Irish Roots

September 6th, 2010

John Grenham

About ten years ago I was asked to assess the potential usefulness for genealogy of the early WAP-enabled phones. These devices were the first attempt to make the internet easily available via mobile phone technology and were hyped relentlessly by phone company marketers as the Next Great Thing. Apart from the fact that using one of them was like squinting through a keyhole, all the available content was proprietary to the company, so users were paying through the nose to access a tiny subset of the web. The idea of a researcher in, say, The National Library trying to find something on one of these machines while surrounded by wonderful books and catalogues and card indexes was just ludicrous, and that was my conclusion.

With hindsight, the problem was not the basic idea of a mobile web connection, it was that the technology and the networks just weren’t ready. They are now. Apple’s Orwellian hyper-chic is not to everyone’s taste (see tinyurl.ie/11t), but the iPhone has got some things spectacularly right. Having every on-line reference resource permanently and instantly available has begun to seem natural and essential, and dedicated mobile genealogy applications are cheap and accessible. The website www.mobilegenealogy.com gives a good overview of what’s available.

It’s impossible to say precisely how this will change genealogy, but there is no doubt it will have profound effects. A simple example is the very straightforward Scan2PDF app, which uses the iPhone camera to take a picture of a document, sharpens and compresses the image, converts it to PDF and emails it, all in a single action. The ability to digitise entire manuscript collections on the fly is now at the fingertips of anyone with an iPhone. For libraries and archives the intellectual property implications are frightening, but for researchers this is another small liberation.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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