Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monthly newsletter for FreeBMD, FreeCEN and FreeREG

Issue 1 - March 2011

Welcome to the first FreeUKGEN newsletter, updating you on the latest information about the three constituent projects, FreeBMD, FreeCEN and FreeREG.

Dr Nick Barratt - Executive Director (nick.barratt@virgin.net)

1. Tri-project seminar

The tri-project seminar will take place on Thursday 21 April 2011 at The National Archives.

2. Executive meetings

In advance of the Tri-project seminar on 21 April, I will be meeting the Executives of FreeCEN and FreeREG on 29 March to discuss detailed requirements for each project.

3. Access to data and copyright

This issue remains a major concern to FreeCEN and FreeREG, and is currently being addressed in conversations with various organisations, including Familysearch, Ancestry, Find My Past and the Federation of Family History Societies. Contact with county and diocesan archives will also be made, once the first set of discussions to obtain material via partner organisations have concluded.

However, the situation is complicated by copyright issues which need to be addressed at the same time. This is not an easy area to work in, given the way copyright is created and assigned especially when ‘format shifting’ original raw data into printed format, microform or digital image. Similarly, copyright of transcriptions entered into the three project websites needs clarification as well and is also being addressed as an ongoing issue.

4. Software and website development

We are currently examining ways to make the three project websites look more synchronised, as well as provide elements of synchronicity when searching for people. The aim is to move towards a front-end platform that serves as a portal to the three sites, permitting the user to search across all three datasets by name; or drilling down into each individual website to search specific datasets, as they do at the moment. The look and feel – the skin – of the sites needs to be updated, and decisions made about the level of advertising hosted on each site, as without funds we cannot survive as an organisation.

Linked to this is a recognition that amendments need to be made to the current software for creation and submission of transcription data to ease the workload of Dave Mayall, and make the data easier to search across the projects. As with copyright, this is a tricky area because of the ongoing nature of the work; integrating new software could cause problems, whilst a completely new operating system might be equally disruptive. Work is ongoing, though, to fix existing problems based on the feedback we receive from the project Executives and Co-ordinators; however, as with any volunteer network, these things can take time so one route under consideration is the injection of funds to commission some work in this area. We are talking to a couple of organisations that might be able to assist with this, as well as the possibility of Open Source coding from the web or recruiting more technical volunteers. If you know of anyone who would be able to assist with coding and web development, please let me know via email.

5. Marketing and Promotion

Until the website situation is addressed, there is only a limited amount of marketing and promotion we can do around the three projects. However, an article about the work of FreeREG in Your Family History magazine generated a flood of enquiries from potential volunteers; and at the recent Who Do You Think You Are Live event, held at Olympia 25 – 27 February 2011 the projects won third place in Family Tree magazine’s Website of the Decade award, as voted for by the readers of the magazine. Given that this is the largest circulating magazine in the sector, and considering the number of commercial websites out there with large budget spends, this is an amazing achievement and one of the Trustees, Camilla von Massenbach, proudly collected the award at the event. Congratulations must go to everyone – the transcribers for producing the data, the Co-ordinators and Executives of the three projects, and the Trustees for facilitating the site.

We are also looking into using the social network Twitter to promote our work, and encourage volunteers to join up for transcription. At the moment, the most obvious user names have already been taken – FreeBMD, FreeCEN and FreeREG – so alternatives are being sought. If anyone would like to manage their relevant project account and post information, please let me know.

6. Open Genealogical Alliance

The three projects, under the banner of FreeBMD, have become major supporters of the Open Genealogical Alliance, announced at Who Do You Think You Are Live on the main theatre with the support of actress Miriam Margolyes. The aim of OGA is to challenge the current predominance of commercial organisations in the sector, as they skew access to data towards ‘pay-per-view’ models which means organisations such as ours are disadvantaged when trying to access data at source from the archives. This is one of the issues we’re facing at the moment when negotiating with county archives for access to parish registers, albeit a special case since parish registers are not considered public records per se, something else that OGA will be examining as part of its remit. As a consequence, OGA is questioning whether pay per view data is truly open; and if not, then projects such as ours should be given free access to the digital images to work off – thus producing higher quality ‘clean’ transcriptions which will benefit everyone.

Other projects that OGA are investigating include an economic survey of the genealogical sector, examining ways in which the market can still be monetised, but more room is made for volunteer transcription projects without compromising the need for archives to digitise, and recover costs (linked to what’s been outlined above); a survey of the various means of access to genealogical data, to produce a one stop shop guide to all data on the web (think ‘genealogy supermarket price comparison website, and you’re on the right lines); an assessment of Big Society Government projects that we could get involved with, such as the civil registration digitisation and indexing project that was halted last year; and an assessment of the legal status of parish registers – public record or private deposit by the church.

The other key driver of OGA is the Open Rights Group, and supporters also include the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Federation of Family History Societies. The website has only just been launched www.opengenalliance.org and you can follow them on Twitter @opengenalliance

This is an edited version - edited by me.