Open Source vs. Open Standard

I’ve been an active FHISO volunteer for a little over a month and it has been a marvellous journey in every way. When I first visited last autumn it had looked to me to be both dead and exclusive, but a random comment during a rootsdev hangout led to my attending a FHISO organizers meeting and I realized that that initial impression could not have been more wrong. The amount of energy, thought, and time that the other FHISO volunteers bring to the behind-the-scenes work of getting something as monumental as FHISO running is impressive, and their willingness to let me join them has been delightful.

I hope to write several posts here over time describing my perspective on the goals, process, and vision of FHISO. In this post I offer my perspective on the word open and what open standards are (and are not). In particular, how are open source and open standard related?

For clarity, this post represents my opinion and my opinion only. I appreciate FHISO allowing me to post it on their blog but take personal responsibility for any inaccuracies it contains.

A standard is neither software nor source code. The equivalent of this observation in other fields is obvious: for example, a FIFA standard association football is spherical and 71 cm in circumference‒that’s (part of) the FIFA standard; the standard isn’t a particular ball, nor a particular tool that creates balls. A standards organisation might create a prototype for illustrative purposes, such as the World Wide Web Consortium’s Amaya web browser, but it’s generally just that: a prototype, not intended for major use. To reiterate, standards describe characteristics that products need to meet to be interoperable with other products; source code is one particular product.

Open standards also differ from (the common version of) open source both legally and culturally.

Legally, most (though not all) open source code is based on some contagious license: anyone can use the program and anyone can change it, but any change must be released under the same license. For standards that’s not generally an acceptable model. Most companies want to add a few elements to the standard to support their tool’s unique features and they generally don’t want to have to publish those extensions for all their competitors to see. You may or may not believe that companies should publish their extensions, but either way requiring them to do so will cause some of them to shy away from the standard.

Culturally, open source projects are often (though not always) part of some kind of open-ended open-participation development process. Larger projects have some kind of release cycle and a limited set of committers, but the product is still in more-or-less continual flux, often with fairly ad-hoc direction. This culture enables the rapid addition of new features, an asset in developing code but unacceptable in working with standards. Standards must be stable to be useful, with each release’s lifetime measured in years or even decades. They should also be subject to broad consensus before they are published, having been reviewed by a diverse set of impacted parties and not just one or two committers.

Standards can be both open and community-owned. Standards can be developed by the community, where community means some mix of volunteers (like myself) and industry leaders—i.e., the people and corporations whose tools impact the most users. The development process can also be open to the public, in that the general process is made visible to, and may be commented on by, anyone. This publicity does not reach the level of every meeting being streamed live nor every email being a matter of public record: that level of visibility can reduce every conversation into meaningless publicity soundbites. But it does mean that all participants are committed to making their work as public as they reasonably can, using principles such as those outlined by OpenStand to ensure that the process remains open, transparent, balanced, and subject to broad consensus.

As a testament to its open and community-owned vision, FHISO is very open to people. The call for papers is open to anyone who has an idea about what should be standardised or how such a standard might work. Other involvement is also welcome in myriad ways, although responses to queries might not always be immediate given how many things the existing organisers and volunteers are juggling. Don’t believe me? Send me an email (ltychonievich at fhiso) and I’ll do my best to help you discover how you can be part of this open, community effort.

—Luther Tychonievich, FHISO volunteer.

Patrick L. Jones, remarks prepared for the FHISO Panel

On Friday, I had to leave RootsTech early and unfortunately missed the FHISO panel during the Developer Day track. These are the remarks I would have made.

My name is Patrick Jones, I am Senior Director of Security at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, ICANN is a global organization that coordinates the Internet’s unique identifier system (domain names, such as .com, .info and .us; Internet protocol addresses and numbers; and protocol port and parameter numbers). We do this for worldwide public benefit, enabling a single interoperable Internet. ICANN works through a multistakeholder model, facilitating participation by all interested parties, to foster a healthy, stable and resilient Internet ecosystem through coordination and collaboration.

I make these remarks now in my personal capacity, from the perspective of someone who has worked in a multistakeholder environment for the past 13 years and from the perspective of an individual family historian.

Last summer I read the FHISO introductory paper, describing the need for a community-driven effort to develop information standards in the family history space. The premise sounded a lot like the multistakeholder environment in Internet coordination, so I reached out to the organizers, asked some questions and made some suggestions for strengthening the concept. They took those suggestions on board and have continued to grow support for collaborative standards development in the family history environment. It has been great to see some of the largest commercial entities in the space come together with a growing number of genealogical societies. 

Between the members of this panel (Ancestry, brightsolid, FGS and RootsMagic), they host billions of images and records, important historical data that is valuable on its own. But once users add context and connections to that data, it becomes even more valuable – not just to these entities, but for users, who want to be confident the information is secure and stable, and for the greater community who may look for this knowledge in the future. Having an open, collaborative environment for family history information standards strengthens that data, and makes it easier for users to transfer it among operators. This effort may help increase accuracy, stability and interoperability for the larger family history community.

There are two developments in the international arena that make it a good time for FHISO to launch its efforts to a broad audience.

First, in August 2012, the Open Stand initiative ( was announced. This is a joint effort by the Internet Society, Internet Architecture Board, IEEE, Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), supported by hundreds of individuals worldwide. Open Stand promotes a set of principles for modern standards development:

  1. Cooperation
  2. Adherence to principles (due process, broad consensus, transparency, balance, openness)
  3. Collective empowerment
  4. Availability (standards specifications that are accessible to all)
  5. Voluntary Adoption

The Open Stand principles align with the mission of FHISO to bring together stakeholders from the genealogy and family history communities to develop open, international technology standards, and provide an example for the family history community to follow.

The second major development occurred in January 2013. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published its Vancouver Declaration (see PDF at, providing a set of recommendations for a multistakeholder approach to the digital preservation of cultural heritage and historical information and encouraging closer collaboration among international professional associations, regional organizations and commercial enterprises to ensure that recorded information in all its forms is preserved.

FHISO is kicking off at the right time to build from Open Stand, UNESCO’s Vancouver Declaration and other efforts in the greater Internet community as a collaboration point for information standards in the family history space. I look forward to where it is headed next, and I encourage the RootsTech community to look closely at FHISO as an opportunity to work together.

Thank you.

[Thank you from all of us, Patrick.]

FHISO Album – RootsTech 2013
















FHISO-RootsTech Panel – two hours and counting down


Don’t miss our panel discussion today at RootsTech 2013. You’ll hear more about Open Standards from some of the FHISO Founding Members.

In the photograph below some of the panelists, Patrick L. Jones, Joshua Harman (Ancestry) and Robert Burkhead (FHISO) are chatting about FHISO and the panel discussion with FamilySearch’s Gordon Clarke.


2013 Open Call for Papers



Realising the Benefits – Community-driven Standards Development Begins

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA—Friday, March 22, 2013—Family History Information Standards Organisation, FHISO, has announced its 2013 Call for Papers Initiative (, signaling the commencement of open standards development work.

Members of the international genealogy and family history community are invited to submit written proposals as contributions to the FHISO standards development process.

“Modern standards development work is dynamic and deliberate,” said Robert Burkhead, FHISO Technical Standing Committee Coordinator and Acting Chair.  “The result will be inclusive; it will be effective. It begins here. It begins with you and your participation.”

“For the first time, the proposals will be published to the benefit of all stakeholders making up the international community,” said Tony Proctor (UK), FHISO Organiser. “Collectively, the proposals will give rise to comments, member working groups and project teams. The information standards developed from this process will better support how we work and how well we work together.”

FHISO is a community-driven organisation established for the purpose of developing genealogy and family history information standards on a modern platform that is

  • Open
  • Multi-stakeholder
  • International
  • Self-governing
  • Balanced

The FHISO work platforms have been developed. A submissions platform for the Call for Papers is available ( As volunteers process the submissions, each will be posted for public viewing and commenting. A dynamic new platform to support working groups and project teams will follow.

It begins here. It begins with you. Become a member of FHISO today (


FHISO General Enquiries; Membership –; FHISO Media Relations – Anthony C. Proctor (

FHISO at RootsTech 2013 – Meet & Greet

Are you interested in FHISO?

Will you be at RootsTech 2013 a few days from now?

If so, be sure to stop by the FHISO Booth – Booth 646 in the Exhibits Hall.

In particular we’re arranging a “Meet & Greet” that will start at the FHISO Booth at 5:15pm on Thursday 21 March – after the last session for the day, and move to a nearby location to be determined (the Exhibit Hall closes at 6pm). If you don’t have a session in that last time slot, stop by earlier.

Looking forward to seeing many of you there!

FHISO at RootsTech 2013 – Expo Hall Booth

We’re excited that this year FHISO will have a booth in the Expo Hall.


RootsTech Expo Hall

Plan of the RootsTech Expo Hall.

Come and visit us at Booth 646 during the hours the Hall is open.

Stop and chat a while, and fill out one of our “I just want it to work” question forms.



FHISO at RootsTech 2013 – Panel Discussion

RootsTech 2013 is just a week away now. FHISO has been allocated a time slot on Developer Day – Friday 22 March (3:00-4:00 p.m.; room 258)- for a Panel Discussion. This discussion is titled:

What It Means: Open Standards Development from the Perspective of Developers and Standards Professionals

Panel of FHISO founding members and developers present information and engage in Q&A about international community standards setting activities.

The time will be split between introductions and statements from the Panelists, and a Question and Answer session with the Audience.

We’ve lined up a great panel of developers and Founding Member Representatives to take part in this panel.

Moderator – Roger Moffat

Roger Moffat is a transplant from New Zealand, where he last worked as the Manager of the New Zealand Research Station in Antarctica. He has been been involved in FHISO from its start and BetterGEDCOM as well. Roger studied Agricultural Engineering in New Zealand in the 1970s, and became interested in genealogy when he bought his first Macintosh computer in 1988. Serving as Genealogist for the Clan Moffat Society and DataMaster for the Western Michigan Genealogical Society, Roger is well versed in the challenges associated with moving genealogical data between different applications and formats. He’s looking forward to a standards-driven environment where things “just work.”


Robert Burkhead – FHISO

Robert Burkhead is a freelance software engineer. He is an organising member and Acting Chair of the Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO). Robert earned a Master of Software Engineering degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. His first experiences in developing standards for the exchange of data came through his involvement with Health Level Seven International (HL7). He participated in several standards-setting committees, and served as Co-Chair of the Inter-enterprise Technical Committee during the development of version 2.4 of the standard. A member of the National Genealogical Society, Robert has been researching his own family history for the past eight years, or so.

Bruce Buzbee – RootsMagic Inc

Bruce Buzbee is the founder and president of RootsMagic, Inc., and the author of RootsMagic genealogy software. For over 20 years Bruce has been writing genealogy software, having originally written the popular Family Origins program. Bruce has taught thousands of users the ins and outs of RootsMagic, from the basics for beginners to advanced topics for the genealogy professional. Bruce is also the webmaster of, the world’s most popular family reunion planning site, as well as the author of Family Reunion Organizer software. Bruce currently serves on the board of directors for the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

Patrick Jones – ICANN

Patrick Jones is the Senior Director of Security at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Patrick coordinates ICANN’s Security, Stability and Resiliency initiatives across the organization and with community stakeholders. He frequently speaks on ICANN’s role in facilitating a healthy Internet ecosystem in a multistakeholder environment, Domain Name System risk and resiliency activities, and DNS security collaboration. Patrick joined ICANN in 2006 and has been active in the Internet governance and policy areas since 2000.

Patrick also maintains a family history blog titled Frequent Traveler Ancestry, and has been researching for over twenty years.

Josh Harman –

Joshua Harman is the Product Manager for’s Digital Preservation Services organization and is responsible for managing the workflow technology, systems, and software which produce content for and other partners. For the past 7 years he has been heavily involved in the process of designing systems and methods for digitizing, publishing, and sharing genealogical and historical images and data on a very large scale.

Drew Smith – Federation of Genealogical Societies

Drew Smith, MLS, is an Assistant Librarian in the Academic Services department of the University of South Florida Tampa Library. He is a nationally-recognized genealogical author and lecturer. He has been a freelance writer and regular contributor to online and print publications for over a decade. He is the founder and administrator of the GENEALIB mailing list, a service for librarians serving genealogists. His book Social Networking for Genealogists, published in April of 2009 by Genealogical Publishing Co. (, has received rave reviews by Library Journal, Ancestors Magazine (published by The National Archives in the UK), and other publications. Drew is a Director of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

D. Joshua Taylor – findmypast/brightsolid

D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS is the Lead Genealogist and Business Development Manager – North America for brightsolid online publishing, the creators of, and a nationally known and recognized genealogical author, lecturer, and researcher. Active in the genealogical community, Joshua is the current President for the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). Joshua is the former Director of Education and Programs at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He holds an MLS (Archival Management) and an MA (History) from Simmons College and was a featured genealogist on Who Do You Think You Are?.

If you’re going to be at RootsTech 2013, mark this time slot on your calendar and come along to take part.

Photographs from the WDYTYA-Live Conference


Click an image to open a Gallery 

WDYTYA-Live: Who’s there; who wishes they were?



Who Do You Think You Are? Live” is LIVE! The doors opened this morning at 10 a.m. in London. Billed as “The Biggest Family History event … In the world!” this is one giant show. Great sponsors and exhibitors from A to Z.

So, we are asking—”Who’s there … and Who wishes they were there!”

We know that Dovy Paukstys, Chief Technical Officer, Real-Time Collaboration, Inc., is there. So is Malcolm Austen, the FHISO representative for the Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) and its IT Coordinator.

Big shout out to both Dovy and Malcolm for helping bring a ‘bit of FHISO to the show in the form of a flyer. I expect Dovy to be … everywhere. Malcolm should be all around too, as he’s maneuvering between the FFHS booth (stand no. 626) and the Oxfordshire booth (stands no. 79/80). Malcolm is helping distribute the FHISO materials, so stop by those booths and say hello. If you are at the show, you can help all of us spread the word about FHISO.

Here’s an initial list of FHISO supporters who have booths at the show. Let us know if we missed one., stand nos. 720 and 820
Family Historian, stand no. 934
Federation of Family Historians, stand no. 626, stand no. 830
Genes Reunited, stand no. 631
Mocavo, stand no. 624


Whether you are lucky enough to be at the show or just wishing you were, let us hear from you. If you are at the show, send pictures and/or a note–we’ll do our best to post them to the blog.

Together, let’s make 2013 a great year for family historians everywhere.