Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Tips for Family Tree Websites

We have differing reasons for creating genealogy web sites: to show off what we can do, the hope of attracting people who can fill in the gaps, to help others, we enjoy coding, or a combination of any or all. These aims have one thing in common, people need to be attracted to the site, and we would like them to stay there for a bit and return from time to time.

This blog is the first of a short series and here I will be concentrating on measuring a site's effectiveness. Now one might think that this should be the last in the series but I disagree, as it is easier to implement at the start of a project, and right from the start one will be able to measure the effectiveness of changes to the site once up and running.

No knowledge of HTML is required except that the file can be opened in Notepad to expose the code, and the last tag is the "close body" tag which looks like </body>. I will be concentrating on Google Analytics. After signing, up one can obtain a piece of code which is copied and pasted just before the close body tag in every web page.

Now the hard bit's done, what can Google Analytics do? Well, as might be expected, it can tell you the number of visitors to each page, but more than that, which country they came from, which browsers have been used, how long each visit lasted and the bounce rate - that means the number of visitors who enter and leave on the same page. I should emphasise that all data is strictly anonymous.

When I first created my current site, FergysWebsite I noticed that the bounce rate from my opening page was much higher than I would have expected. I knew that IE6 browser is still widely used and suspected that my index page might not be compatible. Sure enough it wasn't, and by correcting that page I cut my overall bounce rate by more than 10%. This means, I hope, that more visitors will visit again.

The one option I really like is called "Benchmarking" and will be found under "Visitors" on the top left of the site report. It takes the statistics for the site and compares them with the averages for sites of a similar size and type. For "genealogy" click on "Open category" near the top of the Benchmark screen, then select Lifestyles>Parenting & Family>Genealogy and the charts will superimpose the average on the chart for your site. For example, the bounce rate, which is naturally high on genealogy pages, can now be compared with those on other genealogy sites, brilliant!

© Ronald Ferguson

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Genealogy in the Cloud

It is often said that the future lies in cloud computing. That no longer will we have masses of data on our PCs but the data will be stored on large servers. We have seen suggestions that all our family trees can be linked to form one unified family, but are these ideas realisable?

Perhaps, but there are many questions yet to be answered. In my view one of the most important is the question of the ownership of the data. Should I put my family tree on a host server then I would wish to retain ownership of this data, and would resist changes being made without my consent. Closely allied to this is the question of privacy. Like many genealogists, my data includes much information which I wish to keep private, not only details relating to living people but also sensitive matters concerning people who may be recently deceased. I need not, of course, load this onto the host in the sky, but then I would need to retain my large database on my PC which some may feel rather defeats the object.

I would also need rather more assurances about privacy than that which we have present, it is quite wrong for the host to claim that once the tree is on their server it becomes their property, and they can do what they like with it. Another consideration is government regulation, not only that of the country in which one might live, but that of the countries in which the servers are located. What "rights" have those governments granted themselves?

Consideration should also be given as to how this is to be financed. Often many feel that everything on the internet should be free, but this is an impossibility. The storage of everybody's data will cost a tremendous amount of money. The cost per byte may be very low, but not the total cost. Advertising is not going to pay for this. Already returns from internet advertising are falling, as can be seen by newspapers' proposals to charge for access. To me, it seems highly likely that in the future the costs of on-line storage will be passed onto the user.

Of importance to all is the stability of the data banks, which in one sense is clearly related to costs. However, in another sense, one should consider the action of hackers. Of, course they can attack all servers including the ones which we presently use, but we only have to look at the recent attack on twitter (and I still cannot tweet 4 days after the event!) to see the temptation to have a go at a large unit.

Please do not think that I am against cloud computing, that would be far from the truth, and I currently use on-line storage. I have trees on Ancestry and other sites; my point is that the questions I raise have yet to be answered to my satisfaction.

© Ronald Ferguson