Are you reading this article on a desktop or laptop computer? If so, your method of using the web is slowly disappearing. The World Wide Web is being re-invented and is moving to handheld devices. I am not speaking of the future. The change is happening NOW.
Keith Rabois didn’t mince words when he talked recently about the potential of mobile startups. He said that “the web as you know it” is “dead, dying, will be dying,” and that the future lies in reinventing Web experiences on the mobile phone.
Rabois is obviously biased as he is the Chief Operating Officer at Square, a company that provides credit card processing hardware and software for the iPhone, iPad and Android handheld devices. However, I think he is on to something. The importance of the mobile experience is growing fast.
Shane Robison, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Technology Officer for Hewlett-Packard Company would agree. Speaking in February at the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Robison stated that many new Internet users around the world have never used a traditional desktop or laptop computer. Instead, they access their email, the World Wide Web, and other online services with "smartphone" cell phones, handheld tablets, and similar mobile devices. He predicted that, within a few years, the MAJORITY of web usage will be from mobile devices, not from desktop or even laptop computers. This will be true in all markets, not just the third-world countries. While not a genealogist himself, Shane suggested that genealogy providers need to offer their services to mobile and desktop users alike.
In fact, this is not the future; the cloud has already arrived in genealogy. The New FamilySearch web site, with terabytes of information, has its databases and web servers "in the cloud." The New England Historic Genealogical Society has its databases with more than 100 million names stored in the cloud. Access is already available from home and from mobile devices.
Access to databases from handheld computers is also expanding rapidly. The Ancestry.com Tree to Go iPhone application is but one recent example. Ancestry.com users can now view their genealogy data and even add more information from handheld iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices. Online access works whether you are at home, riding the commuter train, attending a genealogy conference, or visiting the old family homestead on a trip to Amish country. Genealogists are no longer "tied" to their desks at home. Details may be found at http://landing.ancestry.com/iphone/
Another example, MobileTree (not to be confused with MobileFamilyTree, a different program) allows New Family Search customers to access their FamilySearch data directly on their iPhone or iPod Touch. In short, you can have your online database in your pocket at all times, and the information is automatically updated without any involvement from you. There is no copying of files, no GEDCOM files, and no other systems tasks involved. Just turn the handheld device on and use it. You can read my review of MobileTree at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/11/mobiletree-for-the-iphone-and-ipod-touch.html
New FamilySearch, The Next Generation, PhpGedView, WebTrees, FamilyTreeExplorer.com, WeRelate.org, and other genealogy programs use online databases. Some of them are cloud-based while others still operate on servers in a single data center. All of them are accessible from desktop, laptop, and battery-powered handheld computers alike, even while traveling down a super highway or when riding the commuter train.
Even this newsletter can be read on your handheld device, formatted in a manner to fit the smaller screen. From your handheld device, open the web browser and go to http://www.eogn.com/mobile.
Clearly, the world is moving to battery-powered computers and I would suggest that we are all better off as a result. After all, why should information be confined to your home or to a library or archive? In fact, why should information only be delivered over a wired connection? Shouldn't it also be available via wireless? Indeed, it already is.
Genealogy information should be available to you whenever and wherever you want it. We haven't arrived at all the solutions just yet, but we are already en route.
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