Friday, November 30, 2012

Big Genealogy is Big Business

Considering the recent acquisitions and alliances among the various large genealogy companies and entities, it is clear that big genealogy is big business. Although the amounts of money involved may not be overly significant in the greater business community, it is certain that the economic stakes will continue to increase as these larger companies maneuver to gain market share and influence.

Much of the change in the genealogical climate has been occasioned by the rapidly increasing changes in technology. Computers have morphed from a single desktop unit into a variety of forms hardly recognizable just a few short years ago as computers. Significant computer power with access to the Internet is now easily available for smartphones, tablet computers and other devices. Computing has moved from the desktop to the laptop to the hand. Additionally, the new devices have expanded their functionality to include things we could never dream were possible, including face-to-face video conferencing, high quality photo and video capabilities and many more functions.

Although genealogy as such, is a relatively conservative pursuit, some of the technological changes are leaving the most conservative (in the classic sense) segments of the genealogical community outside of the mainstream and almost completely marginalized. Paper-based genealogists are now effectively shut out of the community and those depending on older technology, such as Personal Ancestral File (PAF) are finding their interaction with the rapidly changing world of genealogy to be extremely frustrating.

The days when FamilySearch's predecessor organizations could establish a de facto standard, such as using GEDCOM, for data communication, have long passed. Current efforts, to establish an updated standard cannot succeed without the cooperative involvement of the larger genealogy companies, who are locked in a competitive scramble to acquire ever larger market share. Truly, the words of Bob Dylan year ago apply, "Then you better start swimmin' Or you'll sink like a stone, For the times they are a-changin'."

Mind you, the changes are not bad in a good/bad sense. Change is change and if you resist change you must make your own assessment of how good or bad the changes are. I suppose you can be perfectly happy rejecting everything from cell phones to email, but you won't be participating in the genealogical community. End of story. On the horizon is the possibility, for the first time in history, that any genealogist, no matter where situated on the world, can almost immediately determine the status of research of the genealogy any individual who was ever born. No matter how remotely related, any one, any where, can find others interested in and researching any specific ancestor.

One example is thought provoking. FamilySearch.org's newer Family Tree program, requires an email address to function. Although there is a provision to register without an email address, the program itself allows individuals to "watch" for any changes to their ancestors' individual entries. All notifications of the changes come by way of email. Those who try to enter changes into the program without an active and current email address with simply never receive notification of any further changes by others to their ancestor's entries. They are effectively eliminated from collaboration and interaction with the program. They could, of course, rely on the assistance of someone with an email account, but direct interaction is limited to those with an active and updated account.

Many researchers are quick to point out that only a "small percentage of all of the records of the world are now online." Whether or not this is accurate is something that changes from day to day. The pace of digitization continues to increase and few of the people I talk to every day have even the faintest idea of the vast scope of the digitization projects presently in place and operating. For example, how many genealogical researchers are following the efforts of the Library of Congress in conjunction with the Internet Archive? How many books do you think there are in the entire world? What percentage of al of the books, in every language and time period are presently online? I think you would be surprised to find out the answer.

Back to the big players in this changing climate of genealogy. How do the recent acquisitions and alliances change the way you and I do genealogy on a day-to-day basis? This is really a very complex question that cannot be answered in a single blog post. I will shortly update my series on "Who owns the genealogy companies" to reflect the recent changes. But what is certain is that the changes will continue at an increasing rapid rate. Information is, and has always been, a commodity just like corn, wheat, gold or oil and the stakes concerning its management, creation, stockpiling and control are going to impact genealogist and everyone else in the world in ways we can hardly perceive presently. But one thing is certain, as long as I can type, I will continue to comment on the changes.


1 comment:

  1. Hi James, Thank you for your blog post. Having been close to this throughout 2012, it is not my observation that fierce competition among some of the larger organizations is holding back the development of a modern standards platform for genealogy. The genealogical organizations know that this modern platform is being used successfully, day-in, day-out, by the most competitive of industries. To the extent there is resistance in our community to the modern platform, it is specific. Thank you for blogging about this important topic. --GeneJ

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