26 January 2011 ~ 9 Comments

Ancestry.com – The Evil Empire of Genealogy?

Ever since Ancestry.com announced the shuttering of its fairly new Expert Connect service on Monday, the genealogy blogs and message boards have been filled with input, feedback, commentary, debate and overall a very productive introspection by the genealogy community. This introspection not only has dealt with how professional genealogists should be marketing their own services, but also about the role of Ancestry.com in the genealogy industry and the genealogy community.

I’ve already discussed what I feel are the motivations for such a move by Ancestry.com here. As a colleague asked, do I think the termination of Expert Connect is a positive or a negative? In short I’d say a positive for Ancestry.com operations, a negative for its image and role in the genealogy community, and yet still a positive for the genealogy community.  Confused? Here’s why:

  • As I mentioned previously, Expert Connect was probably an operational and support nightmare.  Imagine having to deal with customers who didn’t know the first thing about hiring an expert to either do the genealogy research or assist them with their own research. Imagine having to arbitrate situations where the customer was not happy with the expert’s service. Imagine processing refunds on commissions. I also expect that there may have been some liability issues as well as in a so-called expert misrepresenting themselves, taking money up-front etc. (Note: I don’t know of any specific situation but you must admit it is in the realm of possibilities with such as service as Expert Connect). Eliminating Expert Connect was a good move in terms of Ancestry.com being able to commit such resources, time, energy and money elsewhere within the company.
  • Did Ancestry.com bungle its handling of Expert Connect? It did as far as I can see, but I don’t see where it could have done much more than it did. Many of the experts have complained that they deserved more than 8 days notification before their lifeline of income was truncated. I emphasized these words because they’ve actually been used in some of the discussions I’ve read. As stated by others, if Expert Connect was your only stream of income as a professional genealogist then you didn’t have a solid business plan to begin with. And please don’t use the word deserve which is so overused in American society. (Have you noticed lately, especially in commercials and other forms of marketing, how you deserve something instead of earn it? Talk about your sense of entitlement.) Businesses add features and then take them away. Is it a tease? Not really – some things don’t work out. Is it poor planning? Perhaps, but also things can change such as the economy, industry trends, consumer tastes, etc. Is it fair? Again, fairness has nothing to do with this. Part of living under a capitalistic system is the ability to thrive economically but also one must be prepared to make one’s own changes when changes come.
  • I think the move, including the bungling, by Ancestry.com is a positive for the genealogy community. And I’m not saying this because I’m a “glass half-full” kinda guy. I say this because what we’ve witnessed as a community is an opportunity.So far, many of the service providers for Expert Connect have had to re-examine their business plans and look to improving their marketing skills – a good thing. Industry organizations like the Association for Professional Genealogists are jumping in to offer their services – a good thing. The genealogy community is talking, interacting, sharing ideas and giving a good hard look at Expert Connect and Ancestry.com – again, all good things.

Finally what do I hope we’ve learned or will learn as a community?

  • That Ancestry.com has now come full circle in its detachment from and embracement of the genealogy community. You may recall some of Ancestry.com’s previous boondoggles such as the copyright issues involving the Internet Biographical Collection back in 2007. Then, when they went public, Ancestry.com seemed to actively court the genealogy community through events, Bloggers Days, and more. Remember all the hype around Who Do You Think You Are? and its first season? How this was not just good for Ancestry.com but also good for the community? Did you feel the love? And now we seem to be – in my opinion – back to square one in terms of what Ancestry is willing to give to the community vs. what it wants from the genealogy community.
  • As a community we can’t put all our eggs in one basket. Just because Ancestry.com is the biggest player in the genealogy industry (for the time being), it doesn’t mean we should make this our sole focus as a provider of content and services. Just as one would do with their financial portfolio, we should be diversifying where our commitments and our dollars go in terms of genealogy.
  • Speaking of deserve, do we deserve better than a company that is positioning itself as the Microsoft of genealogy, a necessary evil to be dealt with? Again let’s get rid of the “deserve” or “entitled to” concepts.  Let’s earn and work for what we get. I think the genealogy community has become complacent and often neglects the many other resources available. This is a prime opportunity for many vendors and organizations to jump in and fill what I see as a growing void of discontent. Look at what APG has done and is doing. Be prepared for more of this which is, again, a positive for the genealogy industry and community.
  • Lastly, remember how your parents used to say, “dance with the one that brung ya?” Many feel the same way about their dance with Ancestry.com. From giving feedback on beta products, participating in message boards and more, there is not so much a sense of betrayal as there is a sense of disappointment. So why would you continue to dance with someone who steps on your toes, who is clumsy, or doesn’t engage in conversation? The truth is you don’t.  Or you just dance until someone better comes along.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Print Friendly

9 Responses to “Ancestry.com – The Evil Empire of Genealogy?”

  1. MHD 8 February 2011 at 7:25 pm Permalink

    Great overview, but still with good details/examples. Thanks!

  2. Dee Blakley 27 January 2011 at 8:30 pm Permalink

    I’m not a professional genealogist – strictly a passionate hobbyist.

    Ancestry is only one of the research bookmarks in my “tool-kit,” as you so aptly put it in another of your blog posts. I understand that I am trading them money for access to documents, and for me, that’s what it boils down to.

    I’ve never viewed Ancestry as an entity that was doing what it does out of the goodness of its heart…it’s a business. However, there are quite a few free research sites out there that could give Ancestry a run for its money, if they so chose.

    And there are plenty of passionate hobbyists like me who are making contacts with genealogy cousins all the time and they, like I, are sharing their favorite free resources with each other.

    The network of hobbyists who are willing to put the fruits of their labor out on the internet for free is growing and will continue to grow.

    I know there will always be discussion about people putting garbage out there, failing to fully investigate and document sources, etc. But if we are going to be totally candid, how many times has the quivering leaf led someone down the wrong path?

    This is just my own personal opionion…At some point, if Ancestry continues to mess its nest, free networks of solid information could threaten to make them less of a market force.

  3. Michael McCormick 27 January 2011 at 9:43 am Permalink

    Expert Connect helped me build my client base and for that I am thankful. Even bigger of an issue in my mind—rather than my loss of potential new clients—was that of the general public not being able to find genealogists as easily. I wrote an message to Ancestry at the link provided in their e-mail to their experts. I expressed my concern for all the newbies who have no idea how to find professionals to do their work, or at least don’t know how to pick ones they can trust. I have been very pleased to hear about additional listing websites in the past few days. A few are Genlighten.com, GenealogyFreelancer.com and an option on ProGenealogist under the contact tab to sign up for potential work opportunities in your local area. I feel more comforted as I see all the competent blog posts like this one and comments on the situation. I feel like we will step up, not just to keep our livelyhoods alive—but more importantly I think—to make sure the public knows we are hear to help them.

  4. Kerry Scott 27 January 2011 at 9:17 am Permalink

    One thing I’ve learned in all of this is just how many genealogists really do think of Ancestry as an evil empire. I get being upset over this, but some of the comments I’ve read…I mean, holy cow. They haven’t built the Death Star. This isn’t Enron or Blackwater.

    I missed whatever happened in 2007 with the biography collection, and maybe there’s been other stuff I’ve missed, but I’d like to understand exactly what’s been going on that has inspired this sort of reaction. It seems clear that the shutting down of this one service, however clumsily it was executed can’t be the entire source of all of this hate. It seems like they can do no right; while EC was running, it was part of their Evil Horrible Monopoly, and now that it isn’t, they’re Taking Food From Starving Children. Or something. I don’t really know.

    What is it about Ancestry that inspires this above-average level of contempt from so many people?

  5. Tina Sansone 26 January 2011 at 10:24 pm Permalink

    Definitely gave me some thoughts to ponder. I had just signed up and wondered why they never approved me. I’d like to think it was because of this change vs me not being qualified But, I agree, I would never just put all my hopes in one thing. I am going to try to think of other avenues to bring in clients such as putting ads out in local church bulletins, our local genealogy society, and other groups I belong to. I want to join APG this year and definitely need to get more focused. It is an exciting time for genealogists with the awareness to alot of people that were not exposed before WDYTYA.
    Tina Sansone

  6. Lynn Palermo 26 January 2011 at 9:23 pm Permalink

    We can always count on you to calm the madness! Well said!

  7. Jade 26 January 2011 at 7:47 pm Permalink

    Well said. Many of the comments re betrayal, let-down, etc., remind me of the 19th- and 20th-century view that Business could do no wrong and had the best interests of the community as a core value. This view was held despite all of the indications to the contrary (say, the funeral home practices exposed by Jessica Mitford; the coal mine wars and accompanying Palmer Raids; the battles over wages and hours and textile industry’s working children literally to death – to name just a few of the 100s of 1000s of examples).

    Ancestry.com made no promises regarding how long it was going to host an interface between seekers and service-providers. Corporations have their own business plans, and are principally accountable to their owners rather than to service subscribers or treebies or the many others who do not read Terms of Service Agreements.

  8. Caroline Pointer 26 January 2011 at 7:42 pm Permalink

    Well said, Thomas. There were no promises made, but the way did it was unprofessional. Happens all the time, though. I was using EC as just part of my business plan.

    However, there are many weaknesses that Ancestry has from a business perspective. What EC proved was that there is a big need out there and now it’s not being met. Now is the time to capitalize on that. Market, market, market. Now’s the time to sell yourself if you’re a professional. So go find those people. Are they on Facebook? Twitter? Blogosphere? Your neighborhood? Your church? Are they looking in the APG Directory? Where are they? And what can you do for them that a big company cannot do?

    Just my 2 cents,

  9. Denise Spurlock 26 January 2011 at 7:21 pm Permalink

    Well said. Let’s take this lemon (as some perceive it) and make lemonade!

    I am new as a professional genealogist, as opposed to being a hobbyist. I had hoped to use ExpertConnect as a way to start my work with clients, but there are lots of other opportunities out there and I plan to make the best use I can of all of them.