Archive for the ‘Genealogy & Social Networking’ Category

Footnote a TechCrunch50 Finalist

Monday, September 8th, 2008

TechCrunch50Footnote Logo

Congratulations to for being selected as a TechCrunch50 Finalist.  TechCrunch is a hugely influential website that spotlights the most promising up-and-coming Internet startups.  Each year they hold a highly-anticipated conference event where company founders pitch their business ideas to venture capitalists and the tech media.  Last year’s best presenting company was, a personal finance startup that has gone on to secure $16.7M in Series A and B investments from Shasta Ventures and Benchmark Capital, among others.

Footnote will be making their TechCrunch50 presentation in San Francisco this Wednesday as part of a session entitled “Vertical Social Networking”.  They’ll go up against social networks for bird watchers, fashionistas, those looking to support social causes, and online gamers.

When I mention my involvement in a genealogy-related startup to potential investors, many are quick to dismiss the field as too “niche” to merit serious (i.e., venture-scale) investment.  To some extent, that reflects their own lack of familiarity with the field, but it also represents a fairly realistic assessment of what’s happened in the genealogy market to this point.  By choosing to showcase Footnote at their yearly “coming-out” party for startups, TechCrunch has signaled their view that Footnote could break out of the relatively narrow genealogy market vertical, garner mainstream customer traction and attract serious new investors.

In my view, this is great news for the genealogy community.  It should embolden entrepreneurs trying to bring innovative new family history products to market.  This in turn will help insure that the field doesn’t continue to be dominated by a few large players.  And of course, here at Genlighten, we hope it translates into accelerating growth in the market for Internet-enabled genealogy services.

Again, congratulations to the Footnote team!

Imaginative Rumor — LDS Church to buy Facebook?

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Update:  the Industry Standard has an even more credible take on this one.

Well, we’ve all heard that social networking is the “next big thing” in genealogical research. But is the LDS Church really planning a hostile takeover of Facebook to “help monetize its genealogy business”? I’m going to go out on a limb and say…. no, not a chance. Here’s the story, according to respected private equity website

“Here’s one you don’t hear every day: The Mormon church is reportedly making a hostile bid for Facebook Inc. Brooklyn blogger Zach Klein says an “employee close to the deal” told him the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints wants the social network to help sanctify, meaning monetize, its large genealogy business.

Idle chatter, hipster hucksterism, blasphemy punishable by an eternity of hell-fire? Who knows (and quite possibly all of the above)? The LDS Church does have money to burn. And Facebook prophet Mark Zuckerberg, with his choir boy demeanor, might make a nice addition to those Tabernacle singers.”

Originating as this rumor does from “Brooklyn blogger Zach Klein”, this one sounds pretty easy to dismiss. Only one problem — updates its article on the topic with a comment from Lyman Kirkland, ostensibly from LDS Church Public Affairs, denying the rumor. So far so good… but Kirkland’s comment spells the name of the Church incorrectly!

OK, so there’s still no way this is gonna happen. But what if it did? How exactly would owning Facebook help the LDS Church monetize its vast genealogy resources? How would that help further the Church’s overall objectives? And if Facebook is really worth some $15B, how is the Church going to afford the purchase? That’s a lot of tithing!

Genealogists Joining Social Networks — Is it a Trend Yet?

Monday, June 30th, 2008

One of my takeaways from the Blogger Summit at the SCGS Jamboree last week was Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak‘s revelation that all of a sudden, more and more genealogy enthusiasts are flocking to Facebook. I had already heard from DearMyrtle about the growth of a nascent genealogy community in Second Life. Two data points obviously don’t make a trend, but it would appear that family historians are approaching a tipping point with regard to online social networking — and are beginning to add it to their arsenal of research techniques. But are they really? And if so, in what kind of numbers?

Smart money is clearly being invested in genealogy-oriented online communities. Geni is perhaps the best-known current example (and my personal favorite), with its emphasis on building your family tree online by collaborating with your living relatives. Not long after it was launched, well-respected venture capital firm Charles River Ventures invested in Geni at a $100M valuation. Paul Allen at FamilyLink (nee World Vital Records) has long evangelized for genealogists to embrace the power of social networking and has seemingly built much of his company’s strategy accordingly. And no less an authority than Dick Eastman has backed up his belief that “social networking sites will be the ‘next big thing’ in online genealogy” by joining the advisory board of FamilyBuilder. But are these observations representative of mainstream genealogy enthusiasts’ behavior, or do they simply reflect the vision of early adopters?

In deciding on the feature set we wanted to incorporate in our upcoming beta release of Genlighten, we surveyed a group of 500 or so existing customers of, a genealogy lookup website focused on Cook County Illinois. Social networking was only mildly important to our 230 or so respondents:

our chigen customer survey results

Of course, this result might simply stem from a poorly-phrased survey question or the placement of social networking last in the list of possible responses.

Other more credible surveys mirror ours, however. In a December 2007 report entitled “Baby Boomers and Silver Surfers: Two Generations Online”, eMarketer found that only 18% of seniors age 50-60 were interested in online social networking. For those 60 and older, the number was even lower: 14%. Since these are the prime demographics for active involvement in genealogy, websites focusing on social networking for genealogists would appear to have an uphill climb to change existing behaviors and preferences. I believe that these companies will need patience, staying power, and a keen ear for customer insights if they are to ultimately be successful.

In the meantime, I have high hopes that sites like Geni, FamilyBuilder and their imitators can make headway introducing the Facebook generation to the joys of Family History. That in itself would be a tremendously praiseworthy accomplishment.

As for our strategy at Genlighten, we’re reluctant to jump on the social networking bandwagon just yet. If and when our customers indicate a strong desire for them, we may consider adding selected social networking features to the site. But for now, we’re focused on becoming a premier source for genealogical documents. If our users want to share the documents they get from us with others, we’ll try to make it easy for them, perhaps with something as simple as an “Export to Footnote” or “Add to your Geni tree” button.

Where do you stand with regard to Genealogy and Online Social Networks? Are you using Facebook, Second Life, Geni or FamilyBuilder in your research efforts? Have you managed to convince someone else to do so? Please leave a comment and let us know.