Rootstech: Winner Programmer Software Challenge

RootsTech 2011 Official Blogger

Find Your Gramps with a Tweet

Looking for cousin connections?  Blog and Tweet about your family tree.

About once a week someone comes by my blog with a message that we share surnames or places in common. My webpages have been bringing me connections for more than ten years.  I write articles about my ancestors, place my surnames in the sidebar of my blog and participate in surname Saturday on Twitter.

BUT What if our cousin connection tweets could reach even more people?

What if a simple tweet could notify systems all over the world and they in turn would contact you saying “I have your surname of interest in the location of interest in my database; contact me!”

My Blog, the Inspiration!

That’s what Doug Blank did when he participated in the Rootstech Programmer Developer Challenge and he used MY BLOG as his inspiration!

Doug Blank Winner of the Rootstech 2011 Programmer Developer Challenge
Doug Blank - Winner of the Rootstech 2011 Programmer Developer Challenge. Photo provided by Doug Blank

Doug had noticed the passive text in a sidebar of my blog indicating my research interests including: “Researching KERR in Canada” He used it as his inspiration to create dynamic searches for cousin connections using twitter and the program he developed.

Doug is rather modest about it and I gather he thought it was a quick and easy mashup, calling it a “cute little hack”.

He graciously provided me with a link to his presentation slides about the program he developed and the text (see below) he sent to the judges.  He gave permission to share this information with my readers.

a. Developer Name: Doug Blank

b. Solution Name: Gramps-tweet

c. Brief Description:

I wanted to explore the idea that anyone can define their own API for

sharing and working on their family histories. Of course, not everyone

has a server on the internet or a team of developers. However, there

are APIs that can provide a reasonable facsimile, and libraries that

make the development not so difficult. So, I developed a mashup

between a desktop application, Gramps, and Twitter that allows people

to collaborate with each other while working from their own desktops.

I wrote a Twitter client in less than 200 lines of Python code that

runs in the desktop. This can, of course, be used for what Twitter is

really designed for: micro-blogging and sharing the stories of

research. However, I also wanted the desktop to be able to operate as

a sort of ‘bot, and handle some queries and commands automatically.

Gramps-tweet currently listens to the twitterverse for two kinds of

requests. The first is a tweet which represents what surnames someone

is researching in a given region. For example, you (as yourid) might


#genealogy Researching Garner in NY

to which Gramps-tweets running on users’ desktops around the world

would look through their trees to see if they have any “Garner”‘s

that had any activity in New York. If it finds a match, then

Gramps-tweet will respond with:

@yourid I have some Garner’s in NY. Ask me about ‘My Family Tree’

If no match is found, then Gramps-tweet does not respond.

The second request is a method for a tweeter to attach a note onto a

record in the database. For example:

#genealogy Note N0002 Just found a Vonnegut gravemarker at Crown Hill;

check it out in March when in Indy

The note is appended onto note N0002.

d. APIs: Twitter, and the newly defined API above

e. Link:

(that will be a place to download the addon. I did have people

tweet to the app live during the demo)

f. Image, see slides

g. How solution provides value to family historians:

I believe that this mashup provides value in three ways:

First, by enabling Twitter inside the genealogy desktop, family and friends can

better share their researching stories while they work. Second, by

enabling users to actively participate in the API development and use,

they gain a rich understanding of the technologies, and what might be

possible. We need to bring the users to the table, and allow them to

experience this excitement and power first hand. Finally, we can show

the leading vendors in the field that if they do not provide the

innovation and access to data that we desire, we will work peer to

peer without them.

Doug’s prize for winning the Programmer’s Developer Challenge (not confirmed) is $500, an XBox game console with the Kinect interface, and Microsoft Office software. Doug’s kids benefit too.  “Up to this point, we haven’t had any Microsoft in our house, but my kids will be happy to find that that rule has now been lifted. :)”

About Doug Blank. Doug has been a volunteer developer for the free “Genealogical Research Software”  (GRAMPS) project for several years. He is an associate professor at Bryn Mawr College, a small, liberal, all-women’s college outside Philadelphia, PA. He teaches in all areas of computer science, and specializes in artificial intelligence, robotics, and computer science education. He is currently on sabbatical leave, and took a break to play with his two favorite hobbies in Salt Lake City: computing and genealogy.

===> Be sure to check out Doug’s presentation slides for a full explanation of the GRAMPS Tweet.


[P.S. I plan to take GRAMPS Tweet for a test drive when I get caught up on my Rootstech blog posts.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Disclosure – I was designated as an official Rootstech blogger which provided me with such perks as free registration]