Family Trees Get the 2.0 Treatment With Geni

By Michelle Boule |

As a new mom, I’ve been thinking nonstop about family. I look at my son and wonder what I will tell him about his family. Genealogy has been a quest for every generation, and has become much more popular in recent years. Still, until now there have not been many online tools that could map out family trees.

Enter Geni. With the tagline "Everyone's related," Geni takes family relations and adds all the bells and whistles the Internet has to offer. The best part is that this tool is free, user friendly, and easy on the eyes. It was built by former employees of PayPal, eGroups (which was bought by Yahoo! in 2000), Tribe, and eBay and has many design features that users will find familiar.

A user can easily create a profile and begin adding people to a family tree. While adding people to your tree, you have the option of sending them an invitation to Geni. As more family members join, filling in the tree can become a collaborative effort. Geni is simple to learn for novice Internet users. The first time you go into the Tree section of your account a tutorial pops up and walks you through adding members. There are also explanatory tags on the tree that help explain the colors of the boxes (blue for boys and pink for girls) and how to edit someone's profile. For the advanced user, all of these features can be turned off. There are even easy to use print and export buttons.


The Smith Family Tree

Adding family members to create a tree is just one of many things that Geni offers. Like any good web tool, there are many social aspects-- you can discuss things on a board, send messages to people on your tree, upload photos and videos, create a calendar for family events, post news items, and create robust profiles. Geni is like a self contained facebook for families.

Geni has very unique and interesting features. There is a tab labeled Forest on your home page—the forest is a layout of how many people are in your immediate family tree, how many other trees are related to yours (through marriage, for example), and how many people are in your forest. As an incentive to add content, members in your forest are listed on an Awards page with categories that include the most uploads, most people added, and most people invited to join.

There is an Index that allows you to view each tree in your forest and see a breakdown of the last names contained in each individual tree. Geni also includes an application of the Google Map API that can display the locations of your family members on a map. I was also pleased to discover that Geni allows for same sex couples and partners. When adding a partner to an individual, you have the choice of both a male and female partner.

Geni Main Page

Many people will be wary of the fact that Geni asks users to put personal information in a public place but the creators thought of a solution. The default settings for your personal profile and the trees themselves are limited only to people who are in your forest, which  will usually be people that they know. The privacy settings are highly customizable, allowing complete access to your information or a complete lockdown of your tree and profile. This will be a nice feature for people who are careful with the information they share about their family, especially their children.

When I was looking through the list of what Geni users can upload, I was concerned about their copyright and terms of use regarding individual content. According to their site, users retain all control and copyright over uploaded content. I was unable to find information on an upload limit. Like Flickr, you can create albums and favorites and see pictures that others have uploaded in which you appear. Geni does retain the right to remove things that are offensive or that violate copyright.

Overall, this appears to be a great tool. Almost every aspect of Geni has multiple options, so it appeals to both basic and advanced users. For me it is only missing one thing: RSS. There are no RSS feeds of any of the pages, even ones that would benefit from their addition, like the discussion board or news items but hopefully these will be added later.

Librarians could recommend Geni to genealogy enthusiasts as a different way to create visuals of their family trees. A family could easily use Geni to plan a family reunion or wedding with the discussion board and ability upload photos. Geni would also be fantastic for teaching children about their family tree and how everyone is related to each other.

My engineer husband thought of an unorthodox--to use it in software design to show how different modules relate to each other. Geni is a true web 2.0 tool, right down to the fact that its true usefulness may have yet to be uncovered.