This is the third in a four part series examining the use of blogs to open communications between consumers and genealogy companies. In part one we introduced the Cluetrain Manifesto. In part two we presented some of the Manifesto's theses. Today we examine the official blogs of Ancestry and FamilySearch. In the fourth and final installment, we'll talk about employee bloggers.
100,000 of My Closest Friends
Have you heard the Steve Martin bit where he personally thanks each and every audience member for coming to his show? He launches into a long, long series of staccato "thay'que, thay'que, thay'que, thay'que, thay'que, thay'que, thay'que—gasp for breath—thay'que, thay'que, thay'que, ..." Similarly, a friend at Ancestry.com told me
I remember well my first project which "rolled live" to Ancestry.com. One moment the page wasn't there and in the blink of an eye the next person saw it. And the next. And the next. In just moments thousands of people had viewed the page and several acted on the offer.
It was amazing! I can't even tell you what it felt like.
The magnitude of traffic on a major website like Ancestry.com is truly mind-boggling. Imagine inviting 100,000 of your closest friends to a party. Each party goer attends with the implicit belief that he or she will receive some personal attention from the host. I can imagine decision makers at high-traffic website companies have the same intrepidation around setting such an expectation among website users.
TGN Dips a Toe
The first group from The Generations Network (TGN) into the blogging waters was Ancestry Publishing. Their 24/7 Family History Circle blog debuted way back on the last day of March 2006. It's a great genealogical newsletter regularly carrying articles from some of today's top genealogical writers (except for the Insider. What's up with that?). But for those of us wanting a two-way, natural conversation, March went out like a lamb that year. You can find 24/7 Family History Circle at http://blogs.ancestry.com/circle.
The RootsWeb Newsroom tested the waters next. They came online in September of 2006. They pushed the boundary of natural-voiced conversation a little further than the publishing group. Visit the RootsWeb Newsroom at http://bigfile.rootsweb.com/newsroom.
The MyFamily.com Blog links to a
flickr pool. Click on this photo to
see notes about some MyFamily.com
Next in the waters was the MyFamily.com 2.0 group in November of 2006. TGN CEO, Tim Sullivan (at the far left in the photo to the left) established an independent team in Bellevue, Washington to produce the 2.0 version of MyFamily.com. Perhaps their distance from corporate headquarters has also produced some distance from typical corporate culture. Their blog is just what you'd hope for in a corporate blog, with Sean Malone speaking in a natural, human voice and responding to comments as often as reasonable. The MyFamily.com 2.0 Blog can be found at http://blog.myfamily.com.
As 2007 wore on, a couple of other managers at TGN created blogs for their groups. Kelvin Hulet of Ancestry Press, the self-publishing group, created the Ancestry Press Beta Blog in April of 2007 at http://ancestrypresscom.wordpress.com/.
Kathie Knoll, formerly of Relative Genetics, established the DNA Ancestry Beta blog on 5 September 2007 at http://ancestry.typepad.com/dna. The blog and her entry, now gone, began
5 Sep 2007 by Kathie Knoll
DNA Ancestry has indeed emerged. On August 28, our beta site was rolled out to the public. We are excited to be a part of the genetic genealogy world. Ancestry.com is recognized as the industry leader in providing services to family ...
The blog promptly disappeared and surfaced again two days later at http://dnaancestry.typepad.com. An edited version of Knoll's original message appeared over the signature of Brett Folkman, VP of DNA Ancestry.
Last week on 25 September 2007 the official public communications group at Ancestry established the official Ancestry.com blog at http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry. Within days the content of the Ancestry Press Beta blog and the DNA Ancestry Beta blog were transferred to the Ancestry.com blog and placed into categories. On the 28th of September, a Family Tree Maker blog was added, although it too is implemented as a category.
Unfortunately, the blog's current design doesn't display the category of each post so one can not easily tell the category of messages in the default view. For example, on the 4th of October the posting on the home page of the Ancestry.com blog began, "Greetings from the Development Team!" It was not until several sentences into the post that one could figure out which development team was greeting us. No doubt as Ancestry gets more experience with blogging technology they will work these kinks out.
The first official blog from FamilySearch seems to have been the FamilySearch Labs blog which launched in October 2006, originally at www.familysearchlabs.org/blog. This blog has a great, human voice as the team photograph to the right suggests. This blog can be accessed at http://labs.familysearch.org/blog.
In January of 2007 the parent company of FamilySearch, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church), established the LDS Church Technology Blog. I include it in this list of FamilySearch blogs because it includes a FamilySearch Forum. This blog and forum have, frankly, been a disappointment. If anyone from FamilySearch hangs out here, they're lurkers only. Moderators are, themselves, outsiders.
This is a bit disappointing, considering the existence and open atmosphere of the blog of Church CIO, Joel Dehlin. I'm guessing Dehlin reports through the Church's Aaronic Priesthood and has little influence over the blogging policies of the FamilySearch department, which I'm guessing reports through the Church's Melchizedek Priesthood.
These are the only official FamilySearch blogs I'm aware of, although FamilySearch employees are known to lurk on various public Yahoo groups, sometimes posting with or without identifying themselves as such.
FamilySearch is experimenting with a private Yahoo group. The LDSFHCTech Group is "dedicated to facilitating the communication between Family History Center technical staff and FamilySearch Support." Click here for instructions on applying for membership in this private group. Only 3 messages were posted to the group in each of May and June of this year. July saw 10; August, none. At that point I had little hope for the experiment. Then September exploded into a flurry of 37 messages. Conversations are a bit wooden, but you must understand this is a highly technical group. For some technicians, I imagine the conversations are down right exhilarating.
Last month FamilySearch also began beta testing use of a wiki to answer genealogy research questions. The wiki, which can be found at http://www.familysearchwiki.org/, advertises the ability to contribute content and participate in discussion groups so is rightly included in this list.
Both TGN and FamilySearch have come a long way in the past twelve months. Yet both are still fighting the deep-seated fear corporations have about turning their decision makers lose to freely and publicly converse with their markets.
Still, a few short weeks ago when I began this series of articles, I would not have predicted that Ancestry would have moved so quickly in opening these important communication channels. This is an extremely positive move. Let's hope those in the corporate office can overcome corporate fear and follow the lead of their Bellevue counterparts.
FamilySearch communication policy is tethered not only by a large bureaucracy of paid employees who have brought the fears of corporate America with them, but also the unique religious objectives for FamilySearch's products. While it is obvious that an Ancestry.com should seek out and learn the desires of its consumers, a Church and religion's prime motivation might be to seek out and learn the desires of their God.
It may well be that FamilySearch faces bigger challenges than TGN as the two struggle to find the proper role of open, personal and natural conversation with their users in the bold new world of the Internet.