Building your family tree with Geni

Last week, Trevor sent me a link to Geni, which is a ajaxified family tree website.


Trevor noted that the API they’re using is html which is rendered through document.getElementById().innerHTML calls. They are missing an opportunity to release a real API which would allow mashups with Flickr and Plaxo.

[My comments after the jump]

The good

I really like the take on using family tree as a way of creating a social network. It’s novel.

The use of Ajax is pretty slick. Also they are using a passive registration process: you can begin using the site just by providing an e-mail without a password. An interesting idea.


The bad

The site is impossibly slow. After I added about eight people the page became slow. A particular pain point is that editing the profile of anyone takes so long the entire page hangs. If I had to guess, I’d think the site was built on Ruby on Rails. If it’s this bad now, how is this going to scale? If it is built on Rails, how is it going to scale in a language with no proven history of scaling?

Minor quibble. The back button is completely broken. Click on “Login” and then click “Back” and you are stuck in the Login page. Thanks! No really, Thanks!

Adding a photo doesn’t show a thumbnail. Worthless.

The UI for changing the order of birth is unusable. Changes often don’t stick (You have to hit “Apply” and then “Save”, sometimes it won’t stick at all). The UI then reloads from scratch (screws up xy-pos and zoom level, for instance).

It doesn’t handle UTF-8. WThis breaks apostrophes. I have a family tree that extends back 800 years. When you go that far back, I need to enter Korean and Chinese characters. How hard would this have been?This is a one line change of code! WTF!

The implementation is way to confusing to anyone who isn’t an expert on the web. First, if you haven’t used Ajax sites a lot, you won’t get it at all. I had at least two family members e-mail me completely confused and unable to register or used in. Think about it, you are breaking all the affordances. Not a single one of my family members I tagged registered because of this.

The ugly

This gets to the big problem with the whole site, which is philosophical. Besides Mormons, the people who really want to use the site would be the generation that is before mine (baby boomers). Even for people like me, I’d need to provide this to my parents and grandparents generation to really be able to move laterally (to cousins, family trees by marriage, etc.). And yet you presented an interface that’s fucking alien to them. Even if you got the web interface worked out, odds are they wouldn’t use it (which is probably impossible until people like me become 60 years old and convert to Mormonism).

A collaborative family tree is a great idea. I think this might be an interesting (possibly viable) component in a general social networking site, but I doubt it can stand on its own. It’s too… inbred.

I think that the practical implementation hurdle make it an idea that’s before it’s time. Until then, I’ll stick to using OmniGraffle.

3 thoughts on “Building your family tree with Geni

  1. I really like the concept, and I think I’ll try to get my grandparents to sign-up and add to it (since I’m interested in my family history). I find it amazing that you can trace your roots back 800+ years! I wish I could do the same.

    My main complaint with the system is primarily with their concept of traditional family values. That is the father/mother of a child must be a “spouse” (current, former/late, or ex-spouse). There is no option simply for unmarried partners.

    Also, I’m concerned about privacy. Many systems use either a birthdate or a mother’s maiden name for security purposes. Here, I have a family tree that anyone can view, and while I can decline to enter birthdate information (which renders my tree somewhat unhelpful and pointless), it will always give people information on maiden names. Now, it appears that I have to log in to view my profile and tree, but can anyone who has access to the system view your profile/tree, or can only those members of your tree view them?

  2. Nevermind my privacy concern… I found this in their Help docs:

    Who can see my profile and my family tree?
    Your profile and tree are private, so only other members of your tree can see them.

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