yology is going to be a system for publishing and managing genealogy data online. Nothing new there — so why bother? There are three specific things that I want to address that I think are missing / weak in current solutions (at least those I’m aware of):
- Remote-database linking
Genealogy / family history is about more than filling in pedigrees and family group sheets. What makes it interesting an engaging is getting to know ancestors (and extended family) through the personal stories of their lives. Story-telling functionality needs to be a central component of a genealogy application.
I have a couple of published genealogy books, and the content in them tends to be about 80-90% histories and anecdotes of the individuals, with only a few pages dedicated to family group sheets, pedigrees, and such forms. Most of the online genealogy sites I’ve seen (either dynamic or statically generated from an offline source) tend to have that reverse: lots of family group sheets and pedigrees, but few history pages.
I haven’t formed a strong opinion on how this should work in practice, so I’d definitely like some input. I have seen some examples built on top of content-management systems and blogging engines, and that seems to be a good direction — possibly just building a plugin that integrates the specific genealogy functionality into an existing CMS. That way I won’t have to duplicate all the standard stuff like wysiwyg editing, media handling, etc. On the other hand, I want it to feel like all the pieces are integrated smoothly, and that can be hard trying to bolt something on to a more generic framework.
Browsing online genealogies can be very frustrating — primarily due to lack of context. Once I’ve clicked through a few links to see different families or navigated back a few generations in a pedigree, I lose the context of how the current page / person relates to me starting point. Navigation through a set of pages needs to be better supported by showing how everything fits together in time and in terms of family relationships.
Related to that, most pedigree navigation I’ve seen sucks. A full page refresh to see the next generation is very disruptive to the user — making it harder to maintain context. Not to mention that most online pedigrees seem to be designed with circa 2000 web technology.
FamlySearch Labs has done some great work in this area, particularly the Family Tree and the Pedigree Viewer applications. Those are primarily prototypes / technology demonstrations, but there’s a lot I’d like to leverage in yology. I’ve also started playing with some prototypes of how I think it could work. So far I’ve only looked at browsing pedigrees, but this has to work across multiple views — pedigrees, family groups, descendency, as well as the histories.
There are two conflicting interests with putting genealogy online: keeping ownership and control of the data versus sharing and linking together to form a full family tree of all humanity. The conflict is in deciding to keep the data isolated in its own database and website (thus maintaining control), or contributing to an aggregate database or community (benefiting from data contributed by others, but losing some degree of control).
I think the ideal solution is to support self-contained databases owned by individuals, but with strong support for linking across databases. phpGedView has some support for this, though I haven’t been able to find examples of it used in practice. I’ve read the protocol spec, and it seems reasonable enough as a starting point — it would be ideal to be able to link to sites implemented with other backends (e.g. phpGedView).
Having seamless navigation across multiple distributed genealogy databases would be (will be) excellent. There is, however, another single database that’s extremely important to be able to link to and synchronize with: the LDS Church‘s FamilySearch data. That’s a whole separate issue from the other remote linking issues. The FamilySearch team is actively working with external developers to help build applications using their web services API, and maybe that will prove to be a better model than the phpGedView remote linking mechanism.
Those are the three areas when I really hope to make advances with the yology project. That is in addition to full online editing capabilities, so that yology can be used entirely in place of the traditional off-line genealogy applications. Ambitious? Yes. I’d be happy to have help.