Friday, July 10, 2009

Why Splinter Genealogists Away from their Cousins

This week the folks at FamilyLink, in an attempt to generate another revenue stream, invited genealogists to join a Ning network site named, and in fact, offerred to pimp (oh, sorry, pay) some of them to make the new site look "lived in" with content prior to an official launch later this month.

I have no issue with Ning networks, and in fact manage two myself. The concept of creating your own themed social network is wonderful, and might be something Facebook should consider offering.

Where I think the GenealogyWise concept is a bit misguided in trying to splinter genealogists away from Facebook for the purpose of making it look like the "official" genealogy social network. This will undoubtedly help them attract non-facebook genealogists to the site, which they will need to do in order to generate revenue.

Rather than try to pry genealogists away from Facebook to connect with non-Facebook genealogists, why not come up with a slick way to draw more non-Facebook genealogists into Facebook? Oh, right, if they did that, how would they make money off of the reputations of hard-working professional genealogists and bloggers?

Where GenealogyWise cannot compete with Facebook, is in connecting genealogists with cousins that have (or have had) no interest in genealogy. I have no interest in abandoning Facebook (as some genealogists on Facebook have suggested) and the relatives that I've been able to connect with. I've seen comments from some genealogists new to Facebook to the effect that "they don't understand what Facebook is all about." Well, it's a phenomenal tool for connecting with distant cousins that you may not otherwise have been able to locate.

Sure, the Ning functionality is cool (like I said, I run two Ning networks myself), but something about GenealogyWise makes me feel uneasy. It just doesn't seem right that a for-profit genealogy company should be fueling a social network that should be independent and neutral (as Facebook is). Will the folks from or be joining GenealogyWise and contributing? Or will they remain on Facebook? I value my interactions with them.

And why not own up to it? Why doesn't the masthead banner say something like "A FamilyLink Service"? Do the 1,400 members realize that this site is operated by FamilyLink who will profit from their use of GenealogyWise through advertising? How come when flipped to (and added advertising), many genealogists chose to abandon the site, and yet "we" seem to have no problem with GenealogyWise doing the same thing?

Yes, I joined GenealogyWise and intend to stay involved, but I'd rather see the site turned into a neutral, not-for-profit network so everyone can participate. At a minimum, FamilyLink should step up to the plate and clearly disclose that they are the company behind GenealogyWise (just as Ancestry does on the RootsWeb home page).


  1. I think most people understand who's in control of GW. Facebook is a great platform, but I think what's going on is that people perceive FB as a large, cold, soul-less organization. Meanwhile, they see GW, hosted on its own domain name, and created by an actual genealogy company, as being something "for genealogists by genealogists", even though Ning itself is just as much a shell as FB is.

    If GW proves successful, it just goes to show that people aren't bothered at all by capitalist goals, as long as they get what they want.

  2. Illya, this is a great post and a good conversation. We are intending to add a "powered by" statement to the masthead. This has taken off more quickly than we had anticipated.

    One huge difference between GenealogyWise (using Ning) and Facebook is the public nature of the social features (blogs, chat, forums) that are all native and available on the platform.

    This is one of many social experiences FamilyLink is creating for genealogists on multiple platforms. We do have a strategy for tying these platforms together through common services at the appropriate time. While we are a commercial enterprise, our key objective in our genealogy efforts is to help people find, organize, and share their genealogy.

    This is an open site and platform. Any and all community members, whether commercial or not, are invited to participate. As you are aware, there is no "controlling" a social platform like this, even if we do invite participants to use our other services at or, which will launch later this year.

    Unlike other commercial players, we don't have the attitude of needing to "own" the market.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post. It's good to see your concerns.


  3. Thanks for the feedback, Jim (Ericson,'s VP of Marketing). I wanted my post to be constructive and not negative, which I hope was accomplished. A social network for genealogists is a great idea, but I like neutrality, and full disclosure. I look forward to seeing the updated banner. The Ning platform have some subtle differences to Facebook, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over time. Ning requires a slightly more active role than Facebook.


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