A journey of a thousand miles...

I've begun a new venture and have already taken the first steps in what I hope will shake up the business of online genealogy (family tree research).

If you mentally groaned with 'Not another family tree website', I understand your thoughts well, there are a lot of money grabbing, badly designed, badly run and downright dishonest businesses out there and that's why I think it needs shaking up (there are some very good ones too, it's not all terrible).

These are my initial aims although they may change as the business grows (if they do, I'll be open and honest about any changes).


  • Your site - An easy to use system that helps you build your family tree and put it online quickly so that your tree is at the top of the search results and can be found easily by distant cousins.

  • Face matching - Who is that person in the back of the family photo? The more people that contribute their family photos, the more the system can offer potential matches.

  • DNA matching - Proving or disproving a link to another person by uploading your DNA data.

  • Peer Research - Need a document from an archive on the other side of the country or world but you just can't get there? We want to make it easy for you to find someone who lives near the archive your family records are in so that for a reasonable charge, they'll do the leg work for you.

  • Four dimensional profiling - Finding links between facts. This is a huge topic that I want to cover in detail when it's underway.

  • You are not the product - I'm fed up being treated with disdain by bad businesses who use my content to build their site without making it clear that's what is going on. Sure, someone needs to pay for hosting, development and staff costs but let's talk about it up front. Ideally I'd like to have a few optional extras that can be purchased that will help cover the free usage.

  • Community based - I'm scratching my own itch first (wanting to find out more about my family) but I'd also like to build what other people want. To that end, we'll be creating a User Voice account (the free and low cost accounts have gone, we'll have to manage feature lists another way) where features can be voted on and I can see what to look at next.

  • Open source - This one will take some thinking about but I'd like to share the source code for the systems I build, for many reasons but mainly security, scientific progress and gaining the trust of users. The licence will probably allow use by non-profit and individuals with a commercial option for businesses. Everyone who commits source code that is accepted would retain their copyright but provide a non-exclusive licence so that it can be used in the site.

  • Open - All of your research is public (except information on living people and their direct ancestors) so that it feeds into other research. Your family can see what you are doing and the search engines can direct cousins your way. If you want to keep your family research private, then I'd ask you to think again. We all gain by collaboration and if you want to copy my pictures, I've no problem with that (as long as you provide attribution). If you really want a private family tree then there will be a paid option for that.

  • Multiple devices - Want to access your tree on your iPhone, Android or Windows device? We'll have apps for them all and if you have a device that is unsupported, then the API can be used to build your own client software.

  • API - A bit technical, but we'll be building the site with a public Application Programming Interface (API) from day one which will enable opening it up to all kinds of devices and custom software.

  • Free - The big one. I've been advised not to make my work free but I really do think that with the right balance of free and (optional) paid features it can work for everyone involved. There won't be any nagging 'upgrade now' popups. In fact, there won't be any nasty popups at all.

  • Free of adverts and other menaces - Advertising slows a site down tremendously, ruins the end user experience and can be used to inject malicious code into your browser. I hate it, so I'm not having any tracking of users and you won't see adverts.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not not a hippy trying to give everything away for free. This needs to work both ways (I can build a business and you get what you want whilst being treated decently). I think the best way of making that happen is to be open and make the optional extras valuable enough so that the business costs are met.

I'm effectively making the business plan open source by writing this up. Anyone can copy these ideas and that's partly the point. If they do a better a job than I would then we've pushed genealogy research forward.

Creating a web site, setting up SSL (the padlock in the corner) and finding a host could take months not so long ago. Now, I can get all that and more done in a day but there is still a huge amount of effort required to get the ball rolling.

For example, this blog was very quick to setup but still required attention to detail (domain redirecting, SSL, caching, security, hosting) and if I missed any of the puzzle pieces it could potentially add days of confusion and look sloppy.

Looking at the amount of work required it's easy to feel intimidated. Just to write up my current set of ideas will take most of a day.

I've always wanted to do something big and that I would be proud of, I think this is it.

As Magnus Magnusson used to say, I've started, so I'll finish.

Image Lao Tzu A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step by BK is licensed under CC BY 2.0