Review – Geni Beta

Geni. Everyone is related.

Geni is an online service offering free family tree organization, and it’s definitely on its way up. In a nutshell, Geni allows the user to sign up for free and create their family tree. Where it becomes really dynamic is that you can invite other people to collaborate in the creation of the family tree. For anyone who has every attempted to organize and research a family tree, they know it’s truly a massive undertaking. In my opinion, this ability to invite in other relatives to ‘share the burden’ of organizing is great.

I actually had made my beta account a good while back, but just hadn’t had the free time to give it a really good test drive. Well, that time made itself available this week, and I tinkered with it some more. I am very impressed with it.

Geni is, above all, very good on user interface. I don’t know if they consulted with a usability specialist, or if they simply have a knack for it, but everything in creating the tree is very user-friendly and things are where you would expect them to be.

I am not very good at creating family trees, and I still can’t remember what it means for someone to be ‘once removed’ or ‘twice removed’ in relationship to you. You don’t have to know those things to create a family tree on Geni, they handle all that. Now, I feel that keeping a family tree is important, but I’m not the one in the family who keeps track of most of that information. I immediately decided to take advantage of the ‘invite’ ability and enlisted some family members to come work on the tree that I had started up with just a few names. They were willing to take part in it for one major reason: Geni is private by default. Your information about the family is not published online where everyone can view it, the only people who can view or edit are those invited by someone in the tree already.

My mother was instantly addicted to using the system, which is impressive because she is not very computer literate and tends to get frustrated easily with web sites. She ended up spending about 5 hours adding people to the tree her first day on it – which speaks volumes about how user-friendly it is. My grandmother is excited also, and digging through tons of photographs because we can upload pictures for the people we add to the tree.

I can take a quick peek at my profile on Geni and see that my family tree currently has 124 members listed, and that (of those) 105 are blood-relatives and 18 are inlaws. There are lots of ways you can look at your data in Geni, and it’s very helpful. The ‘tree view’ gives you an actual tree type view of your family tree, but the ‘list view’ gives you great information as well. In fact, in list view I can see at a glance what those relationships are called that I could never figure out before because when I’m logged in on my account it tells me my relationship to those people in the list. For instance, now I know that Mary Cerda is my ‘mother’s first cousin twice removed.’

I recall that there had been some negative press about Geni in the past because their ‘relationships’ options in connecting people were not politically correct enough (in the situation I remember it dealt with same-sex partnerships). That is resolved in the current Geni, and keep in mind: Geni is still in Beta at this time.

Speaking of their Beta status, they really do have some things planned for the future. One of the first things that came to mind for me is that if we’re going to put this much work into making a family tree, I’d really like some way to create a backup of it that would be usable in another system or standalone. Well there is luck for us today, because Geni just released an Alpha test of their new GEDCOM export. (GEDCOM is a file format type. Wikipedia explains more here.)This export is limited in functionality, but it’s a start and that is important to me: that they are thinking in terms of future. For future, they also have no plans to every drop the free basic service. Geni says:

Geni is currently supported by ad placements on the website. In addition, we may add premium services in the future for which we charge fees. However, the basic Geni service will always be free.

I have no problem with that either.

Overall, it’s a great product. I’d like to see more features as they come along, but what I’ve seen so far is definitely making them stand out from the crowd.


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