RootsTech, day two

The second day of RootsTech, Friday Feb 11, 2011, started off with a bang: Curt Witcher, Historical Genealogy Manager, of Allen County, Indiana, was hilarious, entertaining, and informative. I enjoy and agreed with everything he said. Except for one, little thing.

Curt said that we shouldn’t complain about Ancestry.com, but give them our money because whatever they do next will be even better than what they have now. No, if you have a problem with Ancestry, do not give them your money. That is the only way to evoke change.

I had many discussions with people about licensing issues and rights about the data behind the vendor’s walls. The consensus was, I think, “yeah, our license is not yet right, but go ahead and agree to it and will figure it out later.” No, I don’t think so. We need to figure this out now.

There was a discussion recently about a related topic from an international computer science organization that charges for access to on-line papers. The costs for access can be quite huge for an institution, as much as $1900 USD per year. There was some talk about rejecting the paid version and building a free version. After all, we write these academic papers, review them, edit them, select them, and bundle them. And then the organization sells them back to us? Well, the organization says “No, that’s not what we do. We sell you access and storage. You are free to take the papers out of the system and do whatever you want. It is the searching, linking, and value-added stuff that we sell.” I like that. Could we get the genealogy vendors to take the same approach?

I went to a talk on an overview of the FamilySearch API, and to one on the Semantic Web and Family Social Graph. Learned about some cool new tools for automatic web understanding, including DBPedia.org and a interesting new query language called SPARQL that I need to explore further. I went to an interesting discussion on “freeware” but the presenters had little understanding of the issues. They just knew that some programs were free, and isn’t that great? No mention of Gramps, and open source in general was conflated with freeware.

There was a party at the National Family Library, and very nice place for doing genealogy research. But the party there was designed to watch a new US show called “So who do you think you are?” (sponsored by Ancestry.com) where they research some celebrity’s past. I left, got some dinner, and started thinking about the Developer’s Challenge… a genealogy mashup of some kind.

-Doug

2 Comments

  • Chris

    Thats a shame that there was no mention of Gramps or open source. I use ancestry.com to gather some information but I don’t think that I should have to pay for information that should be free in the first place. But I understand that someone needs to get paid for maintaining the information that they have. I figure that they get their information from someone else and are just raising the price to “us” since they had to pay someone and they just want to make the almighty dollar and package the information so that it looks pretty.

  • Pablo

    Thanks for the description on Rootstech. I wasn’t able to visit but was very curious. I’m following libre software for a while and GRAMPS is the only software dealing with genealogy that is really usable. I just think that there is room for improvement on the UI side and would love to contribute that way. Also, if in the future it can synchronize with the new FamilySearch Family Tree, it would be a win-win situation.
    Keep it going!

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