CONNECTIONS – Project Analysis

PROJECT SUMMARY

CONNECTIONS is a system for building online semantic relationships between people, places and things. It all begins with a person. Who were/are they? What did/do they do? Where did/do they live? What evidence can we discover about the life of this person?

Many existing genealogy applications require fees, or are stand-alone programs that work offline. Users are not encouraged to share, or think holistically about their data. Rather they create fragments of a wider network of people. Instead of building upon existing trees of information, users tend to repeat data by creating their own familial clusters.

CONNECTIONS aims to provide a free system to enable visitors to the website to quickly discover and navigate information that is relevant, reliable and engaging – something greater than a genealogy site. Users can visualise and generate connections between people, places and things. These people, places and things can then be further linked to other people, places and things in an ever expanding web of stories. In this way users can create multiple clusters of disparate hubs of information that can eventually be connected via user defined, associated relationships.

CONNECTIONS is a tool to allow today’s historians to leave breadcrumbs for future generations to discover their own history.

PROJECT ANALYSIS

CONNECTIONS meets the primary objectives of the project, to create:

  • a cost effective solution for online archiving of personal information
  • easy to share collections of familial information
  • solutions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of genealogy research

CONNECTIONS is provided free for use. There are absolutely no fees for guests or registered users. Anyone can create a free account to gain access to the data. In future plans, development of the site will require a small budget to maintain hosting and offer new features. These costs may be offset by voluntary contributions from users – however the guiding principle of the site will be to provide a cost effective solution for online archiving of personal information.

Users can create multiple hubs of data that can be linked by relationships and locations. Users can link to material from collections held in external online repositories, such as The National Library of Australia’s digitised newspapers. Anyone can add and edit data, upload high resolution images and documents (up to a file size of 50MB) and connect these to personal records. All objects are stored in a central repository providing easy to share collections of familial information.

CONNECTIONS is a new tool for historians and genealogical enthusiasts to explore multiple avenues of associated data. With unrestricted search functionality, and the ability to connect data through many points of interest, this site provides solutions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of genealogy research.

LESSONS LEARNED

Throughout Exploring Digital Heritage, we’ve manipulated a variety of datasets – utilising a number of existing applications in an effort to determine how digital tools can be used to enhance our understanding of cultural heritage.

During my research, I used various genealogy websites, such as www.ancestry.com, to collect information about my own family; however, I found that I couldn’t easily extract these digital assets. I had many paper based records along with the information I found online, which led me to believe that I would need to create my own digital dataset, in order to test and demonstrate my ideas.

To build a truly extensible repository, you need to work with a standardised set of data. In the case of genealogy, the recognised standard is GEDCOM – a specification for sharing data between genealogical programs. This format was developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1996, and though there have been a few recommended updates, it’s still the industry standard.

I explored a few options to find an existing tool that had the features I required to meet the objectives of this project, such as:

  • import/export of GEDCOM files
  • the ability to attach images and documents to personal records
  • privacy filters to restrict the display of sensitive material to casual visitors
  • access control groups for administrators, users and family groups
  • Google maps display of geolocated data
  • A discussion forum to build an online community

In the end, I chose HuMo-Gen (www.humo-gen.com/humo-gen/cms_pages/11/). This program had most of the features I needed. Additionally, I implemented phpBB (www.phpbb.com/) as the community forum.
HuMo-Gen allows for storing a number of attributes for each member of the family tree, from the basic names and dates to locations, witnesses, and sources. You can also attach files to any family member. The program can generate a number of reports, including ancestors, descendants, timelines, and an outline view. Also featured in HuMo-gen are access control groups, allowing you to decide which information is public, and what additional information is revealed to any number of tiers of access.

HuMo-Gen is designed for individuals to add small family groups as users to edit their personal histories. Which is not exactly what I wanted, so there were a lot of changes that needed to be made to the display (PHP/HTML) and database (mySQL) code. Reverse engineering someone else’s code takes a long time – learning what the code means is all voodoo and black magic to me, so I had to have some help in understanding and modifying the code in order to get what I wanted from HuMo-Gen.

There were extensive modifications to the layout and display of both the front-facing site and the administration interface, as well as some reworking of the database tables. The Google Maps integration had to be completely pulled apart, as it didn’t work properly, in fact not at all with Chrome – and still doesn’t work properly due to several coding issues from the original source.

Many of the challenges in modifying the program came from the fact that the original author is Dutch, and while his English is excellent, his use of ‘interesting’ descriptions in his comments led to some confusion in interpreting functions within his code. This confusion can also be seen in some of the data entry interfaces – for example, the use of ‘Add’ and ‘Save’ are used interchangeably in some cases.

At this point in time, I have documented almost 200 individuals, and I’ve learnt that manual data entry is tedious at best. But now that I’ve done all this work, I know my efforts could be exported and used in multiple ways, by future historians. Equally, to expand this human network, I can easily import a GEDCOM file provided by another genealogist.

FUTURE PLANS

With this project, my aim was to bring information about people, places and things into one free for use research website – a single, ever expanding human tree, as opposed to a single family tree. But my ambition exceeded talent and time. My initial vision of this project attempted to solve too many problems at once. I didn’t understand the true time and effort required to bring the whole of this project to fruition.

CONNECTIONS is still a grandiose plan. There are many features that set it apart from other genealogy applications; however, some of the proposed key functions didn’t quite make it into this phase of development.
Some functionality that will be incorporated into future development will be:

A more user friendly data entry interface – The data entry screens are complicated to understand. A revised layout, with a more modern approach to data organisation would greatly benefit users. Also, there needs to be more help information, perhaps as hover actions when a user selects a field.

Liberate users from the search box – Provide entry points for users to browse the website, without knowing what data is available, such as enhancing the home page with a gallery of random images that link through to individual records.

Prevent users from creating duplicate records – Currently duplicate records can be identified via a manually run admin report. It would be more appropriate for the system to automatically notify a user that a similar or same record exists before the data is saved.

Simple download options for attachments – Images and documents need a ‘download’ button. One of the benefits of this site is to create a repository to allow users to share high resolution images. The ability to share information is key to the CONNECTIONS ethos.

Privacy filter for living persons – Currently, a privacy filter is applied to living persons so casual visitors to the site (guests) can’t view images and sensitive information. This filter is not in place for registered users. In future releases, this privacy filter will be in place for everyone; however, users will be able to lift restrictions to a group of ‘Friends’.

Separate events and places data – Events and places should have their own data entry interface to maintain information distinct from personal records.

Attach people, images and documents to events, places and addresses – For example, if I create the HMS Charlotte as a place or address, I should be able to add all the passengers. Or, if I create a church, I should be able to list the people married there.

Extra ‘relationship’ types – Need to define additional options for ‘relationships’. For example, ‘Friend’, ‘Business Partner’, ‘Group association’ (e.g. Freemasons).

Filter individuals by new categories – For example, ‘Relationship type’, ‘Lived at this address’, ‘Buried in this cemetery’, etc.

Geolocations of places and address – This functionality is integrated into HuMo-Gen, however I couldn’t get it to work properly.

Global user access – Currently users need to login separately for the website, the admin interface and the forum. There should be a single sign-on to access the entire site.

Fix Search functions – Some of the search functionality is a bit inconsistent. This probably needs a complete overhaul to ensure records are found consistently.

TESTING

  1. Go to: www.connections-hub.com
  2. Login with:
    Username = Test
    Password = test123

  3. Select Family tree
    Click on Photobook
    …Browse the images

  4. Select Family tree
    Click on Family tree index

  5. In the Search box on the right of the screen, type in: Povey
    Click Search

  6. Click on Capper, Grace Povey
    …My Great-aunt, Grace Povey Seccombe was a famous ceramist (trove.nla.gov.au/people/1486986?c=people)

  7. In the Search box on the top right corner of the screen, type in: Mehetabel
    Click Search

  8. Click on Crago, Mehetabel
  9. Hover over the report icon to the left of Mehetabel Crago
    Select Descendant chart from the popup menu

  10. Change Generations to 5
    …Ta-da! There I am at the bottom right of the screen: Lisa Beth Spencer

  11. Select Tools
    Click on Relationship calculator

  12. Individual 1 – First name, type in: Lisa
    Click Search
    Select Spencer, Lisa Beth (1969) from the search results

  13. Individual 2 – First name, type in: Jane
    Click search
    Select Poole, Jane (1768) from the search results

  14. Click Calculate relationships
    …Ta-da! I’m related to a first fleet convict. I knew there was a reason I had a tendency for larceny…

Week 7

This weeks class looked the assumed correctness of data visualisation services, particularly in application to mapping. This isnt only a discussion for the digital world. Co-incidentally I was having this exact talk with a friend only a few weeks ago, having never been to Australia he was talking about driving from Canberra across to Perth and then Broome. The true size of Australia is a common misconception amoung my international friends and services such as The true size of… is an excellent way of being able to visualise this information (particularly as Australian’s have a bit of a reputation for spinning a tall tale).

Being aware of the skewing of information is also extremely important in academic works. Providing as much context as possible for your data will decrease the chance of a miscommunication of information or intent.

Week 5 Reflection

Due to a timetabling clash, I had to leave this week’s class early so I could attend a different unit’s class which wasn’t going to be recorded and contained important information. But the parts I was present for, were definitely interesting.

I particularly found Google’s Ngram Viewer interesting. I find it intriguing to compare 3  classic authors – Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Frances Burney – and extend the search parameters to 1500-2000 and seeing that a few results appear long before the authors were born.

QueryPic can also produce interesting results which can only properly explained when the data source of the results is examined, which can provide clues into the social history of the data’s era.

What I have seen of Word-Counter and Voyant Tools shows good potential.

 

Week 4 Reflection

I found this week to be technical enough for me to follow along with in class, but slightly too technical and complicated to do all by myself

I had heard of a couple of the things covered in class – like APIs and Trove Harvester – though I don’t claim to have been very knowledgeable about them. So learning about them again was beneficial for me and my digital knowledge.

I like the concept of WTFCSV, because the only thing I would be able to think about doing with a CSV file would be the ‘CSV Import’ plug-in in Omeka. So a tool like WTFCSV will be helpful when I encounter CSV files in future and give me ideas on what to do with the data within it.

The concepts of scrapping and cleaning data were somewhat foreign to me, but this week’s lesson explained them pretty well, which means I feel a bit more confident with the processes.

Week 3 Reflection

I learned several things in this week’s class. One of these things has confirmed something I have suspected for a while about the internet – personalised searches and advertisements. I had often thought that the degree of relevancy of ads and suggestions I see on sites like Google and Facebook couldn’t be a coincidence, and now it has been confirmed.

It’s also interesting to learn that Google’s search algorithm apparently mirrors conversations about the subject of the search enquiry.

The thing I learnt that I found the most interesting was about copyright and Trove. I had no idea just how complicated copyright can be when digitally publishing newspapers. Nor did I know that unpublished manuscripts have perpetual copyright.

The ‘GIF It Up’ competition, run by the Digital Library of America and DigitalNZ, sounds really interesting. But even looking at the provided tutorial material, it is still a bit too confusing for me, so I might not enter – especially since I’m a full-time student and I unit assessments are more of a priority than competitions.

Week 9 Reflection

The ASIO Redaction art was really fascinating. I find it interesting that some of the redactions are perfect rectangles, others are simply the appearance of highlighting text. And then there’s the art, my gosh, it is brilliant. I can only imagine the circumstances which would lead to people turning the necessary redactions into drawings. Whoever first thought of doing it, was a truly great human being.

I enjoyed learning and playing with the Twitter bot FaceDepot and how its programming recognises what it believes are faces and then randomly picks another face from Trove photos and swaps them. I had lots of fun experimenting with the bot. I sent it several photos  – some of them to challenge its programming to see what it would come up with, which produced some interesting and funny results.

In terms of privacy concerns with facial detection software, I do sometimes worry about my face being used for something without my knowledge or permission. However, my worries are no where near bad enough to warrant any of the strange hairstyles shown in class.

Week 2 Reflection

Something fun this week was the traffic light post-it notes. I think they’re such a great idea and I think they’re fun to use.

I didn’t realise how many Twitter bots were out there, so I definitely enjoyed learning about them, how they worked and what they produced.

The crowd-sourcing section was definitely interesting. I liked that the ‘Zooniverse’ website had a wide variety of projects people can contribute to, and that they are sorted into categories. I checked out a few different ones to see what they were about and what you had to do. I think some were easier than others. For instance, I personally prefer ones where you transcribe text as opposed to ones where you have to identify if there are animals present in a picture, and if so what they are. I find the animal one difficult because I am by no means an animal expert and I found myself searching Google Images for the different species options that were available to figure out what they looked like and what differentiates them from other animals.

Week 10 Reflection

This class is always good fun, but this week was so much more fun than your stereotypical university class.

Before this lesson, I do not believe that I had ever experienced Virtual Reality, so to do so as part of a unit was awesome. I went into the lesson with virtually no prior knowledge about VR, how it works, or its accessibility. By the end of the afternoon I had learned that anyone with a smartphone can access VR thanks to Google’s affordable ‘Cardboard’ VR goggles – and how disconcerting it can be when you take the goggles off.

I also discovered the glorious online PC game, Second Life, which I promptly downloaded but unfortunately doesn’t work very well with my currently sluggish laptop 🙁

The part where a 3D image was created of an object right there in the classroom, was slightly mind-blowing. I wasn’t previously aware of the app technology that made such a thing possible without expensive hardware. Only problem is that I do not believe that I would be able to have stable enough hands to create a good 3D image – I can’t keep completely still when filming something with my hands and arms resting flat on something. C’est la vie!

Week 13 Reflection

I found Week 13 to be a very useful and helpful week. I liked being able to work on my project with Tim nearby if I had problems or questions.

One of my aims to going to the drop-in session was to see if my laptop would work properly with the UC-Student Wi-Fi as opposed to its severe lack of speed with my own internet at Cooper Lodge. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It turned out to be just as slow and as fond of ‘Not Responding’. So it still took annoying lengths of time to get anything done.

In the classroom I attempted to embed a video off Youtube – something I hadn’t done for about a year. I thought I knew what I was doing, but turns out forgot you have to select the HTML box in order for it to embed the video and not just display the embedding link.

I then encountered problems with embedding a map I created with Google onto the same page as an embedded Youtube video. If I hadn’t gone into the drop-in session, I never would have known how to fix it, nor would I have known the best way to link articles from Trove.

Week 7 Reflection

The content of this week was definitely useful for my project idea and methods and tools which can be used to create elements of my project which are needed to fulfil its aims and hopes.

I liked that Google MyMaps was covered as I had forgotten how most of it worked since Semester 2 last year. I especially liked discovering that you can change the colour of the location/point of interest markers.

Unfortunately, just under an hour in to this week’s class, I had to leave to go to a compulsory practical exam for a Forensic Science class.

After the practical finished and I got home, I tried to do follow along with the rest of the lesson notes, but I found some of it harder to do by myself outside of the classroom with Tim.

So I’m going to stick with what I feel comfortable with, and use Google MyMaps to create the maps for my project.