Interview with Grant Brünner

Posted November 10, 2010 by Geni | No Comment

This week we interview Grant Brünner, a Mac blogger and podcaster, as well as an avid Geni user.  In the near future Grant will be contributing to the Geni blog.  If you’re not familiar with Grant yet, this interview is a great starting point to learn about a talented member of our community.

You obviously have a technical/technology background.  Was your fascination in genealogy (and specifically Geni) formed because of your intimacy with the web?  Or was web-based genealogy something that you picked up after your hobby started in a more traditional sense?  And how long have you been a Geni user?

Well, my mother was interested in genealogy before I was even born. When I was very young, she started doing some research as well as fiddling with early family tree software.

I grew up to be a huge nerd. I was always fascinated with computers and the internet, so of course I was drawn to ZDTV/TechTV on cable. That gave way to podcasts, and one day Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur spoke of Geni in January of 2007. Having an interest in new websites, and a strong familiarity with genealogy, I decided I would join Geni. I believe the day I joined was January 21st 2007.

Since then, my genealogy interest has grown a hundred fold. I started uncovering new branches of my family, and I even found ancestors of nationalities (French and Swiss) and religions (Quaker and Huguenot) I would have never identified with my family before.

All that said, we’re left with a chicken and egg scenario. Which really came first: interest in genealogy or technology? I would say they both grew organically into one thing from my childhood. So, neither and both.

As you know, we’re constantly releasing new features.  What are your favorite parts of the Geni product, and what potential features or opportunities would you like to see added?

Number one request: Flash-free tree interface. I know it’s an overhaul. It’ll cost a non-trivial amount of cash to change over to using web standards like Canvas, CSS, SVG, and the ever-buzzword’d HTML5. If properly implemented, though, it will make your product faster, smoother, and less prone to client-side problems.

Second request: End-user markup needs to be consistent. Discussions, messages, comment, project pages, and about me are not at all consistent with how to markup the text. Some use double brackets to link to a profile. Some use the at symbol to bring up names. Some use wiki markup. Very confusing.

Third request: Adoption support. Huge problem with Geni.

As far as my favorites go, I love Projects. It makes so, so much sense. Curation is a great idea. Master profiles are great. The recent changes have almost all been for the better. I suppose Noah and the Geni engineering team get a lot of credit for leading Geni down a more structured path. Really good stuff.

Since you are a Mac user, what do you find compelling about our UI? How would you compare our site to others you have tested?

Dragging and dropping is a stand-out feature. It makes merging and connecting profiles much easier for visually and spatially oriented people. Entering a large number of profiles by hand seems to work much better with Geni than other genealogy sites. Taking the focus away from gedcom uploading was a great move.

As with everything else on the planet, there are pros and cons. Other sites work better with mobile devices. Other sites offer mobile applications as well.

One problem that stands out is that people just don’t understand cycles. It is a hard problem to solve, but I think there might be an easier way to let the user link different parts of their family.

Speaking of Apple, you recently tumbld for help researching Steve Jobs’ family tree.  How is this project going?  Have you had any luck with his ancestry?

As far as finding Steve’s ancestors, that’ll be a difficult task unless you actually live in that area or know Steve’s biological family. Recent immigrants from non-English speaking places really throw a monkey wrench into my work. It’s slow, and there isn’t much to go on at this point.

On that note, we recently released our Projects feature.  Have you considered creating a Steve Jobs project that would allow the rest of the Geni community to share in the research?  And what’s your first take on Projects?  Do you think they will be a good tool for collaboration?

I had considered it. The problem at this point is really getting support. Yes, people are interested, but they don’t always feel like putting in the time. Frankly, I don’t blame them. I don’t know if Steve needs his own project or if he should be in the Notable People project. Feedback is always welcome. Maybe I should create a discussion to gauge interest.

Projects are great. I’ve seen some really cool stuff happening, and it has even helped me with my Mareen Duvall heritage. It has spurred my cousins to do some original research in France. Incredibly awesome stuff.