In a recent post, I included a list of genealogy-related web sites, including sub-categories for “Online Family Trees” and “Social/Family Networking”. I’m going to start reviewing the sites listed in these two categories and publish some of my findings/thoughts here. As I review each site, I’ll try to go a bit beyond just publishing a list of features. Instead, I’ll sign up as a member of each site and make an effort to use the site for its intended purpose and then share my impressions.
I’ll start with amiglia.com, which is the first site, alphabetically, in these two categories.
Amiglia bills itself as a Family Tree + Photo Album. It’s basically a photo-sharing site for families, allowing uploading of a GEDCOM file to create the family structure and then uploading of photos and videos and attaching them to individuals in the family.
Amiglia was founded by Paul, Milena and Tim Berry, who started the site as a personal web site used to share photos between extended family members. They eventually opened the site up to the public.
Amiglia is still listed as being in beta, but appears not to have been actively worked on since early 2007. The expiration, in July of 2008, of the site’s SSL certificate, is further evidence that amiglia is no longer being actively supported or promoted. The site’s support staff did not respond to an e-mail that I sent, asking about the status of the site.
Amiglia advertises a 365-day free trial, followed by a membership fee of $49.95/yr thereafter.
Traffic / Popularity
In my list of genealogy sites ranked by traffic for Aug, 2008, amiglia was ranked 128th out of 163, with compete.com reporting a total of 3,000 visits for the month of August. It was ranked 25th out of 29 in the “Online Family Trees” category and 15th out of 17 in the “Social/Family Networking Category”.
Amiglia advertises the following list of features:
- Family tree with photos that you can blog
- Linked albums of related families
- Personal profiles linked to nuclear family
- Family facebook of your entire family
- Family calendar with birthdays and events
- Maps of geolocated photos
- Easy tagging for people, themes, places
- Easy search for family photos
- Elegant slideshows to view, email and blog
- Music uploads to any slideshow
- Integrated Skype calling and chats
- Riya import
- Interactive photo-based babies’ games
- Easy mass uploading
- Upload by e-mail or with camera phone
- Import from Flickr or Photoshop Album
- Easy GEDCOM imports at signup
- Video clips support (up to 5MB each)
- Advanced privacy, no spam, no ads
- Backup CDs or DVDs at minimal charge
- Email reminders for family birthdays
During the course of my use of the site, I exercised some, but not all, of these features.
You need to sign up with an account on amiglia before you can create a tree or start uploading photos. I immediately ran into a serious problem when I tried to sign up. The site’s security (SSL) certificate has expired. (As of 6 Oct, 2008). This means that by default your browser won’t load the signup page, given that it is a secure (HTTPS) web page. This is a serious problem—you should never load an HTTPS page if your browser is unable to validate the associated security certificate. You can actually ignore the problem, telling your browser to load the page anyway, but doing so would be a serious security risk.
What does this mean? Basically, two things:
- When you sign up for the site, the signup page will not be secure. The password that you enter here could potentially be compromised. But since you don’t need to enter credit card information, this is serious, but not potentially all that dangerous.
- The expiration of the security certificate is a sign that amiglia is essentially a dead site
I wanted to continue reviewing the site, so I did bypass the lack of a security certificate and went ahead and signed up.
Note that when you sign up, you are able to suggest a sub-domain as part of the URL that you share with your family. This is a handy feature—instead of just going to amiglia.com and logging in, your family can get to the family tree directly by going to yourname.amiglia.com. The availability of the name would depend, of course, on whether someone else has already taken that name. In my case sexton.amiglia.com was available.
The next step is to decide on whether your site is private or public. You are able to make the entire site public (viewing, editing), allow public viewing only, or make the site entirely private.
Another very nice feature is the ability to set a single family password. I didn’t test this, but the idea here is that family members don’t necessarily have to sign up in order to gain access to the site. Instead, they can use a common password that you share with the entire family. This makes it much easier for family members to get at the site.
Creating Your Tree
After you sign up, you’re shown your default tree, with you at the center:
At this point, you can start manually entering family members, or you can upload a GEDCOM file. I chose to upload a GEDCOM file, deciding to use the Kennedy family as my test case.
Amiglia appeared to read my Kennedy.ged file with no problems. Once it was uploaded, I was asked who I wanted to choose as the center of my tree. I picked John Fitzgerald Kennedy. (Born 1917—I had to page down a bit to find JFK in the list).
I was a little disappointed at how the names were organized here. They were apparently sorted by birthdate, youngest first. But it would have been nice to have selected the center point with a textual search or dropdown. If you have a large family tree, it could potentially take a very long time to find the person that you want.
At this point, I was completely signed up and I’d created a basic Kennedy family tree.
Family Tree View
In Amiglia, the most common way of seeing the people in your tree is by using the Family Tree view. This is a graphical rendering of your family tree that allows moving around through the tree. Here’s what the Kennedy tree looks like:
One problem that I saw was that when I navigate to the home page, sexton.amiglia.com in my case, it still contained the default family tree that showed me (spsexton) at the center of the tree. To see the tree that I’d just uploaded (the Kennedys), I had to click on the Family Tree choice in the main menu. I think that this is because amiglia couldn’t find me in the Kennedy tree, but even after editing my profile, I wasn’t able to get this to work properly. There seemed to be no way to get the Kennedy tree to be the default tree on the site, or JFK to be the default person that you see when you go to the home page.
As you move your mouse around in this tree view, the tree gently slides to reveal more family members. The general idea is that when you hover over someone who appears at the edge of the tree, they slide over to the center of the tree.
Although the tree navigation is sort of appealing, with the smooth scrolling, there are enough problems with it to make the navigation completely unusable.
As you move the mouse towards the edge of the tree, it scrolls a bit, to try to shift more of the tree on that side of the screen to the center of the screen. But because of this, if you go try to click on someone in the try, they often slide away before you can click on them. This is very frustrating. It’s so bad that there were cases when I absolutely could not click on a particular individual—as I tried to move the mouse over them, that person would jump alternately from one side of the screen to the other. Argh!
There were a number of other problems with the tree navigation, rendering it fairly unusable. These include:
- You can jump to related trees easily (e.g. Jackie’s family), but often you can’t easily navigate back to the original family
- There is no easy way to navigate to a person by entering their name.
- The screen says that I should “click on the name of any person to see their profile”. But clicking on various people, I was never able to see any additional information.
- It would be helpful to be able to zoom in/out of the family tree. With the default size, it feels like I’m zoomed way in to the tree and it was hard to get an idea of the big picture.
- It’s very difficult to go directly to a specific family member. You can go to the Facebook page (see below) and hunt through a list of pictures. But there is no easy way to go directly to a particular person.
The next step is to upload some headshot photos of people in the family. Headshots are displayed as thumbnails in the family tree and appear in the “Facebook” area of the web page.
There are two basic ways to upload a photo of someone. The first is to navigate to that person’s profile and then upload the photo. The second method is to upload the photo and then identify who the person is in the photo.
Let’s try the first method—navigating first to a person and then uploading a photo for them. I thought I’d start with JFK and upload a profile. It’s a bit difficult to navigate directly to JFK’s profile. The only way I found of getting to that person was to select their silhouette from the Facebook page, which you can get at the Facebook button in the main menu, or by clicking on a silhouette at the bottom of the Family Tree view. (Note that not all family members are shown in silhouette on this page, so you’ll need to click on the “More People” link at the bottom of the page.
Here’s what the page full of silhouettes looks like. Again, the big problem here is that it’s very difficult to find the person that you’re looking for. There are no birth dates, so you end up seeing identically-named people. There’s also no way to sort the family members, or see them in a basic list.
Once we locate JFK and click on his name, we get back to the standard Family Tree view, with a portion of the tree shown in the top of the window, and John’s profile shown in the bottom.
At this point we can click the Browse button to upload a photo. Once we do that, the new photo is now shown as a thumbnail whenever John appears in the family tree. The same image is now used in place of the generic silhouette on the Facebook page and when viewing John’s parents or children. Oddly, the photo of John is not shown when you’re viewing his profile, other than as a tiny image in the family tree. Grr!
After we’ve uploaded an image for JFK, here’s what John Jr’s profile page looks like. Note that John Sr’s photo is now shown instead of the silhouette.
One problem that I found is that even after uploading John’s head shot, the head thumbnail is not always shown on the family tree. This appears to be a bug. It seems like only if we’re already viewing John’s profile, then that fragment of the family tree will show his head shot. But in many cases, the head shot is not shown.
There appears to be another bug in how photos are attached to people. I uploaded a photo of Jackie using the same process as the one of John, and both now are used as silhouettes. However, when I go to the list of all photos (main Photos button), I see Jackie’s photo, but not John’s. This also appears to be a bug, in that there seems to be no way to edit standard photo properties for the photo of John.
I continued with this process a bit further, uploading some more head shots. As I added photos and attached them to people, the main family tree gradually filled in to include the head shots.
Amiglia.com is really targeted towards a single family, allowing sharing of photos between siblings or parents/children/grandchildren. There are some areas of the site that seem to assume this is the case, rather than that you’ve uploaded a larger family tree, including deceased relatives. For example, the calendar shows family member’s birthdays, but only includes their first name. For a large family, going back a number of generations, the calendar would be pretty useless.
Usability: using amiglia.com is very painful. It’s confusing and inconsistent—to the degree that would likely lead to people just giving up on the site because they can’t figure out how to use it.
Performance: the site is very slow, even painfully slow. I tried connecting from various locations and on a very fast DSL link. But in all cases, the performance was equally slow. This points to a problem on the server side. Likely amiglia.com is being hosted on a single machine that is just not fast enough to keep up with the demand.
I’d intended to go further with my review and use more of the features, but I’ve given up on amiglia for two reasons:
- It just became too painful to work with. The usability and quality level is so poor that I’d never recommend Amiglia to anyone. Nor would I use it myself for storing and organizing family photos
- As of 8 Nov, 2008, amiglia.com now appears to be completely down and has been unavailable for at least several days.
Amiglia.com appears to be one of those “web 2.0” sites that had a lot of promise, but never took off and has now quietly died. It never got above 4,000 unique visitors/month, so it never became a mainstream site. And, based on the expiration of the SSL certificate, and the unavailability of the site itself, it now appears to be truly dead.