Technology

A Glimpse at BillionGraves.com

Today I learned of a new iPhone app and service called BillionGraves.com.  I don’t have an iPhone, but I am excited by the potential.  My first reaction was “oh no – we already have Find-A-Grave. Why would they compete with them?”  But, in looking at the BillionGraves site, the function is quite different and is really meant to cater to smartphone users – something that Find-A-Grave has not yet aggressively done.

Almost a year ago I blogged a wishlist for what I wanted in a potential Find-A-Grave smartphone app. And, there is already an independently developed app to access Find-A-Grave data.  From the looks of it, BillionGraves is meant to make it easy to take a picture when in a cemetery and upload it.  Find-A-Grave does not support this and the app is okay, but doesn’t quite meet my interests.

What I like about BillionGraves:

  • even w/o the app, I can go online and transcribe photos that others have uploaded. can you say crowdsourcing?  the transcription process is very easy
  • each tombstone picture can be edited by anyone. i like this though I can also see potential problems.
  • automatic GPS integration from phone coordinates.  my problem is my Samsung Fascinate phone is notorious for incorrect GPS.
  • the interface is simple – easy to click around

What could be better:

  • looks like you have to physically be in a cemetery to upload pics; can’t upload pics you already have or someone else may send you for posting
  • because the images can be edited by anyone a revision history and the ability to see who worked on a record would be nice
  • a dashboard is offered for you when you login, but no one else can see your dashboard
  • info is JUST the picture. can’t add supplemental info like you can at Find-A-Grave or link family relationships
  • search options should be enhanced to provide more refined combinations (like person + location)
  • city names are provided for cemetery info, but not the counties – major omission if you ask me. In a Search you can specify county, but if you end up on the cemetery page in another way you won’t immediately know the county
  • it’s not clear to me how they will avoid duplicate entries. this will be important to do.
  • the company does not have a social media presence? they do have a blog, but it’s not linked to the BillionGraves site — both of these issues need to be remedied soon
  • they could take a few more suggestions from my blog post aforementioned about features in incorporate 🙂

This endeavor is of course new so I do expect they will continue to develop it.   However, even as is, it will be a useful complement to Find-A-Grave and I can see myself using both on a regular basis.   Very cool.

A.C. Ivory posted on his blog about it and mentioned he would post more for his Mobile Monday posts. I hope he shares his experience actually using the app in the field!

 

I Created an iPhone App!

I just can’t do anything with it.

Inspired by RootsTech I finally decided to further investigate something I’ve been curious about – how to go about creating apps for Android & iPhone.   I am so not a programmer/developer but I’ve heard of programs that allow non-developers to create apps and tried a few of them.   What type of app was I going for? An app to consolidate the feeds I have listed for the NCGenWeb Project on blogs/twitter/facebook accounts relative to North Carolina genealogy – the NCGenealogy 2.0 page.

Round 1:  Android App Inventor

As much as I love Android/Google, even their App Inventor program built for non-developers is not the easiest thing to get going with.   After spending an hour trying to get set-up, I still couldn’t use it – seems I am getting an error code for something going wrong with my computer.  I may try again later.

Round 2: iSites

After reviewing a list of potential sites for app development, I created an account with iSites.  For their most basic account they offer a 30 day free trial. I had to give my credit card info for the trial.  The process to create the app is done via a nice web interface and it was easy to add to it.  It turns out though that with the basic plan, only one RSS feed can be pulled into the app.  I’m aiming for multiple feeds.  Also, despite the site saying I could preview the Android version of the app, I could not figure it out. Also, iSites apps don’t work on the iPad and since I don’t have an iPhone, I couldn’t try it in real life.

Here are some screenshots of the app I made with iSites.  It shows only the feeds from the NCGenWeb Blog.

Front page of the NCGenWeb Blog feed

one blog entry from the NCGenWeb blog

ability to post to social network

Overall, I like this, but I really needed to be able to integrate multiple feeds and I was not willing to pay the $100 or so just for playing around.  I will be canceling my iSites trial tomorrow.

Round 3: appMakr

AppMakr looked promising b/c the market their app development as free.  This is good since many other companies charge anywhere from $100-$1000 and possibly monthly hosting fees.  Their website was also easy to use – they offered many more customization options than iSites.  Also, their app for the iOS operating system also works on iPads (just have to use the 2x magnification setting).

To my joy I could also integrate multiple RSS feeds! I could also create an app icon, a welcome splash screen, a custom header, and navigation icons across the bottom of the app.  I was impressed by all the options.  At the end of the app development process, AppMakr also rates the quality of your app and tells you how likely it is to be (or not to be) accepted by the Apple Store.  All this with no charges by AppMakr.  Here are screenshots from the app I created with them:

app icon

splash screen i created

feeds from county site category. i was able to create 5 different categories.

a specific blog post. notice the topic!

sharing options

I was very pleased with this and was now ready to figure out how to test it out.  Well, turns out the part that is not free in all this is the registration with Apple in order to develop apps; $99 fee.  This is not a requirement of AppMakr, but a requirement by Apple.  Again, I was not willing to pay this just to play around.  I did like the process though — and AppMakr provides some ability to test the app interactively online – you can do so at http://appma.kr/f6Plz0.

If I were developing an app for real, I would probably go with AppMakr.  Despite the fact that I can’t offer it for *real,* I am excited by the possibilities.  $100 and any organization/website/etc. could have an iOS app.  I do hope to further explore the Android development later on.  This is clearly a case where I could have benefited from a RootsTech class; perhaps Rob Fotheringham’s class on mobile development (TC 068)?

Any takers on creating apps like this??  As I worked through this example, a perfect example came to mind of an app I’d love to see — one for Geneabloggers.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Educause Conference 2011

Yesterday I posted details on how to follow along to the Tools of Change in Publishing conference hosted by O’Reilly Media.  Books + technology is their focus.

Well, I realized last night that there is another conference I wish to keep my eye on – Educause.  This group is about Education + technology.

EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.

In my professional work I try to keep up with what is going on with Educause as I do have a strong education component to what I do.  However, if you are a genealogist with education responsibilities, you may be interested in this event also.

Keynote speakers look interesting.  There’s even a BYU person represented, and a Google exec.

How to follow along?

  • Twitter hash tag is #eli2011.  Add it to your Twitter saved searches
  • Educause Facebook page – “Like” them and it will show up in your news feed
  • Online Meeting — they offer a formal online package, but it is rather expensive.  Almost $800 if you’re not a member! It does not seem like you can follow along online otherwise.
  • Second Life — ultimate coolness here! You can listen to the speakers online in Second Life via the University of Wisconsin at Milwaulkee’s SL site.  Though I have to work, I will try to venture in during my lunch break and see what’s going on.

As an interesting aside, check out their 7 Thing series. Each of these publications are available in ePub formats so can be added to ebook devices such as the Nook & iPad (sorry — Kindle does not do ePub).

Do you see a trend here with me???  🙂  In any case, if you are a genealogy educator, you may wish to check it out!

Tools of Change in Publishing Conference

Over the weekend, many of us were busy online tweeting & blogging about (as well as following along) to all the events at RootsTech.  I personally spent hours reading about all the great things going on.

On Tuesday, another conference starts that some of my geneabuddies & library friends may be interested in – the Tools of Change for Publishing Conference.

Sponsored by O’Reilly, the conference explores the latest and greatest in publishing.  Topics will span books in print, ebooks, cloud computing, online services such as GoodReads  & LibraryThing and more.  Books + Technology is the name of this game.

This is the 5th annual conference and will be held February 14th-16th in New York.  How can you at home follow along?

  • Live streams of the keynotes – 13 presentations!! the speeches run from 8:45am-6pm. Best of all, all of them will be made available via YouTube or podcast subscription for later viewing.  Since I work full-time, I’ll be making use of the YouTube accessibility.  I am particularly interested in a talk on eReading Survey results and another on creating apps.  Video from the 2010 conference is also available online.
  • TOC Twitter account – the official Twitter feed for the conference
  • The Twitter hashtag — is #toccon.  Of course I’ve already added this to my list of saved searches. You should too.
  • TOC Facebook Page – “Like” it to get updates in your news feed
  • TOC Social Page – consolidates the social activity around the ‘net.

This is a conference from the publishing industry so there will be that “bent”, but overall it will still be fun & informational to follow along with this conference.   As I draw inferences for both my professional position as well as my genealogy hobby I’ll share as appropriate.  Who else is with me?  🙂

Flipboard for Genealogy

Do you have an iPad? Do you use Flipboard? If not, you are missing out!  Flipboard turns content from various resources from basic streams into a visual smorgasbord.

Today, I realized I should add a section on my Flipboard for showing my @taneya/genealogy list I have through Twitter.  How cool is this?

Browsing is as simple as turning the pages 🙂   For more info on Flipboard, visit their site.

2011 Blog Design

Happy New Year everyone!  If you read this in a feed reader – click through – my blog has a new look.

For my 1st post of the 2011,  I am sharing my new blog design.  In January 2010 I also updated the look of my blog.  At the time, I was aiming for a more structured & clean-cut look along a 3-column template so I could share more on the sidelines of the blog.  At that time I chose to use the WordPress theme “Parchment Theme” by wpthemedesigner.com.   My genealogy blog used to look more or less like this:

screenshot of my genealogy blog in 2010

However, as the year went on, I realized that the middle column was a bit too narrow for my tastes — I tended to write longer blog posts and I felt as they went down the page forever.  Also, I like to change so a few days ago I looked around for a new theme and found my current one.  This time,  I’ve chosen OneRoom 1.0 by Jeremie Tisseau.

I particularly liked the colors in this theme and that I still have 3 columns but the middle column is a little wider.  Also, I feel like I didn’t really need as much info in the sidebars as I had so I reduced that as well.  Within 30 minutes of choosing the theme I had it up and running.  This is due to the flexibility of WordPress.  I couldn’t be happier.

I also updated a couple of aspects of the blog:

  • I expanded my ABOUT page — wanted it to look more *professional* and give a better picture of the scope of my genealogy activities.
  • Added a SURNAMES page – still need to add to it, but it should be helpful to anyone who visits
  • I kept my  “Connect w/ Me” icons and my cartoon avatar. I love those so much.
  • I also kept the feed of my posts from all the other blogs I have – all so you can enjoy more of me

I still need to make a few tweaks here and there but overall, I hope you like the new look!  Now, if I could update my home as quickly as I can update the blog…..

What the Hashtag?! RootsTech Version

The upcoming RootsTech conference is beginning to get blogged & tweeted about quite a bit.  Official RootsTech bloggers have been announced and I’m looking forward to following along in the conversation.   However, what do I do when I have to work all day and can’t follow along the Twitter feed like I hope? I use WhattheHashTag?!.

The site is nice because it allows you to visualize the Twitter activity around the use of any hashtag.

You can follow along in several ways:

  • visit the page to see the tweets and those that tweet most often about it (UPDATE — the official hashtag was announced on 1/7/11 and is #rootstech11 — therefore, see http://wthashtag.com/Rootstech11 instead)
  • subscribe to the RSS feed (updated subscribe link here)
  • write your own tweet directly from the page
  • generate a day & time-stamped transcript of the twitter activity (example here)
  • the page is a wiki page, so anyone can edit and refine it

Tonight, I went to the site to see if one had been set-up for RootsTech and it had not.   Anyone can create a hashtag archive so after logging in, I created one.  Very easy to accomplish.  Here is some data from the past few days already: you can see the top contributors and which days have more tweets than others.

What makes this site unique is that it creates an archive.  Twitter itself does not allow you to search for hashtags older than a set time period, but with WhatTheHashTag?! you can go back and see the history.  For example, my professional organization – the Medical Library Association, had a conference in May.  The history of our #mla2010 hashtag is not available anymore on Twitter, but an archived transcript can be generated at WhatTheHashTag?!.

My RootsTech Request

The first annual RootsTech conference is scheduled to take place February 10-12, 2011 in Salt Lake City.   The conference is sponsored by multiple partners, including Brigham Young University, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch,  Federation of Genealogical Societies and more.   As described on the website, the conference

will be a gathering of both family history enthusiasts and technologists from around the world. Genealogy hobbyists and professionals alike will discover new and emerging technologies that will improve and simplify their activities. At the same time, technology providers will enjoy a rare, face‐to‐face opportunity to interact with family history enthusiasts to better understand their needs.

I am quite excited by this conference.   I took a look at the planned sessions for the three days and practically drooled.  However,  there is just one problem — I can’t go!

I’ve blogged before about my desire to see more online conference attendance opportunities for genealogy gatherings and in my mind, this particular conference would be a perfect testbed.  For those of us that can’t attend, why not offer videos of some of the presentations (or all of them!).  The conference registration fee is $99 – which is great, but I’d gladly pay almost this much to be able to view the content online – even if a few days after the fact.

This model has been successfully in other domains.  For example, WordPress regularly films their presentations from WordCamp gatherings and posts them online at WordPress.tv — sometimes, presentations are really short – 5 minutes or so… sometimes they are longer.

This is a gathering of technology minded individuals.  I’m sure they can pull off an experiment of this concept!  If television shows like House can be filmed with a $2500 Digital SLR camera, then I’m sure this group of sponsors can afford a few of them for video recordings.  If 100 people signed up for $100 each to *virtually attend* the conference, then the money for the equipment would be easily recouped. Furthermore, special subscriptions could be sold to genealogy societies for group showings.

Your thoughts?

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy – Week 22 (Part II) – Find-A-Grave

In my last post, I expressed my desire for a Find-A-Grave app for my smartphone and outlined several specific features I wished to see in the app.  After posting and sharing the link, I learned from Thomas that there was an ongoing discussion on the Find-A-Grave forums, and then someone posted a link to a beta version of an app in the Android Market. Sweet! I have an Android phone.

Eager to see how it works, I quickly installed it.   The app’s page has several screenshots that will allow you to see how it currently works and I see much promise.   It was released May 11, 2010 so is a very early version.  So far, it provides basic access to the data at the Find-A-Grave website, but it does not have any of the 7 functions I listed in my post.  To be fair though, it is clear from the current menus that many of these are planned, and I am excited!

Overall, the usability of the site is aligned with what I envisioned. It is fast, easy to use and instructions are clear.  I believe the developer is definitely heading in the right direction.  Now I just need to figure out a way to let the developer know of my blog post!

52 Weeks To Better Genealogy – Week 22 (Find-A-Grave)

A couple of months ago I read an article about a Vanderbilt Engineering student named Ben Gotow and his work developing iPhone apps.  He developed an iPhone app for artists that has sold more than 20,000 units to date, an app for a Vanderbilt informatics group that allows anesthesiologists to view what’s going on in various operating rooms from their iPhones, and considered another app that immediately caught my attention and sparked my thoughts on the topic of this blog post.  It’ s a blog post I’ve been bouncing around for a couple of months and this week’s prompt for Find-A-Grave gives me the perfect opportunity to present the idea.

What was that other app? The app that was mentioned that particularly caught my eye was described in the following manner in the article I read about him

Gotow hopes to develop an app that would allow users to point their phones at a building anywhere on Vanderbilt’s campus and receive information about what is going on inside as well as the building’s history.

When I read this sentence, I had an immediate realization at how cool something like this could be for a genealogical/historical researcher! Not only for Vanderbilt buildings, but if it were crowdsourced somehow or drew from Wikipedia for use from any location.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  Then, as I thought about its potential for use from any location, I realized that something like this could be useful for Find-A-Grave.  Imaging pointing your smartphone towards any cemetery and getting information about that cemetery?

I’m tweaking the original 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy prompt’s objective, but here are my thoughts on how a FindAGrave app could work:

  • it would use GPS coordinates and map data to show you what cemeteries are near you (a la FourSquare)
  • from the app, you’d retrieve the list of burials as noted in Find-A-Grave an easy-to-visualize method of knowing which ones have pictures or not.  The Find-A-Grave site uses a tombstone marker image to designate the availability of a tombstone photo so this could be the case as well for the app.
  • if there is not a tombstone marker for the grave it would allow you to click on a camera icon to launch your smartphone camera, take a picture and upload that pic to FindAGrave right away.   Find-A-Grave currently has a photo size restriction so ideally, the app would resize your photo since it will probably be much larger than the maximum image allowed
  • if there is not an entry for that burial, have a simple version of the form to add a new entry and then as above, add the picture of the tombstone.
  • Sign-in should be required to use the app so then it could keep track of the graves you added and/or took photos for so you can go back and enhance the data later if needed (ideally,  it would work in tandem w/ the Find-A-Grave website so you could manage the info online)
  • integration w/ other social sites — wouldn’t it be fun if you were in a cemetery and could tweet/Facebook  something like, “I just found my great-grandmother’s tombstone @ XYZ Cemetery!”  along w/ the picture?
  • a “check-in” feature (again, a la FourSquare or Waymarking) that would let you know what other people may have visited the cemetery (and or grave)?  this could possibly lead to connecting with other researchers with familial ties?
  • in June 2009 I posted my wish-list for the Find-A-Grave website — maybe the app could incorporate some of them?

Using an app like this while surveying, viewing a cemetery would be interesting.  It may extend the time needed to survey a cemetery, but with all the steps combined of taking a picture and uploading it to the site, it may in the end save time.  I’d love to try something like this out.   The argument could be made that since smartphones can render websites, the regular Find-A-Grave site could be used, but I personally find usability issues when using the regular site on my Android.  Either a specifically designed mobile version of the site or an app would be better from a  usability perspective.  It is time like these that I wish I were a programmer, or at least had enough money to hire a programmer.

Thanks for the inspiration Ben! Maybe I can get someone at Find-A-Grave, or someone with programming expertise to take this on.  I’d need a Droid version though.  🙂

Update 5/31 — Thomas tweeted a link to a forum discussion on an iPhone app for Find-A-Grave and I posted a comment there.  Also, I had another idea. Here’s the scenario:

Today I am visiting family in Indiana and I’m planning to go visit a cemetery.  Maybe a potential function of the app would be to provide me a % of tombstones photographed at cemeteries around me. I could target some of the cemeteries with fewer percentage of tombstones photographed to start with.  Recognizing that there may not be headstones for everyone listed at a particular cemetery, it would still be an interesting way to know how to best focus my efforts to help contribute to the site.

I also learned that there is a beta version of the app that was just released a couple of weeks ago. The site to learn more about it is here and you can see comments here.  I will do a blog post about it later.