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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Some Thoughts on Genealogical Startups

The Weavee app from
During the past few days at the Brigham Young University Family History Technology Workshop and the Innovators Summit Innovator Challenge, I had some thoughts on the new apps presented at both events by genealogical startup companies.  First, I was very impressed with this years products. They represented a broad spectrum of ideas and innovation. Some of the products highlighted were already available, released to the public and ready for the marketplace. Others were still in the conceptual stage. I thought that many of innovative concepts should be developed into complete products, but there were some issues that I felt were unresolved.

Many of the proposed products relied on the concept that a "free" app could be monetized by some additional features. This seems to be a common development path for new startups on the Web. There is an underlying assumption that the monetized features are valuable enough to the potential users that the users will convert from a free program to a paid one. It is not difficult to see examples of where this strategy has worked very well such as Pandora, Evernote, Dropbox and many other programs. But the real question that needs to be answered is whether or not the service would have survived without the free component? Would you pay for Google searches if they were not free? It appeared to me that many of these new genealogical startups, although not all, fell into the category of being attractive to users only if the services offered were free.

For example, many of the newly announced programs categorize themselves as support sharing photos, audio files, and in some cases, documents. The question to ask is would you pay for a sharing service when all four of the large online genealogy database companies already have pathways (more or less) for sharing family history information either as part of the subscription price or free? There is no doubt that the various sharing schemes in the newly presented programs add value to what is offered by the large companies, but is that enough? Wouldn't it be more likely that the large online companies would develop competing technologies or simply buy one of the more successful sharing companies?

Recently,, one of the largest, if not the largest, of the online family tree/data base programs, right before RootsTech 2015, introduced a free sharing app called "Weavee." This is an add-on to the extensive sharing capabilities of the main program. It might help to understand the attraction of this app if you realize that has more than 74 million members. also introduced a free Apple Macintosh version of their popular Family Tree Builder program. The perennial question in software development is how do you compete with free? captured a huge segment of the genealogy software market years ago with the low priced Personal Ancestral File program. Eventually, the program was available for free from until it was finally discontinued. But it is still available for free from other websites.

The large online genealogical database and family tree programs have shown their own propensity to innovate and acquire new technology, if necessary, by purchasing or acquiring other companies. All of them have also announced strategic partnerships. For example, has its own "App Gallery," which now, after RootsTech 2015, has 25 apps, including apps from and

Again, it is very hard to compete with free, even if free involves a relationship (and the expense) with a very large company.

All of the new genealogical startup companies have my best wishes and hopes for the future. Some of the most valuable genealogy programs today, such as, started out as small startup companies. Some notable acquisitions of startups include, acquired by and acquired by In fact, even though was not acquired by a large genealogy company, the company was purchased by Otter Creek Holdings, which is a working strategic partner with American Granite and Memorials, Inc. and American Monument (based in Ogden, Utah).

Whatever the fate of the new crop of genealogy startup companies, they are adding inestimable value to genealogy and advancing the concepts of what is possible. I hope all of them do achieve success either on their own or as they are acquired by the larger companies.

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