Exciting times for family history technology
09 February 2007 00:38
FHT is coming up so I've started thinking more about family history and technology. I don't find near enough time these days to spend on family history (a matter of many very good things to do, with precious little time for each). Last year at about this time, I was in an excited frenzy about all the possible ways that the technologies of Web 2.0 could be applied to family history work. This year my enthusiasm is tempered, but I'm still excited about what I see happening. I believe the next 5-10 years will completely change the way we look at doing family history work.
I recently attended one of the tech talks put on by the LDS church. For me the most exciting session was the one on family history. The presenters, Gordon Clarke and Kevin Ward, spoke about the major projects underway in the Family History department of the church, including the new FamilySearch (formerly Family Search Family Tree), the digitization and online delivery of scanned microfilm records from the Granite Mountain Vault, and a personal research assistant. Brother Clarke expressed great confidence that we would see the new Family Search system released this year (probably well before the end of the year) The church is now underway on beta 2 for that project.
The church is also now in the design stages of a new open-source personal record manager that will interface with the new system and will perhaps take the role that PAF plays now. They're early enough in the project that the development language is still undecided. Brother Ward asked what language we would prefer. I suggested Perl, others suggested Ruby or Python. His reaction to these suggestions ("scripting languages...") suggested that he had other things in mind (probably C#, C++ or Java), but afterwards I spoke with him and expressed my opinion that if the code were in one of these "scripting languages", the church might find more individuals willing to work on the project, as Ruby, Perl, and Python would be more "approachable" than languages like C#, C++, or Java. I suggested that if nothing else, a plugin system with bindings available for each of these "scripting languages", would certainly add to the interest in the project. He seemed to agree on that.
Perhaps the most exciting news was that the new Family Search system and the digital image delivery system will have web service APIs available for them. Ultimately (not likely to happen this year though) the church hopes to be able to have us link these digitized images as source material into the new FamilySearch trees.
This means all the personal record manager vendors have probably been scrambling to make sure that when the new system goes live their software will be able to interface with it. The folks who make PAF Insight will have a much easier job :-). But beyond the "big" vendors, I see this as a huge win for the "little guy" (like me) who just has a personal itch to scratch, and with the data available via APIs the sky's the limit as to what can be done.
There's lot's more I'd like to blog about before FHT. Hopefully I can find some time to do so.
 I'll never view Perl as just a "scripting language" after hearing Andy Lester's lighting talk at OSCON 2006 about why Perl isn't just a "scripting language" (it has objects, inheritance, polymorphism, introspection, closures, and on and on and on...)"
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