Jun 082012

After RootsTech, I posted some of my concerns for the conversation that I hoped would develop between GEDCOM X and/or BetterGEDCOM and/or FHISO.  At the time GEDCOM X had just been officially announced by FamilySearch and FHISO (the FamilyHistory Information Standards Organiation), growing out of the BetterGEDCOM efforts, was newly formed.

My observations:  a) it is generally agreed that the GEDCOM standard for data communication has become fragmented over time and needs to be superseded;  b) BetterGEDCOM was established to further conversation about data communication across the broader genealogy community;  c) GEDCOM X was launched by FamilySearch to meet their on-going needs for data submission;  d) FHISO was established in recognition of the multiplicity of approaches to data communication within BetterGEDCOM and with the addition of GEDCOM X.   My basic concern in all of this was that one player (FamilySearch) “owned” the previous standard.  It was their standard and they abandoned it when it no longer served their needs.  FHISO presents a mechanism for a community-owned standard which can be adapted to meet changing needs of the broader genealogical community.

Of course, the basic question is whether FHISO can actually become the standard maintainer for the genealogical industry.  (I use the term “industry” rather than “community” because the standard has to be implemented by the genealogy vendors in order for it to become usable by genealogists and family historians.) In the absence of my blogging over the past two and a half months, I have noticed three events that I consider noteworthy with respect to FHISO and its capacity to function as a standard-setting and -maintaining organization:   1) a start-up grant from Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak’s Honoring Our Ancestors Genealogical Grants (Support from Megan  Smolenyak2 gives real credence to the FHISO effort);  2) an inaugural year financial pledge from Andrew G. Hatchett III (Hatchett is one of FHISO’s leaders);  and 3) Ancestry.com is becoming a founding member of FHISO (now FamilySearch is not the only 800 pound gorilla in the room).   Financial support from key players is significant for an organization’s establishment. Participation by Ancestry.com (with its 1.9 million subscribers) provides political clout.

GEDCOM X indicates that its intention “is to define a standard for modeling and exchanging the components of the research process that comprise the genealogical proof standard.”  They use Mark Tucker’s Genealogy Research Process Map as a graphical representation of the research process.  I find this approach to be encouraging. When I am at my best, I am shaping my genealogical research by the GPS.

Louis Kessler, developer of Behold, has given a cursory review of the GEDCOM X publicly released data format.  His primary concern is “that GEDCOM X will represent some of its data structures in very different ways than most genealogy programs…”  It is clear that significant changes will be made in the structure of genealogical data communication.  Whatever changes GEDCOM X institutes will obviously be fully integrated into FamilySearch.  After all, GEDCOM X is their baby.   Enter FHISO!  The conversation between GEDCOM X and the broader genealogical community is a necessity.  Does GEDCOM X become the de facto standard or is it a foundation for developing a broader standard?  Kessler mentions that Ancestry.com and MyHeritage “have their own data transfer ideas.” Let’s hope that FHISO can form alliances with the various key players so as to further the conversation and help shape a single standard for genealogical data transfer.


  3 Responses to “Catching Up — GEDCOMX, Better GEDCOM, and FHISO”

  1. Hi Bart,

    You wrote, "Let's hope that FHISO can form alliances with the various key players so as to further the conversation and help shape a single standard for genealogical data transfer."

    No one could have said it better.

    Together with family historians from Norway, Ireland, Canada and Australia, I'm one the FHISO organizers; I live in the US, as do three of the others. We all believe that any group setting "community standards" ought to be made up of participants representative of the community. We are working to advance that cause.

    A number of great individuals and organizations have already expressed support for or interest in FHISO. The announcement that Ancestry.com plans to collaborate about standards within FHISO is good news on the representative participation front, and it is a show of support for FHISO's transparent, democratic process. We hope the announcement encourages other individuals and organizations to likewise make collaborating within FHISO a priority.

    Thank you for your article and for your support. –GeneJ

  2. Thank you, Bart, for a great status update in plain English, as well as our shared desire, as reinforced, above, by GeneJ. I'm on the outside looking in, but have written about and strongly support the FHISO approach. One standard, one community. ;-)

  3. Thanks, GeneJ for the kind comments. Bill, I have read your comments about FHISO. Like you, I'm "on the outside looking in." The developers have venues to discuss these matter in tech-speak. The non-developers among us need to speak out occasionally. We don't have the clout of those who are more technically proficient. And that is as it should be. We do have the responsibility to make ourselves heard. Our voices can perhaps serve, in a small way, to help hold their feet to the fire… to remind them that we are the users — the "one community" which desperately wants and needs one functional standard.

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