Monday Madness – Response to Louis Kessler’s 6 Bad Things
A response to Louis Kessler’s 6 Bad Things About Today’s Genealogy Software:
Mr. Kessler posted six statements (marked below as “LK:”) on Sunday evening and one reader asked for suggestions, so I am responding with my opinions.
I must warn you, however, that the software I’m going to discuss, The Master Genealogist version 7.04, may be too technical for some users. It has one of the steepest learning curves of any software on the market but it’s power is unmatched. It also has a large number of flaws. I’ll use the acronym TMG and not spell out the full name all the time.
Oh, and please forgive my not specifically mentioning other applications; Mr. Kessler didn’t, so I won’t, either.
LK: 1. They make you enter your data into forms and require you run reports to see (some of) your data.
NPM: Genealogy is about collecting data that is precisely suited for form-based entry. Any text we create to go with that data is also generally handled well by the forms presented in genealogy software.
TMG has tags for almost any name part you can imagine and you can create your own at need. The tags are available all source, person, place, or event entries. You can also create tags for just about any other item you can think of beyond the provided tags.
The reporting features in TMG allow you to create your own reports for text-based output or comma-separated data files. You can use a variety of tools to view them. You pick the fields you need to see, all or some. The only fields you really don’t need to see in a report are internal to TMG. TMG does have one major flaw in it’s data extraction but that is due to the antiquated database engine it uses, not the application itself.
LK: 2. They are person-centric, rather than source-centric.
NPM: This one takes a bit of thought. People are our sources and the sources we use to document them are also sources, no? I understand the distinction as illustrated in the Genealogical Data Model (GDM) between persons and sources, but is there really any difference? Is a person’s oral history interview transcript that much different from a person as a source?
The major flaw in most genealogy software is that it is based on a flawed data transport model (DTM) which was not designed to handle genealogically relevant sources. TMG is based roughly on the GDM, The only constraint on TMG is that it has to acknowledge the flawed DTM, rendering some of it’s functionality less than ideal.
LK: 3. They emphasize formatting your citations correctly, rather than documenting your sources correctly
NPM: Sources are citations to people and vice versa. Citations of those sources are only part of the documentation process. The problem with most genealogy applications is that you are forced to use hard-coded formats. TMG allows you to create any tag you need for sources and citations. You can also format them as you wish for text or spreadsheet use. In the report outputs you can choose whether to include the citation part of the source entry.
LK: 4. They promote merging other people’s data with yours, rather than keeping them separate and virtually merging
NPM: Smart genealogists know when it is proper to use merging features. That decision is theirs, not the application’s. TMG allows it’s users to create links between data sets, or separate databases, and either maintain them separately or merge them selectively.
LK: 5. They don’t adhere to GEDCOM standards, thereby not allowing you to correctly transfer your data between programs.
NPM: True, it’s an unfortunate result of having a flawed DTM being kludged into a genealogy application. That flawed DTM was never meant to handle the data a genealogist uses so no genealogy application can hope to adhere to it. TMG is one of the worst offenders in this area because it is based on a realistic model of genealogically significant data. The problem with TMG is that since you can enter so much genealogically relevant data into it, there is no hope of force-fitting that data into an unrealistic DTM.
LK: 6. They try to do everything, except the one thing you want them to do: Help you quickly and easily record your data, evidence and conclusions and let you make use of them.
NPM: Some genealogy applications do try to do everything; that’s because their creators add useless do-dads to get market share. TMG has, partly because of it’s ummm, “snailtacular” (thanks, Tamura!) development history, not fallen prey to this mutation in genealogy applications.
TMG does not “try to do everything.” It lets the user try everything. TMG is a platform for users to grow into. TMG users learn to adapt it to their data, and it limits them only when necessary. I’ve mentioned the tags a couple of times already. These tags, and the data entry forms that use them, allow you “easily record your data ….” They also allow you to use your data as you see fit (mostly). Once the data entry forms are set up, away you go, quickly.
I am not promoting, advocating, or otherwise affiliating myself with sales of TMG based on these comments. I use TMG because it works. It is broken in some ways, but it is far better than the other genealogy applications out there. Oh, and by the way: let’s not forget that I’m referring to TMG version 7.04 only.
Portions of this article © 2011 N. P. Maling – Sea Genes Family History & Genealogy Research