Friday, February 22, 2008

Source Centric Prototype

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about concepts of source-centric genealogy. I've written in the past about how most family history applications tend to put the emphasis on the conclusions drawn and not the sources found. Of course they allow you to add a source citation and perhaps even include an image, but the heart of the experience (screen realestate, prominence, features, etc.) is about the conclusions. The paradox is that the heart of the matter really is the evidence.

We've built a prototype to try and make evidence more central to the experience. It has been interesting to see the reactions of different customer segments to the prototype. The professional genealogists love having the evidence right there. Those who have never done genealogy don't really care about the subtleties of evidence but are thrilled to see images of original documents about their ancestors.

One of the really interesting things in the reactions to the prototype was how people felt about different sources of information. You see, the prototype works against the new FamilySearch. The new FamilySearch contains basically all of the lineage-linked data sets in the possession of FamilySearch. This includes Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, International Genealogical Index, and many other lesser-known data sets. As we built the new FamilySearch we combined all of these data sets into one system. Where we had extremely high confidence that people were the same, we combined the records together into one person (OK, actually the computers did this for us). We did this in a non-destructive way. You could think of it like putting all of the people that were the same into one folder. You can pull out the individual people or you can look at the whole folder as one person.

Anyway, the reason for all of that background is the prototype basically starts with the new FamilySearch and displays the information as conclusions with sources rather than people combined together. When we showed this to people (especially those more experienced with genealogy) they really bristled at the trees but loved the sources. Here's some screen shots.

The nice thing about the way this is working out is that even though this kind of displays things separated out again, the new FamilySearch effort creates a mapping for us between people and the system and all of the other information in the system. That means when you start out, you already have a tree pieced together and you can see the sources and trees that were used to do it.

This is kind of a ramble but if it sparks any thoughts I'd love to hear them.