Thursday, January 27, 2011

Open Thread Thursday – Ancestry and the Genealogy Community

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday (blurb shamelessly lifted from Geneabloggers) is:

This week Ancestry.com announced that it would cease operation of Expert Connect on February 3, 2011. This has caused much discussion on various genealogy blogs and mailing lists about Ancestry.com’s commitment to and role in the genealogy community.

What are your opinions about Ancestry.com’s role in the genealogy community? Does the biggest player in the industry have any duty to this vibrant group of genealogists and family historians? Or is its duty solely to its stockholders and customers since Ancestry went public in late 2009?

It's hard to do genealogy and not have feelings one way or another about Ancestry.com.  They are the major player.  They have been buying out smaller outlets.  They have the pull to arbitrarily change how things are.

They are a business, and businesses exist to make money for someone.  Ancestry's business happens to be in digitizing, indexing and hosting many millions of vital records from all over the world.  Yes, the records are largely public data, but Ancestry has gone through the time and effort of digitizing and indexing the data, checking and correcting errors.  Do I think they deserve to be able to charge for the service they provide?  Certainly.  Do I think they are overpriced?  I do happen to think so, but I come at genealogy as a hobbyist, in my spare time and for my own enjoyment.  Professional genealogists might see it differently.

One thing that does bother me about Ancestry.com lately is their new hobby of buying up other online data repositories.  Once bought, those repositories now require payment to Ancestry.com for access.  And there is less competition, which means less requirement for providing quality goods and services.  I think this harms the genealogy community overall. 

I have used the occasional temporary freebie offers that Ancestry.com has made available to obtain document scans and other records.  I appreciate these offers.  However, my budget dictates that I rely on freely available materials as much as possible, so I tend to use FamilySearch.org or HeritageQuest, which is available to me through my local public library.  It oftentimes gripes me that Ancestry.com costs as much as it does, or at all, but I do understand the effort involved in what they do, and the need for any business to make money.

TL;DR: Ancestry.com does what they do to make money.  If you need it, pay, if not, find freebie alternatives and be satisfied.

(TL;DR is geek shorthand for Too Long; Didn't Read, and is the way techy folks are summarizing long posts these days.)