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Nov 06, 2007: Geni.com and Griots

I'm at DUX, and spent part of the morning talking with Kevin Brooks, a story-teller who works for Motorola, and Suzanne Currie, a design researcher at Medtronic. Kevin was telling us about the concept of the griot: West African story-tellers who maintain oral traditions for, among other things, families. It got me thinking about how we tell family stories today, and Geni.com immediately sprang to mind.

Geni is a fantastic tool. You can use it to enter and visually manage your family tree information. And if you enter your family members' email addresses, they receive invitations to add their own family trees. Naturally, the trees are connected, which is where things get really interesting.

For example, I've added 50 people to my tree, and those relatives have in turn added another 108. It's really quite fun to meander through my family tree map and learn something about those 108 people who I'm somehow related to but didn't know about:
family tree sample from Geni.com

The index of last names also is fascinating, if nothing else for its ethnic richness:
family tree sample from Geni.com

But here's where story-telling could really help. Geni is almost like an analytics application: it tells us the story's what, but not why. Why did this family tree come to be shaped this way? Geni gets us part of the way there—quite admirably—but it doesn't really tell us a family's story.

What could Geni do to support the telling of family stories in a more narrative fashion? Could the support a griot toolset? Or partner with modern day griots?

Once again, DUX—or at least the conversations between sessions—really got me thinking...

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Comment: Ben Brophy (Nov 6, 2007)

Geni only let's you add two parents, one female and one male. That seems like a pretty major flaw. Pretty rough for adoptive families, and other non-traditional families. If they could loose up their definition of a family, this might be really interesting.

Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Nov 6, 2007)

Ooh, yeah, revert wars come to the field of genealogy!

"Cousin Bob and Cousin Betty are half-siblings because Aunt Jane's first husband Uncle Joe was an alcoholic and abandoned her when Bob was a baby." Delete, revert, repeat.

Comment: Noah (Nov 8, 2007)

Ben- That's actually not the case. Geni has support for all sorts of partner relationships, including same sex marriages. Geni can support just about any sort of family arrangement that a person has - even marriages between cousins.

Comment: Jess McMullin (Nov 22, 2007)

Josh and the rest of the crew at Ancestry.com have some pretty amazing storytelling tools (they've been doing the family history thing far far longer than Geni). Geni's genius is in lowering the barriers to entry and using a social invite mechanism...

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