Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What do we mean by features in genealogy programs?

Looking at almost any advertisement or Webpage for a genealogy program and somewhere it will mention the product's "features." Generally, these features are functions of the programs that are highlighted by the promotional materials. For one example, if you look at the Family Tree Maker Website, you will see a link to product features. Often, the features of a program are used to differentiate it from similar competing programs. Like all advertised products, product differentiation is big issue. There is always an attempt to correlate more features with a better product.

Going back to my long use of the Personal Ancestral File (PAF) program, I realize that there were a lot of the "features" of the program that I never used. A example would be the ability to input an address for anyone in the file. I can imagine ways to use this feature, but I can't remember ever using it. I think most genealogists would consider PAF to a be a fairly basic program but even as a basic program it has a few features that probably almost never get used. A feature PAF had that gave it an advantage; it was and is free. One way subsequent programs have differentiated themselves in the marketplace from PAF is to add features.

Some of the features of software programs, including those for genealogy, fall into the category of all of those handy items advertised on TV for $19.95 (and if you buy now, you get two of them for the same price), they are attractive but but probably not necessary. In this way, a lot of products, including genealogy software features, fall into the category of nifty tools for something you may only do once every year or less. Software features have the same relationship to utility as the highly specialized TV tools, there is usually a standard generalized tool that can do exactly the same thing, but in a less elegant way. I am one of the first to buy the right tool for the job, but I find myself going through long lists of features of software programs and I know that I will likely use very few of them.

I hesitate to get into a more specific discussion of the types of features available or not available in the different programs, because sometimes two programs accomplish the same thing in totally different ways and everyone has their own favorite program and features. Additionally, some of the items listed as features in software program sales literature is like listing tires as a feature for a car, everyone expects that the program will do what is listed, or no one would be interested in buying the program at all. In addition, if you look at any software list of features, you will probably find several items that are not "features" but merely advertising hype. This is especially true about claims that the programs are easy to use or are Windows or Mac compatible.

Presently, genealogy software features fall into a number of broad categories; data entry, navigation, searching, editing, printing functions including custom designed charts, reports, multimedia, Web sharing, research and sourcing. Any genealogy program worth purchasing should contain enough of these functions (read features) to do more than just an adequate job of recording family data. Over time perceptions of what constitutes and adequate program changes as computers get faster and have more storage capacity. More storage memory means larger programs and larger programs mean more features. Some of us are old enough to remember when software for personal computers came on cassette tapes.

Basic to genealogy is the presentation of names, dates, locations and relationships. Doing all this well and in a format that is easily understood and used important. Lacking these basic elements, no program can have enough features to make it worth buying or even downloading (if it is free).

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