I’m a software designer, so inevitably I set high standards when it comes to others’ efforts and am parsimonious with praise. But I also know how hard it is to design and build good software. So, when I see something excellent, I feel I ought to say so.
How should we judge software? How about these criteria?
- Fitness for purpose. It’s got to do what it’s supposed to do.
- Graphical attractiveness.It should look good.
- Ease of use. It should be easy to navigate and learn.
- Speed. It should work quickly.
- Value for money.
I’ve been researching my own family history in recent months, finding a mess of criminality, illegitimacy, avarice, madness, shipwreck, gaol-time, disappearance and poverty (as I suppose most of us would find if we looked back widely and far enough). The tool I’ve been using is http://www.ancestry.com and it’s this website/software that has astonished me.
It is logically clever and quick, especially when it comes to the hints it puts forward for further family connections or corroborating evidence, presenting suggestions that you can accept or reject with just a click or two. I would love to understand the underlying database structure.
Even though on every page there are many things that you might want to do, all the options are laid out so clearly that you never struggle to understand what you might do next.
The site also has a vast array of data from all over the world at its disposal including registers of births, marriages and deaths, census details, passenger lists, divorce proceedings, prison admissions and releases, and newspaper articles. However do they manage to digitize all this? And it scours these data at breakneck speed to find any useful links.
And of course it handles variants of names with ease.
When you’ve finally constructed your family tree (mine now has about 200 family members in it and is still a work in progress) it presents the structure with economy and clarity, offering a number of different perspectives.
Whoever designed this has done a wonderful job.
To use it you pay a subscription. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it.
- Fitness for purpose: 10/10
- Graphical attractiveness: 10/10
- Ease of use: 10/10
- Speed: 10/10
- Value for money: 10/10
I wish I could say the same (or others would say the same) about the software I design!