Thursday, August 23, 2007

Money Is A Dirty Word

Stop and think. Realize. Gain some insight. Reflect. And then?

What comes next is up to you.

I applaud DearMYRTLE's blog post, Genealogy sites at no cost to users? If you haven't read it yet, please do. She's brought to light a very important issue, one that nobody likes to talk about. It's about that dirty word "money"... and the fact that there's no such thing as free lunch. Or in this case, a free web site.

We all like it when we can freely access genealogy databases online. What's not to like? But most of us don't stop to think about the fact that somebody is shelling out bucks to host the web site that database is on. And the bigger the database, and the more popular it is, the more money is getting spent to host it. Because when lots of people access it the owners have to pay for more bandwidth. And bandwidth = $

As Myrtle's article shows us, it's not just the big players who have to shoulder heavy costs for maintaining online databases. Small genealogical societies can get in over their heads financially if their databases become very popular. And you know what? It isn't just genealogical societies that have to worry. Churches, cemeteries, historical societies, or even individuals who host popular content of any sort can run into financial woes they didn't plan on. As a web site designer who also offers hosting packages, I understand the situation better than most.

Nobody likes to ask for money. Begging for it is humiliating. So what's a not-for-profit organization or individual to do to help defray the costs of hosting a web site/database? Some groups can fund their online offerings though membership dues. But that's not usually an option for individuals. And it's not always a feasible option for groups either.

So what's a person/organization to do? The most common choice has become to put advertising on web sites, in the form of Google Ads, affiliate programs, and if one is lucky, corporate sponsorship. Is this lucrative? Yes and no. These options almost never generate the kind of revenue hoped for. But they can be viable sources for modest income under the right circumstances. Unfortunately one needs to be knowledgeable in SEO (search engine optimization) and monetization and have enough traffic on one's web site/blog to make it all work. And how many genealogical societies, churches, or individuals do you know who have the kind of know-how needed to pull that off?

Are you still with me here? By this point I should have made you "stop and think" (database/web site hosting costs money), "realize" (somebody is paying for it and it isn't you), "gain some insight" (options for generating money to cover hosting expenses are limited, online ads aren't an easy solution), and "reflect" (hmmm, I guess there's more to this issue than I ever considered... maybe there is something I could do to help).

That leaves us with, "and then?... what comes next is up to you". This is where you can help out and show your appreciation. I know we all lead hurried lives but there are some times when we leisurely read blogs, surf the web, or look for ancestors in obscure databases. This is when you can help by taking a moment to actually look at the Google Ads or affiliate links. Go ahead, click on them! Don't do it insincerely just to help out the hosting site. That would be unfair to those who have to pay for each click. Do it because there's a link to a site you haven't been to before and there may just be something of interest there for you! Take a moment, make a click. Support the site that needs the help by not ignoring those ads every time.

So what about blogs or web sites that are obviously hosted for free but have ads on them (like this one)? Ah, my friend. Things are not always the way they seem. Take my situation for instance. I have created, and host entirely at my own expense, the following web sites:
All of these sites have information that is potentially of interest to genealogists, granted some more so than others. All of them have been around longer than my blog. But, none of them get as much traffic as my blog. The ads on this blog help support those sites. I do have ads on those sites but I put ads here too because this blog gets more traffic.

This is not a shameless plug for the ads on my blog. I'm just trying to make the point the the ads on one site can be generating revenue to support other sites. We're all in this together. All for one and one for all.

What comes next is up to you.

DearMYRTLE's blog post, Genealogy sites at no cost to users?


  1. Most of the small societies I've encountered will never run into this problem. They're either too old-fashioned and have no use for the Internet or their web "presence" and goals are limited at best. (And to me, a small society is an indication of lack of interest in the area, either due to a small population or how some members run the place. Either way, would such places really have the kind of data that droves of people are looking for?)

    Podcasting is another beast. Most societies and organizations don't have to worry about this. Heck, they may not even know what it is. One podcast file may equal a bucket load of text or images. Sorry, but you should know going in that being a successful podcaster isn't going to be cheap. Unless you've got deep pockets and no worries, you need to either reach a level where subscriptions can pay the bills or suck it up and keep going as long as your love for it doesn't bleed you dry. Or look into Torrents ( Bottom line: No complaining.

    Ads and product links aren't generally going to cut it even for small to moderate sized sites. Been there, done that. (And personally, out of principle I will not click links that are given a place of annoying prominence on a page. If I like the content, I'll help out a little and look for the ads. Don't shove it in my face.)

    Maybe I should start blogging again rather than ranting in Comments. Haha.

  2. You make an excellent point, David. I definitely have to agree that most small societies won't run into this problem for the very reason you cite, "They're either too old-fashioned and have no use for the internet or their web "presence" and goals are limited at best." BUT that will have to change in the not too distant future or they won't survive. As the current baby boom generation ages (most of whom have developed at least basic computer skills) and begins searching for their place on the tree of life, they will be looking online for resources to help them do so. Gen societies will have to respond or die. It's that simple.

    As more and more cities/churches/cemeteries/gen societies look to cut costs and archive records, they too will look to online storage of data as an option.

    And yes, they do have the kind of data that could pull in enough traffic to exceed the most basic and affordable hosting packages. Which was my point... that it could end up costing them more than they figured on to add databases to their web sites. Maybe they wouldn't draw enough hits to swamp all of their ISP's servers as was mentioned in Myrtle's blog, but it could result in them having to upgrade their bandwidth beyond what they'd budgeted for.

    Podcasting is a bandwidth hog. No doubt about it. However, if you keep it very simple (using online tools), do it occasionally (once a month rather than weekly), and only leave each podcast up for a limited time, it can be feasible for even a small time genealogy group to do.

    Ads and product links most likely won't carry the costs of hosting by themselves, but they they can reduce the portion the society or individual has to pay out of pocket. I don't know about you but I'd be happy if my hosting bill went down by 1/3 or 1/2!

    And David, come back and rant any time. I welcome your very thoughtful comments!

  3. I'm one of those people who actually pay for both my blog and my genealogy/history web sites. The total right now comes to over $200 a year. I include links to and as an affiliate and the income generated covers about half of the cost.

    The information I include at both of those locations are information generally you cannot find elsewhere. On my blog when I post about a New Hampshire family, I include at least a partial genealogy which I have researched on my own. On my web site I have researched not only family genealogies, but also taken photographs of and included tombstone transcriptions of previously unrecorded cemeteries. (And so my sites are not just links to links, they actually provide important new content, that you won't find on Ancestry).

    As for historical societies, if they are able to find someone who is willing to create their site, Rootsweb does provide free space, but probably not for a site with podcasting or using a lot of bandwidth. They do allow databases, however they are no long proprietary once posted there.

    Thank you for your article, it really gives you much to think about.


  4. Jasia, of course every place has information that is valuable to someone. My question "...would such places really have the kind of data that droves of people are looking for?" had to do with my prior statements about the stubbornness, lack of interest or, in my mind, mismanagement of societies. If you don't think the Internet is a useful tool, you're the wrong person to be in charge or have an influential voice in the society's operation.

    Maybe my research has been in the wrong places, because I don't really come across societies with huge and/or popular databases. These groups can barely handle getting a few pages up on RootsWeb.

    I do know of a Catholic cemetery site that has to cost an arm and a leg, but I'm under the impression they tolerate it so they don't have to answer queries by phone, mail and email.

    Anyway, I'm afraid that these societies will have to die, or at least some of the members will have to, before change takes place. That's not an especially cheery statement to make, but I don't see the old guard at some of these places making radical changes at this stage of their life.

  5. I have a website with information on about 16,000 people, mostly connected to one geographical area. Over the years I have had it hosted on various free (advertising supported) websites. I think this is a good solution for small societies or individuals. I get a few hundred visitors per month. If I had tens of thousands of hits per month, I would quickly run out of the allowed bandwith. Sometimes small size is not a bad thing, because free webhosts such as Lycos, Clawz, and Google may be all you need in that case.

  6. Good point Bill. Sometimes it is good to be small!