This is a critical time for RootsMagic and its users. The field is changing and in the last few years some major players have sold or dropped out of the full-feature genealogy software scene. The anticipated new version of the software may well determine if RootsMagic will be one of the last, or perhaps the very last, program standing when everything shakes out over the next few years.
Many of us have bet hundreds of hours of inputting time on RootsMagic. We need RootsMagic to succeed. Users must insist on these boards that the company take the kinds of steps to succeed that are now common in computing and information management.
Now is the time, before any irretrievable steps are taken, to reach out to key users and figure out if what is being planned actually matches up with what customers most need and expect from the software.
I’m useless, but there are frequent posters on these boards who clearly have strong backgrounds in coding and software development and strong opinions on where RootsMagic should be at this point. Some of these users actually develop their own third-party tools for RootsMagic. The company may be pleasantly surprised how many present customers and aspiring coders may be willing to spend some time solving its problems, breaking through “brick walls” and putting things on a faster track.
Every weekend, private companies and government agencies around the country hold “Hackathons” and “Hackfests” in which coders from inside and outside the organization meet up to work, sometimes collaboratively and sometimes in teams, to solve programming challenges. Sometimes there are prizes. It is a way to put a lot of new, talented eyes on problems that need to be worked out. Sometimes the goal is to add features that are desired but which the staff just will never get to.
Companies in super-competitive fields, such as Google, Verizon and NetFlix have used Hackathons. The Library of Congress and New York City have improved information sharing services this way. I know there are concerns about opening coding up to outsiders, but even DARPA, the Department of Defense’s secretive research wing, held a successful five-day Hackfest last December that brought together civilian coders, academics and soldiers in fatigues to solve a problem involving radio frequency detection software. Clearly, there are ways to do this that won’t compromise company secrets.
You can even find companies online that organize all aspects of Hackathons for small companies and agencies. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
I understand that the company does not want to commit to specific release dates or upcoming features, both because the development pace if fluid and out of security concerns. However, especially for those of us who have been through genealogy software failures (The Master Genealogist, for example), a slowing pace of revisions and a lack of any specifics on what may be coming are warning bells. TMG treated its user base very badly, particularly with its absolute secrecy about updates, and it showed in growing frustration and sometimes outright hostility on its message boards. Don’t be one of those companies, and even if the upcoming upgrades are completely amazing and on-track, you don’t want to act like one of those companies. There is already chatter, even in this very thread, of people considering bailing out. They don’t want to invest massive amounts of time and effort in a program unless it’s clear that there will be a point to it in a year or two.
The last time RM had a massive update, there was a lot more information and back-and-forth regarding planned features. I don’t want company secrets, but greater communication in both directions would assure customers and let RM know that it’s putting eggs in the right baskets before there’s a disaster.
It isn't 1998 or 2008 anymore. Successful software companies speak to their customer bases, and they listen closely to what the base is saying and thinking.