Thursday, August 30, 2007

Do You Know Who Your Friends Are?

[updated 8/31/07]
As I watched the events with Ancestry's debacle unfold in the last couple of days, I looked for who was saying what among the genea-bloggers. But I was also looking to see which commercial entities would have a voice and which would remain silent on the issue. I kept waiting and waiting for the "other players" to take a stand. But the other commercial entities were eerily quiet. Did you notice?

Today I did a quick survey of some of the leaders in the genealogy industry to see if I'd missed something. Here is the quick list of names that had nothing to say on the subject.

Footnote
World Vital Records
FamilySearch.org
Family Tree Magazine
Family Chronicle/Internet Genealogy Magazines
GenealogyBank.com
Genealogical.com
Ancestral Quest
Roots Magic
Also quiet but understandably so because they're owned by The Generations Network, (parent company of Ancestry.com) were Family Tree Maker and Genealogy.com. We also didn't hear from Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak or George Morgan who at least publicly would have to be neutral on, supportive of, or quiet on the subject of the Ancestry nonsense since they are more or less on Ancestry's payroll too. Ancestry.com's blog said nothing on the subject until the announcement that the database would be taken down.

So who does that leave? I found three [five, see update below] who fall into the category of what I consider to be industry leaders in the field of genealogy who had something to say on the subject.

Dick Eastman wrote a blog post titled, "Internet Biographical Collection is Free at Ancestry.com". It's a short post but his position is easy to discern in the first paragraph.
Ancestry.com recently introduced a new genealogy-specific web search engine, called the Internet Biographical Collection. The service looks great but created a bit of controversy amongst web site owners whose sites were being indexed and cached. Today, Ancestry.com converted the new search engine to a free service, available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. That conversion to a free service should eliminate most of the concerns.
He got a lot of comments on his post, both in support of Ancestry and against. He weighed in a second time with the following comment.

One comment: the so-called "pillaging" and "theft" and all the other words are a bit strange. There is nothing new here. I don't recall anyone complaining about Google, Yahoo, Dogpile and all the other search engines. Yet they have been doing exactly the same thing for years, only on a bigger scale. The general-purpose search engines index and cache ALL the web sites. There are even a number of for-pay search engines that perform specialized searches for paying customers only. NorthernLights.com is one such for-pay search engine. Again, NorthernLights.com has been charging customers for specialized web searches for years.

Ancestry.com's Internet Biographical Collection is a much smaller search engine: it is also a specialized search engine as it only indexes what it believes to be genealogy-related pages. It is designed to make genealogy information much easier to find, regardless of where it is hosted on the web.

I don't see any difference between Ancestry.com and all the other free and for-pay search engines. They all do the same things.

As always, if you do not want search engines to index your site, create a ROBOTS.TXT file with the proper parameters and place that file on your web site. That is easy to do. Then the search engines will not add your site to their databases.

Of course, your site will be a lonely place as users will no longer be able to find you by using search engines.

- Dick Eastman
So that's what Dick had to say. I'll share with you the comment I made on his blog in a bit but for now let's move on.

Leland Meitzler wrote The Generations Network Continues to Tarnish Their Image on the Everton Publisher's Genealogy Blog and updated it multiple times as events warranted. I think you can catch the drift of Leland's position from the title of his blog post. But I encourage you to go over and read it if you haven't already. I was pleased as could be to see that not only did Leland speak out against the giant of the industry but he also listed all of the genea-bloggers who'd written on the subject with links to their posts. We all know that links are like gold when it comes to getting one's blog ranked and read. Especially from a high traffic blog. He gave us a gift that industry leaders seem to do very grudgingly if ever. Thank you Leland.

And last but not least, The Legacy Blog wrote Ancestry.com - You're Not Going To Believe This. I don't know who writes the blog for the Legacy Family Tree software company (Geoff Rasmussen?) but they wrote a very nice article. They made no bones about the fact that Ancestry "went too far" but also gave them credit for having very valuable databases that are helpful to and appreciated by many genealogists. They told Becky Wiseman's story well and then went on to mention and link to all the genea-bloggers who wrote on the subject. Once again we receive some valuable link love. Thank you Legacy.

Did you check your traffic stats for yesterday fellow bloggers? I had the most hits on my site ever. No doubt about it, the traffic I got came from your links (and Leland's and Legacy's ;-) not the Google search engine. I know we all try to help each other out with links when we can but let's face it, it's sure nice to have some traffic sent our way from a couple of the industry leaders.

And now I'll share with you the comments I posted to Dick Eastman's article and to Legacy's article. Leland, I couldn't find a link to comment on your blog, but you have my thanks as well for speaking up and for linking.

Here's what I posted on Dick's blog:
Think about this Dick. Let's say Ancestry.com had a way to cache your "premium" newsletter and post it in their database with their header on it. Knowing that folks could read for free that which you charge for would no doubt outrage you. Now take a look at how many genealogy blogs and web sites have Google Ads, Amazon.com affiliate links, click thru ads to WVR or Footnote.com and who count on traffic to their sites to help support the continued hosting of their sites. Then ask yourself this... If it were your "premium" newsletter that Ancestry was using would you still think this is no big deal? If they put a link to your site under the one to their cached page, would that make it OK with you? If they made it free (with registration) instead of making it available to subscribers only, would that make you feel better about them having your pages cached?

If after thinking about things this way you still think this is no big deal, then may I suggest you offer your archive of "premium" newsletters to Ancestry? I'm sure they'd be happy to create a database just for you! What the heck, it's no different than Google is it? Oh wait, you only allow the teaser paragraphs of your "premium" articles to get listed with Google. It can't be that you want to protect your income could it?
Here's what I posted on Legacy's blog:

First off, I want applaud you for having something, anything, to say on this subject. The big (commercial) names in the genealogy world have been noticeably quiet on this issue. Kudos to you for not being afraid to have a voice!

Secondly, I want to thank you for not only mentioning the "hobby" genealogy bloggers who bravely stood up for what they believed in but also for providing links to their articles on this subject. Our little band of merry genea-bloggers rarely get any recognition from the commercially sponsored blogs. In the the blogosphere, links are like gifts. Believe me your links are appreciated by us hobby bloggers.

I certainly think Ancestry was out of line with their actions. We shall see what happens next. I'd like to believe that they've seen the light and won't try this again but "for the time being" I'll remain a bit skeptical.

Did I miss anybody? What do you think about the lack of voice from the industry leaders?

[update 8/31/07]
George Morgan and Drew Smith discussed this topic in the August 28, 2007 edition of their podcast. I haven't listened to it so I can't comment further on it but I wanted to acknowledge that they did address this issue.

I want to send out a big apology to Kimberly Powell for neglecting to mention that she was a voice on this issue from the very beginning on her blog Genealogy.About.com and she linked to all the genea-bloggers who wrote on the subject as well. She wrote not one but two articles on the topic, Cache 22 - Has Ancestry.com Gone Too Far?, and The Legality of Caching. About.com is a high traffic and high profile blog and I should have included her among the industry leaders who had something to say on this subject. I suppose that because About.com is about so much more than just genealogy I tend to forget that it is a major resource in the genealogy world. But it certainly is. And too, Kimberly interacts with the genea-bloggers from time to time so she feels like one of "us" and not so much like one of "them". So thanks to Kimberly for getting the word out and for the links!

And still another faux pas on my part... I neglected to mention DearMYRTLE's contributions to the battle of the Bloggers vs Ancestry.com. Our dear Myrt wrote two articles, Numbers, Ranking, and Ancestry.com, and Ancestry Withdraws Offensive Database. Myrt was another big name who called Ancestry to task early on and helped to get the word out by including links to our brother and sisterhood of bloggers who had written on the topic. DearMYRTLE is truly our "friend in genealogy" and I'm wearing egg on my face right now for having not thought to mention her sooner. What was I thinking? (Obviously I wasn't.) A super-sized THANK YOU goes out to DearMYRTLE for her willingness to take a stand and for linking to the genea-bloggers.

10 comments:

  1. Jasia:

    I too, was very proud of our community of genea bloggers.

    We are a community, and Ancestry must consider the fact that this community is their income base.

    Slowly but surely alternatives to Ancestry are entering the market. Customer loyalty will be priceless.

    The big boys didn't weigh in for all the reasons you mentioned. Some of the big boys tried to act like the Switzerland of the genealogical blogging world.

    We have long memories - we work in generations after all.

    Leland Meitzler's article, The Generations Network Continues to Tarnish Their Image, on the Everton Publisher's Genealogy Blog has earned his publication my subscription.

    Keep up the good work, Jasia.

    fM

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  2. Jasia, very observant. It amazes and intrigues me all the different aspects of this issue that are being considered and then blogged about by our community.

    I did receive my two highest counts of visitors yesterday and Tuesday. But, to my surprise as I investigated further, the majority of my referrals came from a comment I made on Dick Eastman's blog about the Detroit sailor's family being found (see here).

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  3. Hi Jasia,

    George Morgan and Drew Smith weighed in on the matter on the most recent edition of The Genealogy Guys Podcast.

    Even though we didn't hear from many of the other players in the genealogy business, I'll bet there was plenty of discussion of the issue internally!

    Incidentally, I checked my blog stats for yesterday and my stats were about average for a Wednesday. The most hits I've ever received were for one of my posts for the Carnival of Genealogy!

    Steve

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  4. In addition to all that you've read, you should consider all that you have NOT read, too. Censorship is alive and well in the Genealogy community and in the Blogging community, too. Just because you didn't see it, doesn't mean it wasn't expressed.

    I think some of you know who you are.

    Happy Dae.

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  5. Jasia,

    As always you write an excellent article, and definitely one that makes me and other readers think. I hope you don't mind if I comment...

    Although I firmly disagree with Dick Eastman over several of his comments regarding the Internet Biographical Collection, I honor his right to say what he thinks. He is a genuine guy whose articles I've been reading for years. Several years ago he was in the forefront of an issue where a man from Vermont was ripping quite a few people off with fake genealogies, and he helped bring the problem to light. I was one of the people was helped through his intervention. Dick is on the conservative side in most of what he writes, and in this case no different. The only definite error (as opposed to opinion) is when Dick intimates that using a ROBOTS.TXT file will result in "your site will be a lonely place as users will no longer be able to find you by using search engines." Just not true. You can create a robots.txt file that only screens out Ancestry.com's bot, and not the others. If there is a caveat here, it is to read as much as one can, and then come to their own conclusion. No one, including Dick Eastman, or myself, is right 100% of the time.

    There were genealogy friends who wrote to me saying they were not going to comment because they were afraid of the long arm of Ancestry.com. Can I blame that? No... fear of retribution is a common feeling. How many times have we read a newspaper article about an incident where the bystanders looked on and did nothing? Probably quite a few. Fear paralyzes human beings, just as it makes a horse bolt and run. Part of the natural order of things. And so, even more reason for us to honor those who are able to work past their fears and be proactive.

    As for the Podcast Guys. I enjoy their show. They not only tell you about a new product or service, but they test it out and usually their evaluations are right on. NOT SO was the case regarding the Internet Biographical Collection. They obviously did not have first hand knowledge of the real issues, and probably should have kept mum rather than go on and on as if they knew what they were talking about. They kept comparing the collection to a search engine like Google, when in fact the collection was a searchable database (and that exact term of database was used to describe it by Ancestry) of cached pages, originating from the internet, but then being held behind Ancestry's firewall, and offering access for a fee. Ancestry.com claims the copyright over every other type of database or document behind Ancestry's firewall (and in this case they stated the source of the information as Ancestry) and so by placing my and other people's cached web sites in a similar manner, without proper authority OR citation, I feel they violated my copyright. Paid viewers of this same database were allowed to click and add my cached page to their "shoebox" which in effect meant (to me) that in each case a subscriber "clicked" to do that, Ancestry.com had just "sold" a copy of my cached page to that person. I could go on ad infinitum about this, but I won't. Will it mean I won't listen to the Podcast Guys again.. no.. My wee Irish grandmother used to tell me I should not "throw the baby out with the bathwater," and so I'm sure the Podcast Guys will be relieved to know they won't end up damp and scraped on the sidewalk [grin].

    As for the bloggers, like yourself Jasia, who spoke out in protest about Ancestry's actions... from those who are brand new to blogging, to others who have national attention and a huge fan base, thank you! Many of you already had my admiration, and now you have my deepest respect. Like you, the recent incident has given me an opportunity to learn about alternative genealogical products and services, who I will support by opening my pocketbook. That old saying about "buyer beware" applies to any blog or site that provides advice on what to buy or what to believe. If a blog or web site is sponsored or owned by lets say Ancestry (or any other company), odds are the content is going to be promoting their product or services. Generally a dog doesn't bite the hand that feeds it. And then of course, we as consumers have a choice of what products we buy, or don't.

    Prior to this incident I was an Ancestry Affiliate (I wasn't getting rich, but the income was partially paying for a domain I own that posts free genealogy information that even Ancestry does not have). I canceled my connection with that service the day that I posted my first story about their database. No matter what happens, I won't be returning to that program. Depending on what Ancestry does next will determine what I do next. If they cancel the database for good, I will be contented, and fully satisfied with the result.

    As for visitors and hits. I've worked really hard in the past year or so to get a high rating on Google, and so the number of visitors on the Ancestry topic, although high, were inconsequential when compared with the number for my article(s) about Brooke Astor and French President Sarkozy visiting Wolfeboro NH (when I had many international visitors). Top referring web sites were Google Images, various of my own history and genealogy web sites, and OF ALL THINGS Yesterday's Tractor Company where an article I wrote tickled the fancy of local farmers (or at least tractor owners).

    Best Wishes and as always, yours is one of the first blogs I read daily.

    Janice

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  6. I just want to say that I am tired of conditional morality. I admire those of you who stood up and said, “this is wrong”. And I’m disappointed in those of you who said “what’s the big deal?”. Big companies who behave badly should be called on it. They should apologize and try to not repeat the mistake. If not, they do not deserve our continued support.

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  7. fM - "We have long memories - we work in generations after all." I love the way you so eloquently put this!

    Miriam - I know what you mean about all the different aspects being discussed. I've learned much from reading about how others see the issue. This topic is quite complex, more so than I first realized.

    Steve - Thanks for mentioning that George and Drew addressed this issue. Even though I think of myself as a "techie girl" and I do have an iPod, I don't listen to podcasts as a rule. I forgot that George did that. I've updated my post to reflect that.

    Hits can be a funny thing can't they? Until yesterday, my most popular blog post was the one I wrote on the Polish Tartan. Virtually all the hits came and still are coming from Poland. I guess there are a lot of Poles wanting to put a kilt on ;-)

    HappyDae - I hope you're not implying that I've intentionally not included comments of opinions that differ from my own because I assure you I have not. The only comments I would censor would be spam comments (advertising viagara, etc.) comments using vulgar language, or any comment that might bring the IRS, FBI, or CIA down on me ;-)

    Janice - Thank you once again for your very thoughtful comments. I really enjoyed them.

    This isn't the first time I've been disappointed in what Dick Eastman had to say on a subject but it has tipped the scales for me. I won't be renewing my subscription to his premium newsletter.

    Being one who suffers from anxiety attacks from time to time I understand how fear can paralyze. I also understand the fear of the long arm of Ancestry.com. It's made me very nervous about what I've said on this issue. It may come back to bite me and I may come to regret it. But there have been plenty of times I've regretted not saying things too. I guess we all just have to trust our instincts on these sorts of things and hope for the best.

    I want to thank you for sharing your take on the Genealogy Guys podcast. I probably wouldn't have listened to it and therefore wouldn't have known anything about it. I don't listen to podcasts for one simple reason. It takes too much time. I can get through all of the feeds in my reader (71) and respond with a few comments in the time it takes to get through a podcast. If those who create the podcasts would put the starting times of the various different segments within a given podcast on their websites I would be an avid listener. But I refuse to listen to 20, 30, or 40 minutes of content I'm not interested in to find the 10 minutes of content I am interested in. I know I miss out on a lot of good information on podcasts but it's a time thing for me.

    I definitely believe in putting my money where my mouth is. I'm not a current Ancestry subscriber so I can't unsubscribe (I have access other ways and will probably still access Ancestry from time to time, but they won't get my money). I was a subscriber at one time when I availed myself of a "limited time offer" for what I thought was a reasonable price. When it came time to renew at the regular price I opted not to. In my opinion they're over priced. I've never been an affiliate so I can't discontinue that either. But I admire you for doing so!

    I am a current user of Legacy Family Tree software. I wasn't planning to purchase the next edition of it because quite frankly I don't need any features I don't currently have. But I'm rethinking that and will most likely buy the new edition when it's released.

    Like you, I've worked hard to increase my readership and search engine ranking. It's often the case that I get more hits on off-topic articles than I do on my genealogy related ones. Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing this. Why don't I just say "the heck with genealogy!" and write stuff that will bring me traffic and make me some money. But then my heart speaks to me and reminds me that I do this because I love genealogy, more than money I guess. (Sure wish I could find a way to combine the two though!)

    Thanks Janice!

    David - Amen!

    Thanks to all who've commented. I appreciate the feedback. I've updated my article to include those I neglected to mention.

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  8. I've missed the early response here to your post - a good topic and many excellent comments. Life sometimes is more than genealogy and blogging (ask my Angel, she will tell you this!) - I'm working hard on my addiction, you know!

    Something else that did not happen was that there were not many posts on the APG mailing list or the county mailing lists I subscribe to. When it did appear on the BlackSheep list, the posts were 48 hours too late - they were on Tuesday's news on Thursday.

    So why didn't the APG list people comment? Perhaps they did on their private forum, I don't know, I'm not an APG member, but I enjoy the content of the APG mailing list.

    I think the reason there was little response was that it all happened too fast - two days from awareness to resolution. Our little genea-blogging community is pretty quick on the uptake - we know what's happening online days before the mailing lists and message boards, weeks ahead of the professionals (researchers, wirtiers, society officers) and months ahead of the typical parttime genealogy researcher.

    I do think that the genealogy bloggers represent most of the genealogy community pretty well. There are some who argue for patience and calmness, and some who argue for revolution, and everything in-between. There are many with an antipathy to Ancestry in the larger genealogy community because they charge for access, but this is mainly those that od'nt have a subscription. They see it as a bully, a hider of data, a company making a profit off free information. Researchers who use it on a regular basis appreciate Ancestry for what it is - a service with many useful databases that is user-friendly and cost-effective. I admit to being in the latter camp.

    Frankly, Ancestry should not consider the 40 or 50 fairly active genea-bloggers as their income base. Their income base is the vast number of researchers who subscribe and don't know or care anything about what Ancestry did yesterday. Ancestry should, and probably does, care what we genea-bloggers think and write, because it may affect their bottom line.

    I thought Leland Meitzler's post was the best of all of them (no offense meant here) because he is respected and well-known - and a competitor to Ancestry.com. Kimberly Powell's posts were also excellent for the tone she took and the information about the legal issues.

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  9. Kudos to you all for your efforts.

    Every day I am even more impressed by the members of this community. Jasia gets most of the credit for building it. Her efforts with the Carnival of Genealogy have served as the online equivalent of a Chamber of Commerce mixer - providing an opportunity to meet and develop relationships. Those relationships served us well this week.

    We've seen a taste of what this community can do. I look forward to an even stronger community tackling more projects together. Just think of what we can do when we're all focused. . .

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  10. Absolutely no apologies necessary, Jasia. I do feel much more like "one of you" than a commercial entity, and I really appreciate the links and nice comments about my site. I happen to write and blog for About.com, but as an independent contractor - which allows me to freely express my own opinions in my own voice with (hopefully) complete editorial integrity.

    I just wanted to add, that Paul Allen, CEO of World Vital Records (formerly with Ancestry.com until 2002) posted an insightful comment on my Cache 22 blog with his perspective on the recent changes in direction at Ancestry.com I don't feel, however, that we should have expected most such industry leaders to comment in their official blogs. It's not really the place for it.

    I also had a nice conversation with an individual at Ancestry.com, and my personal feeling is that this wasn't intended as a malicious "stealing" of content. They just need to spend some more time actually thinking about the genealogy community as a whole as well as themselves as they work on their new direction for the company. The caching was designed as a tool to get around the need for the server load that constant searching of new content, and removing broken links, would require. They took down the database so quickly because they realized there was another side to the caching - and that they made a mistake and want to take some time to rethink the direction they are taking before they do anything with that product.

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