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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Perfect Family Tree

I've talked before about how I think there needs to be more semantic standards adoption in Genealogy. I've been thinking a lot about what that would look like. Here are the key factors I think the perfect "Family Tree" would include:


  • Each individual has their own, unique URL. In a sense, this would give the dead identity.
  • Individual pages should be wikis, ie, anyone can edit them, and they can add *anything* to the page (not a pre-defined list of fields). A predefined list of fields can be defined through semantic markup though, which should aid search. There could be discussion pages for each individual similar to wikipedia for any disagreements.
  • Each individual page lists parents and siblings and other relationships through simple, standardized markup such as FOAF or XFN
  • Each "owner" should own an additional "family tree" index. This is where all the relationships between individuals are mapped out. A simple site map syntax ought to solve this (which could be organized in a pretty tree like format through CSS if you chose). Individuals in that tree ought to be able to identify their place in the tree.
  • It should be 100% open (perhaps with privacy controls just for living individuals - still need to work that one out, but we already have many examples to learn from)
  • The system hosting the "family tree" should be 100% open source - this ensures that anyone else who wants to host a compatible system can host it with no worries. I foresee many of these, all compatible, federated, and individuals and family trees linking across multiple domains and hosting environments. I'd like to host one of these for my extended family, for instance, where we can store all the stories and family histories we've archived over the years - others could easily contribute.
  • Content within each individual page (for dead individuals, at least) should be licensable according to specified, open licenses, similar to Flickr.
  • The system hosting should detect when there are other duplicates on the web - perhaps Google could provide an API off their index to make this easy (or maybe FamilySearch.org could do something like this). It should automatically flag records that are potential duplicates and share where the duplicate records are.
  • If I want to host my own family tree, I should have the option to download my family tree from any system, and be given all the files necessary to host my own system on my own servers for others to access. It would work exactly the same as all the other systems, be 100% compatible with all the other systems, and ideally, if I agree another record is correct, ought to link to records on other systems when I don't need to host the data myself (to avoid duplicate records if I don't want them).
I think with all these factors in place, a fully distributable, 100% owned by the community, system can be created to host genealogy data. No one organization ever has to own the data, and anyone who wants to own their own piece of the puzzle can take it, free of charge. Any search engine on the planet can help index this data. It's the essence of open.

So who will be the first to create it? Or maybe someone wants to fund it/donate and I'll hire the developers?

These opinions are obviously my own and not necessarily those of my employer.

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