Friday, August 17, 2007

Records Access Genesis

The Ancestry Insider is a slave driver. He wants his latest BYU Conference report published today. He wants all the news from the FGS conference announced. He wants the other hot news out. He wants his recorded commentaries on various topics transcribed and released. That's all easy for him to say, lounging around in Ft. Wayne.

Records Access Genesis

As we previously reported, FamilySearch began distributing a Request For Information (RFI) at FGS on Wednesday. Always trying to look superior to others, the Insider wanted us to make certain we mentioned that their RFI is actually an RFP, a Request For Proposals. (He's a perfectionist. But he's a shallow, superficial perfectionist.) Called the Records Access Genesis Project ("RAG," as the Insider is calling it), FamilySearch wishes to accelerate online record access through cooperative agreements with record owners and Internet publishers.

FamilySearch is proposing a business model for Internet publishers that has purportedly already evaluated and rejected. The model proposes that FamilySearch provide digitized images to publishers, who would index the records and give FamilySearch their own copy of the index. Both would then publish the index on the Internet. Users on the FamilySearch website would be divided into two groups.

Two Groups

The first group consists of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its members, its employees, patrons at its Salt Lake Family History Library, its branch Family History Centers, Genealogical Society of Utah employees and volunteers, users at BYU and other Church owned schools, and probably other users inside the Church's firewall, such as its Deseret Industries goodwill stores. This group gets free access to the images as well as the index.

The second group, everyone else, gets free access to the index, but if they wish to see the original images, links on the FamilySearch website lead to the partnering Internet publisher's website. The partner can then monetize access to the images.

Internet Publishers

For Internet publishers, the problem with the model is the cost of indexing. As FamilySearch itself is finding, creating digital images is cheap, creating indexes is very expensive. A secondary issue is the amount of data FamilySearch likes to transcribe. Past and current FamilySearch indexing projects have transcribed most useful data from records, making access to images less necessary. On the other hand, Internet publisher often minimizes indexing expenses by transcribing only enough data to allow easy finding of records, forcing users to view images to access the remaining genealogically useful data.

Still, FamilySearch feels partnerships provide value to RAG partners over and above commercializing the images. While has only recently started expanding internationally, FamilySearch brings established relationships with record owners worldwide. Partners also enjoy increased exposure through the links from FamilySearch's well-trafficked website. Touted benefits that are not immediately understandable are "preserving or providing access to data" and "leverage an open platform." In the context of David Rencher's presentation, these statements could mean that FamilySearch is even willing to host the indexes and images for a partner while still allowing the partner to control and monetize image access.

While RAG partnerships with large established Internet publishers such as may not make sense, partnerships might make sense for genealogical societies, volunteer-rich/cash-poor organizations, new start-ups, and publishers in markets not yet served by established publishers.

We're out of time and we haven't yet examined the business case for record owners. (We think it makes sense.)

To see the RFP for yourself, click for the cover letter, and click for the proposal (75 pages).

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