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23 September 2010 ~ 1 Comment

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

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