Since Geni made its much hyped and, in my opinion, misleading announcement Geni Pro Just Got A Whole Lot Better, I’ve taken a few days to write this post and have gone back and forth about whether such a post belongs here at GeneaBloggers or on my personal genealogy blog.
I’ve had an ongoing relationship with Geni over the past year (see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations) which has included producing a weekly podcast covering genealogy concepts and trends in the industry. That relationship began to feel personal – there seemed to be real engagement between me, the Geni staff and the genealogy community concerning collaboration and getting folks connected in the genealogy community. Based on this relationship, I thought expressing my opinion on Geni’s recent decision to change its data access and business model would be better suited to my personal blog.
If you aren’t yet aware of what those changes are, I invite you to read the original announcement here as well as posts from my genealogy colleagues (Genea-Musings, DearMYRTLE, Little Bytes of Life and WeTree are just a few).
So why the post at GeneaBloggers? Because I am more concerned about what Geni’s move means for the genealogy industry and more importantly for the genealogy community.
Geni – Keep Rubbing That Magic Lamp
Here’s my no-holds barred take on the situation, for what it’s worth. Proceed at your own risk:
- My main concern is that I and many others have discussed the merits of collaborating to the point of encouraging not just uploading data but also interacting with other researchers. And now we have a genealogy vendor who has no qualms in restricting access to data uploaded under its freemium model by a variety of users, from the beginning family historian to the casual genealogist to the family keeper of history to the professional genealogist.
- Geni has set our community back by basically slapping its users in the face, especially those who have contributed data freely, and shaking them down for money. They also seem to be endorsing not just a “pay to play” scheme (which is valid in most cases), but have acted in a stealth manner by making this move seem to be an improvement.
- I’ve also been waiting for a response from Geni – more than the tepid individual response to comments that I’ve seen so far. I get no sense that Geni is retreating on this move. I don’t think they care. I also get no sense that there was any foresight involved here. Is it required to run everything past the genealogy community, especially the bloggers and social media users who have the ability to cheerlead a product or a concept? No. There is no such requirement or duty. Would it be good business sense to do so? You betcha.
- Someone at Geni thinks that they are the smartest one in the room and must be surrounded by a lot of Yes people to try and put this one over on its users. You can polish a turd all you want, even spray paint it gold or take your Bedazzler to it. It’s still a turd. And it still stinks.
- Every business has the right to run its business as it sees fit. And every business has the right to run itself into the ground. It’s a free country and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Geni would have done better to offer a new set of expanded features to its Pro members and as a way to entice other users to become Pro members. There are so many other ways – much better ways – that this could have gone down. But it didn’t.
- Finally, I’m laughing at Geni’s tag line under the logo: “everyone’s related.” Yes, but some people are more related than others (especially if you pony up money because that makes you a genealogy expert). I wonder if there is an underlying tagline that says “everyone’s stupid?”
The Genealogy Community Is Not Stupid
I’ll say it now and keep saying it: the genealogy community is not a bunch of rubes who fell off the turnip truck. We’re smart. Ya think? Look at what we do and specialize in: research. We do our homework. We know how to think. We know how to analyze. We put 2 and 2 together and get 4 most of the time. As I’ve said: “My mother didn’t raise any stupid children. There are however, two ugly ones but they’re still at home.”
The anger comes about in feeling duped. Will I try uploading my data to another site in the future? Probably. Will a Geni-type fiasco happen again? Probably which is sad. But perhaps this post and others will serve as a warning for others who feel they can court a community, use them and then take a sharp turn towards a business model which serves as a detriment to that community.
It All Comes Down To Relationships
As others have mentioned in similar posts about Geni’s latest move, relationships are peculiar things but necessary. Relationships are learning experiences. Relationships bring meaning to our lives. Relationships are one of the ways in which we grow and are enabled to make decisions for ourselves. I just think that my relationship with Geni has served its purpose. I’ve learned and I’m moving on.
Do I regret working with Geni, providing podcast material or uploading my data? Not at all. I am not a man of regrets and I truly believe in the phrase “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I’m willing to take a chance on a new product or concept and explore it. I felt pretty confident that Geni was a good fit for our community to the point of listing it as a possible means of collaborating and sharing data with family and other researchers. I felt that the content I was writing and providing in podcasts and show notes was beneficial to the genealogy community as much as it was to Geni. And let’s be honest, it helped with my own publicity – I’d be stupid not to admit that.
There will be no break down for me. No sobbing into my pillow, beating my head with clenched fists like Annette Benning in American Beauty, yelling “Stupid! stupid! stupid!” I’m better than that. We’re better than that.
So What Now My Love?
Onward and upward. I’ll try not to talk bitterly of my ex – Geni – and I wish them well. But I think that I have a duty to the community to call out business and consumer practices that I feel hurt us more than help us. I realize no one is perfect. No relationship is perfect. But I know we deserve better as a community.
And what do I still believe in? I still believe there is great merit in sharing your story, sharing your family’s stories and sharing your genealogy research data. I also still believe there are people – both individuals, societies and companies – committed to letting you do so without taking advantage of you.
Disclosure: Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.
©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee