Behind the scenes: What we’re building now

Since expanding our development team over the last couple of months, we’ve been working hard to build the new features you’ve all been asking for.  We thought you might like a sneak preview of what’s coming soon.

Recent additions

Here’s what we’ve added to the site over the last couple of weeks…

  • Inventions
    You can now add our new ‘Inventions’ stream to your family timeline to see big inventions from history alongside your own family story.  What was your family up to when the automobile was invented?
  • Questions
    We’ll send you questions about your family each week to help you fill the gaps in your timeline.
  • GEDCOM merge
    You can now merge any number of GEDCOM files into your Twile family tree to keep it up-to-date and to combine research from multiple members of your family.

Coming soon!

And here’s a couple of exciting features we’re working on right now…

  • FamilySearch Integration
    If you’re a FamilySearch user, you’ll soon be able to import your tree into Twile, which will automatically generate a timeline of your family history for you to share privately.  More details later this month!
  • New Streams
    Following the launch of our inventions stream, we’ve had so much feedback and many requests for different history topics. We are currently working on streams for the American Civil War and War of Independence.  If you have a specific request for a new history stream, please add a comment below or send us an email to help@twile.com

We will be posting more information soon!

Five Tips For Scanning Your Old Photos

If your family is anything like mine, you have hundreds or thousands of photos that will never be seen again.  We have boxes filled with old photos (typically hidden in the attic); everything from black-and-white pictures from the early 1900s through to colour photos of me and my brother growing up.

Even if we open up those boxes and look through them occasionally, that doesn’t help the family who live elsewhere.  I have cousins living around the world who, of course, share the same grandparents – of whom we have a lot of photos.  The only solution is to scan the pictures and put them somewhere we can all access.

Scanning in old photos is a BIG job – especially if you have as many as we do – so I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned while working through our old photo collection.  Here are five tips for scanning in old photos…

1. Choose your device

The first decision is whether to use a flatbed scanner or your camera (or smartphone) to digitise your old photos.  Using a camera is certainly the simplest option – it is far easier and quicker to snap, snap, snap your photos than it is to load them one-by-one into a scanner and wait while it scans.  It probably takes an average of 60 seconds per photo using a flatbed scanner, versus maybe 10 seconds using a camera.

But the quality of the scan from a scanner is far superior to what you’ll achieve using a camera.  Scanners are designed for scanning flat documents, while cameras are designed for taking photos of 3D things in the real world – and the difference shows.

With a camera, curled paper edges, lighting glare and lens angles can all diminish the quality of the final output.  With a scanner, these problems are all removed.

Whether you invest in a scanner and spend the extra time it takes to use one depends on the quality you want in the digital versions of your photos.  I’d suggest you try a camera first and see if the output is good enough for what you need.

2. Don’t aim for perfection

With the choice between scanner and camera in mind, it’s worth noting that any digital version of your photos is better than nothing at all.  Your family and your future self will be delighted just to see the photos, even if they’re a little skew or there’s a little glare in the top-right corner.

It’s tempting to spend a lot of time perfecting the scanning process, but your main aim should be getting your paper photos onto a computer.  The longer it takes to arrange photos, align them, adjust lighting and everything else, the less likely you are to finish the job.

It takes a little experimentation to see what you get from different methods, so have a play and find a compromise that you’re happy with between speed and quality.

3. Sort the photos first

It’s a lot easier to organise the paper copies of your photos than it is to do it on a computer.  It’s also a lot more enjoyable – you’ll find yourself spending a few moments on each photo, either enjoying your own memories or trying to solve the mysteries therein.

I suggest grouping photos by date primarily.  In some cases you’ll have an exact date written on the back of the photo (or imprinted in the photo itself in some more recent pics).  Otherwise, you might need to make a best guess on the month or year or maybe just decade.  

Organising your photos before scanning makes it much easier to store them in appropriate date-based folders on your computer later. For example, you could scan photos in date batches, so that all photos from 1973 go into one folder.

It’s also an opportunity to remove any that aren’t worth scanning in. Underdeveloped shots or the seventeenth photo of the same anonymous landscape might not be something you want to spend time scanning in.  

4. Check your scanner settings

Most scanners, cameras and smartphones will offer some level of customisation for the resulting image.  You’ll want to get this setup correctly before you start.

There are three considerations: image settings, resolution and file type.

The image settings include options like brightness, colour levels and contrast.  You may find that the default settings are perfect, otherwise you may want to adjust them until you get the image output you’re looking for.  I found that my colour photos looked a little too blue by the time they reached the screen, so I adjusted the colour balance to fix that.

The larger the resolution of your scanned-in photo, the higher its quality (and file size).  Bigger is always better, but there is a maximum to the quality you’ll actually be able to use.  It may be tempting to reduce the resolution to save disk space, but if you go too low you’ll end up with photos that aren’t good enough to print – and you may regret that one day.  I’d recommend a resolution of 300dpi (dots per inch), which will give you more than enough for viewing on a screen and emailing and plenty to produce quality prints if you ever need to.

You can often select the file type that you want to create during scanning, such as JPEG, TIFF, PNG or PDF.  For most purposes you’ll want to choose JPEG, which is a good compromise between quality and file size.  It’s the most familiar type of image file and can easily be used for viewing, emailing or printing.

5. Scan multiple photos together

Whether you’re using a scanner or a camera, you can save time by scanning more than one photo at a time.  A typical flatbed scanner can accommodate at least 3 typical photos and you’ll probably fit 3 or 4 into the viewfinder of a camera at a reasonable distance.

The downside of scanning multiple photos together is that you need to crop the resulting image into 3 or 4 photos.  Fortunately, there are a number of software solutions and apps that will do this automatically – and many modern flatbed scanners come with appropriate software as part of the package.

We’ll be reviewing apps and photo software in the future, so watch this space!

Add your photos to Twile

Once you’ve digitised your photos, don’t just leave them hidden away on your computer – upload them to your Twile timeline so that the rest of your family can explore and enjoy them.  Twile is totally private, which means only the family members you invite will be able to see the photos you share.

Click here to create your Twile Timeline

 

Twile supports #CreateUK

This week we have been supporting The Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s campaign #CreateUK, a week long celebration and showcase of the creative industries in the UK.s300_CREATE_UK_GOV.UK

As a tech startup in the UK, we’re delighted to be amongst a community of fellow creatives who are generating almost £10m every hour for the UK economy!

When asked why we create, many reasons sprang to mind and it reminded us of an article that Paul Brooks (Twile co-founder) wrote to TechCityInsider earlier this year:

“When we first started Twile in 2013, we had dreams and expectations of quick success, exponential growth and big investment. As it turns out, building a startup is a lot more than that. Along with my co-founder Kelly Marsden, I launched the company as part of the first Dotforge accelerator in Sheffield and quickly managed to close a small seed investment round from local angel investors.

We soon found that growing a consumer userbase with a small budget and an early product is not easy. We regularly worked 70-weeks with very little to show for them except a little more understanding and gradually improving product. We managed to maintain the confidence of our investors and they put more money in to two more rounds over the next two years, giving us the runway we needed to experiment, pivot and chase product-market fit. There were many times when we didn’t think we’d last long enough.

1[1]

Based in Yorkshire, it has been difficult to attract big investment and raise our profile in the tech community. While there are initiatives such as Tech North , to address the challenges faced by entrepreneurs outside of London, the capital is still very much the centre of the UK tech community.

To secure investment, you need to meet as many investors as possible and work to build long term relationships with them, keeping them updated on your progress and successes. With limited budget, it hasn’t been possible for us to travel to London regularly or spend large periods of time there. The fact that everyone involved in the business has young children has made this even more difficult. Of course, there are investors in the North, but from our experience most of them are lacking an understanding of the tech industry, especially web software. For example, it is fairly typical for a consumer app to prioritise growth over revenue at the start, but most investors we have met in the North East, for instance, expect to see a healthy turnover and strong balance sheet before they’ll even glance at the cover of a business plan.

Despite these challenges, our perseverance and hard work is paying off. In 2015 we started to gain recognition as an innovative visualisation tool for the family history market and started to acheive real growth.

We attended the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City in February and won two of the four innovations awards as part of the innovator showdown competition – returning to the UK with $16,000 in cash and another $10,000 in “in-kind” support. We are looking forward to returning to RootsTech in 2017.

On our return, we learned that we had secured investment and a partnership deal with Findmypast, one of the leading names in family history. This gives us the resources and support we need to grow Twile into a global brand.

In under three years, we have evolved Twile from an early concept into a robust, fully featured product that solves a real problem for our customers. We have made a point of talking to our users as often as possible and we’ve used their input to intelligently prioritise development. We’ve put a huge amount of effort into every phase of the business and we’ve acknowledged our failures as essential steps to success.

If there’s a moral to our story, it’s that our own hard work is going to deliver the results. It’s easy to blame market conditions, geographical location, lack of government support of any other external factors for the failure of a start-up, but we’ve seen a number of early stage businesses (including Twile) succeed in recent years and every one of them has put a lot of effort in to overcome the obstacles they’ve been faced with.

Fortunately, recent investment in the infrastructure for start-ups outside of London is beginning to amplify the hard work that entrepreneurs are willing to put in.

Organisations like Creative England, (who have been hugely supportive in our journey, backing us from the beginning) and Tech North and accelerators like Dot Forge and Ignite are making it easier to start and succeed. If this can be matched by investors with an appetite for opportunities outside of London, I believe we will see many more successful northern startups in the near future.”

The #CreateUK campaign this week reminds us that with hard work we can continue to thrive and take advantage of the new opportunities which are opening up to do business across the world. Why do we create? Because it’s our dream, our passion, our mission to succeed.

Relevant articles:

 

Twile is now even faster!

You asked, we delivered: How your feedback improves Twile

In April 2016 we made some big changes to the invisible parts of Twile, which means that the whole website now runs faster and can handle any size of family tree. You will hopefully notice that everything loads more quickly, especially if you have a large family on the site.

Now that this work is complete, we thought you might be interested to have an insight into the challenges of building a website like Twile and keeping it running smoothly.

We build Twile in a ‘lean’ way, which basically means that we build new features as quickly as we can to get your feedback on them sooner. We don’t try to make everything perfect straight away – we could spend a very long time getting a feature just right, only to find that nobody wants it! Instead, we will build a simpler version of a feature and then make some changes and improvements to it over time, based on the conversations we have with customers like you.

The family tree is a good example of this. When we first built the tree in 2014, it was only designed to display 10-20 people (and GEDCOM was but a twinkle in our eyes). It couldn’t show multiple marriages, often displayed siblings in the wrong order and it didn’t look anywhere near as pretty.

But, it allowed us to collect feedback and prove that we were heading in the right direction. We’ve since improved the family tree gradually, adding new features. tweaking the design and allowing it to handle much larger and more complicated families.

The performance work we’ve done in April is the latest in a long and continued line of work on the family tree. The site can now comfortably handle any size of tree (we’ve tested it with 100,000 people so far).

All of this comes from the conversations we have with our customers. Some of the changes we’ve been asked for – and are still planning to build in – are support for adopted families, multiple trees and admin controls for the tree owner. These are all on their way.

The challenge of building a product like Twile is deciding what to work on first. We have a lot of customers asking for lots of different things, so we have to prioritise the ones that will improve Twile the most for the largest number of people. It is for this reason that we encourage you to give us your feedback – the more people that ask for a particular feature, the more likely we are to build it soon.

And in between the launch of new features, we’re always working on the hidden aspects of Twile – making it faster and more reliable. This is a never-ending task, as we have more users and more complex features every single day.

So we hope that you will be patient with us while we make Twile as amazing as we can. Our team is expanding, with two new developers joining the Twile team in May, which will mean that progress on some features will be accelerated. We ask that you keep telling us what you like, dislike and would like to see – in that way you’re helping us build the perfect tool for you.

Image by Freepik 

Related articles

 

 

 

 

Using Timeline Technologies in your Family History Research

If you were lucky enough to catch some of the workshops at Who Do You Think You Are? Live last week, Ron Arons spoke about ‘Technologies for Timelines’. It was a great presentation and we’re delighted that Ron agreed to do a guest blog post for us!

Twile and Mind Maps: Two excellent choices for building genealogical timelines, Ron Arons.

 

When it comes to Timelines, there are many technologies that fit the bill; I can tell you about two dozen different products and services which come in all shapes, sizes and prices. The good/bad news is that there are so many options. It can be confusing to decide which one(s) to use.

The really good news is that you don’t have to select just one approach, even if you are under a limited budget.

One way of deciding among the many choices is to consider how you want to use a timeline.

  • Do you want to create a beautiful report for yourself and others to show off what you have discovered as a result of all of your research efforts?

Or

  • Do you want to use a timeline for analysis purposes?

The really good news is that there are products and services which fall into each category.

Twile’s product/service falls into the first category. It is a unique product in that it allows you to build visually stunning timelines with superior graphics, including images (think family photographs, etc.)  The Twile folks make it easy to add family members to the timeline, whether you type information in directly or, better yet, import a GEDCOM (industry standard genealogy database) file. While relatively new to the market, Twile’s product is very capable and I know that they have great plans for the future with feature enhancements, e.g. video, on the drawing boards.

1[1]

By contrast, a mind map is a different animal altogether. The notion of mind maps has been around for centuries and software programs to create them have been around for nearly twenty years. Mind maps are used in companies of all sizes for brainstorming and creative thinking. In the education field, teachers use them with their students. Attorneys use them to layout their cases both for their clients as well as for juries. Writers use mind maps to plan their stories.

If you are a visual (or non-linear thinking person and have never tried them, you should really give them a shot.

Mind maps are radial outlines that start with a central theme or concept, e.g. a person or a question. From the centre, you expand the mind map with several branches. Each branch can be expanded with more specific details in sub-branches, sub-sub branches, etc. For example, the following mind map provides information about my great-grandfather, a criminal and consummate liar.

Isaac Spier1iMindMap

Better yet, you can make connections across the map using connector arrows/lines. It is this latter capability that I found so useful in my own personal research to help analyze two very difficult problems that haunted me for more than fifteen years.

The themes for my various mind maps were individuals. I created a first level of branches which represented the many different genealogical documents that I found for that individual (or other related individuals). I then organized the documents in clockwise, chronological order, effectively creating a timeline. Next, I populated sub-branches with details of each document. Finally, I used connector arrows of different colors to connect specific “facts” I saw in common across the various documents. I found that this approach “lit up” my brain, allowing me to “see” things that would have been much more difficult to notice and comprehend if I just looked at the original documents, comparing two at a time. You can see an example of a timeline mind map (without connector arrows) about my great-grandfather on my website here: http://www.ronarons.com/isaac-spier-mindmap/

So, you CAN have your cake and eat it, too!

You can use mind maps to help with the analysis portion of your research and a great product like Twile’s to spruce it up and make it look pretty to share with your relatives.

Regardless of which direction you take, I wish you the very best of success with your family history research. Happy hunting!

Ron Arons, lives in Oakland, California and  is a veteran genealogist, speaker, and author’
Ron Arons, lives in Oakland, California and is a veteran genealogist, speaker, and author.

We’d like to thank Ron for this insightful blog post. If you like this mind map approach to timelines, consider Ron’s book, Mind Maps for Genealogy, which discusses using mind maps for timelines, using the Genealogical Proof Standard, and implementing the FAN (friends, associates and neighbours) technique (also known as “cluster” research).

Family History is About the Living Too

How much of your life will be remembered by your descendants?

The death of a relative can often bring to mind all of the questions we wished we’d asked before it was too late. Why didn’t we ask them more about their life? Why didn’t we pay attention when they tried to tell us their story?

Once they’re gone, we will dig through boxes of photos they’ve left behind, maybe find diaries that we didn’t know existed. For some it may generate a new (or renewed) interest in their family history, but no amount of research can uncover a person’s full story.

I think about this a lot. I remember that my Granddad – who lived well into his 90s – always had a story to tell. But we were too young or too busy to ever really listen. Now that I’m older, I would love to hear the stories about his time in the war. Where was he stationed? What action did he see? How did he spend his time in the days or weeks in-between?

And that makes me curious about how he met my Grandma, where they went on holiday or how life changed when my Dad came along. How was parenting different for them than it has been for me?

Mixed with this frustration is a fear that my grandchildren will know as little about me as I do about my grandparents.

So I’ve made an effort to record my life so far. My family has a Twile timeline that starts in 1843 (the birth of my great-great-grandfather) and runs through to this morning (when I took my daughter to dance class). My descendants will be able to explore my life in detail – photos of my school years, my time at university, my wedding, honeymoon, birth of my children… and all with comments and thoughts that I’ve added.

In time, my kids will start adding their own stories and photos to the timeline, hopefully building a tradition that will continue forever – an endless record of the family story, which starts with my great-great-grandfather (until I get the time to work out who came before him!).

I’m curious to know how other people feel about the stories they’re passing forward. Have you ever thought about what your descendants will know about you? Are you doing anything about it?

About Twile

We know that family history is more than just names on a family tree.

With Twile, you can create a rich, visual timeline of your family history, made up of milestones and photos, which everyone in your family can explore and contribute to. It’s designed for family historians who are passionate about learning more of their family history and want to share what they learn with the rest of the family. And it’s designed for the rest of the family, who can easily explore the family timeline and then add their own content to keep the family history right up-to-date.

By capturing your family history in the same place as everything that happens today, Twile turns your family story into something that never ends and never grows old.

Who we are
Twile was started by Paul Brooks and Kelly Marsden in 2013. We wanted our children to know who their ancestors were, what they were like and show how that history connects with their own early years and onwards.

Our mission:
“Make family history exciting and engaging for the whole family and preserve as many memories as possible for the future generations”

If you’re as passionate as we are about family history, join our online community or get in touch – we’d love to hear what you think about Twile and how we can make it even better.

Join the discussion on our Family History Facebook group
Like our Facebook page for regular updates

Follow us on Twitter: @TwileTweets

Send us an email: info@twile.com

Or get in touch with one of us directly:

Paul Brooks: paul.brooks@twile.com | @beingpb
Kelly Marsden: kelly.marsden@twile.com | @kellyjmarsden

Why We Created Twile

Twile is all about preserving family memories and family history for the future generations. We are building Twile because we have young children and we wanted them to have a record of their early years and a knowledge of where they came from, who their ancestors were.

We have relatives that spend their spare time researching our ancestry and building the family tree, but very little of what they find is shared with the family. And if it is, it’s either purely anecdotal or it’s in a format that is very difficult to consume – we knew our children wouldn’t have the interest or patience to try and make sense of a scanned birth certificate or black-and-white photo of someone they didn’t recognise.

Every person in a family has their own memories and their own story, which will be lost if not recorded in some way – and even though someone in the family is researching and recording the family history, it will be forgotten unless it is shared.

But sharing family history isn’t enough. We need to make it interesting, exciting, engaging – it needs to be accessible to everyone in the family.

We need to stop thinking of family history as something from the past. Family history is created every day: new babies, first words, holidays, school, university, marriage, death and everything else in-between.

We’re proud to be part of a movement in the genealogy community that is working to make family history more exciting and engaging for the whole family, especially the younger generations.

That is why we created Twile.