It’s always interesting to see your progress, regardless of the task at hand. So we’re posting a progress report for BillionGraves. Here are our numbers after the first dozen days of work:
Photos: 8084+ (variation allowed for the time it took me to write this)
Records: 11108+ (the number keeps changing each time I check it)
Photos awaiting transcription: 500–600 (this number also keeps changing)
There are more records than photos because a record refers to one individual’s information. So a couple that is buried under the same monument produces two records, one for each individual. Some of these individuals, like Carl J. Anderson (Provo City Cemetery, Utah, U.S.A.), I wasn’t able to find on the major grave registration sites. Now they’re available for current and future descendants. While these numbers are still relatively small, they represent a strong 12-days introduction.
We’re not sure how many cemeteries have been added to the database since the launch because once we approve an added cemetery, it becomes identical to the cemeteries we originally had on file. I can, however, tell you about the cemeteries we have in the queue for approval. There are currently 16 of them.
- 13 are in the United States, and they come from 8 different states.
- 1 is in Ontario, Canada.
- 1 is in United Kingdom, England specifically.
- 1 is in Croatia.
We’ve heard from a few people who feel our charging $1.99 for the app is wrong in principle. From most of you, we hear that yes, it’s only $1.99, but the principle of charging any money when you, our users, are volunteering to provide content is unreasonable. Well, know that we’ve gone through that same argument ourselves.
Before we released the app, we went back and forth on the idea of charging for the app. You’ve already hit on the reasons we had for making the app free. But our rationale for setting a price on it may not be what you’d expect. We’re concerned about ensuring you get the best content as fast as possible. In developing other apps before BillionGraves, we’ve learned that free apps get downloaded by the casual passerby—and often don’t end up being used, or end up being used improperly. With most apps, that isn’t much of an issue. But BillionGraves is a camera app, and the content gets uploaded to a site with a very specific purpose. To the casual passerby, who does not necessarily understand or have a particular passion for finding and preserving the names of the dead, it may seem fun to take pictures of a dog, the front lawn, a car, a dresser—the possibilities for inappropriate photos are endless. As you may have seen already, sometimes these types of photos end up coming to BillionGraves because of an honest mistake made by someone who is interested. Cemeteries, which require individual approval to ensure accuracy, can be added incorrectly. All this faulty input has to be managed, and to conserve resources and put them to better use, we need to mitigate the amount of faulty input. The more faulty input we get, the longer it takes to make good photos and cemeteries available, and the longer it takes to make the improvements and additions you’ve requested.
So that’s the problem we’re facing. Charging $1.99 was the solution we settled on. Our logic was that $2 is not enough to deter someone who is interested in the project (hopefully). It would probably cost you more to get a bottle of water at 7-11 to take with you to the cemetery than it would to buy the app. But $2 is enough to make casual passersby think twice before downloading. If they then chose to download, it would most likely be with a more honest intention to satisfy their curiosity by using the app the way it was meant to be used.
With the feedback we’ve gotten, it’s apparent that you’d like us to find another solution as well. The amount of the cost isn’t the issue: it’s the principle and we understand that. We’ve been brainstorming all day, trying to figure out a way for someone to prove honest interest and be rewarded with a way to download the app for free. But it’s difficult to find a solution that will work for both the iPhone and the Android. The capabilities and restrictions for the two stores are different. Nevertheless, we’ve settled on an option we’ll try, and we hope you’ll try it with us.
If you register on the BillionGraves.com website and send us an email through the “Contact Us” page using your registration email address, we’ll buy you the iPhone version of the app and give it to you. Then we have the guarantee that you’re at least somewhat interested and you get the app for free.
We’ll incur some costs in the process, but that’s okay right now. The trouble is, Android distributors don’t have quite the same options for gifting apps, so we’ll need to adapt the solution when the Android app comes out. We’ll try this method for the next two weeks, until June 17, at which point I’ll report back on how things are going and if we’ve found a good, more permanent solution. We’re actively looking to find a way to provide both the BillionGraves content and the means for gathering it for free while still maintaining speed and quality. For now, try this solution with us.
Yesterday two of the four features I mentioned last time went live: the new transcription form and zoom capabilities. The new form is still simple and easy to use, but is now more adaptable and can accommodate more types of information. The default form now has the following fields:
- Given Names
- Family Names
- Birth Month, Day, & Year
- Death Month, Day, & Year
By clicking “add additional info” in the lower right corner of the form you’ll also see these:
- Maiden Name
- Marriage Month, Day, & Year
You can also click the blue “Add Description” tab under the form and you’ll get these:
- Add Epitaph
- Add Additional Information
The “Add Additional Information” field is there for anything that isn’t easy to standardize. Some headstones list children, but many of them differ in how they go about it. Some mention parents, but sometimes only by initials. Some mention military service, but the format for units and such varies. With the free-text format of the additional information box, you can ensure all the information gets captured and recorded and nothing gets left out because it doesn’t fit a predefined form.
If you have any questions about how to transcribe a particular headstone, visit our transcription help page.Read More
Thank you for making the launch of BillionGraves.com so fun to watch and experience. We appreciate all the feedback you’ve been giving us and we’re hard at work adapting the site and app so they work better for you. Here’s a look at what we’re working on right now.
#1 – The Android App
As we’ve mentioned before, this is our top priority. It was top priority before the launch, but now that so many of you have requested it as well we’ve redoubled our efforts on that front. If all goes well, we’ll have an Android version of the app out by the end of June. If you’re a registered user over at the website, you’ll receive an email as soon as the app is available in the Android Market.
#2 – Additional Transcription Information
A lot of the headstones that have been collected hold a richer collection of information than the transcription setup currently supports. Right now the essential names and dates get recorded; soon there will be options that will allow you to record extra snippets like marriage dates and children if that information is on the grave marker.
#3 – Better Map Views
Currently you can see the photos you’ve taken mapped out in a cemetery, or you can see an individual headstone mapped out. Soon we’ll have the map set up so it can show you where all the mapped out headstones in a cemetery are, whether you’ve collected the photos yourself or not. This will help you to know if a cemetery has already been done, if only a part of it has been done, or if it’s waiting for you to come chart it.
#4 – Zoom
Before much longer you’ll be able to zoom in on photos so you can better transcribe the information on them. This should make the searchable records more accurate and make it easier to transcribe older grave markers.
There are plenty of other things in the works, mostly things that you’ve requested either in blog posts or emails sent directly to us, but these are the things you’ll most likely see the soonest.Read More
Since our launch last week we’ve received feedback that some feel we’re duplicating the efforts of Find a Grave, or that we should be collaborating with them. However, we feel that the way things have evolved is a good one: the mission of Find a Grave and the mission of BillionGraves.com are different, so it makes sense that we ended up being separate.
When our team first decided we wanted to work on a project to make gathering cemetery information more efficient and accessible, we attempted to contact Find a Grave to create a partnership: we’d provide a mobile app and they’d provide the website it integrated with. We never did hear back from the folks at Find a Grave, but that’s completely understandable. It makes a lot of sense. Our goals are different than their goals.
Find a Grave creates a sort of online memorial for deceased persons. Genealogical information can be gleaned from these memorials, but that isn’t the primary purpose (Find a Grave lists “grave registration” as its primary purpose; genealogical information is a tertiary purpose). At BillionGraves.com, we wanted to build a fast, easy way to accurately collect and search the genealogical information on headstones. This goal materialized more and more during our years of development, and it meant we needed a fairly complex website structure to support a mobile app. Find a Grave does what it does wonderfully, and it would have been a shame to make its primary purpose harder to achieve with the restructuring it would have taken to integrate the app we envisioned.
At BillionGraves.com we also wanted to make it very simple to capture complete cemeteries full of records that may not exist in any other place. Many people who research family history have heard of the valuable information a researcher can find by stumbling upon a small family cemetery that isn’t on any map or in any database. The mobile BillionGraves app makes it easy to add those sorts of cemeteries to our database and map out all the headstones in them instead of just a select few. Then these previously undocumented and inaccessible sorts of records are easy to find, easy to search, and thus, easy to add to your research and share with others.
Another tool that is already available online is Names In Stone. The site is dedicated to carefully mapping out cemeteries. Names In Stone has worked well with the resources it has; BillionGraves.com can take it one step further. Names In Stone relies on hand-recorded data that is then added to the site. We’ve taken a similar process and automated it using the iPhone app and our servers to map out the cemetery as you’re collecting photos and then making the transcription of those photos quick and simple (it’s fairly easy to collect one photo every 15 seconds or so—much faster than a by-hand system). Interment.net is also a great resource, but also requires a more complicated recording and transcription process.
All the grave-recording services have their own value, and we hope you stay connected to them. Especially while the BillionGraves.com database is in its infancy, these sites will help you further your research. However, we’ll continue to provide our services because hard-working researchers deserve to have tools that fit their needs. These other tools fill some needs, but not others. BillionGraves.com fills the gap.Read More