Sunday, May 25, 2008

rootsweb and ancestry sponsorship

Virginia Family Tree - a genealogy resource: What's up with Rootsweb and Ancestry?

A few months ago, Ancestry sprung a surprise on the volunteers at Rootsweb and the USGenWeb Project. Ancestry was going to put a banner at the top of every page hosted on Rootsweb, an advertisement for their company. A large number of Rootsweb volunteers went crazy, furious that Ancestry had the audacity to turn their genealogy project into a profit center. The USGenWeb Project always stated its mission as being “non-commercial and fully committed to free genealogy access for everyone.” These principles seemed to clash...or did they?

I currently volunteer for two counties in Virginia. I have honestly neglected the sites for awhile because I am tired of all the controversy that has been brewing. Volunteers are moving their sites off Ancestry's servers so a lot of the old links do not work anymore. How does that help freely spread genealogy when you cannot find it? This is a huge mess and I am honestly getting tired of being a part of it. I think I am going to probably give up my two sites but I have not decided yet.

Through all of this I have not moved my sites nor would I in the future, if I keep them. The Ancestry banner is quite small, very similar to the Blogger banner you see at the very top of this page. Google owns Blogger. Blogger gives free web space for people to host their blog. It is therefore their right to get at least a small ad out of it. The ads are unobtrusive and most people do not pay any attention to them. I do not see what all the fuss is about.

I am getting a little off track but the point is that the USGenWeb project is at risk of falling apart, simply over a one-half inch banner at the top of every page. The banner says “Hosted at Community.” It does not sell products or blatantly push a subscription service. It is a token gesture to give Ancestry more exposure in a tough market. If you look at Google trends, genealogy searches are falling off more each year. You cannot fault Ancestry for trying to expand their market reach in these trying times.

I would estimate that Ancestry spends tens of thousands of dollars per year to pay for all of the server space and bandwidth that Rootsweb has enjoyed for years. Instead of understanding that someone has to pay for all that space, people get all upset and scream that genealogy should be free for everyone. The last time I checked, it still was free. Ancestry is not directly selling anything with the banner and no subscription is required. I doubt they even get a large amount of traffic off the banners. People will become blind to them in a short mount of time. I wish some of the volunteers at the USGenWeb Project would stop looking a gift horse in the mouth and be happy that they have the support of a large, financial backer."


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