I have been following with interest all of the posts on the recently announced acquisition of iArchives (Footnote.com) by Ancestry.com. First of all, it is notable that the blog community picked up on the news so quickly and responded with a number of opinions on the event. This means that the news function of the blogs is alive and well. But going past the initial response to the announcement, I began to reflect on the reality of the situation. Although I did read some analogies, my take on the acquisition would compare the situation to an announcement that Microsoft had just acquired Apple Computer.
Ancestry.com's website is anything but graphically friendly. There are layers of screens and menus with no graphics at all. It is also nearly impossible to tell which collections of records have images and which do not without stumbling on the images accidentally. For example, how many users realize that Ancestry.com has a fairly large collection of digitized books, considering the fact that they are buried in the "Card Catalog?" On the other hand, Footnote.com is graphic and searches come up with the document or documents found. This is why I view this acquisition as one by a menu driven company like Microsoft taking over a graphically driven company like Apple. How long will the innovation and graphically driven interface of Footnote.com, as it is today, last under the ownership of Ancestry.com?
From my comments so far, you can probably guess that I favor Footnote.com's graphic interface over Ancestry.com and you would be guessing right. If I search for my Great-grandfather Samuel Linton on Ancestry. com's initial search screen, I get the usual endless list of people, some of whom may be related but many of whom are not. Ancestry.com indicates that there are 259,199 records for a search of Samuel Linton in Utah. On the other hand, Footnote.com gives you list of record types in which the name is found, giving you a clear idea of how may records are available in each category. This may seem like merely a difference in convention, but it reflects a fundamental difference in how the data is approached.
Other than Ancestry.com (and perhaps Footnote.com's owners) who benefits from this acquisition? Will this result in more records becoming available? Less expense to us the users? Some types of commercial activities result in decreased pricing, greater availability, and more innovation with the larger scale of mass production. Economies of scale tend to arise in businesses with high capital costs when those costs can be distributed across a large number of units. However, at large-scale levels of output, inefficiencies may begin to appear thereby causing unit costs to rise. Do we know if a larger and larger Ancestry.com will result in any economies of scale or will internal inefficiencies drown out the usefulness of the entire operation? I, for one, am not entirely happy with the prospect of finding out.