Posts Tagged ‘Genealogy Websites’

Genealogical Typosquatting — Two Annoying Examples

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

One of the things our recent AdWords experiment has helped us understand is that in trying to advertise a genealogy website, good keywords are hard to find. Or rather, search terms that are both popular and relevant for a website like Genlighten tend to be few and far between.

I’ve also been amused to discover how the curious phenomenon of typosquatting plays out in the online genealogy marketplace. Let me focus on two familiar examples: New.FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.

New FamilySearch

Genealogy enthusiasts attempting to visit the LDS Church’s eventual replacement for FamilySearch.org might be excused for mistakenly typing the URL into their browser as NewFamilySearch.org. But this turns out to point to a site that has nothing whatsoever to do with New FamilySearch:

Typosquatting example: fake NFS page

Instead, the site is a bland collection of generic stock images and carefully-chosen keyword links, each of which points to a page filled with Google Adsense Ads. If the unwitting genealogist looking for NewFamilySearch clicks on the link “LDS Genealogy Search”, for example, they’ll see this page:

Adsense click harvest page

which is populated prominently with various paid ads from genealogy websites: some highly reputable and others less so. If the confused visitor clicks on one of these ads, the owner of the typosquatting site immediately earns a few pennies (or perhaps more) from Google.

You might say to yourself “This can’t possibly work — no one would ever fall for this. There’s no FamilySearch logo, no nothing.” And you’d be right. Yet sites like this make money precisely because otherwise intelligent people fall for this scheme hundreds of times per day.

In fact,in a March 14th article about New FamilySearch in the Deseret News, the author originally posted a link to this typosquatting site and included an image similar to the one above with the smiling co-ed. This in a newspaper owned by the LDS Church, the developer of New FamilySearch! Shortly after I pointed this out in an email to the paper, the mistake was corrected and the correct link and screenshot substituted for that of the typosquatter. But that’s how well the typosquatting strategy apparently works.

Ancestry.com

Here’s a second example. Suppose you’d heard of Ancestry.com from their ads and wanted to find their site but weren’t sure how to spell “Ancestry”. If you added a single extra “e” in the last syllable and typed  “www.ancestery.com” into your browser, this is what would come up:

Ancestery.com

Here at least the owners of the site went to the effort to use some halfway-relevant graphics. But good luck finding the 1930 census here! Once again, the site is simply a list of links reflecting the most popular Google search terms relating to genealogy. Clicking on any of them leads to a page full of Adsense ads. If you happened to find an ad from Ancestry.com there, and clicked on that, you’d finally be brought to the real Ancestry site. But only after Google and the site owner made about $0.50-$1.00 from The Generations Network, owner of Ancestry.com.

So How Does This Impact Me?

Well of course, you and I would never make these errors, right? Well… maybe you wouldn’t, but here’s the thing. Sites like Ancestry and Footnote have to assume that many of their potential customers will make these kinds of mistakes. That increases the amount of money they have to spend bidding on keywords, paying for ad placements, acquiring mis-spelled domain names, etc.. Ultimately, that increases the price we end up paying for our Ancestry and Footnote subscriptions!

What about the impact on Genlighten? Though we’re still analyzing the result of our AdWords tests, it looks as if typosquatting sites make life more difficult for us in at least two ways:

  1. They compete in the bidding process for popular keywords that might be relevant for those searching for the offline genealogical documents Genlighten’s providers offer.
  2. Because they essentially hijack their visitors’ search queries while delivering little or no value to genealogy enthusiasts, these sites may end up reducing the “quality score” Google associates with genealogy-related search terms. This in turn can potentially diminish the perceived utility of those searches, making it tougher for sites like Genlighten to be found on the web by potential new users.

But all is not lost… it just means we’ll need to be a little more creative and work a little harder to get our message out. That’s a challenge we’re eager to take on.

Low-Cost, On-Demand Film Digitization and Online Delivery

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I was excited to read the title for Matt Garners’s talk in the schedule for the BYU Family History Technology Workshop.  He’s from FindMyPast.com.  His presentation focused on an inexpensive automated scanning system that would allow an individual to sponsor the digitization of an entire role of microfilm that they wanted to be able to search online.  Here’s his abstract:

Hundreds of millions of pages of microfilmed historical documents are not being digitized at this time due to insufficient individual demand to garner appropriate commercial attention and investment. This paper demonstrates that the cost of digitisation and online delivery can be lowered dramatically using a novel application of recent technological advancements in imaging, data processing and storage.  A business model is presented such that an on-demand service can be provided whereby an individual end user can afford to personally sponsor the digitisation and online delivery of an entire reel of film.

Understandably, I perceived this idea through the lens of our own startup. In effect, what we do is allow individuals to obtain low-cost, on-demand digitization and online delivery of individual documents — even if those documents haven’t yet been microfilmed. I’m grateful to Matt for giving me a new perspective on Genlighten’s value proposition. And for his work to develop an extremely cool scanner… in his garage!

GeneaTwits — A Twitter app for genealogists

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Twitter logo

Randy Seaver posed the question yesterday on his blog:  Are any other genea-bloggers Twittering? One non-scientific indicator might be the number of new signups on the Twitter Family History Group, which has roughly doubled in size (from 20 to 40) since Randy’s post.  Or the number of tweets per day containing the word “genealogy”, which is about 28, according to Twitter Venn.  So it appears that the number of genealogists on Twitter is small but growing.

As Elizabeth O’Neal points out, that was true for Facebook as well “in the olden days” — i.e., early last year.  Could Twitter eventually grow to become a useful service for genealogists… the next trendy genealogy hangout spot on the web?  If so, then I have an idea to toss out to any similarly-inclined wannabe genealogy web entrepreneurs.

Suppose that all the genealogy enthusiasts out there in the Twitterverse — I’ll call them “genea-twits”, for lack of a better name — were to include the surnames they’re researching in their genealogy-related tweets, and use a special hashtag in front of them, say the ^ (caret) character.  For example, if I happened to make a noteworthy discovery on my Fillebrown line, I would put ^Fillebrown in my tweet celebrating that find.

Then, suppose someone were to build a web application which aggregated just the tweets in the Twitter-stream with those ^Surname hashtags.  The site could create a ranking of surnames and their popularity, offer a list of recommended genea-twits to follow, perhaps even allow for a simple form of social networking based around specific surnames, localities, or research techniques.  The result would be a site that aggregated real-time research efforts of genealogists across the globe, and connected them with all the immediacy and spontaneity of a 140-character Twitter post.

Imagine if you were at your nearby family history center cranking away on a microfilm reader, and you were struggling to parse a name on a microfilm image.  You could snap a picture using your iPhone and post a tweet with the image and the ^-tag for the related surname.  Fellow genea-twits could then look at your image and — in quasi-real-time — offer their insights and suggestions.

Or what if you were pounding away at census records on Ancestry at two in the morning, and had an idea about a connection you hadn’t considered before.  You could dash off a genea-tweet with your hypothesis, and let your “followers” who happened to also do genealogy at odd hours take a crack at it.

The model for this service would be StockTwits.com, a site that aggregates stock-related tweets using the $-hashtag (e.g., $AAPL, $GOOG, etc.)

Here at Genlighten, we’re too busy getting our own website up and running to devote serious time to building GeneaTwits.com.  But if someone else would like to tackle it, I’d be happy to offer advice and encouragement.  Heck, I’ll even spring for the domain name!

Will new Pro Accounts help Geni become profitable?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Geni logo

It doesn’t appear to be mentioned on the Geni blog yet, but I received a Twitter update this morning from Geni announcing the introduction of “Geni Pro Accounts”.  For $4.95 per month, Geni Pro users can get a higher level of functionality and support options from the site than is available to non-paying users.  At their forum, you can read the following:

“Today we released the initial Geni Pro Account offering which includes these features:

  • Forest GEDCOM Exports – Export your family tree and all connected trees into a single GEDCOM file (up to 100,000 total individual and family records) with one click.
  • Priority Support – Geni Pro users receive faster response from a dedicated Priority Support queue.
  • Geni Pro Badge – Identify yourself as a Geni Pro to family members and genealogists.

You can sign up for a Pro Account for $4.95 a month. There are a number of features which we plan to add to Pro Accounts in the following months. As a subscriber, you will receive instant access to additional Pro Accounts features as soon as we add them.”

I’m excited about this for several reasons:

  • This move signals Geni’s transition to a “Freemium” business model, which may allow them to sustain their service for the long-term (if enough users sign up).  37Signals, a highly-respected software development firm, is perhaps the most frequently-cited successful practioner of this model.
  • To justify the “Pro” label, Geni is likely to roll out features such as support for source documentation, which would make the site much more attractive to me as “the place” for my genealogical data.
  • The Geni customers who sign up for Pro Accounts stand a good chance of being interested in obtaining genealogical source documents, which would make them potential Genlighten customers (yay!)

Of course the big questions here are:

  • What proportion of the users who’ve been attracted to Geni by its zero-cost offering will be willing to pay for the ‘Pro’ features?”
  • Will that fraction be large enough and loyal enough to help make Geni profitable over the long term?

I certainly hope that this new strategy proves successful for Geni.

What features would Geni need to add to get you to pay them $4.95/month?  Please let me know in the comments.  I’m currently preparing a presentation for the South Davis Family History Fair (to be held next March in Bountiful, Utah) in which I’ll compare the various web-based family tree sites like Geni, so your input would be greatly appreciated.