I come from a large family, and we are all quite close. In fact, we’re even close to the extended family — uncles, aunts, cousins. My grandfather and his five siblings made it a point to maintain a healthy relationship, which they passed on to the next generations. So for a long time, I have been pondering making a family tree to chart out our herd.
When I first came across PeoplePlotr, it seemed like a good idea to give it a try. The web app is made by the same guys who developed the easy-to-use timeline-maker Tiki-Toki. I’ve used that before and have been quite happy with it, so I dove right in.
Sign up for the free account and you are asked to create your first plot. For the sake of this review, I decided to go with a family tree of the characters from the TV show Modern Family. Along with the title and about box, you get to add intro and background images — what I particularly liked was that PeoplePlotr allows a space to give credit for both images, saving you the trouble of editing it.
Now, there was one big downside here. In the free account, you can only add images through links, so the photos have to be hosted on some other service, like Flickr. The paid accounts allow you to upload images from your hard drive. Still, given that most of us have our photos stored somewhere in the cloud, it’s not a deal-breaker.
Let’s start making a tree
The ‘plot’ doesn’t start off with a blank slate, since you’ve already added a background image that will fill the screen. PeoplePlotr does a pretty good job of scaling the background to fit the screen, though make sure you use a high-res image here for best results.
By default, you’ll get a dummy tree already made that you can choose to use or discard. I discarded it and started afresh for my project, switching Edit Mode to ‘on’ in the toolbox at the bottom-left.
When you start off, PeoplePlotr has handy tutorials popping up as tooltips to help you through the initial process. I’d recommend reading these the first time, although the service is pretty intuitive to use even without any instruction. What’s annoying, though, is that the tips keep popping up long after you’ve learned how to use the service, taking up valuable screen space. You’ll quickly want to turn the ‘Show Help’ settings to ‘Off’.
Adding people and making the tree is an absolute breeze. I was quite taken in with how easy it all was. Just drag and drop the element you want from the toolbox to the plot. The toolbox includes Male and Female profiles, basic tree line, vertical and horizontal lines, corners, text box and legends. It’s a simple, intuitive process that no one will find complicated.
Where PeoplePlotr shines is in the additional details it lets you add about each person. Let’s face it, if you’re making a family tree in the digital age, then in all likelihood, you have media related to a lot of people. You would obviously want to augment a person with that media then.
Once you create a new person, you can add their name, date of birth and death, sex, an image, and a description. If that person has a website or a Facebook page, throw it into the ‘Link’ box. In the ‘Images/Video’ tab, you can add as much media as you want to that person’s profile. Again, you can’t upload anything if you’re using a free account, but you can add links to media. It’s not complicated at all, but again, just make sure you have all your media uploaded somewhere.
There was a bit of a problem in the design here. There are two sizes that a profile can be put in: Standard and Large. The Large size looks better with the person’s name coming under the photo in a thick frame. But the Standard size only allows you to put the name to the left or the right of the image. It’s a small thing, but it can throw off the whole design you had in mind for your family tree. I hope the guys at PeoplePlotr fix this soon. There is no reason why a user shouldn’t be able to customize where the text appears.
Also, there is a bug in the service at the moment. Sometimes, if you change the size from Large to Standard, then for some reason, the name reverts to the default ‘John Smith’ or ‘Jane Smith’, so you have to key it in again. And the formatting goes for a toss too, with the box’s arrow pointing to the right while aligned to the bottom. Instead of resizing, it ends up meaning you have to create that person’s profile all over again, which is a major pain.
Browsing The Plot
Once you are done making your plot, you can share its link with anyone, and browsing a plot is a wonderful experience. It’s an easily navigable interface, like Google Maps, where you can click your mouse and ‘grab-and-drag’ the screen to move around. Click on any person’s thumbnail and a lightbox pops up with the profile, showing all the description, videos, images, links, and more that you’ve added.
At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find a bar to search for or browse through the people in your plot, or check out a timeline of all the major events. In the case of families, this will be mainly about dates of birth and death, but if you are creating an organizational chart, you could use the date fields creatively to suit your needs, such as the date a person joined and quit the business. There’s no default option for that, but no reason you couldn’t use the service in that way.
The Free account allows you to create only one plot of up to 30 people, and as mentioned, you can’t upload any media. The Bronze account, at $7.50 a month, allows up to five plots with unlimited people, and even lets you embed that plot on your site (up to 5,000 views per month). The Silver account ($20 a month) increases that to 25 plots and 20,000 views. These options would make more sense for a business than a family project.
PeoplePlotr makes it really easy to create a family tree, especially if you want to add images, videos, links, and more to each person’s profile. It’s also a handy tool to create an organizational chart. And the pleasing interface — helped by your personalized background image — only makes the experience more pleasurable.
It’s not without its flaws, but we would definitely recommend PeoplePlotr nonetheless.