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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Competition among genealogical service providers?

When you choose to buy a new car and you pick a particular model, it is clear that you have excluded the purchase of some other model of car. So your choice is made among competitors for your hard-earned car purchasing dollars. In addition, your choice is likely to affect your future purchases of cars for some considerable time. If you are like me, you keep your cars, usually, for more than ten years, even though I know the average time is much lower. In a real sense, the car manufacturers are in direct competition with each other. Choosing one, excludes the others.

So, do genealogical service providers compete in the same way car manufacturers (or TVs, or computers or whatever) compete? Hmm. An interesting question. From the TV ads, you would think that they were like a car manufacturer competing against other genealogical service providers for your hard-earned genealogical dollars. But there are some significant differences. I am not aware of anywhere nearby that I can go to use a car for as long as I want for free. But I can go down to my local FamilySearch Center (remember the names have changed) and use to my heart's content day after day, as long as I want to sit there in the center.

If is competing with some other entity, who are they competing with? is free. (There is, of course, another discussion on the concept of "free" but that will have to wait). For example,'s is also free at FamilySearch Centers. So if and are both free, how can they compete? It seems there is a fundamental difference between genealogical service providers and other commercial entities who compete in the marketplace.

In addition, if I have a subscription to (which I do), I am in no way disincentivized from subscribing to another service. My commitment to could be as short as a one month's subscription or as long as a year and the amount of money I have invested is much, much less than the cost of a car, and even considerably less than the cost of a TV or even a computer. I might be thinking, should I purchase an iPad or subscribe to, but that is not the same thing as deciding which model car to purchase.

But how do you account for the fact that most of the genealogical information in the world is available to those willing to spend time and sometimes money to acquire it? Doesn't that mean there has to be competition there somewhere? In a very general sense, all commercial enterprises compete with all other commercial enterprises. You have to decide whether to eat or do genealogy. You may elect to do both or one or the other.

Let's expand this idea a little more. Do the various genealogical conventions around the country compete with each other? This is a little more difficult to determine. Some of the very local conventions are "free" or free to members of the organization, but the larger conventions all have a cost associated with attendance. In addition, the genealogists usually have additional expenses of travel and accommodation. You may choose to go to one national convention a year or all of them, but the factors determining your attendance are decidedly more complex than simply looking at the different conventions as competitors. Personally, I would go to them all if I had the money and time. But I would soon get tired of living in hotels and eating out. I know a lot of genealogists who have never been to a convention and don't intend to go at all. So does the fact that RootsTech will be in March next year, exclude you from attending a local convention of your genealogical society? If you live in Australia, it might work the other way around because of the cost. You may not be excluded from attending all of the local conventions, but not an expensive one like RootsTech.

What about other genealogical services? Are they in competition with each other? If they are not, then should they cooperate?

It looks like this topic needs some more development. Look soon for part two or three or whatever.


  1. Pleased to see this topic presented in one or more of your blog articles. Perhaps a perspective worthy of consideration is that "competition" is about different interests (needs/motivations) among stakeholders = "competitive interests." From this perspective, the notion of competitive interests would not be limited to needs/motivations that are for profit (or not), or even private sector (or not). --GeneJ

    Pardon the double post (here and on G+)

  2. Good topic I look forward to the following topics. I guess it depends on each providers objectives and really the exposure a provider receives by providing Free services. Often free is an enticement as we often see and at some stage you pay for that record that is not available for free. ie when you are at home. Some smaller providers will compete at a niche level and interest, fortunately there are many societies and services providing their local knowledge and records, ultimately there will be cooperation or merging of collections as we are now seeing with many libraries closing.

  3. I find it odd, I make good money, but I am unwilling to spend 23 a month for their services. Probably because I am a casual user. It seems to me however, that if they hit different price points they could get lots of valuable data, and a lot more money, perhaps limiting the number of documents you can review a month or something smart like that. To bad, my casual interest just leads me to a blog that things they are all that, and claims of free are far from truth.

  4. As far as I am concerned Ancestry cares little about customer service or any sort of meaningful service provision or response to customers. Beyond that, they seem to actually work against those who help to make their service better---the Ancestry DNA Helper app for Google Chrome is a prime example. Ancestry, instead of working with the app and its creator, seems to do all in its power to make the app stop working. I have ten DNA kits with Ancestry and without the Ancestry DNA Helper app, comparisons are almost impossible. Likewise the same is true for comparisons with others on the service. Most important discoveries I have made using DNA results have been a product of Gedmatch and the Ancestry DNA Helper App and nothing Ancestry itself has done. And as far as their research system---those hints are almost always incorrect and in many cases don't even make sense.

  5. What is the value of the DNA testing if you know your family heritage? From what I have read the DNA report isn't that helpful. Rather nonspecific. Is that true?
    Thank you for your response.

    1. It is possible and not that rare, that DNA test reveal unknown family relationships, even close family relationships. In the case of relationships going back four to six generations, assuming you have other family members who are tested, you can determine relationships with a high degree of certainty. I recommend reading the background articles on the ISOGG website,