RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Is Genealogy a Product or a Commodity? Or both?

A product is an article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale. A commodity is a raw material that can be bought and sold. As a genealogist, your efforts to research family lines has become either a product or commodity (maybe both) to be bought and sold. Here is a quote from the press release announcing MyHeritage's acquisition of FamilyLink.com and WorldVitalRecords.com, "We are delighted to join forces with the talented FamilyLink team in Provo to deliver meaningful value to families across the world,” says MyHeritage CEO and Founder Gilad Japhet. “Combining close to one billion family tree profiles on MyHeritage with FamilyLink's massive library of historical data delivers a perfect one-stop-shop for families looking to discover and share their family history".

Just substitute a few words and you have Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility and I quote from their press release, "The acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a dedicated Android partner, will enable Google to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing. Motorola Mobility will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. Google will run Motorola Mobility as a separate business." And you thought you were doing your own genealogy? No, you were providing MyHeritage (or Ancestry.com or whatever) with their product or commodity (I am not sure quite where genealogical data fits) so that they can acquire other businesses and "provide meaningful value" to their customers.

All of us "genealogical consumers" will of course have our meaningful value enhanced. Look what happened to Footnote.com recently as it became Fold3.com. Did you see how your meaningful value was enhanced? Here is a quote from the press release for Footnote.com (now Fold3.com) from 2007, just a few short years ago, "In January of 2007 iArchives in partnership with the National Archives announced the launching of a new site, Footnote.com. This Internet site would be a repository for indexed historical documents that would otherwise be unavailable online. FOOTNOTE REGISTRATION will give the subscriber full access to all historical documents along with the interactive side of the site. This side allows for user contributed content and for interactive connections to site content!" Try and find this laudable goal on the Fold3.com website!

The reality of the matter is this, numbers. Online companies like MyHeritage.com and Ancestry.com grow by adding paid users. The larger the number of users, the more income in a direct relationship. If MyHeritage.com adds X-number of additional users by purchasing WorldVitalRecords.com then it can add that much more income. Interestingly, in some cases, you are paying to access documents that would otherwise be free, you are also paying to store your genealogical data online, when you could do that for free also.

Now, is all this necessarily bad? Don't you and I benefit from Ancestry.com and all the other subscription sites? Of course we do or they wouldn't have the money to buy each other. But what is the ultimate price? Do we really want all of the world's family related, genealogy related information locked up in multinational conglomerates? Do I see a problem with large corporations taking "free" government records and selling them to me at a profit? Do I see a problem with governments doing the same thing?

I am more than vaguely uncomfortable with what is going on. What happens when one of these large record companies goes out of business due to economic conditions? What happens to all the records you have in your online family tree? What happens to all the records they have in their huge databases?

Next, another viewpoint about the National Archives and Records Administration's Strategy for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access, 2007-2016.

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