. Of those, 17 programs achieved a user-assigned average score of at least 4.00 out of 5, and were awarded a 2015 GenSoftReviews Top Rated Genealogy Software award.
I am certain that the average genealogist has probably not heard of some or many of the award winners for 2015. Advertising in the genealogical community is extremely biased towards the large online database companies and the larger genealogical societies. Very little else gets to the genealogical consumer. In addition, the average genealogist is hostile towards any "unsolicited" communication and rejects anything having to do with unsolicited comments. Genealogists will commonly ask a friend or someone teaching genealogy what "they use for a genealogy program" and run out an buy the program without knowing or caring that there are competing programs on the market. It is about time that genealogists start looking at genealogical software in the same way they do produce at the local supermarket: at least look it over and decide what you need and want before buying.
Nothing about this year's GenSoftReviews.com awards is more indicative of the illogical nature of genealogical software than the fact that this year's awards include "unsupported software." I agree wholeheartedly with Louis that it should be included. It does give me something to write about. I should reiterate at this point that I do not do software reviews. I am even loath to reveal which program or programs I use regularly. My needs and the way I use genealogical software are vastly different that most other users and I regularly change my mind about which program to use.
Here are the User Choice Awards for 2015 including the unsupported category of programs.
The Winners include:
New to the list of winners for 2015 were Evidentia, Familienbande, Genealogie Online and webtrees.
- 8 Windows programs: Evidentia, Ahnenblatt, Family Historian, Clooz, Ancestral Quest, Brother's Keeper, RootsMagic, and Family Tree Builder
- 2 Mac programs: Heredis for Mac, and Reunion
- 2 programs built for Windows, Mac and Unix: Evidentia and Familienbande
- 4 Online programs: Famberry, Genealogie Online, The Next Generation and MyHeritage
- 1 Handheld program: Heredis for iOS
As a result (of the decision to include unsupported programs), there are 6 more programs eligible for the awards and 3 additional award winners, namely Personal Ancestral File (PAF) with a 4.77 out of 5 rating, Ultimate Family Tree (UFT) with a 4.20 out of 5 rating, and Family Tree Maker – up to Version 16 with a 4.11 out of 5 rating.My views on the continued use of Personal Ancestral File have been the subject of a number of past blog posts. Apparently, genealogists have no interest in the issue of whether or not a program is current sold or supported. The treasure old software programs like classic car collectors.
If you want a current and insightful view of the status of the average genealogist when it comes to using programs, you should read a recent post by Randy Seaver entitled, "Why Aren't Researchers Using the FamilySearch Family Tree?" I would ask the same question about any number of the highly rated software products out there on the market.
One very interesting comment on the world of genealogical software is the fact that only a few of the software products listed on this year's user awards will be featured or even mentioned at the upcoming RootsTech 2016 Conference. This fact alone illustrates one of the main issues with genealogical software.
So, read the reviews. Go to GenSoftReviews.com and at least read the reviews for the programs you presently use. If you disagree or care, write your own user review.
Do I buy based on reviews? Yes, much of the time. Do I care about bad reviews? Yes, if they make sense. Most of the bad reviews I read are made by people who did not read the reviews and bought the wrong product. Personal preferences differ or we would all be driving the same make and model of car and wearing the same clothes. But genealogical software is a tool and I am obsessive about using the best tools available. Cost is only one consideration, although I find genealogists overly critical of the cost of doing genealogy. As I have observed in the past the same people who will spend $300,000 on an RV will choke at spending $29.95 on a genealogy program. Well, this post could go on for days and days. Just read the reviews and see why Ancestry.com discontinued Family Tree Maker.