The 2011 BetterGEDCOM Membership Survey

The membership survey ( was recently sent to all members. It said:
Annual Membership Survey

During the past year the membership of the Build a BetterGEDCOM Project has grown to 123 members. The BetterGEDCOM Wiki now contains 103 files which have been uploaded and 192 pages have been generated. There were 3,302 posts and 4,626 page edits done by members.

Your thoughts, views, criticisms, and suggestions are important to us. Please take a moment of your time and let us know what actions you would suggest to encourage more active participation in the project.

Your name and e-mail address will be kept confidential. Your actual comments will normally be made available to the Membership Team in order that they may discuss/act on your suggestions. If, however, you wish your actual comments to also remain confidential, simply note such in your comment and your entire submission will be seen only by the Membership Team Leader.

Thank you for your time,
The BetterGEDCOM Membership Team

Here are the comments received thus far. I shall continue to add others as they are received.

(1) Comment

... Membership.
I'd like to see formally agreed upon documentation and an integrated membership committee.
I had the unfortunate situation of developing some new members who were willing to contribute real expertise on timely and specialized topic... all about the time the whole project changed course so that the topic was no longer relevant.
I'm probably reluctant to encourage new members until/unless we have a more formal charter embraced by the broader membership.
The membership committee is probably one of the most important committees this group could have.
Whether it's one or 21, it should be empowered to:
Target prospective members (those who can help us create a balance d perspective)
Create a newsletter--something that keeps our membership engaged (and keeps asking the question, "So, what have we done for and with our membership recently.")
Monitor engagement (and PLEASE input to develop/maintain more diversified and powerful set of workspaces!!!) We can't really measure engagement in terms of the wiki--the topics on the wiki can change with the wind. Consider this, If folks are only using the wiki to complain, and those who don't complain don't post, why should we penalize those who don't pose. Ditto, if a page is set up for "Lets play tic tac toe," but the posts folks do make are about "The Great Seal Watch in Alaska"--why should those who post be given preference.

Continuing. The same can be said about the Developers Meeting (DM). When real contributions are made to the wiki, it's too easy in the DM to say, "well, it was to complicated." Or... "Well, I didn't see that posting." If folks don't understand something, we need to know what they didn't understand in order to make presentations that actually ENGAGE the stakeholders.

Continuing. Let's face it--not everyone is really interested in every topic enough to take the time to read through proposals and comment. Unfortunately, folks who haven't read materials often seem willing to VOTE on things. So, just because one "votes"--it doesn't mean one is engaged.

It seems to me that somewhere in these concerns is the opportunity for a membership committee that plays an active role-- Were materials made available in advance of the meeting, and was that material available in such a way as to be readily translated (graphics don't translate). Do the minutes of the meeting accurately reflect the activity during the meeting? Shouldn't each and every agenda be preserved (rather than over-written and viewable only as a history page)? Should we "rotate" the "SCRIBE" positions (that's how some W3C incubator groups do it). Do we even have a list of all the international technology vendors--folks who SHOULD be members? What if there is a real ethics violation (should anyone EVER be subjected to threats or arm twisting)?
I know I went on and on --- but I think these are the kinds of issues that should be a priority for one group. So, I hope your membership committee continues, as one, but hopefully more.


(2) Comment

While a lot of what has been discussed has been new technology to me, I have been more of a background observer,learning.

I am excited about the direction a new gedcom is headed.


(3) Comment

Stop the bureaucracy. Forget evidence explained and complicated source templates. Just concentrate on an evidence conclusion model, like Dead Ends, or something equivalent. Forget citations too. We now have enough computer power to include full texts, images, etc.


(4) Comment

I haven't visited the BG site in some time. Today I spent about half an hour to try to determine if the BG participants had settled on an improved model, and if any software had been developed around that model. I read a number of wiki pages, but I was unable to determine if the BG participants have agreed upon a model to extend or supersede gedcom 5.5.

I would like to support a BG model in WeRelate. I don't have time to get involved in the developing the model; instead, I'd rather have someone show me an agreed-upon model so that I can extend WR to support it.

I've spoken with Dovy and John Vilburn at Does that project represent the culmination of the efforts at BG?

Also, now that FamilySearch has announced "GedcomX", which appears to attempt the same thing as BG in extending gedcom with better support for source data, how does this impact BG's mission? Are you working with FS or in competition with them? I believe we need a better model, but I don't believe we need two competing ones. Or do are they complementary in some way?

Early next year I plan to release a free open-source gedcom parser to convert gedcom files into a (sane) data model. It will be based upon the learnings that I've gained from importing thousands of gedcom files into WeRelate. I'd be happy to work with the BG community to extend it to support a BG model.


(5) Comment

With the apparent change in the direction of the BetterGEDCOM project, I am less enthused about being a part of it. I did not join the group to be a Long Term Organization, but to be a short term member of a team to help identify and resolve the issue of Sharing Genealogy Information between users.

The 'tension' between the Developers and End Users has kept me from being active. There was quite a while when the "developers" didn't want to hear from End Users.

I will not actively participate in a place that is not a friendly / helpful place to be.

I continue to read the postings on the Wiki, and wish you all well with the new, apparent, direction of BetterGEDCOM.

If you wish further discussion, please contact me.


(6) Comment

When I first encountered it it seemed like a good idea. Sadly, having taken a recent look at it, I have now written it off as unlikely to produce an end-product.

I'm sorry to have to be so negative. However looking at the way open source projects succeed or fail suggests that a project which has run for so long without producing at least a first cut product is never going to produce one.


(7) Comment

I initially joined the "BetterGEDCOM" group with some excitement but soon developed several major concerns (that others have expressed as well).
1. It is not possible or at least a good practice to develop a data transfer mechanism (BetterGEDCOM)without it being based on a good logical model of your data. A good logical data models involves determining the underlining entities, relationships and attributes of the logical model, including determining the data definitions, types and domaines of each entity's or relation's attribute.
2. I accept the valid criticism of the GENTECH logical data model but nevertheless believe it is the best place to start from by critiquing and finalizing this model. A good place to start would be by providing more and better explained concrete examples of how the data model can support and implement the user requirements that are being developed to meet the goal(see below). The whole area of data attributes including definitions, types and domains needs considerable work.
3. a logical data model must be based on solid user requirements, which in turn must be based on a clear understanding of the project goals. I believe this goal should be to develop a comprehensive, non-proprietary, open and expandable logical data model and then data transfer protocol for an evidence-conclusion based genealogical process.
4. The "BetterGEDCOM" group needs a sponsor, some organization the is recognized and have a positive reputation in the field of genealogy to garner respect for its endevors, i.e some national or world genealogy association or a trade group of genealogy software developers.
5. The participation of several large software developers (not withstanding each vendors own self interest in going their own way) is to be strongly encourage if this project ever hopes to gain any form of marketplace acceptance and not become another academic exercize.

The above thought are offered as a newcommer, I am sure many have been discussed before by your group (perhaps to ad nauseam). neverthe less, I thought I must make them in the hope that they will be helpful.

I would appreciate any comments (positive or negative) on my thoughts.


(8) Comment

Andy, et al.,

I continue to be very interested, and follow the proceedings faithfully. I'm back at work (now that my torn achilles is better), and that is preventing me from attending many meetings.

I've been busy with my own program and hopefully will release version 1.0 this month. Once BetterGEDCOM comes up with an initial new standard, I'd be happy to beta test the standard for you by seeing how easy a time a programmer would have exporting to that format, and then inputting from that format. I presume that would be a significant contribution. I also expect I'll probably have Version 2 of my program out (with editing) by the time BetterGEDCOM has a spec out to test. But I'm happy to wait and contribute my thoughts in the meantime.

The current organization effort is not my area of expertise which is why I've been staying uninvolved for the time.

I'm also not an expert in the Mills citation styles, so I'm leaving that effort to others as well.

Hope Myrt's getting better.


(9) Comment

Hi Andy et al ;)

Sorry I've not much to say here. If/When I can think of something useful, I'll post it on the wiki!



(10) Comment

My thoughts, in no particular order:

I would not like to see the group devolve into a morass of bureaucracy. On the other hand, if we are a collection of several dozen independent voices speaking (blogging, emailing, tweeting) "on behalf" of BetterGEDCOM, then we are hardly one organization.

It equally concerns me that others in the industry also seem to be a bit surprised about the announcement. That leads me to believe that sought very limited, if any, outside input. That should concern us all, both individually and as a group.


(11) Comment

Better GEDCOM should have been an effort to create a new genealogical data exchange and archive format, based on a data model that encompasses GEDCOM and the internal databases of desktop programs and on-line services.

This is a technical task. Better GEDCOM is organized as a wiki in which the two or three "owners" are non-technical and have no experience with solving technical issues. And the wiki format is not only not conducive to solving technical issues of this magnitude, but make it nigh on impossible. This was obvious to all technical persons from just about day one, but the non-technical "owners" continue being naively oblivious to this truth.

Therefore the technical task is not being accomplished. The leadership and the organization are both wholly inappropriate for the task. The technical persons who were willing to contribute at the beginning of the project have pretty much evaporated away, mostly because of the ineffectiveness and misunderstandings of the leaders.

We spent months diddling around with sources and citations and accomplished nothing. We are now spending months on source templates and creating an organization and accomplishing nothing.

I have lost confidence in the leadership of Better GEDCOM; my opinion is that they don't understand what needs to be done nor on how to go about doing it.

Better GEDCOM should have been a discussion of the requirements of genealogical data representation, a survey of the models that exist, and then working toward and then forming our own model. When I joined Better GEDCOM this is what I expected would happen. There were a few other technical people who also seemed to be on this same track.

At this point the technical prowess of the organization is approaching nil, and the weekly meetings are ineffective. A year has passed and Better GEDCOM has accomplished nothing.
(12) Comment
In simplistic terms, there are 3 views adopted by BG members. Those who saw BG as:
1. A opportunity to redefine totally the data and processes used by genealogy and family history. This would result in something totally different to GEDCOM. Call it, GEDCOM 7.0.
2. A means of tweaking GEDCOM to fix a number of outstanding issues - this would result in a set of incremental changes to GEDCOM using the same syntax. Many of these pragmatists would accept the need for extra, top-level entities in the new GEDCOM. These pragmatists would see GEDCOM 5.7 as the end-product.
3. Then there are those who see no real issues with GEDCOM as it stands other than the inability of individual applications to transfer citation data according to ESM.

In reality there is a continuous spectrum between these 3 viewpoints.

Despite apparently agreeing the 2 goals of BG, specifically goal 2 ("It will be more comprehensive than existing formats and so become the format of choice"), the 3 constituencies seem unable to agree where BG should aim - viewpoints 1, 2 or 3. This leads to a fundamental lack of comprehension, especially when those in constituency 3 are listening to anyone discussing constituency 1 views.

Unless the scale of BG is agreed (is it 1, 2 or 3?), the effort will continue to be bedevilled by clashes of expectation. I have to say that I am disappointed by those who still insist that it is wrong to waste time by trying to organise things, when this fundamental flaw in BG still exists of not knowing the scale of the change envisaged. That flaw will never be addressed without considering the purpose of BG.

In truth, viewpoints 1 and 2 could be phased one after the other so are not incompatible. Viewpoint 3? Guys - it is NOT a small, simple job!!!

Next point - the new GEDCOM suggested by FS. Can I be utterly cynical? I find its announcement at the last RootsTech far too convenient. Indeed, to quote a certain blog, "as a community is forming around these initiatives, and they are starting to make some progress, FamilySearch suddenly announces that they have a new data model and file format they'd like everyone to adopt? That's certainly remarkable." Yes. Only time (and probably insider-knowledge) will tell whether the 2011 announcement was vapour-ware at the time, designed to stop a runaway train.

Next - an alleged tension between "developers" and end-users. I am not a developer. I am a (former) IT professional - if the organisers of BG invite us in to progress BG, then they need to understand that we need to talk IT-speak. The truth is that progressing BG requires a level of abstraction. Several in fact. We need to talk data models. We need to discuss processes. We do not expect everyone to understand a discussion about the difference btw relational and hierarchical databases - but please, allow us those discussions.

Finally - is a Wiki the way to go? I think not - it has not proved an efficient means of recording discussions nor of prioritising them. (I have much sympathy with those who feel their pet ideas were put to one side in order to progress another area - this is a Wiki, such ordering is not anticipated). Do I have a better alternative than a Wiki? Well, no actually. 99% of us have real lives and family histories out there to deal with and any more formal process will impinge on those. Yes, it's like herding cats so in all honesty, the SourceTemplates initiative is a last possibility to salvage something.
(13) Comment
Have commercial vendors announce the project - repeatedly if possible. I receive regular information from Legacy, but I was completely unaware of the project. The only way I found out about it was when Legacy had an announcement of Roots Tech and I discovered two sessions on GEDCOM redesign and googled on the presenter's name and found BetterGEDCOM.

Several months ago, I had exchanged e-mails both with one group at FamilySearch and also with Legacy about the fact that we are tied to a rack of the technology limitations of the 1980's by the greatly denormalized database structure of GEDCOM and need to come into the 21st Century with a database design that incorporates good design principles (3NF) at the minimum since the technology of today permits vastly superior design of the data structures than the current GEDCOM has. And at the time of those exchanges, I did google to see if something might be going on, but BetterGEDCOM somehow never came up in Google, which is why I was still unaware of it until stumbling on it via the very indirect route originated by the Legacy news announcement of Roots Tech.
(14) Comment
Those expecting a quick fix to Gedcom must understand that in many cases the only quick fix is that someone "dictates" the solution, and in several cases there is no quick fix. Even if quick fixes are developed, the genealogy community is best served by an open non-biased organization that is capable of developing and maintaining standard based technologies long term.

Standardization is not possible without the major players in the industry, and they will not join if there is no organizational arrangements that suites them. It is impossible to make progress without a formal organizational framework and rules for the work. There must also be resources and people that are willing to invest sufficient time in running the organization, technical discussions have a limited impact without an organization.

I think BetterGEDCOM should follow through with the work being done on Gordon Clarke's suggestions, but progress will also depend on other major actors indicating an interest in working in an open balanced organization, and that remains to be seen. Until then, doing too detailed work on describing a standards organization may be a waste of time. A problem is that it may take a long time before the intentions of the various players are clear, leaving BG in a vacuum – as it has been since Rootstech2011.

There are also ways to close an organization even if it is called "open". If the standard party is closed in one way or another, and BetterGEDCOM is not invited, what role can BG play? It would certainly have to redefine its goal, and rather explore ways to tailor its task to its capabilities. I will be surprised if there is not a need for a watchdog, someone presenting the views and ideas of users and independent experts. There are several activities that can be organized.

In any case BG's organization must be enhanced and its public appearance must be something else than a purely organized wiki.

BetterGEDCOM must analyze the experiences that have been gained during this year wrt organization. What do we do with the vulnerabilities, being open to anyone whose main interest is just the discussion, or anyone that wants to create problems for the initiative? How do you make decisions (voting) when anyone, qualified or not, informed or not, registering anonymous, possibly several times, can vote? How do you handle the mix of non-technical users, technical experts and genealogy experts? Should "ordinary" users have something to say about standards, isn't that for the vendors and service operators only? How do you handle those who want only short term solutions (quick fixes), except that they also want to see their favorite advanced enhancement? Developing standards or specifications is to a large extent about making compromises, if you cannot make compromises, few of your good ideas will be in the result – you probably have to support someone else's good ideas also. What do you do when people keep insisting on their solution, even when they have very little support?

All this may be possible to handle, but it will require an effort to develop the organization.

Also, if you want something done, you must be prepared to do a job – BetterGEDCOM is definitely not going to deliver anything if everybody is just siting waiting for BG to deliver. This also applies to those complaining about the leadership.


Andy_Hatchett 2011-11-06T14:30:12-08:00
Can Wiki be used to solve Technical problems?
I note that in comments submitted there seems to be a question about the Wiki being the best format for solving Technical problems.

My question, aimed mostly toward the techs within BetterGEDCOM is this.

If BetterGEDCOM had had no Wiki, what format would you have chosen to handle discussions and tech problems?

a). Mailing List
2). Blog
3). Google Group
4). FaceBook Page
5). Other
louiskessler 2011-11-06T15:07:50-08:00
I don't think its the Wiki itself that is the problem. The pages of the Wiki are great in that they can be organized and edited with menus complete with the history of all changes and who made them.

This could and should be used to mold the hunk of stone into a carved elephant.

The problem is that we do need a leader. That would be someone who would be objectively thinking of the final elephant product, and take all the conclusions and suggestions and continually work to refine the pages to keep them organizes and complete.

C'mon now. We all know exactly how to do this. We all do it now with our own genealogies. We take the little pieces of evidence and create our family history. Yes we have conflicting evidence, just like we have conflicting ideas here, but they can be recorded as such with the goal that once a "preponderence of evidence" takes hold, the proper route can be chosen on the one particular item, and we'll have the elephant's tail.

The part of this Wiki that doesn't work for me, and again it isn't necessarily the wiki, but may be us - is the discussions that hang on to each page. Too often, we get off topic, and get great material in pages that have got lost in the shuffle.

Our leader needs to add all the important points in the discussion to the relevant pages and link back to the discussion topic for reference. After all, we've got to document our sources. We've had so much discussion that by now, this is going to be a lot of work for someone, but I feel its necessary to put it all together somehow.

BetterGEDCOM is now like a box of source material about your family that needs to be reorganized. Someone (our leader - whoever wants to self-acclaim them as such) needs to go through our box and build up our genealogy - or our elephant - or all the BetterGEDCOM pages, so that everything is whole again.

So IMHO, the Wiki is still our best bet.

Mailing lists are useless (e.g. GEDCOM-L has gone on ad-nauseum for decades). Blogs are this Wiki without the Wiki. Google groups are mailing lists. Facebook pages for this make me shudder.

The one bad thing about this Wiki is that we can't edit out our stupid typos after we hit the Post button in our Discussions. That's especially bad when we add an example and have a mistake in it. We should suggest this to Wikispaces.

ttwetmore 2011-11-06T21:40:09-08:00
Difficult, technical work, can only be successfully completed by a technical committee that is charged with and fully committed to meeting a well-specified technical goal. As Louis suggests, such a committee must be organized with a leadership hierarchy and well-defined rules for decision making.

It is the physical existence of that committee that is critical. How its work is shared between members, by wiki, by email group, by physically mailing papers to a secretary who redistributes the contents to all the members, is nearly immaterial.
WesleyJohnston 2011-11-07T03:44:04-08:00
Thanks to Andy for raising this issue. I am currently trying to organize a family reunion through a mailing list, and that has similar frustrations. Communication is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for realizing a Better GEDCOM (or accomplishing any group task). Both Louis and Tom are correct that leadership makes the difference. And Tom is right that it has to be a technical committee -- one that really understands the technical implications.

But I have two other concerns.

First, the perfect can become the enemy of the good. Technology has greatly advanced since the original GEDCOM, so that the tweaking of the model to conform to the technological limitations of the 1980's to make it functional really is showing up the many short-comings caused by not having gone with the perfect normalized model. But there would never have been a now if these denormalizations had not happened then. At some point, you have to acknowledge that you are not going to have the perfect model and realize what you can within the technological limitations of the time. And even though we now can do magic that was not conceived in the 1980's, there are still some limitations. So we are again going to have to at some point realize something that will not be perfect.

My second concern is whether there is any one group that can really own a new GEDCOM design to sufficiently influence the realization of that design in the world. There is huge inertia to stay with the existing GEDCOM, simply because it has been the standard. So whatever comes next has to (1) be demonstrably better, (2) be something that commercial developers can implement fairly easily, and (3) be upwardly compatible with the old GEDCOM in a simple way (automated conversion). So I am wondering if there is any group that can really have such influence. And I am also wondering if we may wind up at some point with a VHS-versus-Beta-like situation where we have two (or even more) competing GEDCOM standards fighting it out until only one is left standing.