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FHT follow up: an idea for a mobile genealogical application
18 March 2008 01:34

At the recent Family History Technology Workshop Paul Allen of World Vital Records gave the keynote over lunch. In his talk he suggested that we look to the newest technologies coming out today and think about what kind of genealogical applications will arise out of these platforms. Among others he mentioned the rise of social networks as platforms, as well as the incredible potential the mobile market will provide as it begins to really open up. (When, oh when will I be able to write Perl code for my phone???)

One thought that came to me tonight was an idea for a mobile application that could potentially aid in family history research by putting you in contact with those of your relatives whom you may not even realize are relatives. The application would work like this. Each user of the application would upload to their device some form of genetic information--the same kind of info you get back from the DNA tests currently used in family history research. As your mobile device comes into proximity of other mobile devices belonging to users who are also using this application, it would check the markers in your DNA with those of the mobile owners around you to find which, if any of the individuals you are physically close to most likely share a common ancestor, and how far back that ancestor would likely be. You would get an alert indicating that you were near someone with similar DNA markers.

The implications of such an app are both intriguing and spooky all at the same time. There are obviously privacy and other security issues related to going around with your personal DNA markers displayed like a virtual name badge. What kind of personal information (aside from being able to discern the likelihood of a common ancestor) is also available from such a DNA fingerprint?

What other family-history-centric apps will we see arising from these platforms? What will be the next platforms? What will be the next layer in the stack? One question Paul raised that has had me thinking is how do we use these technologies and platforms to engage the rising generation in family history? Are there ways we can harness these technologies so that the side-effects of everyday interaction with technology can provide beneficial information to family history research?

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Daniel Hanks

I'm a system administrator working for Omniture

Interested in

digital archival
digital libraries
web applications
web infrastructure
distributed storage

among other things . . .


Pamela Hanks

is an excellent storyteller.

(She also happens to be my wife :-)

A storyteller makes a wonderful and unique addition to family, school, church or other group events. Schedule her for your next gathering.
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