Our development team added a new browse feature this week to our genealogy social network FamilyLink.com that lets members browse by country and by city to see the other genealogists around the world. I quickly counted up members in 34 countries. We have 43 in Australia and 40 in the U.K.
(Speaking of the UK, I’ll be at the humongous family history conference in London for the next three days–so if you want to meet with me there, drop me a line at paul “AT” worldvitalrecords.com. Right now, I’m waiting in NYC for my flight to London, enjoying my new Macbook and a free airport hotspot.)
We have more than 2,100 members about two weeks into our beta. That’s about the right number. We aren’t ready for a huge surge of users just yet. We had some photo upload problems last week, and other bugs that we’ve been fixing. So the user experience is getting much better, but it still has a ways to go.
In the next couple weeks we plan to launch some very significant features. One blogger did a nice review of FamilyLink but said it was a “little too much work for the common genealogist” [my paraphrase from memory] to share their content through our site. I think this blogger will be pleasantly surprised with our upcoming features.
The CEO of Geni said in January in an nPost.com interview that his top three objectives were 1) virality 2) stickness and 3) monetization.
Since our monetization occurs with our sister site WorldVitalRecords.com (whose content library is going to be expanding dramatically very soon), we can focus on our top priorities for FamilyLink without regard to revenue: 1) recruiting the right audience — experienced genealogists 2) connecting them around places where they live and where their ancestors lived and 3) enabling GEDOM upload so that when one genealogist asks another genealogist for help (like a local record lookup), that they will both be looking at clues in the members family tree before time is spent on the task.
Once we have the features working right, then we will turn on our viral marketing / invitation engine, and also start promoting the service broadly to genealogists around the world.
We have a lot of objectives after that, but I can’t give everything away just yet.
I described some of our plans in a familyrootsradio.com interview with my long-time friend and genealogy genius Kory Meyerink. I get uncomfortable in live interviews, but Kory is pretty easy to talk to. I wasn’t nearly as nervous as when being interviewed by Diane Sawyer a few years ago in the Good Morning America studio. She was incredible, but that experience was a bit too much. I prefer to leave the live media interviews to others and focus on blogging. I’m never nervous when blogging. (Although sometimes after clicking the “publish” button, I think, “should I really have said that?”)
Kory asked me why take on Ancestry.com, with its near hegemony in the genealogy industry. Some of the motivations for me included the lack of innovation that occurs when a single company has such huge market share and the price increases that were really disturbing. There are truly a lot of reasons to want to get back into this wonderful industry.
The funny thing is that in the last few months Tim Sullivan, the CEO of The Generations Network, has begun to address virtually every issue that caused me to get back into the genealogy industry last year. I think he is doing a fantastic job. (But it’s too late. Our team is back and we’re here to stay.)
Five years ago I left MyFamily.com (now TGN) in part because the MyFamily.com sites were no longer free (hugely limiting its potential growth), Ancestry’s prices were going up too much, and there was very little thought of international expansion.
Now, Ancestry is launching lots of international sites, prices are coming down, MyFamily 2.0 is going to be free, and the customer service philosophies have changed dramatically. Cancelling a subscription used to be as hard as cancelling an AOL subscription, i.e. nearly impossible. Now it’s easy, from what I hear.
So it’s a bit ironic that my team is back in the game at the very time that TGN is starting to make all the decisions I think we wanted to see them make. Weird, huh?
So what do we do? Give up and go home?
Not a chance.
I can honestly say I’m very pleased to see the changes TGN is making (except for the name change–that doesn’t make sense to me.)
But what we will do is everything we possibly can to provide unique value to our customers (more and more databases for our WorldVitalRecords users) and to attract literally millions of genealogists and their families to join our social network, and to push others in the industry to continue to innovate.
We are in this thing to make a difference. And our team, small though it is, was instrumental in changing the rules in the genealogy industry 10 years ago. We hastened the migration from CD ROM to the web, and from solo genealogy to collaborative genealogy. And we think we can make a difference once again, with real-time social genealogy.
Think of the user experience that will be possible with FamilyLink in the coming weeks:
1) Join FamilyLink for free
2) Upload Your Gedcom file, and select from a list of cities/places where you are planing to do more research
3) Instantly connect with real genealogists who live in the very cities where you need help; give them permission to view your family tree so they can offer help and suggestions–including local record lookups if that is what you need.
Need someone who lives in a small town in German and speaks both German and English? You’ll be just one click away. If they’re online, you’ll be able to IM them or Skype them. If they are offline, just send them a message.
We love this vision, and it is just the tip of the iceberg of what will be possible as FamilyLink continues to develop.