RootsTech 2015

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Should you use DNG format to store your photos?

In the last series of posts, I have discussed the pros and cons of different file formats. In the world of text files, PDF (portable document format) created by Adobe Systems, has become a defacto standard method of transmitting files across the Internet.  Adobe hopes to do the same thing with a universal image format they call DNG or digital negative format. DNG is based on the TIFF/EP standard format, and mandates significant use of metadata. Wikipedia.

Currently, a significant number of cameras support and natively capture images in DNG format. There is a very extensive list of cameras that are supported by the DNG format. You can find the list on the Adobe website here. RAW format is actually not a specific file format, it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and from camera model to camera model. Some of the proprietary formats include: Canon’s .CRW and .CR2, Minolta’s .MRW, Olympus’ .ORF, and the various versions of Nikon’s .NEF.

For a concise explanation of RAW capture files, you may wish to read this article by Bruce Fraser called "Understanding Digital Raw Capture." Essentially, if you use your camera's built in converter to JPEGs you lose a whole lot of information captured by the camera. Using RAW files, you preserve the camera's data, albeit at a cost. The cost is the time and effort it takes to "develop" the RAW files into something you can use on the web or to send to a relative. Bruce Fraser gives the following analogy:
In some ways, it’s tempting to draw the analogy that shooting JPEG is like shooting transparency film while shooting raw is more like shooting negative film. With JPEG, as with transparency film, you need to get everything right in the camera, because there’s very little you can do to change it later. Shooting raw provides considerable latitude in determining the tonal rendition, like negatives, and also offers great freedom in interpreting the color balance and saturation. The fact that raw also lets you control detail rendition—noise reduction and sharpening—breaks the analogy but offers a further advantage.
 Now what does this mean to a real person doing genealogy? Using the DNG format gives you a possible way to preserve all of the information from your camera in a format that is likely to become one of the dominant methods of preserving that information. In using DNG you do not lose the original RAW data from the camera, all of that information is also preserved.

Now the downside. Most point and shoot cameras do not give you an option to save your files in any particular format. What you get when you download the image to your computer is what you get. You have no choice. Only higher end cameras provide the option of choosing the file format. As for scanners, they have some choices, but as of yet RAW is not one of them. Usually, with recent scanners however, you can save your files into the TIFF format.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

File formats for saving "original" photos -- Part Five

In the last installments of this series, I have discussed some of the relative merits for archival preservation of the various image file formats. If you review the rationale behind each of the image file formats, you will quickly eliminate all but three main contenders; TIFF, JPEG and RAW. Each of these three has positive and negative features. Ideally, you would want a file format that would be readable on any hardware, would have a file structure that allowed anyone with enough time to reconstruct the entire image file without loss of data. Let me give an analogous example using another type of media:

Not too long ago in world history, but a long time ago in computer history, one of the first few software applications for the new personal computers was word processing. Unfortunately, when the programmers set out to create a word processor, they did not contemplate that their file types would have to be compatible with any other word processing program or even a later development in the same program. Documents in many of the original file formats are now totally lost to us today because the programs and computers that created them are long gone. To get a small idea of the problem, open a word processing document in a program like OpenOffice. If you create a text file, you can save it in any of twenty-one different formats. The most persistent of all of these word processing formats is a simple text file. Theoretically, if you could get a text file from the old computer disk or hard drive, you could still read the file. But any of the old word processing documents such as MacWrite, or even more obscure, the Friden Flexowriter.

The same thing is happening with images. Proprietary image formats, unless updated periodically, are a closed book. A program like Photoshop CS5 will save image files in any of about twenty formats. But, some of the older formats, like PICT files, are no longer supported.

Ideally, you would want to preserve all of the data possible about an image in any form. But there are practical constraints. The size of the files is still an issue. I am currently using 8 GB CompactFlash cards and I fill them up regularly on a photo expedition. My external storage capacity has increased dramatically over the years and now, 2 Terabyte drives are less than $150. But even with this huge amount of storage considering that a single RAW file can be over 20MB in size. To give some perspective, my original hard drives, just a few years ago were 40MB drives. In today's world they would only hold two pictures!  From another aspect, if your computer isn't extremely fast by today's fast standard, these large files will clog up your computer and take really long times to load and editing is pretty much out of the question.

So, why not take all photos in RAW if you have a fast computer and huge amounts of memory? Yes, that is one option, but you might have to spend a great deal of time and effort to understand and use what you get. Maybe TIFF is looking better all the time. Unfortunately, not all hardware devices allow you to make a choice. But if you have a choice, you might consider them in this order, RAW, Tiff and last but not necessarily bad, JPEG. I would stay away from most of the other formats for long term storage of valuable original photos.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

File formats for saving "original" photos -- Part Four

Choosing an image file format for storing original photographs and scans raises a number of major fundamental issues including most importantly, the survivability of the format in the long term. The most recent issue of the Family Tree magazine has an article on Endangered Sources by Lisa A. Alzo. The article identifies various categories of public and private records that could be lost over time. One obvious solution, and a solution becoming overwhelmingly popular, is to digitize the paper records. But we are also faced with the same issues of loss through digital formats becoming obsolete. This can happen either because the file format is no longer supported and newer software does not recognize the format, or more obviously through hardware obsolescence. For example, try and find a machine to read recording tape on reels, i.e. a reel to reel tape recorder. They may be still available but you would likely have to buy a used machine categorized under vintage electronics.

How long will the digital formats of RAW, JPEG and TIFF remain as viable storage formats? There are a fairly large number of these formats. Here is a selective list of the most popular formats:

TIFF -- originally Tagged Image File Format, but most recently, the acronym usage has disappeared. Originated by the Aldus Corporation, the developer of the PageMaker program, the format is now used by Adobe Systems. The TIFF format is supported by many image-manipulation applications, by publishing and page layout applications, by scanning, faxing, word processing, optical character recognition and other applications.

PNG -- originally Portable Network Graphics. PNG was developed to replace GIF files and is bitmapped image format that uses a lossless data compression. Although PNG compares unfavorably with JPEG for photographic storage. Quoting from Wikipedia:
JPEG (Joint Photography Experts Group) can produce a smaller file than PNG for photographic (and photo-like) images, since JPEG uses a lossy encoding method specifically designed for photographic image data, which is typically dominated by soft, low-contrast transitions, and an amount of noise or similar irregular structures. Using PNG instead of a high-quality JPEG for such images would result in a large increase in filesize (often 5–10 times) with negligible gain in quality.
PNG is a better choice than JPEG for storing images that contain text, line art, or other images with sharp transitions. Where an image contains both sharp transitions and photographic parts a choice must be made between the large but sharp PNG and a small JPEG with artifacts around sharp transitions. JPEG also does not support transparency.
JPEG is a worse choice for storing images that require further editing as it suffers from generation loss, whereas lossless formats do not. Since PNG's extreme inefficiency in compressing photographs makes it not useful for saving temporary photographs that require successive editing, the usual choice is a loss-less compression format designed for photographic images, such as lossless JPEG 2000, or Adobe DNG (Digital negative). When the photograph is ready to be distributed, it can then be saved as a JPEG, and this limits the information loss to just one generation. Furthermore, PNG does not provide a standard means of embedding Exif image data from sources such as digital cameras, which makes it problematic for use amongst photographers, especially professionals. TIFF, JPEG 2000, and DNG do support such meta data.
GIF -- Graphics Interchange Format. Introduced by CompuServe in 1987 its usage is restricted to 256 colors and it is used almost exclusively for images on the Web. GIF files are most appropriate for sharp-edged line art with a limited number of colors.

JPEG -- See the discussion above under PNG. JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. JPEG is best used for photographic reproductions. Its biggest drawback is that is a lossy file format and repeated editing will degrade a JPEG file.

RAW -- not an acronym. A RAW file is not directly usable as an image, but it contains all of the information from the camera and can be used to create an image with a program called a RAW converter. There is no single RAW format, every camera or other device has its own specifications.

BMP -- also called the DIB file format (device-independent bitmap) it is a bitmapped image file format. Quoting from Microsoft support:
A device-independent bitmap (DIB) is a format used to define device- independent bitmaps in various color resolutions. The main purpose of DIBs is to allow bitmaps to be moved from one device to another (hence, the device-independent part of the name). A DIB is an external format, in contrast to a device-dependent bitmap, which appears in the system as a bitmap object (created by an application using CreateBitmap(), CreateCompatibleBitmap(), CreateBitmapIndirect(), or CreateDIBitmap()). A DIB is normally transported in metafiles (usually using the StretchDIBits() function), BMP files, and the Clipboard (CF_DIB data format).   
PSD, PSP etc. -- PSD files are a proprietary format created by Adobe Photoshop. PSP is another proprietary format created by Corel Paint Shop Pro. Each proprietary format has it limitations in the programs that can recognize the file.

OK, so which ones to use? If you are not concerned about survivability and only need an optimized image, for example a web page, you can use JPEG, PNG or GIF files. JPEG files are lossy, so they are not the best choice for archiving images. TIFF files are relatively large and lossless, but file size is rapidly becoming a non-issue except for web usage. It makes a lot of sense to save your files in their native RAW format but there is still a possibility that the file format used by your camera will change or disappear.

One possible alternative is to use Adobe's  proprietary DNG file format. I will consider this option in my next installment.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Who owns the genealogy companies? -- Additional Information

Two items:

First, please notice the links in the sidebar to the individual articles in each series. I will work at keeping them up to date.

Second:

Ian Tester from findmypast.com left the following comment:
Just FYI, brightsolid online publishing have also recently acquired the FriendsReunited group, including genesreunited.co.uk which is the number 2 player in the UK market (behind ancestry.co.uk). brightsolid is 100% owned by DC Thomson, the family-owned media group, and most famous for being owner of the Beano comic. http://www.dcthomson.co.uk/
 FriendsReunited is a social networking site and there is also a Friends Reunited Dating Press and Genes Reunited. In a post of 18 March 2010 it states:
brightsolid today announced the completion of its acquisition of Friends Reunited Group from ITV plc for £25 million, following clearance by the Competition Commission.
The online innovation business, which is owned by DC Thomson, already owns and operates a number of online sites where people go to search their past, share their story and connect with people and places. It announced its intention to acquire Friends Reunited Group in August 2009 believing it an excellent opportunity to utilise this experience to bring new focus to the iconic brands in the group (Friends Reunited, Genes Reunited and Friends Reunited Dating).
The completion of the deal will now enable brightsolid to integrate the brands within its online publishing business. As part of this the genealogy site Genes Reunited will remain separate from brightsolid’s other genealogy services, including findmypast.co.uk. Both brands are already key players in the dynamic family history sector and united are set to make brightsolid one of Britain’s leading genealogy businesses.
 The owner, DC Thomson, is primarily a publishing company, producing more than 200 million magazines, newspapers and comics each year. DC Thomson has been publishing for well over 100 years. Titles in the newspaper field are The Courier and The Evening Telegraph both daily papers circulating in the Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perth areas and national papers the Sunday Post and the Weekly News. The company also publishes a range of magazines for both adults and children ranging from The People’s Friend to The Beano. D.C. Thomson & Co Ltd is registered in Scotland- Company Registration Number SC005830 registered office at Courier Buildings, 2 Albert Square, Dundee DD1 9QJ

Quoting from Wikipedia, "The company began as a branch of the Thomson family business when W Thomson became the sole proprietor of Charles Alexander & Co., publishers of Dundee Courier and Daily Argus. In 1884, David Coupar Thomson took over the publishing business, and established it as DC Thomson in 1905. The firm flourished, and took its place as the third J in the "Three Js", the traditional summary of Dundee industry ('jam, jute and journalism').[2] Thomson was notable for his conservatism, vigorously opposing the introduction of trade unions into his workforce, and for refusing to employ Catholics."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who owns the genealogy companies? Part Five

One of the questions that has occurred to me recently is who is accumulating all of the huge amount of online genealogy resources. What would happen to all of the information if one of these larger companies were to cease operations for any reason? Central to that concern is the issue of who owns these companies. For that and many other reasons, I began an investigation of the ownership of several of the larger fee based genealogy companies. Here is the list of the companies I have examined so far:
http://www.ancestry.com/
http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/
http://www.footnote.com/
http://www.genealogybank.com/

We still have the following companies left to consider:
http://www.findmypast.com/
http://www.genealogytoday.com/
http://www.genline.com/
http://www.myheritage.com/
http://heritagequest.com/

Next, we move on to FindMyPast.com.  This is a first of the large companies I have considered outside of the United States. The official company description states:
Findmypast.co.uk is a family history and genealogy website. Our offices are in London, England. We’re one of the leading suppliers of online family history, with an ever-growing collection of over 650 million family history records. We utilise the latest technology to bring your family’s past to life and make the process of tracing your family history easier and more enjoyable than ever.
The "official launch" of the online database took place on 1 April 2003. Since that beginning with birth, marriage and death records of England and Wales, the company now provides:
The company is relatively open about its ownership. Again, quoting from their website:
Findmypast.co.uk is operated by Brightsolid Online Publishing Limited. Registered in England No.4369607.Registered Offices 185 Fleet Street, London, EH4A 2HS.
We are registered as a Data Controller with the Information Commissioner’s Office in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998: our registration number is Z6639808.
Our VAT registration no. is GB 927 167 212
In December 2007 we became part of  brightsolid (formerly Scotland Online), which also manages ScotlandsPeople.
 In 1995, brightsolid introduced Scotland Online and claims to be a leading UK independent provider of IT business services. brightsolid manages ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk which is a partnership between the General Register Office for Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon. In 2007, brightsolid acquired findmypast.com. The company has a number of "strategic partnerships" with companies such as Microsoft and Oracle. 

Recently, the National Genealogical Society Conference in Salt Lake City provided the backdrop for a joint announcement by three leading players in the world genealogy market. FamilyLink.com, Inc.’s WorldVitalRecords Australasian operation is to be taken over by leading UK family history website findmypast.co.uk and run in partnership with Gould Genealogy & History of Australia. See newsrelease.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

File formats for saving "original" photos -- Part Three

Continuing the discussion about image file formats, you may have noticed that I put the term "original" in quotes. The reason for that is simple, what is an "original"? In pre-computer, pre-copy machine days, the concept of an original was very much an issue. For example, in court proceedings, we would often get into discussions about whether or not the original document was being presented in court and whether a copy could be substituted for the original. Those categories of discussions are long gone just as handwritten and typed copies of documents are mostly gone. It assumed now that there are copies of all documents and it is extraordinarily rare to get into a discussion about producing an original document.

That said, the same thing applies to photographs. In pre-digital times, there was an original photo. Film cameras made one individual photograph with either negative film or positive film i.e. slides. The only way to reproduce the photo was either make multiple prints from a negative or use a camera to make a photographic copy of the original. My original slide copier was a device that hooked to my camera so I could take another photo of the slide. If multiple prints were made from one negative, each print was a separate original but because of variations in the development process, every print was slightly different from the last. But the real question, usually not asked, was whether or not the original was the negative or the print? This issue became the idea in the plot of many movies and TV shows. Remember the scene where the original photo is destroyed but, aha!, they still had the negative?

In genealogy, we are faced with the common situation of only having one copy of a photo or negative. That one copy is truly, for us, the original. If lost it cannot be replaced and if it is in poor condition, it will not ever be in any better condition.

What a difference there is in the digital age. When I take a picture with my digital camera, the original is a series of 1's and 0's on the storage chip. If my camera supports the RAW image file format, then all of the information in the camera, including the camera settings and lens data can be transferred to my computer. In essence I now have two originals; one on the computer and one in the camera. Even if I choose to erase the image file in the camera, I still have all of the information contained in the original photo on my computer. Just as a note, not all cameras that support a RAW image file format actually transfer all the image information to the computer when the file is downloaded.

So what about the other file formats? TIFF? JPEG? BMP? and others? Why use them at all? Well, its back to the issue that the RAW image file is analogous to a negative. The information in the RAW file has to be "developed" into an image that can be used on the Internet, displayed or printed. There are specific programs that provide that function. One of them is the Camera RAW plug-in for Photoshop. For an in depth explanation of the advantages of Camera RAW and all of its features, please see Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS4. The advantage of using a TIFF file or a JPEG file is that the image is already developed. My guess is, that very, very few people use photo editing programs regularly for every-day family photos. But what about photos that you want to archive? Photos with real family history value? Is it realistic to use an image file format that loses information from the "original"?


In my next installment, I will discuss the current standards for archive quality images and where to find the standards.

File formats for saving "original" photos -- Part Two

In my previous post on this subject, I covered some of my experiences with getting into digital cameras. The point of that discussion was that the file format used to store digital images depends on the availability of those formats both from the hardware (the camera or scanner) and the software. Before I can discuss this further, I need a few definitions. First of all are the terms lossless or lossy. A lossless image file is saved with a compression algorithm that does not discard information obtained from the camera. In contrast, a lossy algorithm allows image degradation (loss of information) to achieve a smaller file size.  Just for clarity, an "algorithm" is a programming term referring to a precise set of rules specifying how to solve a particular problem.

To put that into plain language, some types of image file formats preserve all of the original information from the camera and some trade off a smaller file size for a loss of some information. Now this concern about file size made sense when computers and storage devices (i.e. hard drives, flash drives etc.) were small and expensive. It takes a huge amount of storage to save all of the information from even one camera image, much less tens or hundreds or even thousands. However, I am going to focus on the present hardware and software issues, not those occuring even five years ago (or even one year ago). Computers have become much faster and storage has become almost incredibly inexpensive.

In a recent trip to Costco, I found two different manufacturers' hard drives on sale each with 2 Terabytes of storage for $129 each. On Amazon.com There are a number of 2 Terabyte drives in that same price range, for example, Seagate FreeAgent Desk 2 TB USB 2.0 Desktop External Hard Drive ST320005FDA2E1-RK (Silver). It is now possible to save tens of thousands of uncompressed images for a very reasonable cost. So the rationale in saving hard disk space by compressing data has essentially vanished.

One real issue with many computer users is the speed and size of the processor in their computer. Most of the newer external hard drives connect to the computer through a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connector. Older computers do not have USB connections. Today's faster computers are not just faster than their predecessors, they have multiple processors. This is like have 2 or 4 or more computers working on the same file at the same time. Presently, faster computers have two - 4-core processors giving a total of eight processors, that is like having eight computers working on the file at the same time. This analogy is not perfect, use of the processors depends entirely on the programs running on the computer. If the programs are not written to take advantage of the extra processors, then they will be ignored and the program will run as if it had a single processor.

So another issue is that the software must take advantage of the newer computers' multiple processors. If the program wasn't designed to take advantage of the faster computers then all of the power of the computer is essentially wasted. Most programs running on today's computers do not need multiple processors. However, if you are going to process a large number of photographs either by digitizing film photos or by downloading pictures from a digital camera, you may quickly exceed the capability of even recent computers. Programs like Adobe Photoshop CS5 are designed to take advantage of the faster machines and multiple processors and will run exceedingly slowly on older computers.

 So the main criteria, in today's world (like I said, not last year's world) is to save all of the information obtained from the camera. There is a file format which preserves all of the information from the camera in many cases and is referred to as "RAW" or "RAW data." A raw file is essentially all of the data that the camera's chip recorded with some additional information tagged on. But all RAW files are not created equally. You cannot expect to get the same quality image out of $100 point and shoot camera that you can expect from a high end Canon or Nikon. Additionally, all of the information captured by the camera doesn't mean much if the lens you are using is bad or dirty.

None of the other available image file formats preserve all of the camera information, although some of the formats are lossless, such as uncompressed TIFF files.  JPEG files are always lossy because they are compressed and in the compression process, lose some of the information present in the original image as it comes into the camera. Unfortunately, until recently few cameras even supported a RAW image format. Almost all of the cameras automatically output JPEG or TIFF images.

Since most people never adjust their photos at all, or do any photo editing, the file format is somewhat immaterial. However, if you consider your photos to be a valuable resource, you should seriously consider upgrading to a camera and software combination that will support RAW files.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Who owns the genealogy companies? Part Four

In the past installments of this series, I have been examining the ownership of the larger genealogy oriented companies. In this post I examine GenealogyBank.com. Corporate offices of the GenealogyBank are in Naples, Florida and their "Operations and Production Facility" is located in Chester, Vermont. They characterize there business as follows:
GenealogyBank has the most comprehensive newspaper archive filled with family history information. Many of our historical newspapers are exclusive to GenealogyBank. Find billions of names and millions of American families across four centuries, from 1690 to today: obituaries, marriage notices, hometown news, military records, government documents, photographs and much more.
GenealogyBank is a subscription service with an annual membership of $69.95.

GenealogyBank is a part of NewsBank, Inc. According to Wikipedia, NewsBank currently has 350 newspapers online with 150 million articles. In turn, NewsBank characterizes itself as:
NewsBank, inc. has been one of the world’s premier information providers for more than 35 years. NewsBank’s comprehensive, Web-based research products satisfy the diverse needs of public libraries, colleges and universities, schools, government and military libraries, professionals and researchers, while NewsBank’s extensive media services enable its publishing partners to effectively leverage their content to generate additional revenue.
 Through partnerships with leading content providers worldwide, NewsBank provides a variety of libraries with Web-based access to current and archived content from more than 2,000 newspaper titles, as well as newswires, transcripts, business journals, periodicals, government documents and other publications. Through its databases, intuitive interfaces and powerful search technology, NewsBank enables users to easily explore tens of millions of articles, obituaries, notices, announcements and other news content in order to pinpoint information from primary sources at the local, state, regional, national and international levels.
 The list of available sources goes on and on.  What's the catch? NewsBank is available to libraries, universities and other institutions. Neither NewsBank nor GenealogyBank appear to have SEC filings. All that said, none of the web pages on either NewsBank or GenealogyBank refer directly to any ownership interest or other identifying information. The Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations lists NewsBank, Inc. with its principal office in Vermont. The corporation is registered in the name of Daniel S. Jones with Daniel S. Jones, John A. McDowell, Susan G. Jones and Michael G. Walker as officers and directors. That's about all the information the annual corporate report has in the 2010 filing. The same information is listed in the Vermont Secretary of State Office. In Vermont, NewsBank is listed as a foreign corporation (that means registered in another state, not a foreign country) with its principal place of business in Florida.

So, NewsBank and GenealogyBank are apparently very privately held corporations with no apparent outside investors. They certainly come from a completely different corporate culture than Ancestry.com/WorldVitalRecords group. The Utah Valley corporations seem much more interested in publicizing their resumes.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

File formats for saving "original" photos -- Part One

A recent Blog post by Dick Eastman, "Never Save Original Photos in JPEG Format!" got me thinking again about the format for storing digital images. One of the first issues that came to mind was the limitations imposed by the camera you select. Many of the consumer level cameras do not give you an option for the file format of the images produced. Over my lifetime I have steadily evolved the cameras I use. My original camera was a cheap, off the shelf fixed lens 35mm view finder camera, which, by the way, took horrible pictures. My first real efforts to improve my photography began with a Canon 35mm range finder camera. That was a beautiful camera with an extraordinary lens.

When I served in the military in Panama, I took advantage of Japanese import prices to acquire a complete Pentax camera system. Of course, all of these early cameras produced slides and prints. I stuck with Pentax for the next level of photography, when the electronics began to improve the quality of the images and the ability of the cameras. I immediately saw the advantage of digital cameras, but like most photographers were not impressed with the quality of the images. Digital storage was expensive and computers were slow and clunky. Processing any image of adequate quality was a slow and painful process.

My first serious venture into the digital camera world was with a Panasonic Lumix. I am still impressed with the quality of the lenses and the camera itself. But time moves on. The next camera was 6.2 Megapixel, HP Photosmart R717. That camera took extremely good landscape pictures but did a poor job of closeups. It was not a camera for a photographer because of the lack of versatility. Although the camera is still for sale, many of the newer cameras have more and better features and better lenses. I now do not think it is a good idea to buy a camera from a computer company. Buy a camera from a camera company.

The next step, was to go back to my roots in Canon cameras and I purchased a Canon EOS Rebel Xti which has been replaced by the Canon EOS Rebel T1i 15.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-Inch LCD and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens for the same price (or less) than I paid. With that purchase I began to enter the real world of digital cameras. The next step came about as I began to realize the limitations of the Xti. The next level was the Canon EOS 50D 15.1MP Digital SLR Camera with EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Standard Zoom Lens.

Ok, now what were the real issues? I was learning more and more about digital imaging and realized that the manufacturers of the cameras had finally allowed direct access to the data from the camera. Creating, what was in effect, a digital negative. From Wikipedia, here is the explanation of the Raw image format:
A camera raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of either a digital camera, image, or motion picture film scanner. Raw files are so named because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed or edited with a bitmap graphics editor. Normally, the image is processed by a raw converter in a wide-gamut internal colorspace where precise adjustments can be made before conversion to a "positive" file format such as TIFF or JPEG for storage, printing, or further manipulation, which often encodes the image in a device-dependent colorspace. These images are often described as "RAW image files" based on the erroneous belief that they represent a single file format. In fact there are dozens if not hundreds of raw image formats in use by different models of digital equipment (like cameras or film scanners).[1]
Raw image files are sometimes called digital negatives, as they fulfill the same role as negatives in film photography: that is, the negative is not directly usable as an image, but has all of the information needed to create an image. Likewise, the process of converting a raw image file into a viewable format is sometimes called developing a raw image, by analogy with the film development process used to convert photographic film into viewable prints. The selection of the final choice of image rendering is part of the process of white balancing and color grading.
Here was the key to getting high quality images from a digital camera. Use the camera's RAW settings. This ability of the cameras adds a great deal of flexibility and huge level of complication. Now, back to the comment about never using JPEG. Unfortunately, most of the consumer level cameras, especially those made by computer companies, do not allow the export of RAW data from the camera. More and more cameras are supporting that format, but even though the camera may allow you take a picture, store it in RAW format and then download the RAW image to your computer, that does not mean that you can use the photo at all in that format. To adequately use RAW format, you have to be willing to "develop" the pictures using some processing software, such as Adobe Photoshop CS5.

It only gets more complicated from there. Adobe Photoshop is likely one of the most complicated programs currently sold to consumers who are not professional programmers or computer experts.

What is the advantage of RAW format? Well, first of all it avoids all of the limitations of the JPEG and other lossy

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Guardian of research resources -- The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions or IFLA characterizes itself as the "global voice of the library and information profession." The Genealogical and Local History Section of the IFLA has as its scope:
Our mission is to be a voice for genealogy and local history librarians in the international information community, to facilitate networking among subject specialists and libraries, archives, museums, and related societies and institutions, and to encourage the development of genealogy and local history collections and user services.
The IFLA "affirms that free access to information and freedom of expression are principles which apply not only to present matters but to the personal and private raw materials of the historical record, which may be guarded in the short term against disclosure or debate, but must be preserved and made available in the long result of time as part of our common heritage." See IFLA Statement on Access to Personally Identifiable Information in Historical Records.

IFLA acknowledges that the there is a "deeply felt human need for identity that can be clarified and affirmed through family and community connection." However, there is a real concern about the issues of privacy.  The statement goes on to say,
Concerns about identity theft and terrorism, and the developing law and jurisprudence of privacy are tending to encourage governments and archive repositories to impose restrictions on access to files containing personally identifiable information, and even to destroy records of this kind. IFLA accepts the necessity for protection of the privacy of living persons, for business confidentiality and for government information security insofar as these valid goals do not conflict with a higher public good. However, perpetual closure or destruction of records containing personally identifiable information, even in the name of privacy, commercial confidentiality or security concerns, is in the last analysis a pernicious form of censorship.
The IFLA appears to be one of the potentially influential forces for increasing access to genealogically valuable source records.

Friday, May 21, 2010

In pursuit of Kerlin's Well -- a breakthrough

One of the most interesting things about the Internet is the connectivity of people around the world. A couple of days ago, I was checking voice mail and found a message from Jack Beale Smith. Mr. Smith is the author of a book on Kerlin's Well. In past posts I have talked about searching for this obscure location on the Colorado Plateau where my Great-grandfather carved his name into the rock. In this post, I told about our trip to look for the location in the vast desert of northern Arizona south of the Grand Canyon.

It is absolutely amazing to me that I can post a comment online and have the person I am looking for call me out of the blue. Jack Beale Smith is the author of a number of books about the Beale Wagon Road, the original road that ultimately became U.S. Route 66 and now I-40. Here are a few of the books written by Mr. Smith:

Smith, Jack. A Guide to the Beale Wagon Road Through the Coconino National Forest. Flagstaff, Ariz: Tales of the Beale Road, 1991.

Smith, Jack. John Udell, "the Rest of the Story": With an Adventure on the Beale Wagon Road. San Bernardino, Calif: Borgo Press, 1989. 

Smith, Jack. The True Story of How Peach Springs, Arizona Received Its Name. Flagstaff, Ariz: Tales of the Beale Road Pub. Co, 1991.

Smith, Jack. Tales of the Beale Road. San Bernardino, Calif: Borgo Press, 1989. 

and, of course the book I was interested in reading:

Smith, Jack. Kerlin's Well: A Unique Site on the Beale Wagon Road Near Seligman, Arizona. San Bernardino, Calif: Borgo Press, 1989.

 I had an extremely enjoyable conversation with Mr. Smith about the history of Northern Arizona and the Beale Wagon Road and Edward Fitzgerald Beale. OK, so now I have both map directions and a verbal description of how to get to Kerlin's Well. We are planning on making another trip to the area in the near future. I will be eager to report our success or another failure.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who owns the genealogy companies? Part Three

Looking at the larger genealogy companies is an interesting challenge. Publicly owned corporations (even if only part of the stock is owned by the public) have a whole stack of legal rules to follow concerning financial reporting and ownership. For example, Ancestry.com's reports are on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website. See Ancestry.com. None of the following companies apparently have SEC listings:

http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/
http://www.footnote.com/
http://www.genealogybank.com/
http://www.findmypast.com/
http://www.genealogytoday.com/
http://www.genline.com/
http://www.myheritage.com/
http://heritagequest.com/

However, vSpring, one of the investors in WorldVitalRecords has nine separate SEC listings. In addition to the listing for Ancestry.com, its main investor, Spectrum Equity Investors V, L.P. is also listed. The results of this little exercise is that publicly traded companies are just that, public. Whereas privately held companies are, of course, private.

The next company on the list is Footnote.com. The company history is described as follows:
The concept for Footnote.com is rooted in the company's years of experience in the digitization business as iArchives, Inc. Starting in 1999, iArchives digitized historical newspapers and other archive content for leading universities, libraries and media companies across the United States.

From the beginning, the iArchives team developed a unique understanding of the value of creating an online repository for the world's original source documents. Leveraging the proprietary systems and patented processes built for the digitization of paper, microfilm and microfiche collections, the management team made a strategic decision: Use the iArchives platform to provide access to these historically significant and valuable collections.
In January of 2007 Footnote.com goes live with over 5 million documents already featured on the site. Today we continue to grow and bring to life history that was once hidden.
iArchives.com is the registered domain name of iArchives, Inc. of Lindon, Utah. The website for iArchives describes the company as:
iArchives’ vision is to be the world leader in transforming microfilm and other print content into searchable, digitized, online databases. To achieve that vision, iArchives is providing technology and a process that will substantially reduce the cost and time it takes to archive documents while enhancing the user's experience in exploring those documents.
Our process uses off-the-shelf hardware and state-of-the-art iArchives software to convert your content into a customized database searchable over the Internet or an intranet. We help our customers solve difficult business challenges and take advantage of new business opportunities through the implementation of innovative technology.
 Other than the notice of the address in Lindon, Utah, there do not seem to be any other details about the ownership of the company. As of 18 May 2010, Footnote.com had 65,166,164 total pages online.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Scanning old film negatives

Among the thousands of photos I have been scanning for the past few years, I have accumulated a large number of negatives. Those of you who are a little older may recall that when you took your black and white film to be developed, you received not only prints from your film, but also the negatives. The negatives in my collection date back into the early 1900s. Up until now, I had no way to get a high quality scan from these negatives, some of which are large from view cameras used at the time they were made. Except for those made after the advent of 35mm cameras, none of the old negatives are a standard size.

Fortunately, technology has advanced to the point where a high quality scan of these odd sized negatives is possible. Although some of the subjects in the negatives are mundane, many of the photos are priceless and the only record of the events depicted. One huge pile of negatives came from my great grandmother, who was a professional photographer.

Above, is a scanned image of one of the negatives. I have decided to publish a lot of the older negatives and photos on my Walking Arizona blog.

In deciding how to scan these images, we did a lot of research online. We have had very good results for years from my Epson scanner. Epson Perfection 4490 Photo Scanner is an example of the the more recent kind. However, we have also had excellent results with Canon scanners. Canon CanoScan 8800F Color Film/Negative/Photo Scanner (2168B002)
After considerable review, we decided on the Canon 8800F. I am very pleased with the quality as well as the speed of this scanner. The scanner allows you to scan both in reflective mode and transmitted light mode. I have found the transmitted light mode to be somewhat cranky. Since the quality of some of my negatives is very poor. The scanner cannot detect some of the pictures and sometimes splits one picture into two. However, by working with the position of the negative on the scanning bed, I have solved most of those problems.

Once the scans are made, the scanning software will sometimes convert the image to a positive. There does not seem to be any consistency in this conversion and some of the images come up as negative after the scan. However, this is no problem since I can invert the images in Adobe Photoshop. Adobe Photoshop CS5 . If Photoshop is out of your price range, you can also try Photoshop Elements Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements 8   Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.

Here's what the photo looks like converted in Photoshop:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Who owns the genealogy companies? Part Two

It is very difficult to rank the size of genealogy companies because there is no real category in the business world for genealogy. In a real sense, the genealogy companies are all information and service companies. They either sell a service, such as printing charts, or information, like databases of source documents and indexes. Although Ancestry.com is clearly the leader, second place is a little more problematical since Ancestry.com has several large sub-brand names such as genealogy.com, their software program Family Tree Maker, and Rootsweb.

Without any regard to which is the next largest, here is a list of some of the larger companies:
http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/
http://www.footnote.com/
http://www.genealogybank.com/
http://www.findmypast.com/
http://www.genealogytoday.com/
http://www.genline.com/
http://www.myheritage.com/

WorldVitalRecords, Inc.
This large database indicates that it is a service of Familylink. Familylink describes itself as follows: 

By the Numbers


60 million users
500 million family connections
20 million monthly active users
Top Family Facebook application
1.2 billion indexed names
33 million answers
200k poll responses daily 

What We Do
FamilyLink provides the platform for the family social experience. Family members can create family generated content, preserve interactions, add historical content and communicate across a number of mediums.

FamilyLink's flagship application We're Related launched in 2007 and today has more than 60 million users making it a top family Facebook application. More than 20 million users use the product on a monthly basis.

FamilyLink also leverages its content relationships to provide valuable historical family content. Families can search over 1.2 billion names to find, tag and integrate ancestors.

FamilyLink's investors are vSpring Capital and several angel investors.

vSpring Capital is a traditional early-stage venture capital firm with over $400 million of committed capital under management. It has in its portfolio both Ancestry.com and Familylink.

Familylink was founded by Paul Allen and is the Chairman of the Board. From the Familylink website:
Paul Allen has founded several companies in the consumer content and social space. He was the Founder and CEO of Ancestry.com in 1997. He also launched MyFamily.com in 1998, which became the fastest growing community site of its time. After an initial stint as CEO, Allen focused on internet marketing and strategy for several years, helping Ancestry.com become one of the leading content subscription sites in the world. In 2002, Allen founded 10x Marketing, an internet marketing agency that was sold to Innuity in 2005. In 2004, he started FundingUniverse.com, a fast-growing company that helps entrepreneurs through venture consulting. Since 2007, he has been 100% focused on his new company, FamilyLink.com. He graduated from BYU with a degree in Russian in 1990. He is suffering from a serious addiction to his Blackberry, iPhone and Amazon Kindle.
I find it interesting that the Familylink Board of Directors includes Scott Petty of vSpring Capital. He is described by the Familylink site as follows:
Scott is a founding Managing Director of vSpring Capital, an early stage venture capital fund. Scott has led vSpring's investments in Alianza, Alpha Bay, Cerberian (acquired by Blue Coat Systems, NASDAQ:BCSI), comScore Networks (NASDAQ:SCOR), Control4, CrimeReports, FamilyLink, Infusionsoft, LignUp, SwarmBuilder, and Zonder. Prior to vSpring, Scott was COO and a Board Director of Zuka Juice. Under Scott's leadership, Zuka Juice grew from its first store to over 100 retail units and over 400 employees. Zuka Juice was acquired by Jamba Juice (NASDAQ:JMBA), a venture backed competitor. Before Zuka Juice Scott was a consultant with Bain & Company for seven years. At Bain he worked with many IT and non-IT companies, re-engineering their strategies for optimum results. Scott received a BS in Economics from Brigham Young University and a MBA from the Harvard Business School.
It is evident that both Ancestry.com and WorldVitalRecords.com have a common background and even share investors. By the way, GenealogyWise.com is also part of Familylink.

Next, I will be moving on down the list.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Google Language Tools -- a boon to genealogists

Google announced enhancements to its Google Translate program called Google Language Tools. You can type a search phrase in your own language, then Google Language Tools will translate your search terms into the target language and find results in the target language. Then translate the results back into your own language for you to read. Google gives the following example:
Example:1. Search for Bern tourist information.2. We translate your query into French and German, and find French and German results.3. Finally, we translate the French and German results back into your language.
 I did a search on "argentine genealogy" and got millions of results with translations into the following languages:

Spanish  
genealogía argentina - Edit

French  
généalogie argentine - Edit

Italian  
genealogia argentina - Edit

German  
Argentinischer Genealogie - Edit

Google Language Tools opens up a whole new world of searching on foreign language sites. You might try looking for online databases and digital images. A quick search for digital records in Argentina led me to the the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). The IFLA is the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. It is the global voice of the library and information profession. Founded in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1927 at an international conference, they celebrated their 75th birthday at their conference in Glasgow, Scotland in 2002. They now have 1600 Members in approximately 150 countries around the world. IFLA was registered in the Netherlands in 1971. The Royal Library, the national library of the Netherlands, in The Hague, generously provides the facilities for their  headquarters.

OK, here's the deal, this website is in Spanish! Translated instantly into English by Google. Now, there was a website for the IFLA in English, but the one I found was in Spanish. Never mind that I read Spanish fluently, the point is that there are quite a few languages (actually a whole lot of languages) out there that I don't read at all.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Who owns the genealogy companies? -- a comment

In my last post, I talked about Ancestry.com. One of my readers pointed out that Ancestry.com is now publicly traded on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Underwriters for the deal included Morgan Stanley, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, BMO Capital Markets Corp., Jefferies & Co. and Piper Jaffray & Co. It will trade under the symbol "ACOM" on the Nasdaq Global Market. It is interesting to note that the amount raised by the stock sale, estimated to be $100 million, was about 1/3 of what was invested by Spectrum Equity Investors. 


Here is the official statement from Ancestry.com's annual report for 26 February 2010:
We operated as The Generations Network, Inc., which we refer to as the predecessor, until December 5, 2007. On December 5, 2007, Generations Holding, Inc., which we refer to as the successor, acquired The Generations Network, Inc. in connection with an investment by Spectrum Equity Investors V, L.P. and certain of its affiliates. The successor was created for the sole purpose of acquiring The Generations Network, Inc. and had no prior operations. Immediately following that transaction, which we refer to as the Spectrum investment, Spectrum and certain of its affiliates held approximately 67% of the outstanding shares of our common stock. In July 2009, to better align our corporate identity with the premier branding of Ancestry.com, Generations Holding changed its name to Ancestry.com Inc. Primarily as a result of the consummation of our initial public offering in November, 2009, Spectrum's ownership percentage was reduced. Spectrum and certain of its affiliates now hold approximately 55% of the outstanding shares of our common stock. As a result of the accounting for the Spectrum investment, our fiscal year 2007 is divided into a predecessor period from January 1, 2007 through December 5, 2007 and a successor period from December 6, 2007 through December 31, 2007.
It is clear that control of the company from its owners has not changed due to the issuance of a public stock offering. I might further note that Ancestry.com traded at about $14.00 a share or so at the time of the public offering and the present price of the stock is trading at about $19.00 a share.

Thanks for pointing out the public offering, but sale of a minority interest does not change the ownership of the company.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Who owns the genealogy companies?

One of the trends of modern society is the centralization of the production, transportation and sale of goods and services, particularly information services, in larger and larger international corporations. The Internet reflects the world at large in concentrating a lot of resources under the control of a few very large organizations. Perhaps, finding out who owns and runs these organizations and where they are located would be an eye opener. To discover this information, it sometimes takes following a long history of acquisitions and mergers to discover what entity is in control of the present organization. In some cases, Wikipedia is useful in providing background information. I would assume that if a particular Wikipedia article was inaccurate, these larger companies would take steps to correct the misinformation. In all of this, I do not claim to have any particular insight or knowledge about the companies other than what I can discover online. It looks like this will turn into a series of articles, the history of these companies is so complex.

First on the list is Ancestry.com.

Back in 1987, Curt Allen, and his brother-in-law Brad Pelo, both students at Brigham Young University, founded a company called Folio Corporation to publish content on local area networks, and on digital CD-ROMs for use on desktop computers. Wikipedia.  In 1990 Paul Allen and Dan Taggart, two graduates of BYU, created Infobases, Inc., and began offering LDS publications on computer floppy disks. They chose to use Folio Views as their infobase indexing and presentation technology that Allen was familiar with, having worked at Folio Corporation since that company's founding in 1987. Following Folio Corporation in all of is corporate changes is a prime example of the path most of these Internet startup companies have followed. Folio Corporation was purchased by MDC LexisNexis in 1993, then the company was purchased by Open Market in 1997, then to NextPage in 1999, to Fast Search in 2004, Microsoft in 2008 and is presently owned by Rocket Software since 2009.
 Western Standard Publishing was formed in 1997 and provides online services to its partners World Book Encyclopedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica. Western Standard Publishing is listed as the parent company of Infobases, Inc. In 1997, Western Standard Publishing purchased Ancestry.com, the publisher of Ancestry magazine and genealogy books. Ancestry magazine began as a small genealogy based newsletter in 1984. Ancestry Magazine has recently ceased publication. Quoting from Answers.com:
In July 1997, Allen and Taggart purchased Western Standard's interest in Ancestry, Inc. At the time, Brad Pelo was president and CEO of Infobases, and president of Western Standard. Less than six months earlier, he had been president of Folio Corporation, whose digital technology Infobases was using. In March, 1997, Folio was sold to Open Market for $45 million.[11] The first public evidence of the change in ownership of Ancestry Magazine came with the July/August 1997 issue, which showed a newly reorganized Ancestry, Inc., as its publisher. That issue's masthead also included the first use of the Ancestry.com web address.


There doesn't seem to be much online about how Western Standard became the "parent company" of Infobase. But in 1997, Ancestry.com began to operate separately from Infobase and began creating an online subscription based, genealogy database service. Following acquisition of Bookcraft, Inc., a book publishing company, the owners began running Ancestry Inc. independently from Infobases. In 1998, Ancestry.com also started a website called MyFamily.com and ultimately, in 1999 changed its name from Ancestry.com to MyFamily.com. It then began another major website called FamilyHistory.com. MyFamily acquired Encounter Technologies in 2006. Late in 2006, the company changed its name to The Generations Network and then in 2009 changed its name back to Ancestry.com. In 2010, Ancestry.com sold its book publishing interests to Turner Publishing.

Presently, all of the links in MyFamily.com referring to "About Us" are directed to Ancestry.com which describes itself as follows:
Ancestry.com is the world’s largest online resource for family history, with more than one million paying subscribers around the world as of December 2009. Since starting as publishing company in 1983, we have been a leader in the family history market for over 20 years and have helped pioneer the market for online family history research. We believe that most people have a fundamental desire to understand who they are and from where they came, and that anyone interested in discovering, preserving and sharing their family history is a potential user of Ancestry.com. We strive to make our service valuable to individuals ranging from the most committed family historians to those taking their first steps towards satisfying their curiosity about their family stories.


Click on this link to find out more information about Ancestry.com corporate.

Ancestry.com, like most web based businesses, continues to rapidly evolve. Anything you say about it will likely change in the near future except that it will likely get larger. Now, all the above said, who owns Ancestry.com today? Back in 2007, investment headlines said that Ancestry.com was being acquired by Spectrum Equity Investors which also owns/invests in companies like AMC, CellularOne, and many others. Quoting from CrunchBase:
Founded in 1994, Spectrum Equity Investors have raised five investment funds representing $4 billion of private equity capital. They seek opportunities in businesses with common economic characteristics: recurring revenue, significant operating leverage, healthy operating margins, strong free cash flow, and franchise customer loyalty. Their investment activity is focused on business services, entertainment, communications, information services, media, and related growth sectors.


The companies in which they invest are leaders in their industries, have well-established business models, are run by experienced management teams, and have significant opportunities for future growth either organically, through acquisition, or both. Their investment activity includes private companies, public companies, and divisions of larger companies. They invest, either as a minority or majority investor, providing equity capital in a wide variety of transactions
Other investors in Ancestry.com include Sorenson Media, CMGI@Ventures and EsNet Group. See paidContent.org.

Genealogy's Star among MyHeritage.com’s Top 100 Genealogy Sites

I have been having an interesting conversation with the representatives of MyHeritage.com. As you can see from the badge, Genealogy's Star was selected among the top 100 genealogy sites in the world. If you were to go back in my archives, you would find that I have been pretty critical of MyHeritage.com in the past. Interestingly, they asked me in advance if I would display a badge on my blog. Because of my past negative experience, I hesitated for about a month before accepting. The main reason I accepted was that despite some negative aspects, their support and response to problems or criticism is fabulous. After searching the web for comments, I found that in almost every case where a customer or potential customer expressed dissatisfaction, MyHeritage.com immediately responded, at length, with a logical and reasoned explanation.

You may not agree with all of their policies, but you have to admit that global support at that level is very rare these days. Here is their comment about how they selected the top 100:
As mentioned here, recently at MyHeritage.com we've been scanning the web, evaluating content, and identifying some of the best genealogy sites on the internet right now. We put a focus on finding hidden gems in the community, so there's a good chance that some of these are sites you won't have seen before. It's a testament to the vibrancy of the online genealogy community that even this selection of 100 sites had to leave out a lot of quality content. Nevertheless, these are the 100 we came up with, presented in alphabetical order. We hope you enjoy reading them!
Interestingly, on another note, in the middle of writing this post, Google updated the Blogger program and all the menu items and selections changed. Time marches on and so does Google.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Official Google Blog: Giving a voice to more languages on Google Translate

Giving a voice to more languages on Google Translate. In recent post, Google announced the addition of eSpeak to its Google Translate program. By integrating eSpeak, Google added the capability of text-to-speech functionality for Afrikaans, Albanian, Catalan, Chinese (Mandarin), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Latvian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, Vietnamese and Welsh.

Google Translate has continued to improve over the past few months.

Doing Research in Real Time

In a presentation given by FamilySearch staff "Doing Research in Real Time-An Exhilarating Collaboration Experience!" (F308), at the National Genealogical Society 2010 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. , presented by Alan E. Mann, AG®, Robert Raymond, and David E. Rencher, AG®, CGSM, FIGRS, FUGA, the presenters outlined suggested tools for real-time collaboration. This presentation has now been incorporated into the FamilySearch Research Wiki.

Online collaboration has various levels of participation. At its most intensive, we now use Google Talk to do video conferencing. Depending on the speed of the various connections, you can carry on a conversation in real-time and both sides of the conversation can view the other. Many years ago, the phone companies (with a lot of articles in Popular Science magazine) touted the possibility of video phones. Now, with an very inexpensive video cam (or camera) and free software, the video phone is a reality. The FamilySearch team did not discuss this option, but left open this possibility.

We use three different programs, Google Talk, mentioned above, AOL Instant Messenger and iChat with our Macs. iChat is by far the best for the simple reason that you can carry on four simultaneous conversations, but all three do a reasonably good job of keep with with family and aiding in research.

Almost all of the programs listed by the FamilySearch team, require both parties to have the same set of software tools. In other words, if you want to use Google Docs for collaboration, all of the parties to the collaboration have to have the same software installed on their computers. One limitation not mentioned by the team is the problem of working with less sophisticated users who may not be able to install the programs, much less use them effectively. The whole idea of online collaboration works wonderfully with a group of highly technical participants but bogs down considerably when you have to explain how to use the word processor or even how to connect with Facebook.

I am also disappointed that the FamilySearch team did not include WeRelate.org in their list of collaborative tools. Quoting from a recent article on WeRelate by Jrich, "As a user, what strikes me as different from this typical behavior, in regards to WeRelate, is that WeRelate is not about your genealogy. Even your ancestors that happen to be in WeRelate aren't about you, they are about reaching a consensus about what was. You have no more right or authority in regards to that page than someone who might even be a non-descendant."

Although I might have said this differently, I think that this summarizes the essence of online real-time collaboration. It isn't about you, it is about the information and reaching a consensus.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Google Chrome vs. Firefox -- a genealogist's perspective

With a few stellar exceptions, most of the genealogists I know are far more interested in genealogy than they are in technology per se. Since both avocations take a great deal of time, it is not surprising that they would make decisions more in favor of doing genealogy than tinkering around with the newest technological whiz bang. Some times I think my brain is going explode trying to keep up even partially to both areas. There is a major area of overlap. Genealogy is rapidly becoming more and more technology based.

Among genealogists, even those who are comfortable using newer technology, there is a tendency to be very cautiously conservative. I know a significant number of genealogists who are still using Windows 95 or perhaps Windows 98. It is not unusual for me to discuss genealogy with someone who is running PAF 5.2 on a Pentium 2 computer. So when I get into a discussion about web browsers, the majority of people I talk to are not even aware that there is a choice. They use Internet Explorer because it came with their computer. Without getting into the argument about Microsoft's bundling of software, chances are, that the average genealogist is using Explorer.

In discussing this with many of my compatriots, I almost universally get the reaction that they didn't even know that there was an alternative and they are not much interested in changing. But here it goes anyway. You will immediately notice that I do not compare either Firefox or Chrome to Internet Explorer. Mainly for the reason that I do not use Internet Explorer at all on personal computers. I do however, use it almost every day at work, at the Mesa Regional Family History Center and on almost everyone else's computers.

This is an interesting fact because some statistics show Firefox with almost 50% of the web use. While other statistics show Explorer use at over 50%. If you look around for a while you find that the most believable statistics show Internet Explorer with about 60% of the web browser use and Firefox a distant second at about 24%. The only other major web browsers with a significant market penetration are Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari.

I have used Firefox for many years for a long list of reasons, most of which have to do with reliability and the fact that it is more resistant to malware and viruses. I routinely use Safari on my iMacs, because until Apple converted to Intel chips, Firefox did not run as well on the Mac computers. Chrome, introduced in 2008, has steadily increased its market share, apparently mostly at Explorer's expense.

Recently Chrome was updated to version 5. With this recent upgrade, I have been comparing Chrome to Firefox. It is hard to say which of the two browsers is really better. Both have a ton of add-on apps and special features. When configured with iGoogle, both look almost the same and operate in a very similar fashion. On my computer, using a cable Internet provider, there is almost no appreciable difference in speed between the two, although Chrome load slightly quicker. Both are to the point that they appear to blink into existence. However, if you load up iGoogle with lots of slow apps, Firefox really starts to slow down. Whereas, Google knows Google and they have apparently taken pains too optimize the use of Google apps, as could only be expected.

I see very little difference in the online experience. If you go online to look for reviews, you might want to check the date. Even a review six months ago is not going to reflect the current versions of either browser. For example, a review of Chrome written in February of this year refers to version 4 not the current version 5. It is also very difficult to separate real reviews from Microsoft or Google bashers.

What it seems to me to boil down to is that most technologically savvy people switch from using Internet Explorer (unless they work for Microsoft). Presently, the choice becomes one of personal preference. The present version of Chrome is a huge improvement over the first releases. If it continues to get better at the a similar rate, it will like become more appealing than Firefox. Since both are free, it is anyone's guess how the usage ratings will come out. It is a sure thing however, that both will continue to take market share from Microsoft, unless Microsoft does something really spectacular.

Now, what about the genealogists who are running Windows 98 on a 486 or Pentium 2? Don't bother changing. One of the reasons I switched back to Mac from my PC was the fact that iGoogle would not run at all on my slower older machine. It was taking anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes to load my standard page. Now with my iMac, the same page takes less time than I can efficiently measure. It is up in blink of an eye. If you do have a newer very fast computer, then by all means download Firefox and Chrome and have a look at both. Both will import all of your existing bookmarks so you don't lose anything by trying them out.