Brett Atlas of Resting Spot emailed me via my blog a while back. I was mostly ignoring such web sites, knowing that FindaGrave has been around for a long time, and why were others repeating it? But his extra effort caught my attention and I decided to check it out. I had to wait a bit for it to be available for Android. He offered me a pre-release version, but in the end, it was released before I made it out to a cemetery. I decided to try Billion Graves at the same time, since they seemed so similar.
The first part of this review was written months ago. I finished after finally visiting a cemetery and trying the apps, so some of the other stuff might be a little different by now.
I signed up for both online. BillionGraves asked me for a user name and RestingSpot asked for my real name. I received emails from both immediately. BG sent me a link to confirm my email that went to a blank page (but apparently it worked), and included a link to “tips and tricks” without a warning that it was a PDF. RS had a simpler email, and I had to copy and paste the link to activate. (Why my program didn’t make it clickable anyway, I’ll never know.)
First Impressions of the Web Sites
Logging into RS essentially brought me back to their home page and I had to search to find anything. I tried Utah and Salt Lake City with no results. Well, at least my work hadn’t been done yet. There is nothing on the site telling how the stones get transcribed so they are searchable by name. I searched by Smith and the first listing had a location on the map but no picture. I found one listing that had a description directing me to FindaGrave for more information.
BG brought me to a dashboard. I curiously clicked on “Photo Map” and was taken to a satellite image of… the middle of nowhere. Zooming out, I was in the Uinta Forest in Utah. I wonder why? Clicking on the “Transcribe” tab, I was presented an image and a short form to fill in. It seemed easy, but when I clicked “Save”, it stayed on the same image. I had to choose “Next” to move on. It then gave me several completely unreadable images before another I could transcribe. It had a lot of bad and blurry pictures and fed them to me at random. There were more unreadable pictures than readable ones. One wasn’t even in English.
Curiously, one of the options for the data entry is the FamilySearch ID. The owners are clearly LDS, and living in Utah. (What does this mean for people who don’t have that ID? Will they be entered into the database and be marked for posthumous baptism?)
Also, for having 2400 photos that need transcribing, it repeated an awful lot of them back to me that I skipped over, even after I reported them for being blurry or not a gravestone. Later visits to the site gave me different stones, many more of which were readable. I guess my first visit had a lot of leftovers.
The Android Apps
Both apps defaulted to the portrait view, which didn’t thrill me on my tablet device, but plenty of apps don’t have the correct rotation.
This is where they diverge. I discovered the answer to my biggest question: What is the difference between the two sites? BG has you take pictures really fast, upload them, and let someone else type in the transcription. RS has you enter the information while you’re there. Considering that I had to log in to both twice because I mis-typed, that doesn’t sound like the best solution for cataloging whole cemeteries. BG says you can photograph 500 graves in an hour, but if I stop to type each one, there’s no way I’ll get that much done in RS.
On the other hand, I couldn’t read the majority of the photos on BG (my first visit) because the stones were worn down or the pictures were blurry (I think it gave me the same one more than once to try). However, some of those could probably be read in person, so filling in the information while you’re standing there would be better in those cases.
I shot off an email to Brett about adding photos since I didn’t even see the option. He replied about what I thought. After adding the name (and getting the GPS coordinates), then there is an option to add a photo.
Even Before I Do the Work
I already know I’m not going to be thrilled with RS. That one will take hours in a cemetery because I have to catalog the whole thing there. And if someone else finds a gravestone that I am looking for, they might not have even taken a picture.
On the other hand, I’ve already witnessed some flaws in BG. Too many pictures were illegible. And even some of the clear pictures could not be read for transcribing. There is also the problem about needing multiple pictures for some grave sites, which BG doesn’t allow. I was shown pictures of the backs of stones several times, but there’s nothing to transcribe if I don’t know who’s on the front.
There needs to be a middle ground. One or both of these apps needs to move towards the other. I like the idea of BillionGraves in that someone can go out with their device and snap pictures quickly, recording the GPS, and then it can be transcribed later. But given the difficulty in reading some photos and specifically reading the gravestones, there needs to be an option more like RestingSpot where the person taking the photo, at the time they take it, can enter the data because they can see the writing more clearly in person. Also, BG needs to allow more than one photo, like it appears that RS can do. I have seen evidence that both are listening to what users are suggesting. I just wonder which one will make the bigger move first and make the adjustments needed to take the lead.
Finally Visited the Cemeteries
Two months after writing the previous part of this blog post, I finally found myself downtown during daylight with a little time. I headed up to the small Jewish cemetery first. It seems that Google maps has it wrong, because I clearly was not in a Jewish cemetery. There was another section without its own road to drive, but I didn’t make it over there. Besides the mysterious cemetery, I tried out the Android apps. No longer using the larger Android tablet, the portrait view made more sense on the smaller device. In addition, the smaller screen brings a smaller keyboard and more typos.
RestingSpot and the Forced Crashes
I tried RestingSpot first. I found the app very unresponsive. I would sometimes tap things multiple times before anything would happen. I entered a name, misspelling it repeatedly, then went to the date fields. When I typed in the date, it didn’t save. I had to tap the + and – buttons to get the year to take instead of ending up with 1900 and 2000. Then the app crashed. I started again a number of times with the app crashing. I was even able to take a photo. But in the end, it crashed and nothing saved.
I contacted Brett about my results before this blog entry was posted. They are constantly working to improve the app and have asked me to help test the next version. They were already working on a couple of my issues.
While I’d been in a mixed religion cemetery before, I never really paid attention and just went to the Jewish section where I was looking for someone. While Jewish cemeteries (in the US) have stones with Hebrew, non-Jewish apparently can have anything. The question becomes, when the app is finally fixed so that it works with my device, how would I even enter the data on stones like these?
Can the apps even handle such characters if I could read them? (Can either app handle non-Latin letters?) How could I catalog a cemetery on-site if I can’t read some of it? (OK, some of the Chinese stones had English on the back, but that Arabic one was all on the front.)
BillionGraves and the Greed
BillionGraves was up next. I opened it up, chose “Camera”, snapped pictures, and moved on. I only did a few, but it was quick. I had to wait a few seconds every time I moved, for GPS I assume, but it wasn’t bad. I had preview on and the pictures looked good. When I had wifi again, I uploaded them and it figured out the cemetery by the GPS coordinates.
Because I don’t have 3G or 4G, I didn’t have a connection while in the cemetery, so I didn’t notice that BG was running ads. What I did notice was the “Records” screen. They want me to pay for their service. I go out and photograph stones for free for them, I transcribe what other people have photographed for free, everyone contributes without pay, but they want me to pay to search their database? I think not. I can forgive ads on the web site and in the app, because they are providing the service, programming, and hosting, but taking all the information they are given freely and making me pay for it is not acceptable.
I stand by my previous conclusions that neither app is ideal.
1. Snapping photos was quick and easy. A lot of graves can be covered in a short time.
1. Some grave sites require more than one photo, either because the stone has writing on front and back, there is a large stone with the surname and smaller stones for each individual in the plot, or just because the sunlight is reflecting badly and it needs more than one photo. BillionGraves does not allow multiple photos to be linked together for one record.
2. Not everyone keeps the preview mode on, so they don’t even see the bad quality of the photos they are uploading.
3. Some gravestones are difficult to read, but easier to see in person. There is no way to enter the information or attach a note to a gravestone when the photo is taken.
4. After the photos were taken, my default image viewer could not find them. When I take normal camera pictures, they are immediately cataloged. BG didn’t do that and it took restarting my device to activate the media scan to find them.
5. All information on the site is photographed and transcribed by volunteers, yet they want us to pay to access it within the mobile app.
1. Multiple images can be attached to a single record, which is sometimes necessary for gravestones.
2. You can create a memorial page, like FindaGrave, but with the GPS coordinates.
3. The app appears to be completely free. No ads (in the Android app), no requiring payment to search.
4. If a stone is difficult to read in the photo, you can enter the data while in person, when it’s easier to read.
1. The app was incompatible with my Android, force closing multiple times. I never got a single grave completely recorded and uploaded.
2. Entering all the data on-site is tedious and prone to typos.
3. If a stone is in a language or alphabet I can’t read, I can’t enter it at all.
4. Searching within the app did not produce any results. I double checked with the online search. I guess that isn’t working yet either.
5. My default image viewer could see the files after they were taken, but I found the RS images in the root directory. They should really be in a folder. Of course, the app crashed, so maybe it wasn’t finished and would have moved them.
One of these programs needs to take a huge step towards the other. BillionGraves is good that I can take a lot of pictures quickly and they get transcribed later. This is also good for stones in foreign languages that I can’t read. But when the stone is hard to read or requires multiple photos, RestingSpot has the advantage. In person, I can read the difficult stones better, and I can add multiple pictures together.
The BG Android app worked fine, but the RS crashed. I verified that I have the current versions of both apps. I’ve never contacted the BG owners/developers. The RS owners are already working on some of the issues I was having and said they are working on a big update set for about six months from now.
I’m still partial to RestingSpot for a few biased reasons, and one major one.
1. Brett contacted me personally.
2. The owners have been indexing Jewish cemeteries in Omaha with the community. (Hence, why they were contacting Jewish genealogy bloggers.)
3. I don’t have to wonder if the information will eventually be entered into the FamilySearch database for posthumous baptisms.
4. BG is trying to charge people to access data that has been volunteered for free. I have seen no evidence of this from RS. Using ads for some revenue is one thing, charging for access to the data is another.
I volunteered to help RestingSpot test future versions of their Android app. I look forward to watching as they iron out the issues and improve the app over time. I hope that I can write a follow-up review next spring about the improvements they’ve made and how long it really takes to enter the data at the grave sites.
Have you tried the apps? What do you think of them?