Geni Brings Together Ideal Family Tree Killer-App

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Family tree apps have been on the web ever since the early days. No one has been able to nail it and create an idea product for most people to actually make theirs not to mention been successful in creating an ideal ‘large’ map of the world. Until now, that is. Geni, founded by early PayPal, eBay, Yahoo! Groups and Tribe executives, launched back in January and has managed to get families talking ever since then — it’s secured around $10 million in venture capital and is growing at least at the rate of Twitter a couple months ago.

How It Works
It’d be hard to describe how the app itself works, so here’s my experience with it. I found out about it, signed up, and started constructing my family tree. This is done through an AJAX-based Google Maps-resembling interface. I added about 20 contacts, including everyone from my cousins to great grandparents, and invited those whose e-mail I knew of. They joined, started building their side of the family tree, and within just 15 hours, we have a huge tree consisting of more than 70 people (of course, they’ll now invite their relatives who’ll add their relatives and so on).

An interesting thing about Geni is that you don’t need to be a member to have a family tree. For example, with all the data me and my relatives have entered, Geni has compiled the data and created family trees for each of our non-member relatives along the way. For example, even though my mum and my aunty aren’t a member (haven’t yet accepted the invitation), they’ve still got a family tree which is viewable by their relatives and it’s going to keep expanding as people add data related to them. When they join, they’ll have a wholly pre-constructed family tree which they’ll be able to add to. Also, until they become a member, every one of their relatives who is will be add and edit their information (age, location, upload photos, etc). When they do become a member, this feature will be locked to outsiders and only they themselves will be able to change their profile. This is really handy for members who have deceased relatives to be able to edit their information.

Another side of Geni, despite what I’ve described above (the AJAXy web app side) is the actual social network. Unlike traditional social networks, Geni is private: only those in your family tree are able to view your data. As I said above, Geni constructs a profile for all members, and just like in the style of LinkedIn, they can add on to it and get a percentage score for how much complete their profile is (e.g. add your occupation and gain 5%). Geni also creates a helpful map and tells you your relationship with the other person when you’re browsing their profile. It also includes a really helpful description of them (e.g. Son of John and Jane Smith, Brother of Bill and Matt Smith). In general, it’s a combination of a family tree-creator web app and a private family social network.

I have to make a great confession about Geni. I was supposed to make this post about 24 hours ago. The thing is, I got so caught up in using Geni to build my family tree — spent at least a couple of hours putting up pictures, inviting, etc. — that I couldn’t get anything done, so I’m writing about it today and I’ve barred myself from visiting it until I’ve got this post up. Geni is really productive and creative, but at the same time, addictive. The fact that it is so easy to use but has different levels of complexity behind it as well, I think it will get a lot of people using it. This is the kind of app we’ve been looking for years and judging simply from the types of relatives of mine that have signed up (e.g. granddad who only occasionally checks his e-mail) and their interaction with, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this grows into something big. Certainly the level of funding, interest, and press coverage it’s got gives some indication.


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