Is the Ancestry Footnote Merger Good for Genealogy?

question

In a press release announcement made earlier today, Ancestry.com Inc. intends to acquire iArchives Inc., the parent company to Footnote.com, a popular research website for genealogists. While at first glance it appears that this merger is a good “match,” it does bring forth many questions as to Ancestry’s reasons for the acquisition, what impact the merger will have on the genealogy industry, and how it will affect both the casual entry-level family historian as well as the professional genealogist.

Personally, I think the acquisition is a good move, one that makes sense, and it is in line with recent Ancestry acquisitions.  Here’s why:

  • Content: there is value in the content that Footnote already has on its site and while there is some overlap – particularly with some US Census records – much of it is unique.  Enough so that many genealogists currently have memberships with both Ancestry and Footnote.
  • Indexing and Search Engine Experrise: Ancestry wins in this arena. A common complaint among Footnote users was the difficulty in locating information and the resulting records.
  • Technology: Footnote was the winner here and now this makes Ancestry a winner. Footnote’s records were always clearer and easier to read.  The technology and expertise used to digitize records is probably the greatest value to Ancestry in this deal.
  • Marketing: you can’t argue against Ancestry’s marketing machine and it is not easy to work against it.

Concerns and Questions

Despite what seems like a win-win situation for all players in the genealogy industry – from consumer to vendor – there are some issues which must be tackled:

  • Will there be a combined membership to both Ancestry and Footnote or will they remain as separate products.  Keep in mind that Ancestry is acquiring iArchives, the parent to Footnote.  What plans Ancestry has for accessing the Footnote content remain to be seen. The content could be merged into Ancestry’s current library of database or kept separate and somehow cross-referenced.
  • If the focus is on content and its back-end technology more than acquiring Footnote’s 35,000 subscribers, does it mean that Footnote disappears? Will Footnote subscribers be offered dual-membership to both sites for a time period? Will Footnote become another Ancestry acquisition like Genealogy.com and kept on only in a shell of its former self?
  • What about some of the popular functions on Footnote such as the Person Page or annotation of Census records? Will Ancestry incorporate the Person Page concept or elements of it for their own site?
  • Are there concerns that there is not enough competition in the genealogy industry in terms of content providers?

Who’s Next on the Ancestry Radar?

While speculation is kind of fun, with Ancestry’s recent shopping spree the topic is more serious than you think.  An obvious target would be FamilyLink.com and its World Vital Records holdings. Another would be GenealogyBank or Newspaper Archives.com which have excellent newspaper collections.

Of course this is a world of eat or be eaten, too.  There’s no reason that Ancestry itself couldn’t be a target. Rumors of Google acquiring Ancestry have been around ever since it went public in November 2009. Google in the genealogy business? Not exactly – but Google is in the information business and with its ever-expanding content, that is what abounds at Ancestry.

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Thomas MacEntee is a genealogist specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. Utilizing over 25 years of experience in the information technology field, Thomas writes and lectures on the many ways blogs, Facebook and Twitter can be leveraged to add new dimensions to the genealogy experience. As the creator of GeneaBloggers.com he has organized and engaged a community of over 1,100 bloggers to document their own journeys in the search for ancestors.

1 Comment on "Is the Ancestry Footnote Merger Good for Genealogy?"

  1. My very first thought when I heard of this was, selfishly, “YAY.” Because while I don’t love Ancestry’s navigation/search, I really hate Footnote’s. It’s a great site and the images are a joy to work with, but that navigation is…not intuitive (at least not for me).

    Once thing I am concerned about is integration. A lot of my work in my HR career focused on helping companies integrate post-merger. It’s very hard to do this well, and if you don’t, customer service can really suffer. You also tend not to see a lot of innovation during that period, because the company is so inwardly-focused on integrating the different companies they’ve bought. In fact, sometimes big companies get so inwardly-focused after these shopping sprees that faster, lighter competitors have a chance to race ahead.

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