Counting Chromosomes
A blog of random musings on genealogy, genetics, science, and history
Jonny Perl
Jonny Perl, DNA Painter
at RootsTech 2018 in Salt Lake City

DNA Painter, the autosomal DNA visualization tool for genealogy created and developed by Jonny Perl, has not only been gaining thousands of users in its seven-month existence, but on March 2 in Salt Lake City it was announced as winner of the 2018 RootsTech DNA Innovation Contest.

Jonny, a web and applications developer in England, has been involved in genealogy for over ten years, but took his first DNA test in December 2016. He admits that he was skeptical of DNA testing initially, and accordingly had delayed testing himself for years. After he saw his results, he was less than completely satisfied with the way they were displayed, and thought that there had to be a better way.

He became involved with a UK-based Facebook group discussing DNA and genealogy, and credits that with helping move his understanding of DNA rapidly past the basic and intermediate stages. He began looking at ways to group and display chromosome mapping and segment sharing more intuitively and visually and, in July 2017, invited just a few people to have a look at what was working on as, essentially, "alpha" testers. Jonny readily admits that if we'd seen the application at that stage, we would not have been impressed.

Many thanks to Jill Ball of GeniAus for capturing this interview with Jonny Perl and posting it on YouTube, and to Debbie Kennett for bringing it to my attention on her inestimable blog, Cruwys News.

"I Launched It by Mistake"

Subsequently, Jonny subscribed to Blaine Bettinger's Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques Facebook group, currently at 35,000 members and growing.

I launched it [DNA Painter] by mistake.... I'd put a lot of time into it, it had become my 'baby,' but you don't know when to release it and I wasn't quite sure how best to do it.

In that Facebook group on 3 September 2017 someone posted the wish for a tool that could do a tidy visual display of shared segments by chromosome, and Jonny casually replied that he had been working on something similar, and provided a link to his website. That was all the advertising required.

After that September oh-by-the-way release announcement, new registrations at DNA Painter steadily climbed through December and Jonny thought things were going great. Then January dawned and saw an enormous spike in sign-ups which Jonny believes might be attributed to the record numbers of DNA test kits purchased for the holidays. I feel the rapid growth was also simply a marketing tipping point: more people using and liking it, more people talking about it and recommending it, more new registrations in a rapid progression.

Trivia: With such mad programming skills, you would think Jonny's academic background would be in computer science or mathematics. But no! His degree is in English Literature.

Jonny says he's begun to turn down other work in order to concentrate on DNA Painter. He feels that some brand new to DNA see glowing reviews of the product, but become disenchanted when they aren't able to immediately see the benefits. So his near-term focus will be on simplifying the user interface even further, and on looking at automation options to more easily pull data into DNA Painter.

At some point I hope Jonny monetizes the application. Not that I dislike free, mind you. But free isn't sustainable...and I'd rather pay something than have DNA Painter go away because Jonny needs to feed his family. Perhaps something similar to the GEDmatch model where everyone has access to a basic set of options at no charge, and then another subscription-based level that includes more advanced and extensive features.

I have my own short wish-list for DNA Painter, but I'll save that for now and watch as the application progresses. That said, count me as among those who became a fan just minutes after setting up my first Painter profile. If you haven't tried it, I definitely recommend you consider doing so. Just two months after Jonny's somewhat accidental launch, Blaine Bettinger thought enough of the app to do a 39-minute YouTube video introducing it. That alone should tell you something about the app's usefulness.


I have a few additional thoughts about RootsTech 2018, but will follow with those at a later date. For now, I simply want to acknowledge Jonny Perl and the very cool utility he's created for all of us who have taken, or are thinking of taking, an autosomal DNA test...excluding AncestryDNA, of course, because they provide inadequate detail about shared segments to allow chromosome mapping in any tool.