Friday, March 14, 2008

Rootsweb to be in Ancestry domain

The announcement that the separate http://www.rootsweb.com/ domain would be incorporated into the http://www.ancestry.com/ domain struck the genealogy community at about 3 p.m. yesterday (just as my genealogy efforts for the day ceased due to my granddaughter arriving for fun with Grandpa - big genealogy announcements always happen when I'm with my grandkids - I can count on it!). The announcement by Tim Sullivan, The Generations Network CEO, can be read at

* the Rootsweb Newsroom blog, which has some comments
* the Ancestry Insider blog, which has few comments
* Juliana Smith's 24/7 Family Circle blog, with some comments
* Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter blog, which has many comments * Kimberly Powell's About Genealogy blog, with her own and several other comments.
* DearMYRTLE's blog, no comments. DearMYRTLE has her comment on her blog,
* and many other blogs (too many to list here).

There are many comments on the APG mailing list here, here and more - read the March list of posts here. I haven't seen many yet on the other lists I subscribe to, but I'm sure that there will be an avalanche of vitriolic, and mostly uninformed, comments.

1) The salient points from the Tim Sullivan announcements are, IMHO:

* TGN has supported and hosted the Rootsweb community for free since 2000, per their agreement with the genealogy community.
* TGN is bringing Rootsweb into the Ancestry domain in order to "better serve" users of both domains - to "introduce Ancestry.com users to Rootsweb.com and vice-versa."
* "This move will not change the RootsWeb experience or alter the ease of navigation to or within RootsWeb. RootsWeb will remain a free online experience." The links to current Rootsweb.com pages will continue to work.
* "RootsWeb will remain a free online experience dedicated to providing you with a place where our community can find their roots together."

Of course, there are many skeptics that TGN will live up to these commitments, present and past. You can read their comments at the links above.

2) I am not a skeptic - I think that TGN will live up to their commitments both past and present. I think that they have to do that to maintain their customer base and the feelings of good will of their customers. They can't afford not to live up to the commitments. I will be very disappointed if they don't! Their reputation in the genealogy community is affected every time they make a decision and torque off part of the community (e.g., the Internet Biographical Collection snafu last August). There are many in the community who absolutely distrust and dislike (dare I say "hate?") TGN/Ancestry for current and past "sins," including charging for access (they do), being a for-profit company (they are), stealing data (they didn't), being a monopoly (they aren't), etc.

3) My observations include:

* Many commenters have stated that Ancestry.com's traffic will be higher on the "traffic counters" when Rootsweb is a sub-domain, and they can charge higher ad rates. From a business standpoint, this is great - they might cut subscription rates, digitize more databases, reward investors with higher dividends, and grow the company. IMHO, they should do all these things - they are not mutually exclusive!

* There will be TGN and Ancestry.com banners on all Rootsweb pages, and Ancestry.com advertising on Rootsweb pages (aren't they already?). This doesn't hurt anybody, and might help researchers find more information.

* The Rootsweb mailing lists are brimming with posts about http://www.usgenweb.org/ state and county sites, and http://www.worldgenweb.org/ country sites, migrating to non-TGN supported sites, and that is their right to do so. However, if some or many of the databases currently housed on the Rootsweb domain move off Rootsweb, then the GenWeb sites will have to modify many of their links.

* I hope that the databases (including search box), free web pages (for individuals and groups, such as genealogy societies), mailing lists (including search box), message boards (including search box) and other services on Rootsweb will stay where they are. Individuals and groups are free to migrate, but I hope they don't - there's no real good reason to do that - see the AUP below.

* The current Rootsweb.com Acceptable Use Policy clearly states that (in part) -
"You are licensed to use the Content only for personal or professional family history research, and may download Content only as search results relevant to that research. The download of the whole or significant portions of any work or database is prohibited. Resale of a work or database or portion thereof, except as specific results relevant to specific research for an individual, is prohibited. On line or other republication of Content is prohibited except as unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy."

And that for submitters of information to Rootsweb sites (in part)

"For this Content, the submitter is the owner, and RootsWeb.com is only a distributor. By submitting Submitted Content to RootsWeb.com, you grant MyFamily.com, Inc., the corporate host of the Service, a limited license to the Submitted Content to use, host, and distribute that Submitted Content and allow hosting and distribution on co-branded Services of that Submitted Content."

4) My "suggestions" to TGN/Ancestry include (they didn't ask me - these are freely offered):

* That there be a prominent FREE section on the Ancestry.com main page that links to all of the Rootsweb free databases, web pages, mailing lists, message boards, etc. that any researcher can easily use with the available Ancestry search engine capabilities (exact or Soundex, wild cards, etc.)

* That the http://www.rootsweb.com/ URL and current sub-domains continue to work, but links to the Ancestry sub-domains.

* That TGN insures that Google and other search engines can find the FREE information on the Rootsweb sub-domain. The search engines currently find mailing list posts, message board posts, free pages and WorldConnect database names, but not other Rootsweb databases (e.g., the California Death Index - I didn't check any others).

* That TGN clearly states, and include in their Acceptable Use Policy or other statement, that the web sites and databases currently on Rootsweb web pages will now and forever be FREE for access by all genealogy users.

5) Your thoughts and opinions are welcome (even skeptical ones! Please write your own blog post or comment on this post. I look forward to hearing from you.

UPDATED: 2 p.m. added Kimberly's blog post and edited my text a bit.

2 comments:

genealogistinal said...

Randy

I totally agree. I believe it is much ado about nothing. As you pointed out nothing has really changed but a domain name... Ancestry has been the primary sponsor of Rootsweb since 2000... if not for Ancestry, Rootsweb probably would not exist today.

Thank you for pointing out the "legalese" Terms and Conditions - the submitter OWNS the data.

USGenweb coordinators are free to host the county sites anywhere they wish... this move to boost hits on the Ancestry website should have no bearing on the decision. I hope we all get a benefit of a reduced subscription fee out of all this ... well I can hope, can't I?

Melissa
http://birminghamgenealogy.wordpress.com

Jasia said...

I've been watching to see who would touch this hot potato issue. My opinion couldn't be farther from yours Randy. Unfortunately I just can't make the time to express it adequately. To sum it up, I'd have to say that I don't believe Ancestry has altruistic intentions of wanting to give it's visitors a better experience. What they want is more traffic resulting in more add revenue and what they're doing once again is helping themselves to other people's unpaid work. I could go on and on but I have things more important and pressing I have to blog about. (I still haven't finished my Tribute to Women and then I have to start putting the COG together!) If it's not a cold and dead issued by the end of next week maybe I'll write a post about it. I won't be able to get to it before then, much as I'd like to.