31 July 2011

Family Village Review

Family Village in alpha came out several months ago at which time the concept sparked my interest. In the more recent beta stages of this Facebook app I decided to give it a test run.

Facebook and Facebook games have become popular as of late among a crowd not necessarily prone to interest in genealogy. There is a movement growing in the genealogical community to reach out and bring more people in by making apps that work better with these new audiences. These apps generally take advantage of mobile technology and/or social media. Family Village is a prime example. Lovers of FarmVille and other similar Facebook games will recognize a familiar feel. In this game the player controls a village by building new buildings, populating the village, and assigning jobs to the villagers. The twist is that villagers are the people in your family tree and while you play the game it automatically searches FamilyLink genealogy databases (such as WorldVitalRecords) for documents about those ancestors.

I played the game for several hours and over a period of a couple weeks starting the last Saturday in May. By the end of my first day of playing several issues with the game were apparent, the most disappointing being the search function. Only once was something found that correctly identified an ancestor of mine. The search is limited to FamilyLink databases. After holding a subscription to WorldVitalRecords--one of their databases---for 2 years, I canceled my membership because it provided too few records relevant to my family history research. I have instead found websites like FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com to be worth the price--free in one case. If Family Village used the FamilySearch API in their app then all of the records on FamilySearch.org could be searched for free from within the Facebook game. That would add significant value and no additional cost to the developer. A manual search option or search filters could also improve the search experience. Many other improvements could be made to make the concept of Family Village a success. I continue to believe the concept of Family Village is a good one, but the time investment to play it is not worth the minimal genealogical return it provides in its current state. The company acknowledges Family Village is still in beta and has several improvements on the way.

Family Village has a wonderful concept and deserves to be watched. My recommendation is to keep track of this app. There are several minor upgrades that are being put into place on a regular basis making it a better game. One major game-play upgrade occurred when I booted up the game while I was in my couple week testing phase for this review. I simply hope that when it comes out of beta FamilyLink and Funium will have addressed the issue with search.

In the mean time if you are looking for fun new technologies that help advance the work of genealogy I suggest trying out the new headstone photography and transcription crowd-sourcing program, BillionGraves.com