Inspiration

Family History is already big in the US, but only beginning to become popular in Europe - especially Central and Eastern Europe. Traditionally only elderly people engage in family research, but due to the popularity of the Internet and the increasing availability of online resources, also younger people in Europe jump the train and become interested in their families' past. What is missing up until now is a service, which is genuinely European, understands the specific needs of European researchers and builds upon cooperation of and networking with local and regional companies, non-profit organizations, government institutions and individual users - experts and beginners alike.

What it does

At its core, GenSoup is an online platform which enables users to enter or import their family trees and to help them with their research. The first part of GenSoup is now in private beta and can be tried and tested at http://beta.gensoup.com. There are several features still missing, right now we are in negotiations with business angels to raise capital for completing the development process.

GenSoup is by no means bugfree yet, but the private beta already shows where our journey is going.

Features already available

  • GEDCOM import - GenSoup has gone great lengths to support many available GEDCOM dialects in order to make it possible for users of older desktop applications and other online services to import their data with almost no loss. Specifics of various systems can be configured via an elaborated filter system in the administration backend.
  • Family tree input - Family trees can also be entered by hand, giving users a great variety of forms and fields to enter all kinds of data at the right place - including a sophisticated handling of all sorts of names an individual had during his/her lifetime.
  • Family tree display - Family trees are being displayed with latest technologies for compatibility and ease of use. Attention is paid to detail, for example shortening of names in relation to zoom level.
  • Individual profiles - Every individual has a his/her own profile page, which will be publicly available and search engine optimized, if the owner chooses so.
  • Standardized places - GenSoup uses the German GOV database in order to standardize the input of places (historical or current).
  • Instant research help - By entering a location and an optional date for birth, marriage or death, GenSoup makes suggestions where more information about a person could be found. This information could be a direct link to a church record, a database or a web site of a real-world organization. Our database currently includes about 80.000 links from Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
  • Europan hosting and European data security - GenSoup fulfills the highest standards of European data security and privacy regulations. The servers are hosted within a high security compound in Vienna, Austria, connections are https only and privacy settings can be finetuned for each user, each family tree and each individual profile by the individual user.

Features not yet available

  • Cooperation - Gensoup features an elaborate rights management which enables every owner of a tree to designate additional administrators, contributors or readers (if the tree is private).
  • Matching - GenSoup will check all trees for similarities and notify users if any duplicates are found. Depending on privacy settings it might be necessary to give reader-permissions to the admin of the other tree in order that he/she can see the matches. Matching on GenSoup will not only about local trees, but also against various integrated and external databases with historic personal information.
  • Virtual integration of other trees - If you accept a match you can either choose to copy its content or to "virtually integrate" a part of the other tree into your tree. This way we avoid duplication of content - and useless work. Your distant cousin is the expert on his part of the tree and every change he makes will be instantly available in your tree as well.
  • Story Telling - An integral part of GenSoup is its ability to tell the stories of individual ancestors or of your family as a whole. We use blogging-like simple tools for that, so that every ancestor and every family can have it's own homepage - complete with text, headlines, pictures and embedded content from Youtube and the like. There will also be (privacy-friendly) social sharing buttons, comment fields and so on.
  • Sources - Handling of sources is not completely implemented yet. It will be 100 % GEDCOM compatible, but will also offer additional features, like automated screenshots of external sources or importing files via URL and storing them locally.
  • Multi-language - GenSoup will be available in many languages, at market start the interface will be in German, English, Polish, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian. GenSoup will also support variants of names in order to facilitate matching, like "Stephanus/Steven/István".
  • Integration of external Services - GenSoup will integrate with a variety of external services like printing of family trees, DNA testing or access to external databases for research. There will be a special emphasis on cooperation with providers of different historic databases which we will using for providing instant matches.
  • Content - GenSoup will, with and without partners, offer access to various content sources which may or may not be digitized yet.
  • Payment services - The basic usage of GenSoup will be free, the premium services will be around US$ 6,- per month. Payment will be transparent and automatic, users can cancel any time they want.

How we built it

GenSoup is built upon the Zend framework, using MariaDB for speed and all the usual tools like JavaScript, jQuery, php, HTML5, svg and Apache. No Flash or Java is required on the users' side.

Challenges we ran into

We underestimated the complexity of the project in the beginning and it took us some time to bring the various aspects under one roof. For example: We strive to support GEDCOM completely as well as all the dialects created by the variuos software vendors. This means, we need interfaces for all those possible fields and, on the other hand, we have to protect our users from this overwhelming complexity. To achieve this, we've built custom forms for every thinkable event and put those fields, which are not usually used for this type of event, into a second input level. This way we offer simple forms for beginners and casual users but also all the complexity an expert user needs.

The Team

We have a great team which already has come a very long way and will closely work together on the road ahead. The team currently consists of three founding companies, six founding members, four additional developers and two additional researchers:

Companies

  • MediaClan - Veteran experts for Online Media, Social Media and Online Communities
  • kolkhos.net - Seasoned developer team of many fine projects
  • Compass - Publishing house for all kinds of business and personal information with a 150 year tradition

Founders

  • Marion Breitschopf, MediaClan - CMO and Head of Research
  • Michael Eisenriegler, MediaClan - CEO and Head of Concept
  • Nikolaus Futter, Compass - CEO and Head of Cooperations
  • Yvonne Giedenbacher, kolkhos.net - Special Advisor
  • Sebastian Ruttner, kolkhos.net - CTO and Head of Development
  • Barbara Waldschütz, kolkhos.net - Creative Director and Senior Graph Developer

Additional Team Members

  • Vivian Kern, research
  • Matthias Posch, developer
  • Andrea Strommer, research
  • Rudolf Titl, developer
  • Markus Wallisch, developer
  • Florian Wieser, developer

What we learned

The creation of GenSoup is an ongoing creative process. We have learned many things about creating a complex platform, but we're sure that there will be more to learn on the road ahead of us.

What's next for GenSoup

Right now we are in contact with Business Angels in order to secure funding for the remaining development and the public beta test. If everything goes according to plan we will start public beta in Spring 2016 and enter regular business by the end of 2016.

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