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

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What is the core value of online genealogical database programs?

The question in the title of this post may seem puzzling. Wouldn't the core value of the large online database programs be their large databases? Well, you might that this would be an obvious conclusion, but if you view the websites' startup pages and the links to get to their digitized documents, you might begin ask the question. It is hard to think about the answer without comparing and contrasting the various websites, but I am going to ask some questions. Here is my list:

  • How easy is it to find a copy of a particular document on the website and how many clicks does it take to do so?
  • How do you find out whether or not a particular type of database is hosted on the website? 
  • If the digitized documents were not on the website would you still visit it?
  • How many other services and programs are offered by the website?
  • Would you be more likely to use a program with an integrated family tree or one without an associated family tree program?
  • How important is the ability to print reports, including fan charts, pedigree charts and family group records?
I am fully aware that the different websites all use a different approach to providing digitized documents. Some have an integrated family tree, others rely solely on their database to attract users. But the issue I am approaching is which of all the activities offered by these larger websites is the deal maker or breaker? What if I decided to create the largest online database of actual digital records in the world (assuming that is now still possible); if I reached my goal, would I then have the most visited website?

My analogy here is the question we used to ask ourselves almost everyday in the retail computer business: what business are we in today? Because we have the technology to do all sorts of fancy things, does that mean that a website needs to be all things to all people? What if I just provide a whole lot of valuable digitized records in a very efficient way? How much more do I need to do?

How important is the integration of photos and text files with a family tree? I sometimes feel that new features are added to programs and online websites merely because they can be, not because they are in any way needed. If a website is getting millions of hits a year, it is very difficult to determine why people are coming to the website. Even if you analyze in detail where they go on the website and what seems to interest them, the real reason for visiting the website might be something entirely different. It appears that some websites are like large department stores with various "profit centers." The add a service to see if they can increase the bottom line of the business. 

In all of this, where are the genealogists? Are we all just "customers" or "users?" I would guess that genealogy has become more like the overall theme of the website rather than a particular concern. The website creates a virtual "Genealogyland" with different sections devoted to DNA, Media, Education etc. 

Now, back to the main question, what are the core values of the various online database programs? Perhaps, we have been faced with the shopping center approach for so long, we no longer want or need the specialist.

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