Monday, 22 February 2016

Standards Matter!

In December, Ancestry caused shock and consternation to Family Tree Maker users by announcing that the software was to be discontinued.  On 2 February, Ancestry announced that they had sold Family Tree Maker to Software Mackiev, who have been developing the Mac version for the last 6 years.  However, if you think you can relax and concerns can be dismissed, I suggest you think again.

The big issue, that of getting of your hard won data, complete and intact, out of Family Tree Maker, remains unresolved.  The release of unspecified updates have been announced, due on 1 March, but I do not hold out hope that a compliant GEDCOM export will be included.

Much has been written about the shortcomings of GEDCOM (Genealogical Data Communication), which is a dead standard because it has not been developed or supported since the late 1990s.  Despite years of agitation by independent developers, the formation of interest groups like BetterGedcom and FHISO, and many proposals for improvements, the major players in the genealogy industry have failed to co-operate in the development of a new genealogical data standard. 

A feeding frenzy of offers from other genealogy software vendors to FTM users followed the December announcement.  Sadly the widely touted idea that a GEDCOM file from FTM will perfectly transfer your data to another program is just not true.  Apart from the inadequacies of the GEDCOM standard, practically universal non-compliance with the standard further complicate data transfer.  In a series of 13 posts entitled Replacing Family Tree Maker, Keith Riggle is examining how to correct the faulty export and import processes for a range of genealogy software.  The comparison is presented as a crosswalk table

The take home message for the non-technical reader is that there should be no red or yellow blocks in this table. 

A program that does not comply is a shoddy product.  Customers, please demand better quality. 

Developers and vendors, please take a hard look at your product and ensure compliance, and work co-operatively to develop a new genealogical data standard.

A new functional genealogy data standard also needs to interact with other data standards.  Genealogists use archives, digital files and images, and geographic data all the time. Well established standards exist for archival (e.g. ISAD(G)), digital curation (e.g. OAIS),
digital image metadata (e.g. Metadata Working Group) and geographic information (e.g. Open Geospatial Consortium). 

Standards underpin many things we take for granted in daily life, including kitchen appliances that fit under the worktop.  Standards matter for genealogy.


  1. Sue,

    I absolutely agree that there must be "a standard" to which ALL genealogy software vendor must comply with. The bad news, that standard does not exist. The "standard" that a GEDCOM file represents is what 15+ years old. But even then, ALL of the software vendors would implement what they wanted to implement. Both in the Generation of the GEDCOM file and Reading the GEDCOM file.

    This is not new news.

    And, you know what has been going on with FHISO. The Genealogy Software vendors are NOT at the table talking about what The Standard should look like.

    Not sure why you are bashing Family Tree Maker and not talking about the rest of them.

    The problem you should be addressing, and this is only my opinion, is that ALL of the software vendors should be working on A STANDARD so that we can share our research.

    Thanks for listening.


  2. Well said! Now if the software makers would only comply. Dare I hold my breath?

  3. Well, IBM was sued for the actions a long time ago where your data was intact if you stayed with them. But for some reason if you tried to get a copy of it there was always corruption. Once enough folks compared notes and realized it was IBM playing games they lost all the legal actions. But it takes lots of folks to get together to compare notes to realize this isn't by accident. Let's face it. Tree Maker get's it's money from the work folks do for free into their system and don't mark it private. That's how they make money but sometimes their ethics are in questions...always is when $$$ is involved.

  4. Well said, indeed, Sue - but I don't hold out much hope...

  5. I don't know why there is such competition (lack of standards) rather than cooperation (common standards). In engineering, at some point in history manufacturers began demanding that bolts, screws, joints, etc were standard so that things could be easily swapped out and there was less overhead from specific tools to fit specific nuts. Many resisted the move to standardization fearing they would loose money, but in the end, the standardization increased productivity and demand for more supplies. So, it's time for genealogy to have this revolution if this is the reason behind many of my cross-platform issues.

    Is it possible to have the genealogy 'industry' change, yes but it'll require the right group of individuals demanding the change rather than waiting for those who can make the change to do it themselves.


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