Thursday, 25 February 2010

Genealogy Websites: New, Improved, Updated & How

My current site Fergy's Website has been in its current form for over a year, except for the Pedigree pages having been converted to CSS. I commenced work on the new site in November 2009 with a view to launch on 1 March 2010, although this was pushed back to 1 April 2010 mainly due to illness.

What I hope to do over my next few Blogs is to illustrate the objectives and problems and how these were overcome. Please do not think that this is going to be so technical it will over your head, some of it perhaps, but most can be applied with little knowledge of programming.

It is essential to draw up the criteria which need to be met for the revised site, mine are:
  • It must be based on the Legacy Pedigree Web creation function, for no other reason that I really like this layout. I have looked at formats such as The Next Generation, and others, most of which require a GEDCOM upload, but, for me, Legacy was the one.
  • To maximise the use of CSS to separate out the design from the HTML data.
  • To replace the Javascript navigation with CSS, and in general, minimise the use of Javascript.
  • Where possible apply the most modern CSS and HTML standards.
  • To ensure cross-browser compliance, including IE6 - which continues to be used by a surprisingly high percentage of genealogists!
  • To redesign the Index page, which given that I do not pretend to be a designer is no mean feat!
  • To ensure W3C standards are met.
Some of the above aims obviously conflict with each other, so compromises have to be made. These will be described later.

The first problem is that the Legacy Pedigree web pages are not W3C compliant and are written exclusively in HTML. Whilst I had converted the major design components to CSS, to convert all would have meant writing a program to automate this, or using a program which would use Regular Expressions to convert each tag individually - ugh! Unfortunately the first alternative I thought to be beyond my VB.Net programming skills.

However, in 2009 Ltools released a program for Legacy users which validates the HTML and converts all to CSS, and it was this which I used last year to overcome this main stumbling block to achieving a major aim. Some information on the use of this tool is also given in my tutorial here.

The other items will be considered in future Blogs, so watch this space!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Genealogy: Out of a test tube!

I have many reservations about prescriptive answers to genealogy presentations, much preferring them to reflect the rich tapestry of life. However with relationships I am less than certain. This question is not an ethical question, as many types of relationship exist in the real world, as we well know.

At present there is much discussion on how modern relationships, such as same sex partnerships, a surrogate parent and test tube children should be recorded by genealogy software, and much of this discussion has revolved around the differences between "true" genealogy and family history. I would ask are we asking the right question to the right people?

Let us consider the question of web browsers. Until recently (if now) browsers were designed in accordance with the ideas of the company designers. As a consequence web designers have for years suffered in trying to design sites which look the same in all varieties of browser, notwithstanding the existence of world wide web standards. Similarly, are we not in danger of genealogy software companies deciding for us what, in their varied opinions, is the best solution as to how the many types of relationships should be handled? I would suggest that this is not the way forward.

The laws regarding varying relationships differ from country to country, and  it would be wrong, therefore, for any standard to be based on what is legal in any one country, but the laws in most, if not all countries, should be considered. These days genealogy software is international, and surely the time has now arrived for a new approach to be made.

I would suggest that a cooperative venture between the national genealogy societies and the software companies be initiated to develop a format acceptable to most, but preferably all, participants. And who should pay for this? Why not the software companies by releasing their staff to attend meetings and providing the administrative back up, and perhaps supporting the attendance of the voluntary officials of the genealogy societies.

What I would like to see now is a proper international debate on this subject by genealogists and software companies, rather than comments, complaints and suggestions made by users of specific software to their supplier. As we saw from browser development, a standard may not resolve all the problems, but it would, I believe, be a big improvement on the ad-hoc arrangement we have today.

© Ron Ferguson 2010