Monday, September 08, 2008

Ancestry.com World Archives Project Keying Tool Beta

I was invited to participate in Ancestry's beta testing of their new World Archives Project's keying tool. I have used it several times over the past few weeks and feel I can finally comment on it a little.

In this post, I am going to give you a little background on the project. I am then going to rant about a fundamental problem with the project...one that can be easily fixed if they choose. I will write another post, probably tomorrow, about the actual keying tool and the records we are keying.

According to the Generations Network:

"We have created the World Archives Project so individuals everywhere can collaborate in an effort to preserve more of the world’s historical records. This initiative will give genealogists the opportunity to network and share resources with one another, key records that are important to them and that might not otherwise be indexed – and create indexes that will be open and free to others pursuing family research."

From what I can tell, this is an ingenious move for Ancestry. Unless I am missing the point, I see this as a great way for them to increase business through what is more-or-less know as a loose form of keyword spamming. For those not familiar with this practice, let me explain.

Ancestry encourages people to subscribe to their paid record services by allowing their indexes to be searched for free. The more entries there are in the index, the more likely names that you are interested in will come up during a search. If that name comes up enough times, you might be willing to subscribe to look at the actual records and not just the free index. An index is great but the record is what you really need...but don't forget that you have to pay for that.

Keep following my logic...

The more names in the free index, the more likely a given person will find something of enough interest to get them to pay for a subscription. It is therefore in Ancestry's best interest to have as many names in their index as possible.

In their normal business model, Ancestry would pay people to transcribe records into indexes. Now they are turning it into a volunteer project, getting the same job done for free! You have to respect the people who came up with that idea...give them a bonus!

What does the volunteer get out of it? Nothing other than the satisfaction I suppose of "helping" the greater cause. (The program keeps track of how many records you have submitted to further swell your ego!) But what is the greater cause???

Read the quote from Ancestry again, the part where you will help to "create indexes that will be open and free to others pursuing family research." Do you see the ingenious part yet???? The money-making part??? You are helping to create more index entries for Ancestry.com that are searchable for free but you have to subscribe to see the actual record. The INDEX is free, not the RECORD.

From a business standpoint, this is complete gold. They are getting free labor to stuff their indexes with more names that will drive more people to their paid records! I wish I had hundreds of volunteers that would add great content to this blog so that I could increase the number of visitors I get and therefore the amount of money I get from the few ads that I run.

Free labor under the guise of volunteerism...I love it!

Now do not get me wrong, I love Ancestry! I have been a member for years and the world is a better place with them in it. On the whole, I think the indexing project is great...I have entered a few hundred names myself. I think the creation of indexes is commendable and are a major help to genealogists. I love the idea of what they are doing. I am honestly jealous that I did not think of it myself.

The only problem that I have with the project is that it is truly a source of free labor for them. They should reward those who submit a certain number of entries with free subscriptions or something like enter 5,000 and get a month for free...something like that.

In the Internet marketplace, content is the key to success and YOU are providing the content...for nothing. Yes, they are scanning and hosting the actual images but that is worthless on the net. Search engines cannot read scans of old handwriting. They need typed indexes of the document content for the scans to be worth a penny. I could put photos of tombstones on my blog all day but they are useless if I do not TYPE the name and dates under the photo. You would never find this...


...if I did not type in here that this is the tombstone of Evan and Sarah J. Snead in Hollywood Cemetery of Richmond, Virginia.

I know that I am giving Ancestry a bit of a hard time here but I want them to know that we know what they are up to. I would love to see the project be successful but they should kick back some benefit to those who do the work. Incentivize the project instead of calling it "volunteer." I wish someone would "volunteer" to make me more money while requiring none in return!

Feel free to volunteer on the project...I will continue to do so myself...just encourage them to barter a better bargain in the future for their volunteers.

1 comment:

Roland19d said...

I would seem that Ancestry is taking a page out of the Footnote.com playbook. Footnote has, I think, one of the slickest interfaces for accomplishing what you are describing: transcription of scanned images (in their case National Archives Records) from a "volunteer" corps. Ancestry will need to work to top the style and ease of use of Footnote for this service. You are right, though. Content IS king and in that department, ancestry wins with their vast resources and broad collection of genealogical topics.