Friday, September 28, 2007

Don't Miss the Train - Part 2

Click to enlarge on Featurepics
"Too Late," © Josef F. Stuefer

This is the second in a four part series examining the use of blogs to open communications between consumers and companies in genealogy. In part one we introduced the Cluetrain Manifesto. In this installment we will present some of the theses from the Manifesto. In part three we'll examine the official blogs of Ancestry and FamilySearch. In the fourth and final installment, we'll talk about employee bloggers. 

These Theses

Last time we learned about the Cluetrain Manifesto, a set of 95 theses positing that technology allows consumers to form strong, online communities that won't suffer companies to continue marketing in manipulative monotones. Companies must open honest, candid lines of communication between individual consumers and individual employees or perish.

Today we'll learn more about the manifesto by going through some of the theses I believe are still applicable. I've slightly edited some, but given the original manifesto numbers in parentheses.

  • Markets consist of human beings. (2)
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice. (3)
  • Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived. (4)
  • Networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange. (9)
  • As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. (10)
  • People in networked markets have figured out that they get far more honest information and better support from one another than from vendors. (11)

Allow me to comment on #11. Think back to the problem of using personal Ancestry accounts at the Family History Library. Did the first solution come from the vendor or the networked market?

  • There are no secrets. The networked market knows about companies and their products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone. (12)

Sorry to interrupt again so soon. Think back. How have you heard about New Family Search rollouts? Allow me to say just three words: "Internet Biographical Collection." Enough said.

  • Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman. (14)

As an example, compare two messages from Ancestry announcing the removal of the Internet Biographical Collection (IBC): an official message and a personal message. Could the difference be any clearer?

  • Companies that don't realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. (18 and 19)
    Click to enlarge on Featurepics
    Copyright Olesha
  • Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships. (25)
  • There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market. (53)
  • These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other's human voices. (56)
  • Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk to is usually hidden. (61)
  • [Silence] is suicidal. Markets want to talk to companies. We are those markets. We want to talk to you. (60 and 63)
  • We've got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we'd be willing to pay for. Got a minute? (76)
  • You're too busy "doing business" to answer our emails, message board posts and comments on your blog? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we'll come back later. Maybe. (77)

As my editorial policy states, I defend Ancestry. I love Ancestry. But if I could change just one thing at Ancestry, I would abolish their culture of unresponsiveness. See, for example, this chain of 69 user complaints. Users literally pled for a response that never came. Listen to the anguish:

* I would appreciate if you would respond to some of the questions asked above. (AC Lynch)

* Please reply- it is very difficult communicating with you (Judith Hiatt)

* Ancestry, do you see these complaints? Why don’t you address them by answering, either here or on your website. People have legitimate concerns and deserve to have some answers from you. (Gail Ahrens)

* no one will answer my e-mails begging for help. Not even a form letter. (Donna Corley)

* You might as well e-mail to a brick wall when trying to get a response from Ancestry. (Barb Conrad)

Ancestry's silence fanned the flaming emotions. The tirade of angry comments grew longer and louder. It was painful to watch, particularly because Ancestry was improving in the criticized areas. Why not tell them?

* Why, after 45 comments, is there still no rebuttal from the HQ of I think a clear, logical response should be forthcoming in an attempt to justify or find excuses for the many unhappy commentaries!! (SAM K. BOOT)

* I e-mailed you weeks ago... You never responded. (Deborah Daley)

* Does anyone at Ancestry even read these complaints? (Louise Williams)

* please honor those of us who have been loyal with answers to the many complaints... Please treat us as family and answer. (brenda)

* Ancestry, your lack of communication and customer service stinks...It’s wonderful that you keep adding databases, but it won’t be enough to save you when you really get some competition. (Donde)

* Well! Just finished reading all the critiques and I’m floored that there have been no answers posted. Is this spot just for us to let off steam and go away? ...Because of all these comments, I will not be a long-time member, that’s for certain. Are you listening, Probably not. (Dina Bensen)

* Come on Ancestry you have our money - now give us some answers to all the above comments and complaints! (Carlene Eaton)

Which leads to thesis 78

  • You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention. (78)
  • Don't worry, you can still make money. (80)
  • Your product broke. Why? We'd like to ask the guy who made it. Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We'd like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she's not in?  (82)

Want to talk to WorldVitalRecords's CEO? Just visit his blog.

    Click to enlarge on Featurepics
    "Can they come out and play?"
    Copyright fluca
  • We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play? (84)
  • When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you allowed "your people" to talk maybe they'd be among the people we'd turn to. (85)
  • If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with. (89)

OK, so that last set is self-serving for an employee blogger. But that's a topic for later in the series.

Well? What do you think? Believable or rubbish? Would open communications have prevented the IBC debacle? What about Ancestry's practice of public silence? Does it shorten or prolong wildfires? Leave me a comment, question or complaint. I'm listening.


  1. I've found the telephone support (for my US deluxe annual membership) to be better than most companies. However I was somewhat frustrated when I couldn't get much help with the connection-service situation.

    Hope I'm not too far off-topic by discussing that here. Over the preceding year of my membership, I probably received about 30 inquiries, answered each one, and got replies back about half the time.

    Over the last couple of months, I'd gotten three of my replies bounced back saying "wait 3 hours". telephone support couldn't provide any explanation for the bounceback but suggested switching from aol email to yahoo email. I did that and haven't gotten any bouncebacks since.

    However, after 15 replies that I've written through yahoo, I've only received one acknowledgement/reply from the originator (I typically provide info and/or ask further questions).

    Are any others having trouble with connection-service emails currently? Rarely do I receive any feedback to my replies recently (I am not talking about initiating the original message here; just replying to a inquiry).

    Is that no-acknowledgement-from-inquirer situation common with the connection-service or is it possible that my replies are not being delivered and just going into space? (Makes me wonder if I'm just wasting my time replying or if I have the online equivalent of bad breath or something.)

    (btw, the return addresses typically say in the return address. Is this return-address -- referencing myfamily rather than ancestry -- used for all inquiries?)

  2. What's your Ancestry username? We can give it a try and see if replies are working.


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