Monday, March 09, 2009

Conceptual Overview of Genealogical Research

In the past I've been critical of the design of the currently available genealogy software tools. In fact, I just went back and re-read a couple of my posts and realized that at times I come across quite critical. This is not my intention and I feel badly about that. I’ve made some very direct statements like, “…one of my basic beliefs as I've analyzed the genealogy space over the last 4 years or so is that sound design, including a solid understanding of the information architecture of genealogy is largely missing in the software tools that are in the market today.” I think I was going for passionate with that one but probably came across as arrogant.

What really got me thinking about this was a statement by Shoebox Genealogy asserting that PAF was still the best genealogy program out there in spite of its faults. That honestly set me back on my heels. I really respect the thoughts of Shoebox Genealogy so I couldn’t just write off that statement. I spent some time creating a concept map of PAF and much to my surprise, discovered that the concept map of PAF is really quite good. It has no concept of supporting collaboration in a meaningful way but as for its ability to support the individual work of someone trying to record the conclusions of their research it is pretty sound. The biggest flaws with PAF are that it has no concept of a hypothesis or theory, the integration of digital sources was an after-thought and suffers because of it, and it doesn’t help the user with the research process. I’m sure there are other holes, but these are just top of mind. I also noticed that some of the key concepts I thought were lacking in PAF were actually there, I had just never found them before because the user interface obscured or hid them.

So what are the key concepts that should be supported by a genealogy program? With the help of some co-workers, I put together a concept map about genealogical research. A concept map is a simple, but powerful, way to capture and communicate knowledge about a topic. The map identifies nouns (concepts) and shows how they are related through verbs. Here is a PDF of the concept map. The video below is a guided tour through the concept map. I’d really appreciate your insight and feedback on the concept map.