A new smartphone app is on hand to help Icelanders avoid accidental incest, in a country with a population of 320,000 where almost everyone is distantly related, posing a real risk of inadvertently kissing cousins.
The app lets users "bump" phones, and emits a warning alarm if they are closely related. "Bump the app before you bump in bed," says the catchy slogan, and some are hailing it as a welcome solution to a very Icelandic form of social embarrassment.
The Islendiga-App - App Of Icelanders - is an idea that may only be possible in Iceland, where most of the population shares descent from a group of ninth-century Viking settlers, and where an online database holds genealogical details of almost the entire population.
The app was created by three University of Iceland software engineering students for a contest calling for "new creative uses" of the Islendingabok, or Book of Icelanders, an online database of residents and their family trees stretching back 1,200 years.
Arnar Freyr Adalsteinsson, one of the trio, said it allows any two Icelanders to see how closely related they are, simply by touching phones, with the app being the latest twist on a long-standing passion for genealogy in Iceland, unpopulated before Norse settlers arrived in 874 AD.
"The Icelandic sagas, written about 1,000 years ago, all begin with page after page of genealogy. It was the common man documenting his own history," said Kari Stefansson, chief executive of Icelandic biotech company deCODE Genetics, which ran the contest behind the app.
The Book of Icelanders database was developed in 1997 by deCode and software entrepreneur Fridrik Skulason. Compiled using census data, church records, family archives and a host of other information sources, it claims to have information on 95% of all Icelanders who have lived in the last 300 years.
The database can be scoured online by any Icelandic citizen or legal resident. The app makes the data available to Icelanders on their mobile phones and adds the anti-incest feature.
Kari Stefansson says the "bump" feature is a media-friendly but relatively minor aspect of an app that brings Icelanders' love of genealogy into the 21st century.
It may also be of limited use. Currently the alarm only alerts users if they and their new acquaintance have a common grandparent, and most people already know who their first cousins are.