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.

5 comments:

Hugh W said...

You are making simple things complicated - basically genealogy is about making lists

and new lists from lists, and lists of lists like UK Census Collection - Ancestry.co.uk

Dan Lawyer said...

Hugh,
Genealogy is simple to those that do it. So is skipping a rope. Have you ever tried to teach a computer to skip rope? I haven't but I can imagine that it would get complex extremely fast. To succeed you would have to completely decompose the process of skipping rope. Understand the mechanics and physics of it, etc. The same is true if we want to have computers help people with a nascent knowledge of genealogy succeed.

Hugh W said...

and teh school children?

skipping - or listing their known family for a class project?

Doing geenalogy is a practical skill

Harold said...

Dan -- In contrast to Hugh, I think you're not making it complicated enough! Two phrases in the video bugged me. "Charts organize conclusions," but they might also be used to organize a hypothesis (or hypotheses) if they were complicated enough. More importantly, "theories evolve into conclusions" leaves a whole lot of ground undescribed (sort of like "Great American Desert"). I have been astonished to find how difficult it is to lay out even a fairly simple indirect-evidence argument and make sure it works and has been stated right, in a particular case. So while I can comment on this very general case, I'm devoid of helpful suggestions.

B.G. said...

An interesting exercise - I hadn't seen a concept map before, although I have used other kinds of process mapping extensively. Possible additions: 1) Publishing or disseminating research results could be another branch, perhaps linked to both research results and charts. This process is not necessarily collaborative. 2) The only tools currently included are the research plan and the work journal. Other aids such as gedcoms, lineage-based software and the Genealogical Proof Standard perhaps should also be mentioned on the diagram.