Is the Virtual Globe Bloat?

I’ve been working on a MacFamilyTree screencast this evening. It’s related to geocoding which is related to the “virtual globe” feature. As is usual for me when I explore features, I asked myself, “What value does this offer genealogists?” I’m having a hard time coming up with something nice to say about this one.

Yes, I get that you can see points on a globe for events in your database. And, that lines indicating the direction of movement connect the points. So, what? How can this help you with the fundamental activities a genealogist undertakes? Does it help you plan or carry out research? No. Can it help you identify or locate sources? No. Can you turn evidence into sound conclusions with it? No. Does it make preserving information more efficient or effective? No. I can’t imagine a single way that this “feature” improves, in a material way, what you can do already.

Significant time was invested in developing the virtual globe feature and continues to be invested in maintaining it, so it apparently has value to someone. It’s just not us genealogists. I think the value is to the maker; it’s eye-candy that may increase sales. Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate capitalism and good marketing. I also appreciate elegant design (which is why I use a Mac) and productivity (which is also why I use a Mac). I’ve gotta say, the virtual globe is useless bloat. You would have been better served by having something useful (and basic to all the major genealogy software) added, for example, the ability to produce a family group sheet.

Am I missing something? Please tell me if you’re using the virtual globe to do some valuable genealogy work that can’t be done just as well (or better) another way. I’d love to read your thoughts on it.


  1. Dennis L. Bright says

    In my opinion the application is a waste of time for any serious genealogist/family historian. It was designed for people who like “cute.”


  2. Andy Tinkham says

    I haven’t actually used MFT’s Virtual Globe myself, so I may be off base but I do see value in the feature as I understand it. While it may not help with the research side of genealogy, there’s other aspects that it does help with – sharing the results with others, and connecting with the stories about our ancestors.

    Given the declining state of geography knowledge (at least in the US), displaying places on a globe is a better way to share stores with family members who might not know where Kansas is on a map or where the country that they’re great great grandparents came from is. Rather than simply hearing a place name that doesn’t really mean anything other than “some place that is not here”, they can see where on the planet these things happened.

    Even for those of us who have (some) geography knowledge, many people (myself included) have a visually based sense of geography. While I can read place names and get some sense of locations and distances, it’s not as real to me. Even on the scale of my city, I can know two suburbs or neighborhoods or even streets are adjacent or intersecting or whatever, but until I see them on a map, I don’t really “get” their locations relative to each other.

    The same is true for me with my genealogy information. I can read that an ancestor left some place in the Netherlands and traveled to Albany, NY. When I think about it, I can recognize that there is a long distance between the two places, but if all I do is read two place names, there’s not a lot of difference between the distance between the Netherlands and New York, or the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco in how it feels in my perceptions. Show me the two points on the map, and that distance becomes much more real to me.

    The use of a map or globe is even more helpful for smaller scales for me. A lot of my ancestors lived in several small towns in Massachusetts. Others lived in a bunch of places in Nova Scotia. Most of those towns are just names to me right now. I know where Massachusetts is, I know where Nova Scotia is, but knowing where the towns are isn’t knowledge I keep handy. I could go look up things in Live Maps or one of the historical maps sites, but having it right in the program is a helpful thing.

    I can see how it wouldn’t be to some people’s taste though – certainly, it doesn’t help with any of those things you list. Other people might not be as based in maps and visualizing locations for their geography sense. Still I think it’s a valuable feature to have put in, and while it may have marketing value for the makers of MFT, I applaud them putting it in the program & I wish Reunion had a similar feature.

  3. says

    I’m afraid I have to agree. I also think the 3D, floating family tree is unnecessarily ornate and confusing. Perhaps I’m just too used to thinking in 2 dimensions, and old-fashioned that way. But that is why I ultimately switched from MacFamilyTree to Reunion. Some inventions are helpful – the computer for example: databases, quick search, etc. But three dimensions just add an unwanted level of superfluous complexity.

  4. doug says

    Ben —

    Your points are well taken. MFT is my main database and when I see the Virtual Globe I think of all the things I wished MFT would do or fix instead of the “eye candy.”

    But I do like the globe, but primarily for what I hope it becomes, not what it is now. I can envision a family web site that animates a family’s migration from Europe to the New World, from the East to the West. In that light, the globe could really bring a family’s history to life. Of course, it doesn’t do that now and who knows if it ever will.

  5. says

    I don’t use MacFamily Tree, so aren’t exactly sure what the virtual globe does, but I’m more than a little anxious for Reunion to adopt some kind of mapping with Google maps that would let me make the map I see here from within Reunion and then transfer it to TNG. If you zoom in on Scotland you can see the pins separate to show the various locations Willliam was born, counted in 2 censuses and married. That’s pretty useful to me – quite apart from being quite interesting.


  6. says

    Hi, Dennis.

    I appreciate your opinion on the matter and thanks for sharing it.

    It reminded me to clarify a position: I think there’s great value in MacFamilyTree. Competition makes the whole field better. The folks at Synium innovate which also improves the state of genealogy software on the Mac. That’s one of the purposes I set for myself when I started this blog. My article was intended to point out what, in my opinion, is wasted effort so that the software can be improved.


  7. says

    The map is useful because it’s a map – a visual aid – of where my ancestor was during his life. If I see a list of places

    Blackerstone, Longformacus, Berwickshire, Scotland
    Renton Cottage, Coldingham, Berwickshire, Scotland
    Greenwood, Coldingham, Berwickshire, Scotland
    Dovecot Hall, Cockburnspath, Berwickshire, Scotland

    I’m clueless about where they are (even though I’ve been to these places personally), and so have absolutely no concept of how far apart they are, how far did this person travel between places of his life events (let alone that his life starts and ends on completely opposite sides of the globe).

    If you look at William’s father’s page

    you can see the wanderings of this man in the early 1800s as he was born (although I don’t know exactly where hence the green pin, married, and had 8 children, appeared in a Census and then died. The orange and red pins are exact locations – farms usually – while the green and yellow indicate a County and a Parish.

    This is information that you’d never get from a list, unless you had the map of the entire world memorised.

    As I said I can’t wait until Reunion allows me to do this – as well as being able to keep notes and media items linked up to the place, rather than having to put this information into the record of each person who was at that place.


  8. Dell Egilson says

    I am curious about locations. Even when reading a book I often look up mentioned locations on the Atlas. I had not used the Virtual Globe until I saw this discussion. I have put in some co-ordinates and find it somewhat interesting. Really it is a bit of a gimmick and I doubt that its accuracy makes it much competition to a good set of maps. I really enjoy good maps – and have lots of them!

  9. Patricia Burrow says

    I totally agree with Andy and Roger. A picture is worth a thousand words. I have not used MFT but have been exploring similar activities using Google mapping tools. It would be so much more efficient to have it within my genealogy program, Reunion. Mapping a few of our ancestor’s life events can give us lots of clues as to where to look next, how to fill out their story and a perspective on their life journey. Lots of good info. Try it you’ll like it!!! – pb

  10. Carol Clark says

    I am so glad to read these comments. Last year I took the plunge to MAC and I don’t regret that in the least. However, my extensive genealogy information on PAF has required me to hold on to my old Windows computer.

    I quickly purchased MFT, but that was surely a disappointment. It was all graphics without the functionality. I tried very hard to like it and took all the upgrades including the globe mapping tool which I find utterly useless. Meanwhile simple navigation is a nightmare and I just don’t trust it to keep all my data.

    I was considering getting a new Windows computer for just the genealogy because bootcamp would cost more and be a pain. But I decided to try to find a better software. I am really leaning to purchase Reunion as I don’t require all the fancy GUI bells and whistles like floating fake family bodies.

    Please tell me this is the right path!

  11. says

    Pat if you’re used to PAF, I think you’ll be quite happy with Reunion.

    Reunion lags behind some of the Windows softwares as noted above, but I think has all the features you’re used to with PAF at least, and probably a few more, and it’s a great, well made Macintosh programme.

    And perhaps one of its greatest features is the community at where users and the Leister Productions start will answer your questions – sometimes within minutes of posting them.

    There is a trial of Reunion you can get if you haven’t found that already.



  12. Joe says

    I agree with the above post above regarding where the globe is headed. I don’t see the point –yet– but do look forward to the possibility of a point.

    As for MFT, I think it’s great. I used to run a windows based machine and am now on a MAC. I’ve tried the Master Genealogist and Reunion, PAF and Family Tree Maker. I like MFT because it’s simple and I can add as much or as little info as I please.

    Most genealogy software is build for “serious” genealogists. The folks who think they’ve traced their ancestors to days or yore before there were records to prove their claims. Such “serious” genealogy lack the “fun” aspect which is what I want when sharing what amounts to family stories best told by the fireside.

    I like proof and sources to complement my research but too much of what is genealogy seems to get bogged down in census records and hard to parse ged com files. When I show my sister or family a kekule number or family group sheet they yawn. When I show them that 3D chart of our family and they grasp the sheer size of our family in just a few generations they look in awe and start to take an interest. I see the virtual globe as another part of this sharing experience.

    Now, there are a log of problems with MFT yet every time I’ve emailed them a suggestion they email back and get on the issue. I can’t even get or family tree maker people to respond to an email. That makes a world of difference in my book. I think MFT offers an awesome alternative in the way that google offers an alternative to your library’s card catalog. Some search functions and imput devices just work better for some people. That and back on point — some features are just cool and fun to play from time to time.

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