Category Archives: Software

Google PhotoScan – a genealogists best friend?

google-photo-scan

Google has introduced a new app for both Android and iPhone for scanning printed photos. You can even photograph pictures in glass frames and it will remove the glare.

They’ve put out an amusing video to explain how it works:

I’ve had reservations in the past about phone-based scanning apps for genealogy purposes, especially those that try to scan more than one photo at once (such as a page of photos in an album). My primary concern was that by scanning multiple photos in a single picture, you are drastically reducing the resolution of the photos. Google PhotoScan, however, seems to go in the opposite direction, letting you take multiple photos with your phone to construct a single hi-res glare-free version of the photo you are scanning. This seems more in the right direction.

One problem genealogists run into is finding and copying family photos. Sometimes they’re sitting in one’s attic in a box, but many times they’re sitting in someone else’s attic, or some distant cousin’s photo album. This is the kind of problem that has been addressed by products like the Flip-Pal mobile scanner in the past, although this app is probably easier to use and in many cases will probably return a better result. There are still some cases where a flatbed scanner will probably return a better result, but the advanced algorithms used by this app will be able to get better results most of the time (especially for pictures behind glass).

I haven’t had a chance to test out the app yet, but I welcome comments by others who have, and I will add my own observations once I’ve had a chance to kick the tires.

Is a third option for transitioning from FTM on the horizon?

I know the transition from FTM doesn’t fall within the primary purpose of this blog, but I’ve always covered the technology of genealogy, and I think the FTM transition has been an important story in genealogy, and has a lot of interesting implications.

I previously reported on the retirement of FTM, what options were out there for transitioning away from FTM, and most recently about Ancestry’s selling of FTM to a third party (Software MacKiev) and licensing it’s APIs to another company (RootsMagic).

In my earliest post on the topic of FTM’s retirement, I mentioned a discontinued product called AncestorSync that had been created to move data between different genealogy programs and services. The need for something like AncestorSync existed (and still exists) because the only way to transfer data between genealogy programs and services has been to use a GEDCOM file, whose standard was last updated back in 1999. GEDCOM hasn’t evolved with genealogy programs, and because of that it cannot transfer everything we collect in our genealogy programs to another program or service without losing some data. Not every program or service interprets GEDCOM the same way either, which leads to other programs like data corruption.

This is why the FTM transition is so interesting. As if to prove how big of a problem all of the above is, we’ve seen multiple genealogy software companies modify their programs to better import GEDCOM files from FTM. So far GEDCOM is the only option available, but by the end of the year there will be the two options I recently mentioned – an updated FTM under new ownership, and a version of RootsMagic that can import FTM files directly. That two companies other than Ancestry will now have software capable of importing FTM files directly, is only because Ancestry no longer views these companies as competitors. Up until now, it wasn’t in Ancestry’s interest to allow any third-party company to be able to read the FTM file format other than themselves.

So we know have two groups of options for former FTM users. We have a slew of genealogy software companies that have updated their programs to better import FTM-generated GEDCOM files, and we have a second smaller group (pair) of companies that will be able to read FTM files directly. That brings us to the third possible option, which I mentioned way back in December, and again just up above – AncestorSync. Years ago when AncestorSync was being introduced I happened to meet the CTO of the company producing it, Dovy Paukstys. We were at a genealogy conference, and he was showing off his product. When FTM made their announcement, I fired off a tweet to Dovy, wondering if AncestorSync might be resurrected. AncestorSync fell off the radar two years ago, and Dovy had moved on to other things, but I figured he would know what happened to the technology.

Back in December I hadn’t heard a response, and didn’t think much about it until a couple of days ago when Dovy finally responded:

dovy tweet
So it seems there might now be another option for FTM users on the way. The goal of AncestorSync, as I recall, was to allow the transfer of data between programs and services while retaining all the information. AncestorSync had modules for each program or service it supposed, and allowed you to move data around between the different modules. Initially the services and programs supported included Geni, MyHeritage, FamilySearch,  ourFamilyology, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, PAF, Ancestral Quest and FTM. I do remember work was underway on The Master Genealogist (since discontinued) and MacFamilyTree.

Of course, if a new standard were to emerge to replace GEDCOM, a program like AncestorSync wouldn’t be necessary. As efforts like GEDCOM X and FHISO haven’t yet managed to come up with a format that can handle better interchange of data and get it accepted by the genealogy software ecosystem, AncestorSync might yet fill the void.

Ancestry comes up with solutions for FTM users

I previously mentioned the cancelation of Ancestry’s Family Tree Maker (FTM) software, and also wrote about options for transitioning to other programs for FTM users. One of the things that surprised me was how Ancestry had not seemed to think about the users at all and how they would move on beyond FTM. They had long claimed that FTM was the most popular desktop genealogy software, and yet they’d let this large user base to drift in the wind, so to speak. The right way to have done it would have been to figure out a transition plan, found a buyer for the program, or opened up their APIs to other programs, etc. all before getting out of the desktop software business.

In my original post, I hoped they would come up with solutions in the year between their announcement and the final discontinuation of the product. It seems that now they have. It would have been better to have done this before their announcement, but at least they’ve done it.

Ancestry announced on their blog that they’ve come up with two official transition options for FTM users.

FTM_2x
Now officially Software MacKiev Family Tree Maker
The first solution is that they’ve sold the actual FTM program to Software MacKiev, who had already been producing the Mac version of FTM for several years. Now they will be responsible for both the Mac and Windows version of the program. Software MacKiev is a well-established software developer from the Ukraine, with offices in Boston, MA as well. Software MacKiev is known for producing the current Mac versions of some early software programs like The Print Shop (originally published on the Apple II) and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (originally on DOS).

Ancestry-New-Leaf
RootsMagic’s announcement about working with Ancestry
The second solution is that they’ve allowed a third-party genealogy software company, RootsMagic, to access the same APIs as FTM. This means that the RootsMagic program will be able to search Ancestry.com, get Ancestry hints, sync data with trees on Ancestry.com, and perhaps most importantly for FTM users, will be able to directly import FTM files instead of needing to export first to a GEDCOM file. While RootMagic does mention syncing with Ancestry, they have specifically left out Ancestry’s trademarked term TreeSync. This makes me wonder if they will be able to sync in the same way that FTM syncs, or if they will need to upload the entire tree each time there is a change.

It remains to be seen if Ancestry plans to offer access to their APIs to other genealogy software companies. In my post on transitioning from FTM, I listed eight different desktop genealogy programs, all that could potentially partner with Ancestry for the same access, with the exception of Family Tree Builder, from MyHeritage. It wouldn’t make sense for Ancestry to work with MyHeritage since it is one of Ancestry’s major competitors in both online trees and more importantly online research. I suspect Ancestry will probably not add new partners this year. They’ve already said RootsMagic will support Ancestry by the end of the year, and I imagine they want to get that working well before adding new partners.

The real question going forward is how two third-party companies are going to move forward with accessing what were previously private Ancestry APIs. Software MacKiev has already worked with these APIs, so they’re ahead of the game. What happens when one company or the other needs a change in the API? or when Ancestry changes something that breaks an API? What about when Ancestry adds a new feature that would be helpful if accessed via the APIs – will Ancestry be adding it to the API? Ideally all three companies (Ancestry, Software MacKiev and Rootsmagic) have some kind of committee in place to handle these issues. If Ancestry expands access to their APIs to more companies, these issues will only become more complex, so I hope they’ve figured out a plan for these issues already.

So thank you Ancestry for coming up with solutions for your FTM users. Yes, it would have been better to do this before your announcement in December, but better late than never.