June 21, 2000 - Dick Eastman Online
One of the more interesting announcements at the recent National Genealogical Society's
annual conference was that of a new service, called OneGreatFamily.com. I had a
chance to use it this week for quite a while. This online service is a collaborative
database where users pool their knowledge and records to build one huge, shared
database. Unlike some of the other online services that accept GEDCOM files and
then allow other users to search across the many files, OneGreatFamily.com really
has only one database. Everyone contributes to that database although each record
is tagged as to who submitted it. This online database can be available to all users
or can be kept private, at the discretion of the person who contributed the data.
Quoting from OneGreatFamily.com's Web site:
It is estimated that 105 billion people have lived on the earth. Genealogy is like
a jigsaw puzzle with 105 billion pieces. Some pieces have been copied thousands
of times. Others are missing or have had an edge torn off. All have been scattered
throughout the world. We all hold a few pieces of this puzzle, but none of us knows
how to fit them into the big picture or where to connect the pieces that we have.
Some of us have organized small teams and have pieced a corner together or part
of the border. The problem is that there isn't ONE place for us all to work together
to connect all of the pieces. Not until now!
OneGreatFamily.com is the connecting place. It is the first shared worldwide database
with the capacity to hold the genealogical information of everyone who has ever
lived on the earth. In other words, OneGreatFamily is like the world's largest card
table where we can all sit together and find where the pieces fit.
OneGreatFamily.com is headed by Alan Eaton, a person with a lot of technical and
genealogical expertise. Eaton spent five years at Novell and later was at LavaStorm,
where he was technical lead as the company developed the online version of FamilySearch.org
for the LDS church.
OneGreatFamily.com is in a "controlled beta" phase at this time. A controlled beta
simply means that the owners of OneGreatFamily.com do not have all features available
yet. During this phase the company will also control the number of users accessing
their product. Assuming that all goes well, the site will be opened to everyone
within a few weeks. When complete, OneGreatFamily will include a collection of tools
for families to stay connected through the Internet. This collection includes features
such as family news, scrapbook, calendar, personalized greeting cards and more,
although many of the tools are not yet operational.
The beta isn't free, however. Beta testers can use the system at a 50% discount
from published prices. Once the beta is concluded, there will be two classes of
membership: (1.) a paid membership and (2.) a "free track." Details about the free
track access have not yet been announced.
During registration I was asked if I wanted to join an existing family group or
if I wished to start a new group. If I already knew that someone had contributed
data about some of my ancestors, I might have wanted to join that group. However,
I was unaware of any existing group that met my interests; so, I elected to start
a new group. Users can join multiple groups or start new groups at any time.
I had to enter my credit card number online, but I did notice that the "padlock"
in my Web browser was locked at that time, indicating a safe, secure and encrypted
form for entering this sensitive information. I know that's safer than giving a
credit card number over the telephone or in person.
I did not gain full access immediately. The Web page explained that the Genealogy
Browser� software was being released on a first come, first served basis, in limited
groups. Apparently the Web owners don't want too many people joining in at once,
so that they can monitor and control the growth. A few days later, I returned and
found that I had normal access.
After logging on with full access, I was looking at a split screen. On the left
there was a "Handprint View" that gives a close-up of the immediate family of any
given person in your ancestry. If data is available, you will also see that person's
parents, siblings, spouse and children. On the right side of the screen you see
the Starfield View, which allows you to see an unlimited number of generations at
once. When I say "an unlimited number of generations," I mean that literally; you
can display a pedigree chart of as many as 30 or 40 or even more generations at
once. Obviously each person in that chart is depicted as a tiny box or "node" in
the network. However, you can quickly and easily zoom in and out at will for a closer
look at the details on any person. If you click on any "box" in the Starfield view,
that person's data is shown on the left in the Handprint view, along with parents,
siblings, spouse and children.
These screens are quite difficult to explain fully in this text newsletter.
See an example of these screens.
The screens are displayed in an Active-X window. The Active-X component is downloaded
as needed and cached in your Web browser. You will experience a delay of 40 to 60
seconds while the Active-X component is downloaded to your computer. Once this download
completes, all further response times are almost instantaneous. OneGreatFamily.com
will work with Internet Explorer version 4.0 or later or with Netscape 4.6 and newer
on Windows 95, 98, NT or Windows 2000. No other software is needed. The company
does not yet support Macintosh, UNIX or WebTV at this time although they do hope
to add some of those platforms at a later date. The primary constraint is the availability
of Active-X for each of those platforms. When a version of Netscape or Internet
Explorer for the Macintosh appears with full Active-X compatibility, Mac users will
be able to use OneGreatFamily.com. The same is true for other operating systems.
The first time I logged onto OneGreatFamily.com, the data screens obviously were
empty as the system was waiting for me to enter data. Users can either enter data
manually, one person at a time, or can upload a GEDCOM file. Since I didn't feel
like manually entering the required information of a few thousand people, I first
went to my favorite genealogy program and told it to export its data in GEDCOM format.
Once that was done, I then instructed OneGreatFamily.com to import the new GEDCOM
Within a couple of minutes I was looking at my own information in the Handprint
View on the left of the screen. On the right side, I was looking at a Starfield
View of my ancestors. I must say that it is quite neat to see a layout of all known
ancestors in many generations, compressed into a few square inches of screen space.
In the upper right corner, there is a slider bar, labeled "Info." I could move the
slider bar back and forth to zoom in and out on the displayed pedigree chart. I
could zoom in to the point that I was filling the display with one person, then
zoom back out in a second or two to display 53 generations.
When the mouse cursor is held over the Starfield View, the cursor changes to an
icon of a human hand. This indicates that you can "drag" information around; that
is, press and hold the left mouse button to move the entire field to quickly find
the person of interest. Then release the mouse button, move the icon over a person
of interest and a pop-up window appears that displays the name of that person along
with the date and place of birth and death, if known.
While I have said that the Handprint View is on the left and the Starfield View
is on the right, I should also point out that this is simply the default. At any
time you can zoom in and out, exchange the two sides, or display only one side as
full screen. All of this happens almost instantly, rather than with the usual delays
one expects when accessing data on the Web. In this case, the speed is gained through
the Active-X component that executes on your PC. Your computer obtains data from
the Web site, but the actual displays are created inside your won PC. In most other
Web-oriented software, the views are created in the remote Web server and then transferred
to your system over the phone lines. If you are using normal dial-up modems, this
could create delays. OneGreatFamily.com's system avoids frustrating delays, except
for the very first one, when the Active-X component is loaded. Everything after
that operates at normal PC speeds.
I clicked on one of my "end of line" ancestors. (An "end of line" ancestor is one
where I do not know either of his or her parents.) I defined this as a person of
high ancestral interest. In the future, if anyone else enters data into OneGreatFamily.com's
database about the same individual, an e-mail will be sent to me. I can then return
to the database and look at the newly-submitted data to see if (1.) it is the same
person and (2.) if I agree with the new data. If I agree, I can merge the two together;
that is, I can tell the database that these two entries are indeed the same person.
OneGreatFamily.com will save notes, biographical data, sources, and even multimedia
files. You can upload sound, pictures or even full-motion video clips of a person,
if you wish. These files will be available to others. During the product introduction
at the recent National Genealogical Society conference, the show's producers showed
an example, using a video clip of Donnie Osmond's first appearance on the Andy Williams
Show when Osmond was five years old. (Donnie Osmond was in the audience when this
demo was being conducted.) The clip appeared to last a couple of minutes and had
full motion and full sound, so I assume it was several megabytes in size. The creators
of OneGreatFamily.com assured the audience that they had sufficient disk space available
to store many thousands of such video clips. The site will initially be configured
with 1 terabyte of storage, which will grow larger as the number of users grows.
During my testing I had fun with one feature: Common Ancestors. My ancestry is 50%
French-Canadians. Anyone who has spent time researching Quebec ancestry can tell
you about individuals who show up multiple times in a person's pedigree chart. I
have a number of such examples in my family tree. In fact, several individuals show
up five times or more. When I clicked on "Common Ancestors" blue lines appeared
all over the Starfield View. Each line connected two or more different "nodes" in
the family tree, showing the individuals who appeared in two places or more. Anyone
with French-Canadian ancestry will see lots of blue lines! I suspect the same will
be true for anyone who has successfully researched families who remained in small
villages for many generations.
During this stage of the beta test, OneGreatFaily.com will only allow you to work
with your own data. You can enter data or upload a GEDCOM file and then browse around
that data. You cannot yet grant other people access to your data, nor can you see
data contributed by others. However, this capability is expected within a few weeks,
well before the end of the beta test. A number of other features are not yet available.
When fully functional, OneGreatFamily.com will constantly scan its database looking
for matches. For instance, I entered information about all my ancestors this week.
In the future, someone else will probably enter data about some of the same individuals.
OneGreatFamily.com will automatically look for possible matches to see if a newly-entered
individual might be the same as a previously-entered person. If a likely match is
found, the system sends e-mails to both people who contributed the information.
Then those two can work together to see if, indeed, they are both looking at the
same individual(s). If so, the two records can be merged together to be one. OneGreatFamily.com's
software never merges two people together by itself. Instead, the individuals who
contributed the data first must agree and then manually merge the data by clicking
on an icon.
I asked OneGreatFamily.com to conduct an Internet search for one of my "dead ends."
The software warned me that this feature was not yet available but will be within
a few weeks. Once activated, the Web site will automatically search Ancestry.com,
FamilySearch.org, Genealogy.com, Kindred Konnections, the U.S. National Archives,
the Social Security Death Index and also RootsWeb for data about the person I had
OneGreatFamily.com has many more features than what I can describe here. I hope
the above "peek" will give you an idea of what it is all about.
I did find a few "abnormalities" when using OneGreatFamily.com. When uploading a
GEDCOM file, the screen said "processing GECOM file." Once the GEDCOM upload completed,
the status information said that it had uploaded 8000% per cent of my file. The
on-screen information referred to the LDS online database as FamilySearch.com while
it really is FamilySearch.org. The software also warned me that my screen was set
to 800-by-600 pixels and that I should change to 1024-by-768 pixels to gain the
best view. However, the warning was false as my screen was already set to 1024-by-768.
Such issues are trivial and are to be expected with beta software. I never experienced
any crashes or data loss.
There are a few things about OneGreatFamily.com that concern me. First, there is
no method of hiding information about living individuals. The company says that
the responsibility for protecting a living individual's privacy lies with the person
who contributes the data, not with OneGreatFamily.com. While that sounds good in
theory, I am not so certain that the company can totally escape responsibility.
Another concern is the quality of data. All of the other online databases of user-contributed
information have had quality control problems. Serious genealogists who do their
homework properly will only contribute data that has been verified. However, a few
people contribute data that is conjecture or copied from inaccurate sources. Several
of our present online genealogy databases already have lots of conjecture in them.
The future user has no way of telling fact from fiction, other than going out and
re-verifying data (which is always strongly recommended in any genealogy effort).
I am not surprised that such data appears. However, I have always been frustrated
at the difficulty of removing such data.
To their credit, OneGreatFamily.com does seem to have a better system for correcting
misinformation than do most of their competitors. The system at OneGreatFamily.com
allows and almost forces contributors to work together to resolve differences. I
did not have an opportunity to try that system when writing this review.
I do believe that we are seeing a major shift in the way genealogy research is conducted
and shared. Until the last few years, the only effective method of sharing your
research was to publish a book of your findings. This is an expensive and difficult
process for most people. As a result, most genealogy research was not carried on
to future generations. Millions of people spent time and money researching family
trees, and then the data was lost when the researchers died. In the past two decades
the sharing of information has become easier, first by exchanging files in e-mail
or on diskette. Then several databases started to appear, first on CD-ROM and then
later online. OneGreatFamily.com has taken this effort a bit further by creating
one large database and inviting everyone to contribute and then work together to
continually update and correct the data contained inside.
Of course, this is not the first such single database to appear. The Ancestral File
maintained by the LDS Church is quite similar in concept. However, correcting and
updating information in the Ancestral File is difficult, as it was not originally
conceived as an online database with easy public access. Corrections and additions
are contributed in an offline manner and then processed as batch jobs, not interactively
by the submitters. Later online databases have appeared with more streamlined methods,
and OneGreatFamily.com simply is the latest iteration of user-friendly genealogy
databases. It couples this ease of update with a great user interface that allows
for almost instant maneuvers around a display of thousands of individuals.
OneGreatFamily.com has an excellent method of displaying pedigree charts and moving
around those charts. It can hold information on millions of individuals from throughout
history. It is easy to use, even in its present beta stage. I believe that OneGreatFamily.com
is a winner and will become very popular. I also believe that it will spark the
appearance of new competitors within a year, competitors that offer the same and
even more features. The computer industry is full of such example: one company brings
out a good service or product and then a competitor finds a way to improve upon
it. The originator then improves the software still more, thereby "leap frogging"
over the competitor. On and on it goes, in the best entrepreneurial manner. The
big winner is the consumer. OneGreatFamily.com undoubtedly is going to attract competitors.
OneGreatFamily.com has announced the following prices for their paid memberships:
- One month: $9.95
- Six months: $49.95
- One year: $74.95
During the public beta, the six month and twelve month prices are reduced about
50%. The full launch of OneGreatFamily.com is expected to occur in July. The site
expects 250,000 unique visitors in its first two months and several million within
the first year. View Details!
For more information, or to subscribe, go to: http://www.OneGreatFamily.com
Dick Eastman is the forum manager of the Genealogy Forum on CompuServe (GO ROOTS)
and is the author of YOUR ROOTS: Total Genealogy Planning On Your Computer published
by Ziff-Davis Press. He has contributed an article in the CD Information Center
about using CD-Recordable for the first time. Dick writes and publishes a free email
newsletter, "Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter" every week or so. Back issues
can be seen at
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