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

Saturday, December 21, 2013

More thoughts on technology's impact on genealogy

Image taken from page 20 of 'A larger history of the United States of America to the close of President Jackson's administration ... Illustrated, etc'
After I wrote my post on the summary of the genealogy year for 2013, I had more thoughts concerning the effect and impact of technology on genealogy. It occurs to me that with the integration of handheld devices and the traditional desktop computer, what is evolving is in effect a single computer manifested in a variety of forms. In other words, the handheld computer such as a smartphone, tablet, or other device, because of software integration, simply becomes an extension of whatever computer is designated as the "main" computer. So if I have information about my genealogy on my desktop computer I can synchronize that information with the same applications on my laptop, iPad, and iPhone.

Unfortunately, software developers have yet to understand that all of these devices function together as a single computer. The main differences between the devices has evolved into being a concern focused on the convenience of inputting data by means of a keyboard and the size of the monitor. Obviously, I prefer entering data on my 27 inch iMac over my iPhone. The iPhone is convenient and suitable for reference purposes, but it is slow and awkward to enter much data. This could change with even further development in the voice recognition area. There are a already a variety of keyboards available for tablet computers and with the introduction of the Microsoft Surface, the keyboard is already a part of the device.

Another limitation of the mobile devices is the mind set of the developers who view the "apps" for mobile devices to be cut down versions of the full program on a desktop computer. At some point, developers will realize that tablets are not cut down computers, but the real thing and software will become more sophisticated. The market is already moving this direction as more people avoid the issue altogether by working entirely on the Web with web apps. The online family trees are essentially web apps waiting to displace traditional desktop programs. Most of the objections to abandoning a desktop program begin to disappear if the data can be maintained locally on a variety of devices.

Presently, in genealogy in you can purchase a program that will run on your desktop computer. But evidencing extremely sort shortsightedness, the genealogy software developers have historically been entirely Windows centric. Only a very few programs presently support both Windows and Apple OS X and an even smaller number, allow data entry from iOS and Android devices as well.

So we presently have the following possibilities of synchronizing data between devices and operating systems:

  • You can install the genealogy database software on your desktop computer and synchronize the data with a handheld device through a separate app.
  • You can install the genealogy database program on your desktop computer and also put a copy of the same program on a removable flash drive and synchronize any changes made to the data, it's flash drive with the data kept on the desktop computer.
  • You can build a family tree online and synchronize the online family tree with a desktop genealogy database program.
  • You can build a family tree online and synchronize the online family tree with both a desktop computer running a genealogy database program and a handheld device.
  • You can synchronize data with your separate devices including smartphones, tablets and other devices which are running variations of the main genealogy database program.
  • You can install genealogy database program on your desktop computer and synchronize the file with any other device, even between operating systems.
 What needs to happen in a situation is that all of these various iterations of data sharing need to be consolidated into one data interchange model. First, software developers need to recognize that many people will begin to rely entirely upon a tablet as their main computer device. Therefore, the programs written for tablet computers need to be as robust as the present desktop computer programs or in the alternative operate by being entirely web based. This will be possible as tablet computers become more and more sophisticated with faster processors. Secondly, the software developers need to recognize that there are different standards for operating systems and that in order to continue to sell programs they are going to have to seriously consider expanding their now somewhat insular programs and to other operating systems. This is particularly true with both the Apple OS X and the Android and Chrome systems from Google, although it also be a good idea to include LINUX. 

As a computer user of genealogy software, I have already come to expect that any program that I'm using to record my genealogical data will let me access that same data from other devices. In my own case, I use both Apple OS X, iOS and Windows devices. It may be entirely possible that I would also want to interface with Android and Chrome operating system devices.

If we are to involve the upcoming generations of computer savvy younger people in the genealogical community, we need to recognize the dramatic shift in computer usage and accommodate any computer input device. I believe that any software developer who ignores this marketing reality is basically resigning to an early retirement. When you purchase a genealogy software program, you need to focus on how you are going to use the program and if you expect to merely see the data on a mobile device or actually input data. I would be wise to look for programs that support data input from multiple devices. Promises of this functionality being added by a developer in the future ring hollow with me, by the way. I have been hearing how some software companies have been working on an Apple OS X product for years with no results. It looks like Microsoft is about to adopt an operating system that will work on both mobile and desktop devices. What effect with this have on the future of computing?

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