RootsTech 2014

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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What about software reviews? Genealogy or otherwise

Many years ago, I read a popular book called How to Win Friends and Influence People. (Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981). Conspicuously absent from that book was the practice of doing software reviews. This is especially true with genealogy software reviews. In my opinion, doing reviews was a way to lose friends and make nearly the entire genealogical community upset in one way or another. Now I have to admit, I much admire my friend, Randy Seaver in his Genea-Musings blog where he displays his extreme technical ability to analyze programs and meticulously go through each of the features. You never know, I may change my mind tomorrow and start doing the same kinds of analysis. But this is not likely.

My concern about software reviews for genealogy programs obviously does not extend to online programs especially those hosting family trees. Whether any particular program is good or bad or works for any particular purpose is ultimately decided in the competitive marketplace. Hundreds of genealogy programs have come and gone over the years. One of the most popular programs of all time was Personal Ancestral File. Despite its popularity, or perhaps as a result of its popularity, the program was discontinued in 2002. Amazingly, there are still huge numbers of genealogists using this program and I find references recommending the program in newsletters, blog posts and comments made by volunteers at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. My point is that purchasing software for your own computer is sometimes based on irrational behavior.

If I chose to review any particular genealogy software program available today and set aside my rule against software reviews, I am afraid I would make that program appeared be totally worthless and poorly designed. I can tell you what is wrong specifically with every single software program I use.

When I buy a product online or go looking for a product in a store, I will almost always read the online reviews. This is especially true if I am purchasing the product for the first time. Now, if I read and use reviews why don't I write them myself? I have actually struggled with this question for a really long time. If you are a blogger and get to a certain level of market awareness with your blog, you will always have people coming to you for endorsements of their programs or products. Some appreciate a mention of the product. Others offer free versions of the programs or product hoping that you will say something positive or indicate that you use the program. So what is the difference between mentioning a program in a blog post and writing a software review? Maybe I need to think through the answer to that question more carefully than I have in the past.

 The real reason why I have avoided specific genealogy software reviews is pretty simple. I like all the programs and I think that each program has positive features that make it a desirable product. This goes back to my comment above about my ability to pick the program to death. People are still using Personal Ancestral File because they like the program and are comfortable with it. I think you should choose a program on the same basis: you like the program and are comfortable with it. If everyone followed my personal preferences, we would all be driving Prius automobiles. I have tried to pick Personal Ancestral File to death and have had little or no effect on the people who continue to use the program.

Now why do I discuss online programs? Here the answer is a little more complicated. If I were a normal software user, which I am not, I would choose a program and use it almost exclusively. Online programs are not exclusive; they do not operate under the same rules as do local database programs. You may not see the distinction but I think the distinction is very important. Perhaps an extension of my example of the Prius automobile would help explain my position. If I had unlimited funds I would probably own a dozen different types of cars and trucks. Would I go online and promote one model or manufacturer over another? Probably not, for the same reason that I don't do software reviews. At the same time, would I go online and write about the road system or traffic laws or any other subject having to do with the operation of motor vehicles? Maybe. We all have equal access to and can use the online services such as Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org or MyHeritage.com because their content is easily distinguishable. Whether you like Ancestry.com or not as nothing to do with its utility as a online's resource. Personal preference is a huge factor in purchasing an individual desktop computer program.

So I stay away from recommending one software product over another. I do appreciate new innovations and features that are valuable. I will continue to mention products I think should have your consideration. I will not sit down and do a point by point "software review" at this time. Unless I change my mind.

 This is the kind of topic that would be easier to explain in person than it is in writing.

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