Digital Culture

Collaborative Genealogy

Web 2.0 has now brought us a collaborative genealogy site in It popped up in my search today, and I thought I’d take a look.

Geni example

That’s the interface screen, which begins with you signing up for the site. Doing so begins your tree, and allows you to branch off by clicking the yellow arrows for different relationships (up for parent, down for child, sideways for spouse or sibling). The bit of brilliance is that the field for names includes email, and the recipient can automatically sign up and become part of your tree. It’s a combination of viral and collaborative, and a brilliant way to do genealogy.

There’s also a “background” profile where you can give more info, contact information, etc, so that anyone in your tree can contact you. You can also add photos to your profile, so the entire thing can become a sort of name prompt for those family reunions.

Problems? Well, some families are a lot more complicated than this. My biggest complaint, and I can’t honestly believe they did this, is that the sideways arrow doesn’t prompt for “spouse”, it reads the sex of the selected person and prompts for “husband” or “wife”. Sexism ahoy! They should really change the prompt to Spouse, and allow a radio button for the sex of the spouse. As well, for complex child relationships, it kind of falls apart…step-children aren’t part of the tree either.

The technology and concept is amazing, and if they tweak a few interface issues, I think this is a huge Web 2.0 winner in the making. It’s a social network limited to your family, and a collaborative content creation system all in one. They need to add abilities to export the data, or import from existing genealogy services and much more detailed noted fields (not up front in the tree, just behind the scenes) this might become a huge draw. The best thing they could do is publish an API, and allow for other tools to leverage the information…imagine being able to crawl the tree with an API and generate other bits of info from it.

All in all, a great Beta product, but needs work before hitting the bigtime.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

4 replies on “Collaborative Genealogy”

Interesting, but as I have found with creating blogs for other people, some folks get really wigged out about their info being online. Putting your family members up there without consent or disclosure could cause some problems. Does the company use the contact information you input on others? Do they sell it? Is your family tree kept private or can you make your family public without them knowing it?

I’ll check it out when I get a chance, but have had some very negative reaction to adding a person as a user to a blog who was simply scared and ignorant of what the web means. I’d be leery of allowing people to post personal info about someone else.

Still, it’s pretty ingenious to approach geneology like that.

Jason, thought you might also want to take a look at which is also a web 2.0 collaborative platform for genealogy. One difference is that familyinhistory is slightly geared toward existing genaelogists or family historians who have already entered their family information into some genealogy software. FamilyInHistory allows these users to easily upload their family tree without having to re-enter it, but then the functionalities are fairly similar from there–add photos, stories, timeline events, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *