Geni: The fun (and slick) way to build an online family tree

Kenneth's family tree on Geni
Kenneth Pinto’s Family Tree on

Aside: I’ve been busy with my academic work, so the next bunch of posts will feature conversations I’ve had with my blogging circle.

Sometime in mid-August, Reno Peng of contacted me about their interesting family networking site that connects families and friends through genealogy. With all the buzz about social networking, this is the kind of niche social network I’ve been motioning innovators to get at.

Here’s the official blurb on Geni:

Geni is a tool for understanding and staying in touch with your family.

Geni lets you create a family tree through our fun simple interface. You can expand your tree by adding relatives’ email addresses. They will be invited to join your tree and can add other relatives. Your tree will continue to grow as relatives invite other relatives.

Each family member has a profile which can be viewed by clicking their name in the tree. This helps family members learn more about each other and stay in touch. Family members can also share photos and work together to build profiles for common ancestors.

Why family networking?
I wonder how many of you know your family and relatives, as well as you know your friends. Frankly, I don’t really know much about my relatives, nor my ancestors, which has prompted me to do something about it since my last trip to Singapore. I’ve met folks, interviewed some of them (juicy family histories and all!) and took photographs of one of my relative’s architectural drawing of the family tree to the best of their knowledge. This effort has been trying on a few individuals, so it’s about time someone came up with a collaborative way to do this.

Sharing the news…
I shared word about Geni with my fellow social media advocates, and it was where Kenneth Pinto took to it best. He too had been trying to piece together his family history and it’s been working out pretty well for him as seen above. I can’t say the same for my family tree, since it stopped within my immediate family. I guess every family’s different, some more social, some more private.

Through his DeadPoetsCave blog, Kenneth has shared a comprehensive first hand account of using Geni, including how Geni was able to a handle a unique situation where his father’s sister is married to his mother’s brother (Woah!). He also noted how it was so easy and fun to use that even his mum got into the act of contributing to the family tree. The net effect was that the more family members you had signing in, the more people there were to collaborate and build a more complete tree with. In his own words:

Geni is pretty amazing. It is a family tree with a rudimentary social network. It’s about the easiest online tool I’ve ever used. The interface is clean and well thought out. There are also tons of features and settings for advanced users. It’s a worldwide service, so users might even connect with long-lost or previously unknown family members. Most importantly, it’s fun.

Do take a look at his post.

How does Geni make family trees fun?
Gaming with Geni

As Kenneth noted, his mum instinctively helped to flesh out the family tree as the service was simple enough to use. For the rest of us netizens, you might be intrigued to know (just as I did) that Geni is a quite a marvel when it comes to motivating users. Taking cues from game studies I’ve read into earlier, you can see gaming elements on my Geni profile screenshot above.

To the top right is my profile with a 55% complete progress bar. Below that you see hints / guides telling you what else you could do to complete your part of the tree (we’ve seen a similar feature in LinkedIn). I see this as creating a sense of achievement among users as well as an non-intrusive way of offering help. To the left is my User Stats, where you can see how much I’ve contributed and how my contribution visibly ranks against my family members. This is neat since it creates friendly competition between members, which results in a more completed tree being built.

Perhaps it’s time for me to seek out savvy relatives to seed in my online family tree. With enough curious folks in there, I think I’d eventually get a better picture of my bloodline.

Here’s a Youtube video on getting started with Geni, otherwise just sign up right away.

7 thoughts on “Geni: The fun (and slick) way to build an online family tree

  1. Hey Kevin, my tree is expanding sideways thanks to my cousins who have joined Geni since I wrote about it. One of them even overtook me in the number of profiles added! Yes, the game element works very well.

    As things are, I am now limited by the extent of my uncle’s and auntie’s memories. Any further progress on the tree will require some digging at the Registrar of Births and Deaths and possibly KL Archives (where my mum’s parents’ church-related records are now stored).

    Even though there’s may be a roadblock in real life, there’s still lots to do in Geni. Slowly scanning old photos and uploading them in Geni. When I wrote the post, I hadn’t started on that.

    Geni’s photo page is another nice feature, but I hope it can be refined to be like Facebook’s Photos application. Right now in Geni, you can easily indicate who in the family was in a particular photo. What is needed is a way to indicate exactly where that person is in the photo too. Especially important in large group photos.

  2. Hopefully the Geni team gets this suggestion on photo tagging. With a pretty wide tree you have, it would be worth making a trip to KL to get more info. I’ve still got too much to piece together to even start.

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