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

Friday, April 19, 2013

Killing the Goose

You may be able to guess what goose I am talking about. The one that laid golden eggs. Here in this genealogy blog the analogy should be transparent. The genealogical resources such as the Research Wiki, the Community Trees and the Historical Record Collections are the goose. The real goose that lays golden eggs however are all the genealogists who have spent their lives doing the research to accumulate this vast resource collection.

FamilySearch seems to believe that adding more and younger users are the golden eggs. So therefore, if you kill the goose, you will get a whole lot of golden eggs at once instead of waiting for the old goose to produce more. You attract these young people (the golden eggs as they believe) by feeding them stories and photos. But do those stories and photos just magically appear? Where do they come from? Guess what they are the real golden eggs of the genealogy goose, not the new users of the website. So not only are they confused about where the golden eggs come from, but they are also confused about the value of eggs. So they kill the goose. No more eggs. No more stories or photos. Simple.

Now a change in analogies.

Genealogists are not the cause of the disinterest in family history. But they are being looked at as an unnecessary market in a re-branding effort to attract a new market. FamilySearch has evidently decided that their future market is composed of a lot of younger people rather than a few older people. So, like all marketers in today's economy, you dump the old image and the old market and focus on the new one.

The problem here isn't just a redesign of a website. The fact is that has considered the meat and potatoes part of genealogy to be a marketing liability for some time. In an effort to attract more people, the emphasis on "family history" as opposed to the unmarketable term "genealogy" has been going on for some time i.e. Family History Library and FamilySearch. The real question is whether or not the two are really in conflict? Do you have to kill off genealogy to have family history prosper?

The reality is that the research that produces family history in whatever form you want to cast it, is not fundamentally a very easy or desirable product to sell. It is mostly dull, hard work. It is interesting, engaging, stimulating, inspiring, spiritual, but it is still hard work. The main idea here should be that you are not selling anything. I learned very early in life that you can't sugar coat hard work. Hard work does not become easier just because someone tells you it will be fun. If you tell people that they are going to have "fun" doing something and then it turns out to be hard work, they will be angry and disappointed, just like many of our patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library.

Part of the problem is that the people who are trying to sell family history have never participated in the process of creating the family history resources in the first place. Let's take the FamilySearch Research Wiki as an example. Here we have what is easily the most valuable family history tool ever fashioned by man or technology. So what do you do with it? Consider it to be too technical for beginners? Not attractive enough to sell to consumers? To difficult to understand? So you bury it away and hope that it will not drive your new market away?

Why not look at those segments of the genealogical community that are growing and thriving? Why are the huge commercial genealogy companies growing and making money? Who are they selling their products to? How do they attract new customers? Are their websites aimed at young, new users? Do they hide their resources so they won't drive away customers? Or do they put all of their valuable resources right up front where the people who want to buy their products can see them and use them? Think about it. Do the large commercial genealogy companies listen to the market? Do they listen to the bloggers? Do they listen to the genealogists? Do they hire genealogists to help them with their marketing?

As usual, why do I care? This is easy. I have thousands of hours invested in the FamilySearch Research Wiki and I have good cause to fear that the whole project will be dumped to further the aim of attracting younger and more users to the website. I see a small light at the end of a huge tunnel in the availability of online digitized microfilm records that may be de-emphasized in an effort to water down genealogy to attract new adherents. I see other potential resources such as Community Trees being sidelined and perhaps discontinued due to budgetary issues, while more and more resources pour into attracting new users. Yes, you can sell to new markets by abandoning the old, but what if the old market is the one producing the product you want to sell?


  1. I understand your concern. I'm wondering what the payoff for FamilySearch is by attracting people with photos and stories and no interest in genealogy. How does FamilySearch benefit from filling up the Family Tree with these Photos and Stories without genealogy information?

    FamilySearch's mission has always been to obtain and provide as many genealogical records as possible. I can see splitting off the Family Tree from the genealogical research part of it as an option.

  2. I have the same question as Randy. If FamilySeach is going to shift focus to hosting pictures and such, it will just end up in competition with FaceBook, which does a better job at it. It will lose that competition.

    I hope we are just seeing growing pains and false starts. I'd like to have an alternative to Ancestry (which I dislike), but for now, I view FamilySearch FamilyTree as a toy. It's fun to play with, but I'll do my work at my own site.

  3. Whereas it used to open right up at searching historical records, now it takes three clicks to start searching. I hope they keep their weight of gold solid in the records collection. A missing link for the WIKI does not help either. You are right in the fact that we should not be sugar coating the hard work of genealogy; if someone wants to do it seriously, they will be up to the task.

  4. The amazingly obtuse site entry (logos that go nowhere) and structure (why do the designers think all "How To" material should be under "Help"?) can only be diversions.

    I wonder how many of those who look at the splash page for the first time think the link to "Photos" is to a collection of useful historical images? Instead, it is entry to a poorly explained procedure the viewer is wanted to engage in -- to add photos to a tree that they may never have looked at. If this were my experience I would say something like "tsk" and never return.

  5. How many times will someone who only posts photos visit the site? I have a photobucket account. Haven't been there in forever. I only use it to send a link to someone but mostly I just send the picture and be done with it. And that way MY personal photos are not in cyberspace for every Tom, Dick and Mary to use without my permission. I can't figure out why familysearch would change its focus from historical documents to a plethora of miscelaneous photos. Can't you find those already on Google images? And the aforementioned Facebook? They're cutting off their nose to spite their face. The way it is now, I would not put my family tree on familysearch for any amount of money. It took years for me to straighten it out. Why would I invite strangers to edit it? Stupid idea. Remember One World Tree? Did that work? Rootsweb? How many copies of wrong information needs to be out there? I'm going to pay the money at ancestry again. It's the lesser of the available evils. If My Heritage had a 6 month I might do that. I can't pay for every site. I have to choose one.

  6. As we know all (and I mean all) genealogy/family history comes from research. The research can vary from conversations with immediate family members or other relatives to searching through records to discover good conclusions or the existence of that missing person.

    We have always wanted photos and stories preserved in the tree for generations. Think about it, when you talk about genealogy with friends and families, you gravitate to your experiences in the hunt and the stories you found about your ancestors. It is the stories that makes them real and, in my case, I can use them as examples to my family on Tanner expectations.

    We want to expose more people to genealogy and the hope is if we start with stories and pictures we will be able to capture enough of the interest of new users (young.....old - the dots represent all of us in-betweeners) to get them to move to the next step of looking at records. Research, accurate genealogy, and preservation will remain the goal for Family Tree.

    As far as finding great research and valuable records - we are sorry the new layout did not work. It was a mistake to hide some of these golden eggs in the back cupboards. We are rushing to redesign some menus so that things are more easily found. For example, you could always click on the Search in the main menu to go straight to search - 1 click. Now we have added Wiki as a menu under search. Click Search then Wiki - you're there. We will continue to readjust the placement of items to get them in the right place so you can find that goose with the golden eggs.

    Thanks and keep telling us how to get better!

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. Have you seen for stories and sourced information?