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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lamenting the past rather than embracing the future

I am still getting comments from more than a year ago when I wrote a post on the demise of the old website. Not the currently "old" website, but the old "old" website that had little more than the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File and the International Genealogical Index (IGI). There is literally no comparison between that old website and the present website with its millions upon millions of digitized records and other resources such as the Research Wiki. So why then is there a continuing longing for the "old" old site?

There is a deeper issue here, one that affects the entire pursuit of genealogy. It is the same issue that manifests itself in the continued use of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) and the almost daily challenges I face from patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library, who do not know how to use computers and resist any attempts to teach them, even basic skills.

OK, let's get past some of the objections that have been raised in the past. First of all, I clearly recognize that some of us in the genealogical community have physical or other disabilities that prevent us from using computers as easily as others. This is not what I am talking about. Here is an example of what I am talking about.

Recently, FamilySearch announced that it was discontinuing support for Personal Ancestral File (PAF). Since the last update of the program was released in 2002, this was a long overdue action. But the reaction from the genealogical community is strange. Some of the PAF users are in a panic because they think that their program is somehow going to vanish from their computers on 15 July 2013. But even for those who at least know that the program is not going change, seem upset because they are losing something they likely never used.

I would note that the Ohana Software website has a prominent message that says, "Keep PAF. Keep going. It isn't dead...we promise. On the next linked page, the website says, "If you're content with the basics, keep using PAF and forge ahead in your research. If you think you're ready for a more full-featured program, FamilyInsight is also compatible with these other popular genealogy programs: RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, Ancestral Quest, and Legacy." Now this is not a criticism of Ohana Software's FamilyInsight software, it is a comment on the fact that after more than ten years, a discontinued software program with no updates, continues to be such a viable force in the genealogical community. PAF is still so common and used that Ohana Software can sell a program that keeps it alive. Interestingly, FamilyInsight is about the same price as any one of the other "full featured" genealogical replacement programs.

It is a fact of life in the computer world that things change, usually without notice. I could make a list of the programs, both online and on my computer, that have changed in the past month or so. I am talking about programs that cost over $100 just for the upgrade. When I upgrade my programs every year or so, I usually spend into the thousands of dollars. Running a computer at a high level of production is expensive. But genealogy programs are relatively cheap. The most expensive programs cost less than $100 and upgrades are usually much less than that. I am talking about Adobe Creative Suite, for example, that costs hundreds of dollars for an upgrade and the initial program standard edition has a price tag of over $1000.

So why do people keep using PAF? I get a lot of reasons, mostly saying that the program is all that they need and they see no reason to learn a new program. So why the panic? Wasn't the fact that PAF's days were numbered beginning in 2002 enough of a reason to migrate over to a different program? Apparently not. The tendency to resist change is much deeper than a simple analysis of the need to move to a new program. This tendency is so ingrained that people would rather spend money on a program facilitating their use of PAF than move to a newer program that costs virtually the same and the facilitating program. I will undoubtedly get similar comments about how much the users love PAF from this post.

Now where did the software developers lose the battle against PAF? Will its discontinuance make a difference? Not if Ohana Software is correct. I think that the developers of genealogy software should have treated PAF as a worthy alternative, just as if it were a viable economic competitor. Something like the adds Apple and Microsoft trade back and forth. Mostly, the developers ignore PAF, which, from my perspective, has not worked. In some case, such as RootsMagic, they say "Switching from PAF? It's easy," but only Ancestral Quest focuses on the differences between their program and PAF.

Clinging to the past is a common and perfectly natural reaction to an unstable world where change is rampant. But when it comes to computers and computer programs, it is unwise.

1 comment:

  1. Last night @ the Mesa, FHC. PAF was added to Find a Grave.