25 January 2011 ~ 11 Comments

Expert Disconnect – What’s Ancestry.com’s Next Move

On January 24, 2011 Ancestry.com announced that it was shutting down a fairly new venture: Expert Connect. For those who aren’t familiar with what Expert Connect was, here’s a brief overview from my perspective not only as a professional genealogist but also as someone whose business it is to analyze the genealogy industry:

Expert Connect was a service that allowed professional genealogists to set up a profile and solicit work from Ancestry.com customers who needed assistance in their research. The customer would create a research project with defined parameters and a budget, then put it out for “bid” to the various professionals enrolled in the Expert Connect program.

And while there is much “pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth” going on in the genealogy community (with great posts by Marian Pierre-Louis of Roots and Rambles, Kerry Scott of Clue Wagon and Amy Coffin of We Tree), I want to try and not only put this move by Ancestry.com in perspective, but also offer some theories as to the “why” and possibly predict some future moves by Ancestry.com.

Product Pullback – Even Google Does It

Remember Google Wave? There’s an example of a product pullback. Companies do it all the time as they retool their business plans and objectives. Ancestry.com is merely doing the same now that it is purchased the ProGenealogists company. The fact is that Expert Connect was used by a minority of both professional genealogists as well as genealogy consumers.

Ancestry.com’s target market is the amateur genealogist or what I call the “bright and shiny object” crowd. Expert Connect really didn’t connect with this group and probably the idea of paying someone to do your genealogy research was the reason. When you get down to it, the concept really works counter to encouraging folks to join or even use Ancestry.com as a DIY family history site.

A product pullback isn’t always a misstep. But even if it is, note how the announcement was made yesterday: an email to those who signed up for Expert Connect and a brief email from the Public Relations department of Ancestry.com to their marketing connections.  No big press release (in fact, you’d never ever want to do a press release for this type of announcement). Ancestry.com is betting that this will all be forgotten by February 4, 2011 – the premiere of Season 2 of Who Do You Think You Are?

Is Ancestry.com Pulling Back In General?

Just recently James Tanner of Genealogy Star in his post Genealogy as a business — are we in a recession? asked some needed questions as to why Ancestry.com chose not to be an exhibitor at the recent Arizona Family History Expo. I also know for a fact that Ancestry has decreased its presence at other upcoming genealogy events. So is this a sign that the genealogy industry is in its own recession?

Hardly. It just means that like pruning the non-performing branches in its own business tree, Ancestry.com is redirecting its marketing dollars to those venues that might bring in new consumers of its product as well as retain those current consumers. So what better venue than an expo that targets genealogy beginners such as the Arizona Family History Expo? I agree with James and others that it doesn’t make sense and given the positive feedback on the event and the attendance figure of 1,000 people, Ancestry.com will re-examine this move and be back next year.

In general however, look for Ancestry.com to try different approaches in its marketing plans and this may mean less visibility at certain events and actually seeing Ancestry.com pop up at other expos or events for the first time.

What’s Next for ProGenealogists Then?

Here’s what I think Ancestry.com has in store for ProGenealogists: it will seek to expand its group of expert genealogists but not using an Expert Connect like mechanism.

With Expert Connect, almost anyone could put out their shingle and call themselves a professional genealogist. Yes, Expert Connect was a reputation-based community – much like Yelp or even eBay – but there really wasn’t enough time for participants to build a reputation.

I bet you’ll see ProGenealogists invite select experts from Expert Connect and put in place some standards to qualify as a member. Ancestry.com will continue to use ProGenealogists as its group of experts for high-profile projects such as WDYTYA? as well as television talk show and other media appearances.

More Ancestry.com Movement Towards 3rd-Party Providers

My impression is that all current products and services (outside its core information databases business) are on the table and under inspection. This includes MyCanvas, MyFamily.com and even legacy products such as RootsWeb and Genealogy.com.

Why? Many of these either failed to connect with the typical Ancestry.com consumer (MyCanvas) or became liabilities because they were support nightmares (MyFamily.com). Last summer Ancestry.com decided to eliminate the free version of MyFamily.com and this had to eliminate much of the tech support issues involved. Any way that Ancestry.com can push the support aspects and costs off to another party is better for the bottom line.

What’s Next for Ancestry.com?

Look for the content from RootsWeb and Genealogy.com to somehow be folded into the current Ancestry.com website. Same for Footnote.com.  And just like the October 2009 scramble by genealogists to re-site their content when Yahoo shutdown GeoCities, then you’ll really see not just some hair pulling and teeth gnashing, but some real soul-searching among the genealogy community as to what role Ancestry.com plays.

Conclusion

Perhaps Ancestry.com is just pulling out of the “genealogy experience” market and fashioning itself as an information services provider like West Thomson or even Google. With any pull out there is a void to be filled. So who will step in to represent that aspect of genealogy and family history that goes beyond mere data to explain who our ancestors were, how they lived, and how we share that with our own families?

The death of Expert Connect is a call to the professional genealogy community to take action and examine its marketing efforts. Its time for industry groups like the Association of Professional Genealogists to lend a hand and give some guidance.

And what of the other voids certain to be created in the future? Other genealogy service providers should get ready now to fill those voids and look at them as opportunities.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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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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23 September 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Ancestry.com Inc. to Acquire iArchive Inc. and Footnote.com

ancestry.com inc. footnote.com

This news has been received from Ancestry.com Inc. via press release:

ANCESTRY.COM INC. TO ACQUIRE IARCHIVES

Leading Brand for American Historical Content

PROVO, Utah, September 23, 2010 – Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq: ACOM) announced today it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire iArchives, Inc. and its branded Web site, Footnote.com, a leading American History Web site, for approximately $27 million in a mix of Ancestry.com stock, cash and assumption of liabilities.  This acquisition will provide the company with a complementary consumer brand, expanded content offerings, and enhanced digitization and image-viewing technologies.

iArchives digitizes and delivers high-quality images of American historical records of individuals involved in the Revolutionary War, Continental Congress, Civil War, and other US historical events to Footnote.com subscribers interested in early American roots. iArchives has digitized more than 65 million original source documents to date through its proprietary digitization process for paper, microfilm and microfiche collections.

“Footnote.com is highly complementary to Ancestry.com’s online family history offering,” said Tim Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ancestry.com. “By promoting Footnote to our Ancestry audience, we hope to expand its reach among researchers who care about early American records. iArchives also brings outstanding image-viewing technology and content digitization capabilities that will improve our leadership position in bringing valuable historical records to the market. We welcome the iArchives team to the Ancestry.com family.”

Upon completion of the transaction, iArchives will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ancestry.com. As part of the transaction, Ancestry.com currently expects to issue approximately 1.0 million shares of common stock. The transaction is subject to various closing conditions and is expected to close early in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Ancestry.com also announced today that its Board of Directors has approved a share repurchase program of up to approximately $25 million of its common stock. Under the authorization, share repurchases may be made by the Company from time to time in the open market or through privately negotiated transactions depending on market conditions, share price and other factors and may include accelerated or forward or similar stock repurchases and/or Rule 10b5-1 plans. Part of the rationale for the repurchase is to offset dilution of equity resulting from the iArchives acquisition. No time limit was set for the completion of this program. The share repurchase program may be modified or discontinued at any time by the Board of Directors.

About Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq: ACOM) is the world’s largest online family history resource, with approximately 1.3 million paying subscribers. More than 5 billion records have been added to the site in the past 13 years. Ancestry users have created more than 19 million family trees containing over 1.9 billion profiles. Ancestry.com has local Web sites directed at nine countries, including its flagship Web site at www.ancestry.com.

About iArchives

iArchives is a leading digitization service provider that also operates Footnote.com, a subscription Web site that features searchable original documents, providing over 35,000 paying subscribers with a view of the events, places and people that shaped the American nation and the world. At Footnote.com, all are invited to come share, discuss, and collaborate on their discoveries with friends, family, and colleagues. For more information, visit www.footnote.com.

Forward-looking Statements

This press release contains forward-looking statements. These statements relate to future events or to future financial performance and involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties, and other factors that may cause our actual results, levels of activity, performance, or achievements to be materially different from those anticipated in these forward-looking statements. In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements by the use of words such as “appears,” “may,” “designed,” “expect,” “intend,” “focus,” “seek,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “predict,” “potential,” “should,” “continue” or “work” or the negative of these terms or other comparable terminology. These statements include statements concerning among other things, the proposed transaction between Ancestry.com and iArchives, Inc., including the consummation and anticipated timing of the transaction as well as the expected benefits of the proposed transaction, and the effects of the proposed transaction on Ancestry.com, our subscriber base, our reach, our activities to enhance subscribers’ experience, our business outlook, our leadership position and our opportunities and prospects for growth.  These forward-looking statements are based on information available to us as of the date of this press release. Forward-looking statements involve a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated by these forward-looking statements. Such risks and uncertainties include a variety of factors, some of which are beyond our control. In particular, such risks and uncertainties include the risk that the transaction does not close when anticipated, or at all; difficulties encountered in integrating acquired businesses and retaining customers, and the additional difficulty of integration when continuing the acquired operation; the adverse impact of competitive product announcements; failure to achieve anticipated revenues and operating performance; changes in overall economic conditions; the loss of key employees; competitors’ actions; pricing and gross margin pressures; inability to control costs and expenses; and significant litigation.

Information concerning additional factors that could cause results to differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements is contained under the caption “Risk Factors” in our Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarterly period ended June 30, 2010, and in discussions in other of our SEC filings.

These forward-looking statements should not be relied upon as representing our views as of any subsequent date and we assume no obligation to publicly update or revise these forward-looking statements for any reason, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise.

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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