Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ancestry.com Acquisition of iArchives (including Footnote.com)

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The genealogy world is abuzz today with the news that Ancestry.com has acquired iArchives, Inc. for about $27 million. One of the major holdings of iArchives, Inc. is the Footnote.com genealogy and history website. The press release is here.

The announcement states that iArchives will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Ancestry.com. I think that means that Footnote.com collections will not be incorporated into the Ancestry.com collections, but will operate as a separate entity.

The press release says that Footnote.com has 35,000 subscribers and over 65 million images, which is small compared to Ancestry.com's 1.3 million (worldwide) subscribers and billions of images, not to mention the 19 million family trees.

What else does iArchives have besides Footnote.com? The iArchives Services page notes that:

"We use iArchives’ highly accurate and patented OCR software which consistently produces higher accuracy results when compared to the 'off the shelf' OCR engines. Then we index the text, digitize the images using highly sophisticated software (providing image enhancement among a host of other elements), attach any needed metadata and store the records in a database of your choice. The records are then accessed utilizing a search engine of your preference."

Is that a significant acquisition for Ancestry.com? Compare the image enhancements and annotation capability available on Footnote.com and on Ancestry.com. I think that the iArchives capabilities may enhance Ancestry.com's offerings.

One reason that Ancestry.com may have acquired Footnote.com is for the available Footnote Page capabilities. Footnote permits a FREE creation and editing of Footnote Pages for any person. The ease of use and capabilities of the Footnote Page is much better, in my opinion, than the Person Page in the Ancestry.com Member Trees. I can see a Footnote Page having shaky green leaves to lead a user to Ancestry databases, and an Ancestry Member Tree page linking to a Footnote Page for a person.

I posted The Future of Genealogy Collaboration? at the NGS Conference in Salt Lake City, where a FamilySearch team used Footnote Pages to gather and display facts, stories, images, video, etc. of a specific person. The implication was that the new FamilySearch Family Tree was going to create hundreds of millions (billions?) of Footnote Pages for persons in the nFS Family Tree database. I wondered at the time, to myself, if Footnote.com had the available computer resources necessary to handle the information load. Ancestry.com probably has the financial and physical resources to handle the load.

What does this mean for genealogists like you and me? I have some thoughts:

* Will Footnote.com be a separate entity with its own separate collections? If so, will there be significant additions to these collections? I hope that they will, and there will be, and that the rate of additions may be accelerated due to Ancestry.com investments. If so, that is only good news for genealogists. [the hopeful vision]

* Footnote.com may become stagnant with no new acquisitions similar to what Genealogy.com (also a wholly owned subsidiary of Ancestry.com) has become. If that happens, there will be cries that Ancestry.com is taking over the genealogy world again. [the hopeless vision]

* Ancestry.com may offer a subscription bundle that includes Footnote.com collections. [a hopeful vision]

* Ancestry.com may provide links to search results from Footnote.com, and Footnote.com may link to Ancestry.com search results. [a hopeful vision]

* The Footnote Pages may become the go-to resource for information about a person in history - with attached documents (obtained from all potential sources), images, videos, events, stories, lists of interested researchers, etc. [a hopeful vision]

More to come, I'm sure!

What do you think? Why did this happen? What will happen now?

Disclosure: I am a paid subscriber to both Ancestry.com and Footnote.com. I have not been remunerated in any way to post this information. I have no "inside information" about either company that pertains to this acquisition. The above comments are my own speculation and may be wrong.

4 comments:

Kerry Scott said...

I think this has more to do with content acquisition than anything. Footnote probably has contracts to digitize content that Ancestry doesn't. The people who subscribe to Footnote almost certainly subscribe to Ancestry as well, so they're not buying the customers...they're buying the relationships on the supply end.

Ancestry's value only grows as the value of its content grows. They can't charge more for subscriptions unless they add more stuff.

gerryruth said...

Do we still have any anti-monopoly laws on the books? Seems like maybe Ancestry is getting close to a monopoly.

Starting to make me nervous.

Heather Erickson said...

Hi Randy,
Thanks for the post. I think you’re not the only one asking these types of questions and I wanted to make sure it was clear that your first point is our intention – that Footnote.com will be a separate entity from Ancestry.com. We fully intend to grow the business and Footnote.com content, and we truly want to see it develop to help benefit people interested in early American roots.

Heather Erickson
Ancestry.com

Becky said...

My first "gut feeling" when I read the announcement in my email this morning was "Oh, no!" Seems it will be one less competitor for ancestry. On the other hand, if they do indeed have more resources available for adding more content to both Ancestry.com and Footnote.com then I can see it being a good thing.

I still have mixed feelings about Ancestry ;-)