For the last few years, GenealogyInTime Magazine has created a list of the top 100 genealogy websites from Alexa.com, a web ranking service. This year's list is in an article called the "Top 100 Genealogy Websites for 2014." The numbers do come out at the beginning of 2014, so this is sort-of like new car model designation, it is a year early. By the way, congratulations to 4 bloggers who made the list; Dick Eastman, John Reid, Thomas MacEntee, and Randy Seaver. This is a drop from last year's list which included five.
If this were a list of top car sales instead of genealogy websites, it would be more appropriately called the top model cars of the year. Just like with automobiles, there are a limited number of manufacturers and a whole lot of models. In genealogy it is just the same, there are a whole lot of popular websites but the list would look substantially different if all of the websites owned and/or operated by one company were consolidated. Part of this is shown on Page 6 of GenealogyInTime's post where there is a list of the top 50 websites with color coding showing ownership. It should also be noted that Dick Eastman's Newsletter is sponsored by MyHeritage.com whatever that means. So even the most popular "blog" is part of a corporate sponsorship. That is not bad, in fact it is really quite good. But it does indicate the extent to which genealogy has become monetized.
If you look at this list for 2014 of the "Top 100" you will basically see advertising budgets and size. The designations "pay" versus "free" are somewhat misleading also. For example, Numbers 27 and 28 on the list are Genealogy.About.com and Mocavo.com. About.com is a "free" website, but saturated with advertising. Mocavo.com is really a free site with a paid component. Another example is FindAGrave.com, now owned by Ancestry.com. FindAGrave.com was built as a free independent website with contributions by volunteers. Would all of those people so freely volunteered to help Ancestry.com if the site had been started as a corporate ownership? Is the growth now of FindAGrave.com due in part to the increased visibility of the website now that it is part of Ancestry.com? There is no doubt that FindAGrave.com is a popular website because of its tremendous content. But if content alone were important, then this list would look a lot different than it does.
One thing that this list does graphically show is that Ancestry.com is THE dominant player in the commercial genealogy world. According to GenealogyInTime, Ancestry.com owns 16 of the top 100 websites. But that is five of the top 10. What if we consolidated the commercial giant's holdings and sponsorships? In the top 10, two of the companies, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com would own 7 out of the 10 freeing up the the next 8 slots. That would put FamilySearch.org, GeneaNet, GenealogyBank, Ancient Faces, Arkiwerket Digitalarkivet, Family Tree DNA, GenealogyInTime, and findmypast.uk into the top ten of the website companies. By the way, if the companies were ranked according to total marketshare based on all owned and sponsored websites, then D.C. Thomson Family History (formerly brightsolid.com) would be in the top ten I am sure. That is the company that owns findmypast.com, findmypast.uk, findmypast.ie, Scotlandspeople.gov.uk etc. There are six websites owned by D.C. Thomson Family History in the top 100.
I think when we look at cars (assuming you are someone who does) we see the brand first and then the model. It is the other way around in genealogy. We tend to look at the websites without being very aware of the actual ownership.
I would have to say that there are many of the top 100 websites, I have never visited. You might think I would be right on top of those kinds of things, but many of the sites are redundant or not directly related to any kind of research I might do. Some of the websites listed are not actually functional and it a mystery why they are still drawing users. It does look to me that content rules. Most of the really big websites are directly or indirectly suppliers of huge online genealogy databases. FamilySearch.org is the lone standout without any other affiliations on the list. One last observation, only about half of these websites are located in the U.S., 52 to be exact.
I think this list is a fertile field for future blog posts. We shall see.