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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Genealogy Insights -- More of Looking at Reviews

In my earlier post on this subject, I talked about using as an indicator of popularity in determining the utility of genealogy programs. The main problem with using a metric such as is that the ratings or number of views does not directly reflect the utility of the programs in the same way star rating does on a website such as But even star ratings have their limitations.

We have been traveling the last few days and will continue to travel the next few days. When we look for a hotel, we try to review the star ratings and comments as a criteria for selecting a place to stay. However, it is very important to carefully review the reviews. No matter how good the hotel, invariably, someone will give the place one star and write a terrible review. My experience is that the important factor here is the ratio of good to bad reviews. If there are only one or two "one star" reviews, the reasons for dissatisfaction usually lies with the guest rather than the hotel. Frequently, a really bad review is based on an unreasonable expectation. However, consistent bad reviews are generally accurate.

In fact, we do have a reliable source for genealogy reviews: For quite a few years, this website has been accumulating reviews of hundreds of genealogy programs. In fact, it is a good website to use for discovering additional, helpful genealogy software. The main value of the reviews comes from the accumulation of dozens of different reviewers discussing the same product. The star rating system is cumulative, so the number of stars is a fair estimation of the value that many reviewers assign to a given program.

Any program that has consistently high star ratings with a substantial number of reviews is very likely to be a candidate for consideration. Likewise, if a program has a very low star rating, then you should be aware that there are some serious issues and you may wish to save your time and perhaps your money. Not all of the programs reviewed are commercially purchased programs. Some of the programs are free. But time is money and it is not a good idea to waste your time with any program with low ratings.

What if you disagree? What if you think a program is wonderful and the reviews are all contrary? I suggest writing a more extensive and positive review. Almost without exception, someone with an opposite viewpoint will respond and the interchange then becomes a more valid method of determining value and utility.

Notwithstanding the written reviews, you should always take into account whether or not the program is currently available and supported by the developer. For example, the Personal Ancestral File program gets consistently good reviews and it presently has a 4.69 star rating. However, the program has not been upgraded since 2002 and it is no longer supported by the developer. Also, be aware that older programs such as this may not work with the latest versions of any particular computers systems operating system.

The conclusion is to do your homework. Make sure you read the reviews, but then spend some time researching the program to verify what it will and will not do and then compare the features of the program with your expectations.


  1. Software can not be rated as easily as hotel rooms can, for several reasons. First, most people rating hotels have, over the years, stayed at many different hotel rooms, so they have a basis for comparing. By contrast, few software users have wide experience with more than a couple of programs doing any particular task.

    Second hotels usually change much more slowly than software does. So a review of a hotel from a few years ago is likely to still have value. By contrast, a software program could have been revised several times in a few years.

    So I question the value of GenSoft Reviews for the reason that most of the reviews are old, for a particular version of a particular software product that is no longer current.

    It is possible that a particular review of, say, PAF, that was given five stars would get far fewer even from the same reviewer if that reviewer was writing it now. Especially if the reviewer in question subsequently moved on from PAF to a more modern program. I therefore think GenSoftReviews should delete reviews more than a year old, or at least no longer take such long-in-the-tooth reviews into account in assigning star ratings.

    1. Your comments would be more than correct if genealogists weren"t so conservative. You realize, of course, that there are still thousands, perhaps millions of people using Personal Ancestral File? The latest review for PAF was June 5, 2016. Perhaps your comments would be more valid if genealogists lived I the real world.