We can all use the copy/paste method of obtaining information from the Web, but genealogy programs are carrying that function a lot further. For some time now, a few of the major genealogy programs have provided direct import/export functions for transferring all sorts of genealogical information and sources between local on-device programs and the greater world of the Internet. This capability greatly expands the utility of the programs, but at the same time, raises some interesting and perhaps troubling questions.
One of the earliest interactive functions developed by the individual software programs was the GEDCOM file implemented by FamilySearch. GEDCOM was a basic function of the now deceased, Personal Ancestral File program and was adopted by most of the popular programs beginning back in the 1980s. In an early application beginning in 1999, FamilySearch created the Pedigree Resource File, originally promoted as a way to "backup" your data for online storage. However, at the time the uploaded data was available only in a set of CDs (later DVDs). Ultimately in 2007, the Pedigree Resource File became available as a searchable database on FamilySearch.org, where it resides today.
When I was going back through this history, I was amazed how fast all of the online capabilities developed and how recently they became available. Maybe it is a function of age, but 1999 doesn't seem that long ago.
Back to issues at hand. As the Web developed and computers gained greater connectivity and more powerful, faster processors, the idea of integrating the desktop programs with Web-based functions began to appear. Ancestry.com developed their online family trees and then made their local desktop program connect with the online family tree. Eventually, this connectivity resulted in the ability to synchronize the data between the online tree and the user's individual database on the local computer. Other companies began developing this same capability, such as MyHeritage.com, and added other features and functions including automatic searching for sources and connections with other users family trees.
Now it is common for genealogy programs to claim some connection to the Web and synchronization between a user's different devices. But keeping all these different online and local programs functioning and synchronized is a major challenge, even despite the programmers' efforts to keep things relatively simple.
This past week we just began another round of online/local activity with the approval of three genealogical database programs to connect directly with FamilySearch's huge Family Tree program. The challenge here is mainly conceptual. I talk to a lot of people who have difficulty keeping the online and local aspects of the programs separate. In fact, in talking to one of my friends who is in higher education, I had a difficult time explaining the concept of moving information from the online database to the local database even with one of the popular genealogy programs. This problem becomes compounded when you deal with multiple operating systems, such as Mac OS, Windows, iOs, Android and so forth. Then add in the problem of browsers and browser compatibility and even those who considered themselves experts in the computer world can start being challenged by differences in how programs operate in each environment.
During this past week, FamilySearch announced that as of 15 July 2013, they would no longer be supporting Personal Ancestral File. I am already getting reports of people panicing that their PAF program is going to stop operating on that date and frantically trying to "backup" their data before the program dies. The confusion is heightened because the program being introduced is "online" and is being referred to as the "New Family Tree" program (as opposed to the New.FamilySearch.org program).
As the days pass by, we are getting closer to the 30 June 2013 deadline set by FamilySearch to discontinue third-party involvement with New.FamilySearch.org. We have various software companies announcing both paid and unpaid upgrades to their programs. We have new products being announce daily and old ones being abandoned. In all this, I see a definite trend. I see that the distinction between online and local programs is beginning blur considerably. I see even more integration between local and online programs until there is no real distinction at all, blurred or otherwise.
But in all of this, I see a constantly increasing need for individual support and consulting. People need individual help to get through all of this technological noise and keep doing what they started out to do, that is, keep track of and research their families.