I have installed various genealogy programs onto Windows computers, Macintosh systems, and Linux desktop systems. I have even installed genealogy programs onto PocketPC and Palm handheld computers. This week I used a program that didn't install onto any of those; it is installed on a web server.
The program I used is also an excellent tool for "collaborative research projects" among distant cousins or other groups. You can easily have several people in different locations editing the database simultaneously. You cannot easily do that on a standard desktop genealogy program! This program is great for family societies and other group projects.
PhpGedView is a genealogy program that allows you to view and edit genealogy data that is stored on your personal web site. You can use PhpGedView in the same manner as most other genealogy programs with three exceptions:
- It is installed on a web server and stores its data there instead of on your own hard drive.
- You can use PhpGedView with any Windows, Macintosh, Linux, or even handheld computer.
- You can make PhpGedView private so that only you can see the data. If you prefer, you can also give access to a few other family members or to everyone in the world. You can give read-only access, or you can give others the ability to input data as well. You can even give one level of access to some people and a different level to others. You can grant or remove anyone's access at any time. If you are the owner, or system administrator, of the database, all access is under your control at all times. The choices are yours to make.
Your latest genealogy information is always available on your website within seconds after the data is entered. It is also available within seconds for others to see if you allow them to have access.
While the program runs on a web server that might be many miles from where you are sitting, PhpGedView allows you to edit the data and run reports almost as if the information was on your own desktop or laptop computer. You open a web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc.), connect to the web server, and edit your genealogy data as you wish. You can import data from GEDCOM files, manually add or edit data, or even add multimedia files, such as photos and document images. You can also run reports.
Of course, the Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and handheld computers that work with PhpGedView must have Internet connectivity. All the PhpGedView software is installed on a web server. To use it, all the user needs is any modern computer with a web browser.
All of this sounds complicated and, indeed, it can be. Then again, it also can be super simple. In fact, PhpGedView can even be easier to install and configure than any Windows or Macintosh genealogy program by simply letting someone else do the installation for you!
First of all, it doesn't make financial sense to purchase a web server in order to use PhpGedView. There are dozens of web hosting services that will provide plenty of space for your project on their shared servers for $5.00 a month or so. That is much cheaper than purchasing your own web server. In addition, you don't have the headaches of maintaining it, doing the backups, and fixing things that go wrong. For five bucks a month, someone else gets those headaches.
In fact, you can find free web hosting services. However, most of the free services will not allow you to install and run PHP programs. If you are willing to spend $4.95/month or so, you can find hundreds of hosting services that can easily support PhpGedView.
Next, you can find several hosting services that willingly install and configure PhpGedView software for you or anyone else who wishes to use their services. You need to have almost zero technical skills to use one of these "turnkey services." Computer newbies will find that using one of these turnkey services is easier than installing a regular genealogy program on a home computer. The installation fees charged by the various turnkey services can be zero or very close to zero, depending on which service you choose. Most of them will give you free installation if you agree to host your PhpGedView database on their hosting service. I'll describe the various services available near the end of this article.
If you are involved in a multi-person genealogy project with your family association or with a local genealogy society, you should carefully evaluate PhpGedView. It could simplify your life. Running a multi-user program such as PhpGedView, along with a multi-user database, has a number of advantages over the typical single-user genealogy program designed to run on a desktop computer. For instance, in a multi-person effort using PhpGedView, each user sees the latest data all the time. Using PhpGedView for a group project with several people contributing data is much easier than using a traditional genealogy program on a home computer for the same purpose.
First, if all the group members are using individual programs on their own home computers, how do they share the data? How do they synchronize their databases with each other when they make changes on one computer? With PhpGedView, the answer is easy: everyone works directly on the same database at the same time. Everyone sees the same thing at all times. The program is designed to allow two, three, or more people to input data simultaneously, assuming that each is inputting data about different people. When any authorized user makes a change, everyone else can see it instantly. There is only one database; so, there are no synchronization problems.
PhpGedView is an excellent choice for multi-user projects. In fact, PhpGedView might be one of the best solutions available for a family society or a local genealogy society where a number of people are contributing data to one database.
When it comes to publishing data on the web, most desktop genealogy programs can generate web pages. Almost all of today's programs have an option to generate HTML files, which then can be uploaded to a personal web server. This is a multi-step process that is unnecessary in PhpGedView. In this case, PhpGedView is installed on a web server, and the appropriate HTML files are generated instantly as needed. There is no multi-step upload process from one computer to another; everything originates and finishes on the one web server.
PhpGedView also handles the privacy issues nicely, something that is a bit more difficult in other genealogy programs where the data is generated on a desktop system and then uploaded to a web server. PhpGedView will even automatically hide or show private information, based on whom you allow to have access to it. That is, you can give user IDs and passwords to multiple people. Depending on the security levels that you set, some of the people will see data that does not show any information about living people. Yet you can give a higher level of access to "trusted friends," who will then be able to see all the data, including information about living people. That is only one of a number of options.
PhpGedView is available in the following languages: Chinese (partially translated), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. In fact, this program will operate in multiple languages simultaneously. Your relatives in the U.S. can view the pages in English while those back in "the old country" can simultaneously view the pages in their native languages. These language options obviously only apply to the menus and "static" pages created by the program. The data and text notes that you enter will remain in whatever language you used when you created the information.
With most genealogy programs that I review, I normally spend some time describing the program's interface, its user screens, and how to navigate around it. In the case of PhpGedView, this is nearly impossible. The program is very flexible, and the producers of PhpGedView encourage and expect each user to modify the screens and navigation links. I don't think I could possibly describe the navigation of each of the myriad of possible combinations. Instead of attempting such a description, I'll refer you to several online sites that are using PhpGedView so that you may see them for yourself. If you looked at a number of these sites before reading this article, you probably would have thought that they were all running different programs. Not so. Each of the following is running PhpGedView, but many of the site owners have customized the views and navigation extensively. I would suggest you first look at these demo sites:
After checking out the above sites, you can find another listing of more than 500 other PhpGedView-powered sites at http://phpgedview.sourceforge.net/registry.php. Some of them are using PhpGedView just as it is configured "out of the box" while others have made extensive customizations. Many of those sites are in languages other than English.
PhpGedView can create numerous reports, including the following:
- Fan Chart - View an individual's ancestry as a fan.
- Ancestry Chart - View the ancestry of a person including aunts and uncles and their spouses.
- Zoom Chart Boxes - On charts you can allow visitors to zoom in on the boxes and get more information and bigger fonts or zoom out for the "big picture."
- Anniversary Calendar- Lists all of the events that happened on a given date. Filter the events to show only living people or only recent events.
- Relationship Chart- Provides a visual reference of how two individuals link together.
- Timeline Chart- You can chart up to 6 people on a single timeline. From the timeline chart you can see how people's lives overlapped, find out how old they were at different times, and chart the course of their life through time.
- Multiple Generation Pedigree Chart - View as many generations as you want and quickly navigate up and down the pedigree tree. Click on any person or family to get their details.
- General Keyword and Soundex Searches - Search the entire GEDCOM file for keywords or based on Soundex values of individuals' last and first names.
- Descendancy Chart Navigation - View descendancy charts and move up and down the chart or easily switch branches with simple mouse clicks.
- Place hierarchy - Browse through all of the places in your GEDCOM file and quickly see who lived where. For example, start with browsing in the United States, then choose a state such as Arizona, then choose a county. At any time you can click on the view results link to see who lived in those areas.
- Individual, Family, and Source Lists - View lists of the sources, families, and individuals, broken down by surname.
- PDF Reports - The reports menu allows you to generate nice PDF reports of your data for printing. XML report templates allow for simple creation of new reports.
- Photos and Multimedia - View photos and other multimedia items in the Multimedia list or attached to records in the GEDCOM.
In addition, PhpGedView has numerous other options, two of which I do not remember seeing in other genealogy programs:
- RSS Feed - PhpGedView comes with an RSS feed generator for your users who like to view the latest updates through RSS feeds.
- GEDCOM Clippings Cart - The clippings cart gives visitors to your site the ability to take Family Tree Clippings from your family tree, download them as a GEDCOM file and import them into their favorite family history program.
So, how much does this powerful, multi-user, multi-language program cost? The answer is, "Not one cent."
That's right: PhpGedView is free of charge for everyone. There are no limited trial versions and no "beg screens" asking for payment. PhpGedView is open source and is hosted at SourceForge.net, an organization that provides storage space to many open source projects. Because PhpGedView is open source and licensed under the GNU Public License, if you don't like something about it, you can either change it yourself (assuming you have programming abilities) or submit a bug or feature request and let the developers change it. While there is no cost whatsoever to use the program, you can make a donation to help support the development of the project, should you wish to do so.
PhpGedView is an ongoing project with new updates released every few months. It is being developed by a very talented group of software developers from several countries. You can see a list of those contributing to this project at http://phpgedview.sourceforge.net/about.php#developers.
Now let's address the biggest issue with PhpGedView: installation and configuration. Even those tasks can be trivial. In reality, you don't need to install the software yourself; you can have someone else do that for you.
Most desktop genealogy programs require you to either download a file or insert a CD-ROM disk into your computer, then double-click on SETUP or some similar file name. You then sit back and watch while the software installs itself more or less automatically.
PhpGedView is different. Assuming that you plan to install the software yourself, PhpGedView requires you to download files from SourceForge.net, change some configuration files, and then upload the files to the web server that is hosting your data. To be sure, this is not a complex process; hundreds of other people have done exactly that. You do not need to be an experienced system administrator to do these chores, but I still would not recommend this for computer newcomers. However, if you are comfortable with computers and would like to learn more about software and web servers, PhpGedView is an excellent project for you.
For those who prefer to have someone else do the work, there is an excellent alternative: sign up with a hosting service that will install and configure PhpGedView for you. All you have to do is create an account with such a service, wait a day or two for them to do the installation, then log onto your new site and start using it. That is even easier than installing your own programs on a Windows or Macintosh computer!
Several such hosting services are available:
PGVHosting.com provides hosting for your PhpGedView site for $5.95 a month (U.S. funds). That price includes a database of up to 4,000 individuals. Larger databases are available for increased fees. You send your GEDCOM file to PGVHosting, and they do all the rest of the work for you. The company will create a web site, install and configure PhpGedView, and then import your GEDCOM file. More information is available at http://www.pgvhosting.com. Also check out the company's demo of PhpGedView in operation at http://www.pgvhosting.com/demo/.
OurRoots.info will even give you a free web site for your PhpGedView data and will perform the software installation for you. The free service is limited to 2,500 individuals in the database and 20 megabytes of disk space. Larger databases and more disk space are available for fees starting at $4.99 a month. You can find more information about OurRoots.info at http://www.ourroots.info. Also check out their demo of PhpGedView running on their systems at http://www.ourroots.info/phpGedView.
TreeShare.com is a PhpgedView hosting service based in Canada but with customers all over the world. TreeShare provides all setup, hosting, maintenance, and support. For an extra fee, TreeShare.com will even modify your site to fit your personal preferences. When you sign up, TreeShare usually creates your site within one business day. You will be notified by email when the site is ready. Prices start at $4.99 (U.S. funds) per month for a database of up to 5,000 individuals and 40 megabytes of disk space. Additional capacity is available for modest increases in fees. For more information, look http://www.ourroots.info. You can also view TreeShare.com's demo version of PhpGedView at http://www.ourroots.info/phpGedView.
123-FamilyTree.com offers two PhpGedView hosting plans start at $4.95 a month. Details may be found at http://123-familytree.com/.
The final PhpGedView hosting service that I found is Genview, a company in The Netherlands. I found less information about Genview since their web site is in Dutch, a language that I cannot read. Newsletter readers in The Netherlands or elsewhere who want their pages hosted on a Dutch service should look at http://www.genview.nl.
I am very impressed with PhpGedView. It is quite different from any other genealogy program I have used. Installation and configuration are a non-issue if you let someone else do all the work for you. The software is free, and hosting prices for the required web server vary from free to $5.95 a month for a typical genealogy database. Anyone with a really large database may need to pay $10.00 or $20.00 a month for hosting services. Of course, if you have a web server of your own, you can always install PhpGedView and your database there free of charge.
In the 2002 New Year's edition of this newsletter, I made the following bold prediction:
I expect that in 2002 at least one more major player will release a genealogy program that stores its database online. The data entered into that program will then be shared or not, depending upon the user's preferences.
That prediction came true, and the trend continues. One company did release such a program in 2002, one that runs in a Windows PC but automatically stores data on a web server as well as on the PC's local disk. Other programs followed in later years, each adding more and more online capability. Last year I wrote about two other such programs: The Next Generation (see my articles at http://tinyurl.com/2lazvm) and PedigreeSoft (see my articles at http://tinyurl.com/38wk9x).
PhpGedView, The Next Generation, and PedigreeSoft are examples of the trend in removing genealogy databases from isolated home computers and moving them into web-based environments. As broadband connectivity becomes more pervasive, this trend is going to continue. Many of us already carry laptop and handheld computers with wireless network connectivity built in. We can access our own genealogy data and that of others at high speeds from almost anyplace.
I suspect that ten years from now everyone will store their genealogy data in large databases on the web. PhpGedView is one more evolutionary step along that path. I believe we will see even more powerful web-based genealogy programs appear within a few years.
To learn more about PhpGedView or to download this powerful free program, go to http://phpgedview.sourceforge.net.