Recruiting 2.0

Some people say that the most important role of a CEO is “resource allocation”–deciding how to spend company resources. But I remember as Amazon grew and brought in a seasoned COO, Jeff Bezos said he was grateful to be freed up from operations so that he could spend more time recruiting. Perhaps the most important role of a CEO is to bring the right people together to accomplish the company’s mission.

World Vital Records was formed last year with the goal of becoming the #2 company in the genealogy industry. We are making progress towards that goal, as you can see by looking at our World Vital Records Quantcast chart. Our site had record visitors and page views the last few days. And there is no end in site. As we add thousands of new databases to our web site, and as our online marketing programs mature, we believe that in the coming years we will attract millions of users to our web sites.

With a small core team (8 full time and 4 part time and some contractors), we’ve been able to accomplish a lot in the past few months. Not as much as Wikipedia, with their 5 full time employees, mind you. But still very promising results.

And now we are growing.

So how do we go about looking for top talent these days? What methods are useful today in attracting potential employees?

Google has been in the news recently with their non-traditional methods of recruiting, such as holding Google Games at various universities, puzzle hunts, and Campus pizzas, social events that also test the intelligence and creativity of potential employees. They are recruiting at nearly 200 universities. Yahoo holds hack days. There are cool ways for these top internet companies who are hiring so many new employees (Google is hiring 500 per month) to attract a lot of interest.

Maturing local companies like Omniture, Doba, and Logoworks with many jobs to fill have successfully used billboards on I-15 to attract resumes.

But what does a small startup do to attract interest from talented people who could thrive in a startup environment, without spending thousands on a billboard or a recruiter?

One of my friends suggested a SpeedHiring Event, patterned after FundingUniverse’s SpeedPitching Events, where you could have an initial interview with maybe 10 people in one hour–where they would be prepped to sell themselves and their skills in a pitch format, and then you would follow up with the ones that were most impressive. I always find myself avoiding interviews, because I don’t have enough for them. But if they were short, and in rapid succession, I think I would do these all the time. I would even pay to have someone set all this up and run it for me.

World Vital Records is looking to hire two outstanding developers. We need a top PHP coder and a top Adobe Flex coder. Genealogy interest/experience is a plus. We are also hiring a sales manager to set up and manage our call center. We currently have 2 people doing telephone support, but we have no consistent inbound/outbound sales effort going on. We think this is one of the keys to our future growth and profitability.

One easy and low-cost way to get the word out about our hiring is through my blog, our company blog, and our employee blogs. We are also using Craigslist.

And, for the first time, we are using Facebook and LinkedIn to contact dozens of people in Utah County, who are currently employed as developers, and ask them to refer us to the best coder they know in exchange for a $500 referral fee, if their applicant is hired.

We’re doing the same thing for our sales manager. We found nearly 200 Facebook users currently employed in sales, just in Provo, and we are hoping to find, through referrals, a top sales manager that wants a ground floor opportunity at a fast-growing internet company.

I know I came across a web site a year or two ago that offered referral fees for employee referrals and managed the whole process of tracking the applicants, who got hired, and actually paid the commissions. I can’t find that site right now. If you know what I’m talking about, please let me know.

What is the most successful recruiting practice you have ever tried? I’d love to hear from you.

Prediction: Facebook will be the largest social network in the world

I saw history in the making today.

For some reason, I was lucky enough to be in San Francisco for the Facebook f8 Platform launch event. This announcement was at least an 8.0 on the Richter scale. It was a whopper.

In fact, I haven’t come away from an event so excited since September 21, 1995, after attending the Online Developers II conference, also in San Francisco, when it hit me that my CD ROM publishing days were ending, and that I would soon become an internet entrepreneur. In the next five years, our team quickly shifted from publishing to online, launched Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com, and then went on to raise $90 million, acquire Rootsweb (and later Family Tree Maker / Genealogy.com) starting what has since become the largest genealogy company in the world. (Note: I left the company in Feb 2002 and have recently started a competing firm, with two properties: WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com)

For me, that journey all started at Online Developers II.

That story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending for any of the company’s founders or even its early employees or investors. Like Ray Noorda used to say, “Finders Keepers, Founders Weepers.” Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore explains why pioneers (company founders and innovators) don’t often do well in the end, while settlers (who are usually better are operations) do. I’m actually fine with that, and reading that in Moore’s book was one of a dozen things that helped me move on emotionally.

Today felt just like September 1995 to me.

And it makes me wonder what the next 10 years might bring.

I sat on the third row and drank deeply of the kool-aid as Mark Zuckerberg, who turned 23 years old just 11 days ago, presented what may be the best business opportunity for internet entrepreneurs in the past ten years.

A huge new opportunity was presented to the few hundred people in the room, including 65 companies that have spent the last few weeks developing applications for the launch of Facebook Platform.

Facebook is inviting anyone to develop applications for their users on top of what Mark calls their “social graph”–the core of their service which basically keeps track of real people and their real connections to each other.

Facebook has 24 million active users (meaning they’ve used the site in the last 30 days–I like how they aren’t overstating numbers like SecondLife) and 50% of them login each day. Mark says the next most active social network is not more than 15%.

Last fall as I taught Internet Marketing at BYU we learned that a UCLA survey showed that 50% of college age females said Facebook was their #1 most important web site (even more than Google, Wikipedia, or anything else) and that 1/3 of college age males said it was their #1.

Look how many “addicts” Facebook has, according to Quantcast. 63% of visits are from addicts. eBay is only 56%.

Facebook is adding 100,000 new users per day. That’s 3% growth per month. And the fastest growing segment is over age 25. At this rate, they’ll have 50 million users by the end of this year, and 75% of them will be out of college. I read just on paidcontent.org that Facebook is the fastest growing social network in the UK, and today Mark said that 10% of Canada’s population is using it.

With 40 billion pages view per month, Facebook has passed eBay in page views, and is now in 6th place, just behind Google.

So this is no small thing for a 3 year old web site. Facebook is absolutely for real. I like Facebook a lot; while I can’t stand MySpace. Facebook is clean and nicely designed and architected. MySpace in my opinion is messy and mostly full of garbage. Facebook is a real social network for real people. And it is really, really popular.

And it’s growth will be dramatically accelerated by the Platform announcement. If Facebook is adding 100,000 new users per day with its own few simple applications (like its photo sharing, a very simple service that has given Facebook twice as many photos as all other photo sharing sites combined), what will happen when thousands or tens of thousands of developers start building apps in Facebook and marketing them to more users?

Facebook will reach 50 million, then 100 million, then 200 million users, and beyond.

Rather than continue to try to develop features within its own proprietary, closed network, basically keeping all of its users to itself (and kicking out widgets they don’t like, like MySpace does), Facebook intuitively gets the concepts that are so brilliantly discussed in Wikinomics (which are so non-intuitive to old school business types), and has chosen to open up its network for all to participate in. Because they embrace the winning philosophy, they will win.

Application developers can now have access to core Facebook features, such as user profiles and user connections, and even publishing to the News Feed, all with the control and permission of Facebook users. So if a Facebook user chooses your app, it will show up on their profile for all their friends to see, and they can enable that app with a single click, and so your application can spread virally to the 24 million other users.

When Facebook has 100 million users, in the not too distant future, having the ability to develop an App in their system will almost be like being able to get a link on Google’s own home page.

Can you imagine Google ever doing that? No way. They have too much at stake. Their $147 billion market cap couldn’t take it. Google’s philosophy was to not be evil. But I think Facebook’s philosophy is a decade fresher and even more in line with where things need to go than even Google–a company that I admire more than any other.

When Clayton Christenson spoke at the first Open Source Business Conference (again in San Francisco) about three years ago, he spoke about how the LAMP stack has provided a powerful low-cost platform for companies to develop applications on top of. Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP enable companies to develop applications that used to cost millions, but by building on top of all these projects, companies could move “up the stack” and focus on providing unique value that wasn’t in the stack already.

There are more and more free layers being added to the stack all the time, powerful services that can be embedded in your own new applications, like Skype, Maps from Google or Microsoft, storage and utility computing from Amazon, and video layers like YouTube and Google Video.

When anyone develops an application on top of the LAMP stack, like a CRM system for example, they always risk being disrupted by someone who provides that for free on top of the already existing stack.

Any new open source application or creative commons layer can be added to the stack, which might commoditize that application and put some companies out of business, but then that enables everyone else to again add more value on top of the stack.

This process continues, and all the while the consumer benefits greatly, and developers can continue developing innovative and valuable services on top of the ever-growing application stack.

The way I view the Facebook Platform announcement is this: the LAMP stack has just been extended by the huge and growing “social graph” that Facebook is opening up to the world. (It’s not completely open, because you have to develop apps within Facebook, but it’s a start in the right direction.)

Now, instead of application developers having to each build their own web site and try to get people to find it and use it and share it, the viral marketing of any good application site will come right from the Facebook interface itself. As users adopt new apps, they will spread quickly through the network.

Mark made three big announcements. 1) Applications can be deeply integrated with Facebook 2) Distribution of the applications will occur through the network, and 3) The business opportunity Facebook is providing will give 100% of advertising revenue (for third party applications) and 100% of transaction revenue to the application developers.

Now that is the true spirit of Wikinomics.

VPs from Microsoft and Amazon were present to express their support for the Facebook Platform. Microsoft will enable application develop with Silverlight and Popfly, and Amazon discussed how its web services enable Facebook Platform apps.

The CEO of Slide mentioned that the Platform developer wins big, but that applications developers also have a huge business opportunity here.

Microsoft’s market cap is $280 billion. But the top three application developers on Microsoft’s platform have a combined market cap of $40 billion.

I don’t think Facebook’s market cap vs it’s application developers will be nearly that lopsided. In fact, the way they are treating their own applications versus Platform applications makes it a pretty level playing field. Facebook users can deselect apps they don’t want to use–even Facebook’s own apps–and sign up to any other.

The core asset Facebook wants to own, extend, and leverage, is the social graph–who is connected to whom.

It is even possible that some future Facebook app developers could end up with a greater market cap than Facebook–if they permanently maintain the 100% of revenue going to the partner model. For example, a MMORP game built into Facebook might someday have 10 million users paying $10 per month, or $1 billion in revenue, when Facebook might at that point have $500 million in advertising revenue. (Reportedly it will make $150 million this year.)

Okay, not likely, but maybe possible.

The cool thing is that the marketing costs for these application developers will be basically nothing. All viral. All courtesy of Facebook’s users.

One of the self-serving reasons why companies like Google and Amazon create so many APIs and web services is to get a vast community of developers doing R&D for them and prototyping applications to see what works best. Then, they acquire the ones the like best.

Facebook will certainly be in a strong position, once it has a liquid currency, to acquire some of the most interesting application developers using its Platform.

If you haven’t read it recently, read Chapter 7 of Wikinomics, “Platforms for Participation” in the context of today’s announcement.

Here are a couple quotes.

“The winners in this evolution will be companies that can create the most comprehensive incentive frameworks to adequately reward all stakeholders.” (p. 207)

How about letting them keep 100% of their ad and transaction revenue? That’s quite an incentive.

“Winning in a world of cocreation and combinatorial innovation is all about building a loyal base of innovators that make your ecosystem stronger.” (p. 210)

Like I said at the beginning, I felt very lucky to be invited to this event. I got the invitation because we invested in YackPack last year, which is one of the companies that is launching its application within Facebook.

I didn’t see anyone else from Utah there, partly because every internet entrepreneur and marketer in the state was probably attending Seth Godin’s speech in Salt Lake City, which was probably very good.

If you are from Utah and went to the Facebook f8 event, please comment here or email me. I really want to connect. I think we need a Facebook Platform Developer Community here in Utah.

I searched LinkedIn tonight and found 140 Facebook employees, board members, etc, on LinkedIn. I’m 2 degrees away from many of them. But then I searched for “facebook api” to see how many people in my 2 million + network have any experience developing for Facebook and only 1 person came up.

Hopefully there will be some developer forums that emerge quickly so that more people can get guidance on how to proceed.

So here is my final thought. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career to kind of see the big waves and trends coming and to get positioned to take advantage of them. I think I have pretty good instincts, because my brother Curt taught me to read everything (and he buys me new books from Amazon almost every month) and to go to conferences all the time. I already mentioned the transition from CD ROM publisher to Internet Publisher. After reading Net.Gain in 1998, we created Ancestry.com’s user generated content strategy (it became our most popular database) and launched MyFamily.com which was really an early social network for families. At our peak we were adding 20-30,000 new users per day. Unfortunately, our investors stopped supporting that free site because it wasn’t making money. Doh.

After reading an article in Industry Standard in 1998, I decided to attend the first ever affiliate summit held in New York City, where Commission Junction, Be Free, and LinkShare all presented. We chose Be Free, launched our affiliate program, and over the next few years, affiliate marketing was our #1 source of new customers at Ancestry.com.

In the last few years, I blogged before Google’s IPO that it would disrupt Microsoft by offering free software (including Office apps) and said it will one day pass Microsoft in market cap. And, more recently, in my latest example of prescience, I blogged about Lindsay Campbell of Wallstrip after her first day as anchor, and suggested that she might one day rank up there with Soledad O’Brian and Diana Sawyer, and now CBS paid $5 million for Wallstrip, and Lindsay’s career will soar. Way to go, Lindsay!

The only reason I’m reciting these past predictions is to try to lend a little weight to my next prediction: that Facebook will become the #1 social network worldwide (and the first to get 1 billion users–I love Facebook mobile, by the way) and that thousands of entrepreneurs will become extremely successful by developing to this new platform.

I hope that Facebook won’t be acquired. I hope it will go public and become the next major Internet company along with Google, Yahoo, Amazon and eBay. Another hugely profitable company that can potentially acquire lots of other great smaller companies.

I like Mark Zuckerberg a lot. I met him tonight as he was just visiting with lots of the individual companies supporting the launch event, and thanking them for their support. He was very genuine. I can see him in 10 years with the influence of the Google founders and in 20 years with the influence of Bill Gates. He is just getting started. At the recent Startup School, he advised startups to hire coders — even in the marketing department — and he talked about time he spends thinking about philosophies and how at this young age his life is not cluttered with things and family responsibilities.

Can you imagine in a couple years when Facebook has 200 million users worldwide, with half of them logging in every day, and a 25 year old will be CEO of this company? I can’t think of a parallel in world history where someone this young had this much influence. Oh wait. Alexander the Great.

Ok. I’ll stop now. It’s 2:40 am. And my post is going on and on and on, and all over the place.

But I’m serious about this Facebook Platform. Check it out. Mark’s philosophy of openness is an open invitation to co-create something remarkable with him and his 24 million users.

Blogosphere: “MySpace for Genealogists”

Jeff Pytlewski, a genealogist for more than 12 years, has blogged about FamilyLink.com a couple of times. Here is his post from yesterday entitled “MySpace for Genealogists: FamilyLink…The Sequel.

I noticed today that one of the Plog’s readers clicked on a link to go to Paul Allen’s Blog. Considering I did not know this blog existed before I saw the link, my curiosity peaked. Who is Paul Allen you ask? Paul Allen is the co-founder of myfamily.com and one of the guru’s behind FamilyLink and WorldVitalRecords.com. Well after reading his post “FamilyLink Members in 34 Countries,” I am more excited by FamilyLink’s potential as the future MySpace for genealogist. Evaluating a web service that is still in beta is extremely difficult when all that is known is the user’s perspective. This blog however gives great insight of the thought process behind FamilyLink. After reading Allen’s comments, I am more convinced that this will be a great service for all involved. It also looks like that the people at FamilyLink have some new and exciting features up their sleeves that may make it less cumbersome to use. So hang in their, sign up, and socialize with your fellow genealogists. It’s up to us, from the certified genealogists to the weekend researcher, to make use of such a great tool and make it a success.

Thanks, Jeff, for your supportive words. Do you know what it does for a team of developers and internet entrepreneurs when they get support from the community they are trying to serve? It means everything. We all want to be validated and your kind words will inspire us to keep working late nights and early mornings until we provide the ideal service for the “certified researcher” to the “weekend genealogist.”

Our sincere thanks!

World Vital Records Partnerships Announced

Today is a very big day for World Vital Records, a company that was started less than a year ago by a talented group that included several former Ancestry.com employees. This is quite likely the biggest day in our 11-month history.

At the NGS conference in Richmond, Virginia, the following new partnerships were announced:

1) We have teamed with The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation and FamilySearch to make the online searchable index to 25 million passenger arrival records, covering 1892-1924, available on World Vital Records. (See full press release here.)

Wayne Metcalfe, Vice President of Records Services for FamilySearch commented, “We were pleased to provide assistance to the Foundation for the opening of their family history center in 2001 and are equally excited to see the expanded availability of these important records via the Internet. We were equally pleased to work in conjunction with World Vital Records in our new Records Access program. World Vital Records is part of a growing group of new breed online genealogical service providers who are seeking to promote the needs of records custodians and foundations like Ellis Island around the world.”

The opportunity to be a part of FamilySearch’s Records Access program and to partner with the Foundation to provide increased access to their records is a tremendous one, for which we are very grateful. Dick Eastman has called the newly announced Records Access program “perhaps the most important genealogy announcement of the past few years.” (See Dick Eastman blog entry.)

In their press release, FamilySearch talks about a “tidal wave” of online databases. We’re exciting to be involved to a small degree in creating that wave.

2) More than 4,500 Family History Centers throughout the world will now have access to the genealogy databases available at World Vital Records. I don’t know how many researchers visit Family History Centers around the world, but I have been to many of them, and imagine the total number of patrons served is in the hundreds of thousands.

To search for a Family History Center near you, visit FamilySearch’s Find a Family History Center Near You Page.

Visitors to Family History Centers will also have access to FamilyLink.com, a new social network that connects family historians to each other around places and topics.

Here’s an example of how it might work. If a researcher in any Family History Center (let’s say Arizona) has a question about records from a city in Germany that the Arizona Family History Center director and volunteer staff cannot answer, she can instantly connect with English-speaking genealogists who live in that very city in Germany and ask them her question. They might even be willing to do a local record lookup for her.

FamilyLink is growing quickly and will soon have members in thousands of cities around the world. New features are being added weekly. Two features that are currently being tested and will be rolled out soon are GEDCOM uploading and live online chat.

3) Quintin Publications has chosen World Vital Records to make its massive CD ROM collection of genealogical and historical books and databases available online. More than 10,000 individual titles, including significant French Canadian databases, state vital records, town and county histories, family histories, historical maps and gazetteers, modern publications by genealogists (after 1923), and international works will be available in the coming months.

You can visit the Quintin web site to get an idea of the scope of the Quintin CD ROM collection.

The Quintin family has been carrying on the wonderful legacy started by company founder Bob Quintin, who passed away two years ago. Our sincere hope is to help that legacy grow so that millions of genealogists worldwide will benefit from the work of this genealogy pioneer, the man Dick Eastman said was the “first person [he knew] who entered the business of republishing old books on CD-ROM disks.” (See Dick Eastman tribute to Bob Quintin, September 2005.)

Our team is very happy to be serving the genealogy community once again, and we feel that we are really just beginning in our quest to provide affordable access to the world’s genealogy records. But we are not alone in this quest. FamilySearch is leveraging their skills to create the “tidal wave” of online databases. There are many wonderful companies serving the genealogical community, and I think this tidal wave may lift all boats, by dramatically increasing the overall interest in family history, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

Eleven years ago, when a small team in Orem, Utah launched the original Ancestry.com web site, the internet was fairly new. In June 1996 we posted the SSDI database, and soon thereafter, posted the Roots-L Message Board archive. By April 1997 we had some 50 databases online and we started charging for monthly or annual access to the site.

In January 1998 I wrote this draft press release (but I’m not sure if we ever released it):

OREM, UT (January 9, 1998) — Ancestry, Inc. announced today that it has selected Global Center to host its popular genealogy web site. Global Center, located in Sunnyvale, California, hosts sites for internet leaders such as Netscape, Yahoo, and Quote.com.

“We are committed to building the world’s largest virtual genealogy community,” said Paul Allen, Ancestry CEO. “Our recent investments in our web site, and the selection of Global Center as our web host, demonstrate our commitment to provide the best service possible.”

More than 19 million adult Americans are “highly involved” in family history research, according to American Demographics magazine. Recent data from Media Metrix suggests that increasing numbers of genealogy buffs are turning to the internet for information. Ancestry’s site attracted 1% of the total online audience in September, or about 350,000 unique visitors, and averaged more than 15 page views per visit, according to Media Metrix data.

Dan Taggart, Ancestry’s President says the company is now prepared for a projected site usage increase of 400% in the first half of 1998. “We have attracted millions of visitors to our site since our launch in June 1996 by providing searchable databases and research tips to genealogists,” he said. “This month we are relaunching the site and introducing more than a dozen community-oriented features, including chat and forums. Our visitors will now become members of a genealogy community where members can help each other find their ancestors and relatives, and discover their heritage,” he said.

Ancestry boasts 250 searchable databases that contain more than 100 million records of interest to genealogists. Most of these are available only to subscribers who pay $6.95 per month or $59.95 per year for unlimited access to the database library. Visitors may access selected databases, or receive a free trial subscription to the Ancestry Library by registering at www.ancestry.com/freetrial.htm. More than 300 genealogy products, including books, CD-ROMs, and magazines are available at the Ancestry Genealogy Shoppe.

The Ancestry site experienced a three-fold increase in traffic during the week after Christmas. Ancestry’s T1 line and its 15 internal servers at Ancestry were overloaded, according to Graham Hawkins, customer service manager. “The site was completely down for approximately 15 hours at different times during the week. We received and answered more than 2,000 e-mail messages,” he said.

The genealogy industry has been completely transformed in the past ten years. The modest 100 million records has grown into the billions. And billions of additional records will be coming online in the coming years.

I hope more people are doing family history than ever before. I think they will, as records become more accessible and affordable. Another press release I drafted in 1996 said that a Gallup poll found that “eight million Americans spend three hours or more per week doing family history.” Back then, most genealogists were probably doing their research with microfilm, or with records found in archives and courthouses and other repositories–not online.

I loved this comment from one of Dick Eastman’s readers today (speaking of the “tidal wave” announcement by FamilySearch):

I am crying with JOY !!! I have spent 4 to 8 hours a week for the last 8 years reading microfilm at local FHC site. This was not a computerized microfilm reading site and the work was extremely difficult. I spend many days at the NARA site reading census records. And finally I have spend weeks at court houses reading the OLD books and records. I am famliar with digitized records using new technology. This will be a joy to view. I send a prayer of blessings and thanksgiving to FamilySearch and all the volunteers that will work on this project.

Can you imagine if 8 million people spent three hours a week ten years ago doing family history research this way, how many more should be doing family history today when so many records are online?

You would think that the number would be at least double or triple what it was. But I think the hobby got increasingly expensive, which has really limited the growth. Also, there was little competition in the genealogy industry, so search engines and tree tools didn’t really evolve very quickly. A lot of what you find in online genealogy search today is very similar to five or even ten years ago.

But it is all changing now. FamilySearch is supporting non-profit and for-profit efforts to digitize the world’s records. Geni is proving that tree building tools can be interesting to anyone. FamilyLink is creating a new opportunity for family historians to help each other. And more and more companies are being formed to commercialize access to records (Footnote, WorldVitalRecords) to build tools that make family history interesting and rewarding (Geni, Ourstory.com) and to create physical family history to preserve important memories (Heritage Makers, iMemoryBook, and many more).

It’s a great time to be involved in family history.

World Vital Records Press Conference at 11 am EST

We will be holding a press conference in Richmond, Virginia at the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Annual Convention at 11 am today (Wednesday, May 16th).

If you are attending NGS, and would like to hear these announcements, just make your way to the VIP Suite of the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The VIP Suite is on the 2nd floor above the amphitheater and adjacent to the Ballrooms. For more details, check out the World Vital Records blog.

I will be at NGS on Friday and Saturday. If you’d like to meet with me there, please use the Contact Me page.

Free podcast upload sites

We got permission the other day to take an 8 minute audio clip from the internet radio show interview that I did last week and share it with our FamilyLink.com audience. Kory Meyerink of Family Roots Radio and I discussed our new social network for family history. They have an archived version of the interview on their web site.

Update: the 8 minute audio file is now hosted at Switchpod. Click here to listen to it.

Feel free to take a listen.

When you have audio or video assets like this, you want to get maximum distribution for them, without having to incur all the costs associated with high bandwidth.

So I took a minute to look for free podcast hosting services, where you can upload your audio clips and have them hosted somewhere else, both to save you money, and also hopefully to give you more distribution.

Odeo.com had links to Libsyn and Switchpod, and it looked like Switchpod has a great service. It starts free (with unmetered bandwidth) and then they offer hosting solutions (up to 2,000 MB of audio content, again with unmetered bandwidth, for $30 per month).

This looked good to us, so we should be able to email nearly 3,000 FamilyLink users and invite them to listen to this 7 MB audio file, without being charged for the bandwidth.

We should have that ready to go by tonight. (But I’m impatient and wanted to do this blog post before then.)

Update: the 8 minute audio file is now hosted at Switchpod. Click here to listen to it.

My question is this: what else would you do to get significant distribution of this kind of recording? Video seems to have dozens of incredibly high traffic places for uploading to. But audio? I’m not sure.

So we could take this 8 minute clip and create a video out of it that illustrates the concepts that we are discussing in it. Then we could get significant distribution on YouTube.com, Google Video, and many others, and maybe even Roots Television if they accept it.

I’ve seen individual podcasts on iTunes, but I think it is because someone wanted to start a podcast series, and after doing one, they decided to quit.

Here is the page for submitting a podcast to iTunes.

I’m even considering looking into playing this audio clip on radio stations around the country that reach our demographic: which is primarily 50 and above. Any suggestions there? I suppose that is what Google Radio lets you do–and Bid4Spots.com–but I assume they are focused on 15, 30 and 60 second spots.

What would you do? (Maybe we should send this to an NPR editor and see if they will do an interview as well…)

Biggest and best family history show ever

This morning at 3 am I got home from the best family history event I have ever attended.

The Who Do You Think You Are / National History Show ran May 5-7th in London.

The Society of Genealogists decided to combine their annual Family History Show, sponsored by Findmypast.com, with the National History Show, which turned out to be a very good idea.

The organizers hoped for 15,000 attendees during the three days, and I think they just about hit their goal.


Dick Eastman has a blog post
about his first day at the show. He obviously enjoyed the event. I have never felt so much enthusiasm and energy at a family history event. I can’t wait till next year. But next time, I’m sure we’ll have booths for WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com.

The first genealogy conference I attended was the 150th anniversary of NEHGS back in 1995 in Boston. I have been to dozens of large and small events since. I have always enjoyed networking, attending classes, and I usually come away with some magazines and books as well from the vendors that are in attendance.

But I have never seen anything like the London National History Show.

There were live events going all the time in the historic National Hall in Olympia. The runaway hit TV show Who Do You Think You Are had celebrities there, and played clips from their TV show. I especially enjoyed Alex Graham’s (executive producer) discussion about how he stumbled into the family history angle for the show (it was originally going to be about telling history through the eyes of a few families) but when he saw Bill (in the original episode) holding a death certificate of a child in his hands, and saw the deep emotion of this moment, for the first time he realized how powerful it is for people to see family documents for the first time, and what powerful television it makes. Initially, he had argued that genealogy is boring and that there would be no traipsing through cemeteries or looking at old family papers. It all changed when he saw Bill with the birth certificate.

Now they have a formula that works, with potentially 3,000 more celebrities on their wish list for future episodes. The series gets about 6 million viewers per week, has switched from BBC2 to BBC1, and is now being licensed to other countries as well, including Canada, France, Germany, and potentially the US. The clips I saw were very engaging.

Of course it’s a simple formula. Any British show that wants to be a smash hit and be exported worldwide just needs to start with the word “Who” and be in the form of a question.

Who’s Line is it Anyway? Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? And now, Who Do You Think You Are? Brilliant. (And I’m saying “brilliant” in my best British accent.)

Speaking of British accents….I tried to call the National Archives to speak to a person there and they had a voice recognition system. I pronounced the person’s name and it said there was no one that matched the name. So I had to use my best English accent, and it actually found the right person. Kind of funny.

This “Who” idea reminds me of another marketing idea I had a few years ago. With the success of the “Chicken Soup” books (what, 90+ million copies sold) and the “For Dummies” series, with hit after hit after hit, I just realized that if I could publish a book called “Chicken Soup for Dummies” that it would be a best-seller in no time.

So back to the Family History Show.

The conference organizers were able to bring together various companies and organizations — not just genealogy lecturers and a few vendors, like we usually have in the states — but media companies (BBC, History Channel, Roots Television), government agencies, dozens of genealogy societies, travel companies, publishers, retailers, software companies, and many others.

There were medieval musicians, bagpipes on occasion, fencing demonstrations, and people in historic military uniforms.

There were theaters in the large open space for discussions and demonstrations by big companies like Ancestry.co.uk, Who Do You Think You Are, the BBC and The History Channel. There were “encounter sessions” on dozens of particular topics and some announcements made by vendors.

There were dozens of computers from FamilySearch.org, The National Archives, and others were visitors took turn searching through the hundreds of millions of records and images to find their ancestors. I found my 7 year old great-great grandfather in an 1851 British Census, living in a household with his grandfather. I felt the emotional impact of finding something out for the first time.

I also bought an authentic 1850 map of Shropshire, where my ancestors lived from a local vendor.

The atmosphere was historic and festive at the same time.

I spoke with a few others who wondered outloud why family history conferences in the states can’t be this exciting and energetic, bringing so many people together in a celebration of our search for heritage.

Obviously, geography makes it harder to pull off a national conference in the US that could get 10-15,000 people together for a family history show. But I don’t think that is the key issue.

I think it is about vision. The people who organize family history conferences would need to reach out, like they did in the UK, and get a variety of groups involved, so that the show would be about genealogy, history, music, culture, celebrity and more.

On the other hand, maybe it can’t be done here unless and until there is a national TV show on family history that is a real hit. I guess we’ll see. It will be fun to see if anyone will be inspired by the London show to try to pull off a really big show here in the states.

What do you think? Can it be done here? What would be the keys?

FamilyLink Members in 34 Countries

Our development team added a new browse feature this week to our genealogy social network FamilyLink.com that lets members browse by country and by city to see the other genealogists around the world. I quickly counted up members in 34 countries. We have 43 in Australia and 40 in the U.K.

(Speaking of the UK, I’ll be at the humongous family history conference in London for the next three days–so if you want to meet with me there, drop me a line at paul “AT” worldvitalrecords.com. Right now, I’m waiting in NYC for my flight to London, enjoying my new Macbook and a free airport hotspot.)

We have more than 2,100 members about two weeks into our beta. That’s about the right number. We aren’t ready for a huge surge of users just yet. We had some photo upload problems last week, and other bugs that we’ve been fixing. So the user experience is getting much better, but it still has a ways to go.

In the next couple weeks we plan to launch some very significant features. One blogger did a nice review of FamilyLink but said it was a “little too much work for the common genealogist” [my paraphrase from memory] to share their content through our site. I think this blogger will be pleasantly surprised with our upcoming features.

The CEO of Geni said in January in an nPost.com interview that his top three objectives were 1) virality 2) stickness and 3) monetization.

Since our monetization occurs with our sister site WorldVitalRecords.com (whose content library is going to be expanding dramatically very soon), we can focus on our top priorities for FamilyLink without regard to revenue: 1) recruiting the right audience — experienced genealogists 2) connecting them around places where they live and where their ancestors lived and 3) enabling GEDOM upload so that when one genealogist asks another genealogist for help (like a local record lookup), that they will both be looking at clues in the members family tree before time is spent on the task.

Once we have the features working right, then we will turn on our viral marketing / invitation engine, and also start promoting the service broadly to genealogists around the world.

We have a lot of objectives after that, but I can’t give everything away just yet.

I described some of our plans in a familyrootsradio.com interview with my long-time friend and genealogy genius Kory Meyerink. I get uncomfortable in live interviews, but Kory is pretty easy to talk to. I wasn’t nearly as nervous as when being interviewed by Diane Sawyer a few years ago in the Good Morning America studio. She was incredible, but that experience was a bit too much. I prefer to leave the live media interviews to others and focus on blogging. I’m never nervous when blogging. (Although sometimes after clicking the “publish” button, I think, “should I really have said that?”)

Kory asked me why take on Ancestry.com, with its near hegemony in the genealogy industry. Some of the motivations for me included the lack of innovation that occurs when a single company has such huge market share and the price increases that were really disturbing. There are truly a lot of reasons to want to get back into this wonderful industry.

The funny thing is that in the last few months Tim Sullivan, the CEO of The Generations Network, has begun to address virtually every issue that caused me to get back into the genealogy industry last year. I think he is doing a fantastic job. (But it’s too late. Our team is back and we’re here to stay.)

Five years ago I left MyFamily.com (now TGN) in part because the MyFamily.com sites were no longer free (hugely limiting its potential growth), Ancestry’s prices were going up too much, and there was very little thought of international expansion.

Now, Ancestry is launching lots of international sites, prices are coming down, MyFamily 2.0 is going to be free, and the customer service philosophies have changed dramatically. Cancelling a subscription used to be as hard as cancelling an AOL subscription, i.e. nearly impossible. Now it’s easy, from what I hear.

So it’s a bit ironic that my team is back in the game at the very time that TGN is starting to make all the decisions I think we wanted to see them make. Weird, huh?

So what do we do? Give up and go home?

Not a chance.

I can honestly say I’m very pleased to see the changes TGN is making (except for the name change–that doesn’t make sense to me.)

But what we will do is everything we possibly can to provide unique value to our customers (more and more databases for our WorldVitalRecords users) and to attract literally millions of genealogists and their families to join our social network, and to push others in the industry to continue to innovate.

We are in this thing to make a difference. And our team, small though it is, was instrumental in changing the rules in the genealogy industry 10 years ago. We hastened the migration from CD ROM to the web, and from solo genealogy to collaborative genealogy. And we think we can make a difference once again, with real-time social genealogy.

Think of the user experience that will be possible with FamilyLink in the coming weeks:

1) Join FamilyLink for free
2) Upload Your Gedcom file, and select from a list of cities/places where you are planing to do more research
3) Instantly connect with real genealogists who live in the very cities where you need help; give them permission to view your family tree so they can offer help and suggestions–including local record lookups if that is what you need.

Need someone who lives in a small town in German and speaks both German and English? You’ll be just one click away. If they’re online, you’ll be able to IM them or Skype them. If they are offline, just send them a message.

We love this vision, and it is just the tip of the iceberg of what will be possible as FamilyLink continues to develop.

Getting search engine traffic to a new web site

If you search for “family link” or “familylink” on Google, the first hit is not www.familylink.com. Today, on the query “familylink”, hits #5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 all refer to FamilyLink.com, but they are from blogs and press releases. Google is not yet ranking FamilyLink.com as the most relevant result for these queries. I’m sure that will change soon, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

When you’ve been working at a web company that has had its web site up for many years, has good PageRank, good titles and internal links, and has many incoming links that have come in steadily over the years from press coverage, bloggers, customer links, and so forth, you sometimes take for granted the huge flow of new customers that come without cost from natural search engine rankings.

I have been involved with and seen web sites that get free search engine traffic worth the equivalent of millions of dollars of paid clicks/sponsored links.

But with any new web site, it takes time for users to create content, and for people to link to your site and to deep link to your user content. It takes time for the virtuous circle of more users posting more content generating more users (from search engines) to really kick in.

And when you have seen it work so beautifully before, and it is not working now, it is hard to be patient. But you just have to wait.

Fortunately, you can join Google Webmaster Tools and Yahoo Site Explorer and get validated by them as the site owner, and see your site through the eyes of their bots–how often they come back, how many pages they index, what your top rankings are on various keywords.

But that still doesn’t get you all the incoming links you need from authentic sources over a long period of time so that you can have a robust amount of natural search engine traffic.

That does take time.

Today, if you search for just about any keyword or phrase that might eventually help you find our familylink.com social network, such as the names of more than a hundred thousand cities and towns around the world, or millions of surnames from around the world, or the specific names of ancestors who might have pages on our site, you probably won’t find our web site yet using Google, Yahoo, or MSN.

So we really have to rely on email, the blogosphere, press announcements (including a couple of big ones coming up), and a little paid search to get our intial users. Then we will see more and more member invitations to other genealogists and family members, as our viral marketing efforts start to grow.

Years ago Yahoo had a Paid Inclusion program which didn’t make sense to me when most of the sites I was working on were included in their natural search for free. But I guess I didn’t think about using Paid Inclusion out of necessity for a free site.

Can some SEO expert out there tell me how they have used Paid Inclusion in a way that is worthwhile, particularly for a brand new site?

I’m tired of looking at my Omniture Site Catalyst referring domains report and seeing almost no traffic from Google, Yahoo, and MSN.

I am however happy to see our WorldVitalRecords.com traffic growing steadily, since that is where our company’s revenue comes from. We are getting more and more natural search engine traffic there since our number of databases grow every day and our site has been up for nearly a year.

Some people say the one year mark is magical for natural search engine traffic. Has anyone had an experience that validates this, or is that just an urban legend?