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