Association of Professional Genealogists speech

I spoke today at the Salt Lake Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. The meeting was held in the Family History Center.

I started by asking how many wanted me to talk about the history of Ancestry.com, (after all, these people spend all their time researching the past) and how many wanted me to talk about our vision for the future of genealogy at World Vital Records.

Everyone voted for me to talk about the future, and to explain what we are doing and what we plan to do to help them as professional genealogists. I was a little surprised that no one wanted to hear the Ancestry.com story, but alas, most people don’t want to hear about your family history either–they want to discuss their own. I think the bottom line for all of them was, “As professionals, tell us why should we care about World Vital Records.”

But I couldn’t resist. Earlier this week I gave two lectures at BYU’s Entrepreneur Lecture Series and in preparation I had relieved all the early years of Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com while readying my “entrepreneurial story.” So all of this stuff is really fresh on my mind, and as I told the APG members, by discussing all the painful stuff with them, it may help me in the healing process. :)

So I chose to take about 15 minutes to discuss the founding of Ancestry.com, and how it had grown out of a CD ROM publishing company that my friend Dan Taggart and I started in 1990, and what happened in the early years. I tried to highlight some of the key points in our history:

  • Broderbund (producer of Family Tree Maker) was the 800-lb gorilla in family history in the 90s. We designed our business model to provide free online access to most of what they were selling on CD ROM (family tree software, data CDs and family tree collections on CD) and to offer a premium data collection online as a subscription.
  • In April 1997 we launched our paid subscription service and we promised to add at least one new genealogy database to our web site every business day. To my best knowledge, Ancestry.com has never missed a day.
  • We offered all new databases free for 10 days, and we let people sign up for a free newsletter, the Ancestry Daily News, that would announce our new databases each day.
  • Our strategy worked and millions of CD ROM users flocked to our web site. Within a few years we had raised tens of millions in venture capital and become the largest genealogy company in the world. We were able to acquire Rootsweb, and then, after I left Ancestry.com, the company acquired all the assets that Broderbund had previously owned (Genealogy.com/Family Tree Maker/Genforum.com).
  • MyFamily.com was launched in 1998 and it attracted 1 million users in its first 140 days. At its peak, 20-30,000 new users joined the free site every day. And since in every family there is an active genealogist or one yet to be created/discovered, MyFamily.com was a key entry point for potential Ancestry.com customers. When MyFamily.com turned into a paid service back in 2001, it lost a huge amount of momentum.

In my speech, I ran through a list of 12 major mistakes that (IMHO) the company (now called The Generations Network) has made during the last 6 years. But I also indicated that Tim Sullivan, the current CEO, has addressed some of these and is trying to lead the company in the right direction again. For example, his international emphasis and making MyFamily.com’s basic service free again are definitely positive moves.

Now I know that some people would like me to elaborate on all 12 of the mistakes, as I see them, in this blog; while others are thinking to themselves, “you always spill all the beans, Paul. Why don’t you keep some things close to the vest?”

So I won’t publish my list of Ancestry.com mistakes right now. Neither will I list the 12 major ideas/projects that World Vital Records is pursuing in an effort to find a useful role in the genealogy/family networking space.

But I will touch on some general ideas.

First, someone asked if we were just copying Ancestry.com business model and trying to provide access to the same data they are. The answer is absolutely not. We are trying to innovate and find ways of being useful that are completely new. Why would we, as a startup company, want to compete head-on with a giant in the area where they are strongest?

Ancestry has already spent $100 million digitizing content during the last 10 years and are spending $10 million more each year. The LDS Church also has a huge budget for this kind of thing, as they work with archives and microfilm collections, as does Google and Microsoft, as they scan major libraries around the world. Many other companies, archives, governments, libraries, and societies are involved in digitizing and/or indexing content.

We will do some digitizing and indexing but it will be small in relation to these other organizations who make this their primary business. Our fundamental approach is to partner with content providers worldwide and to enable our customers to find records in their databases, whether we host them or not. (Which is why we are so happy that DearMyrtle gave us the “most prolific agreement-signing genealogy website of the year” award on her blog recently.) Our business model is built on paying substantial royalties to content owners.

With Footnote.com‘s growing traffic (see Quantcast chart on Footnote), it is clear that there is still room in the market for well-funded companies to digitize and index content and sell subscriptions to it–even as Google and Microsoft’s book projects are bringing an ever-increasing flood of old books online. The Quantcast chart for Google Books shows 8.8 million unique visitors per month; and one of the top correlating keywords for site visitors is in fact, “rootsweb,” showing that genealogists are becoming more aware of this resource. (The affinity for “rootsweb” to books.google.com is 2.6x.)

World Vital Records Plans

I described to the APG members several of the major initiatives that are underway at World Vital Records, but I won’t go into them now. They involve user generated content, history, geography, metadata, social networking, improving the quality of online family trees and source citations, and even online gaming theory.

One question that I found difficult to answer was a question about why families should trust my company (or any company) with their data, knowing that commercial firms need to find ways to make money, and once the data is out of their hands, they are afraid it will be exploited.

I intend to write an article on the topic of “Who Owns Your Family Data?” and submit it to a prominent genealogical publication, hoping that it will lead to a serious discussion of this issue.

At Ancestry.com, when we launched the Ancestry World Tree, we made a promise that all user-generated content would remain free. It was in our terms and conditions. Later (after the founding team was gone) the company decided to continue to provide access to the data for free, but to launch a parallel product where the data was merged into a huge single tree (the OneWorldTree), with some new technology features, and to sell access to this merged collection of user content, claiming that they were really selling access to the tools, and that the original data was still free (if you could find it.)

Like Broderbund’s World Family Tree collection, which made them unpopular with many family historians because they were selling user data, this move made lead to a lot of criticism of Ancestry.

So there is a valid concern that even a company like World Vital Records, which philosophically believes that user generated content should be free and should be controlled by its submitter, might eventually be acquired by a different company, or hire different management, who might change its policies.

Structurally, the founders of Google tried to address the issue of corporate governments and their control of its future philosophy and direction by creating two classes of stock, one with more powerful voting rights. Because of this, I believe that Larry Page and Sergey Brin have ultimate control of Google, and will, even if they leave the company.

I don’t know whether or not we’ll be able to deal with long-term control of World Vital Records in the same way, but I have seriously considered asking the genealogy community to nominate potential board members for World Vital Records, and to give one board seat to a genealogy expert who can be the voice for the community.

We have five total board seats–three have been filled (one was filled today–we will make an announcement soon about this) and two are open. One of these is reserved for an industry expert. This is the seat that I am considering filling with someone nominated by leading genealogists, to help us stay on course. The individual would also have to have significant business experience as well, and understand their fiduciary responsibilities.

In our board meeting next week, this will be a topic of discussion.

(To make it fun, maybe we could ask Roots Television to create a reality TV show called “Genealogy Idol”, and over a dozen weeks, one potential board member could be voted off each week. On second thought….Nah.)

Anyway, in the coming weeks it will become more clear what place World Vital Records hopes to fill in the family/genealogy community, and how we will differentiate our products and services from those that are currently offered by the leading online genealogy companies.

If you are into genealogy, I invite you to give me a list of the top 5 things you would do if you were running World Vital Records. I’m very interested in hearing from you. (But be careful–if your suggestions are too good, you might get recruited by the genealogy community to fill an open board seat!)

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!

FamilyLink.com soft launch

I have been in NY and Chicago this week, and haven’t found the time to blog about this yet, but our wonderful sleepless team at World Vital Records has quietly opened up FamilyLink.com to the public.

We are hoping for a few thousand early users, experienced genealogists primarily, to set up personal profiles, tell us what cities they do research in (and where they live), create some ancestor pages, and most of all, give us lots of feedback about the site features and design.

So far, without any promotion, we’ve gotten more than 700 users, 100 pieces of feedback, and nearly 200 ancestor pages. Yesterday more than 300 email invitations were sent out by users to family and friends. Yesterday we had almost 20,000 page views on FamilyLink. That is for a three day old site. World Vital Records usually generates 30-40,000 page views each day, and it is 10 months old.

I have blogged recently about how FamilyLink, based on social networking and user generated content, is the key to our success at World Vital Records. Because of its unique value to genealogists, it really has a chance to attract millions of users worldwide.

I really appreciate our early users. At first, FamilyLink won’t be a tremendous experience, because like any social network, the main value comes from the connections you can make with others.

Can you imagine being one of the first 100 users of eHarmony.com? You spend 20 minutes filling out a detailed profile, hoping to be matched using 29 criteria with your soul mate, your true love, only to find out at the end of the process that you don’t match a single person? That must have been devastating to the early adopters at eHarmony. I hope they have all since recovered from the emotional trauma, and are among those that are now happily married eHarmony graduates. :)

As the eHarmony registrations grew into the millions, the likelihood that new users were going to see five potential matches, that would be in many ways compatible with them, increased dramatically.

Same thing with FamilyLink–although we are not trying to match singles with potential mates. We are trying to match you (the genealogy researcher) with other genealogy researchers who are experts in the very locations where you are looking for answers.

If you have an ancestor who lived in Groton, Connecticut, and you are not able to travel there, what do you do? Perhaps you go online and hope to find some databases that contain something about your ancestor. But it is very unlikely that you will understand much about how records were kept there, how far they go back, the local history, religion, and culture, and what the best strategy would be to get started in your research there.

Hopefully you will randomly meet someone at a Family History Center or at your local genealogy society that might know something about research strategies and available records for Groton. But the chances of that are extremely slim. (Although in the field of genealogy research, there do seem to be a high number of these kinds of “chance” meetings that turn out to be very serendipitous.)

Enter FamilyLink. For the first time in history, you can list all the cities where your ancestors lived or where you are doing further research, and in one click you can see a map of that city and the photos and names of other genealogists who live there or who have experience doing research there. Again, one more click and you are contacting those people to see if they can give you any suggestions or even do a local record search for you, or an online search for you to help you out.

A wonderful organization called Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) has thousands of volunteers who have been helping other genealogists with these kinds of lookups for years. (If you want to do something nice right this very moment, visit RAOGK and make a donation even a few dollars, to help the organization pay its expenses.) There are good, kind and unselfish people everywhere who love family history. There are tens of thousands of volunteers who work at LDS Family History Centers, and thousands of dedicated genealogy societies all over the world.

Our hope is to enable the wonderful people in the field to connect with each other in meaningful ways, far beyond what genealogy message boards have allowed in the past.

Our feature rich social network will enable people all over the world to connect around ancestors, cities, languages, and even the software they use for family history.

We are excited also to enable our experienced researchers in each location around the world to help us create lists of the best sources (online and offline) for genealogy research as well as the strategies they use to make new discoveries and to validate their conclusions.

People who are actively involved in genealogy tend to be older. Some of our surveys at Ancestry years ago showed the average age of our paying subscribers was 47.

People have asked questions about whether older people will jump into social networking the way kids jumped into MySpace and college students rushed into Facebook. But industry reports show that the average age of MySpace users is climbing fast, and now only 50% of Facebook users are college students. LinkedIn.com has demonstrated how people of all ages will join a social network with a serious purpose. And if Quantcast’s data about Eons.com is correct, then 4 million people over 50 are using that social network every month.

Increasing your odds of success in your family history research by connecting to other family history researchers in any location in the world is a very compelling reason for people to sign up for FamilyLink.

We haven’t yet invited the 100,000 genealogists on our mailing list to join the site yet, but as we improve the site experience, we will soon do that as well as start other promotional efforts to spread the word.

Please don’t check out this site and sign up if you are a 22-year old Techcrunch reader with no real interest in family history. There are a hundred other social networks for you to join. We aren’t interested in cluttering the site with inactive personal profiles.

But if you are into family history, and want to get help with your research around the world, or help others, or share information that you have about your ancestors with all your relatives, then please, try FamilyLink.com. There is a feedback link on every page of the site, so you can tell us what we should do to make the experience better for you. Together, with your help, we can create a social network for family historians around the world that will forever change how genealogy is done.

Genealogy doesn’t have to be a lonely, isolated and troubling experience where you are often stuck, wondering what to do next, and quite possibly duplicating the research already done by one or more people somewhere else. Genealogy can be a real-time, ongoing, exciting, social experience, where collaboration across time and space enables more discoveries than ever before, and more shared connections to important people and places.

All over the world are people who are extremely knowledge about locations where they have lived most or all of their lives. But when you are doing genealogy research 5,000 miles away, you don’t know who they are, or what they might know that can help you. That’s why genealogy travel is so much more productive than trying to do genealogy remotely, using only microfilms or online databases.

When I was in London recently, and mentioned Islington (where my wife’s ancestor was born) in a conversion with a stranger on a train, I learned in a few minutes a lot about that place several important facts about that town (now a borough of London) including that it had been the home of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, about 150 years before my wife’s ancestor was born. Those facts gave me an entirely new appreciation for the town where she came from (and some new ideas about where to visit next time I’m in London!)

Imagine every time you discover a place where your ancestors lived that you are just one click away from seeing names, photos, and profiles of a dozen experienced genealogists who live there now, or who have done extensive research there already, and that you are another click away from connecting with them, and getting the help you need.

That is our vision for FamilyLink–but only with the help and involvement of many thousands of family historians will this be possible.

So please, start spreading the word slowly to your more helpful genealogy industry friends. Then, when we’re ready for the big launch, we’ll let you know, and you can help us open the floodgates and invite everyone around the world with even a passing interest in family history to come join the party.

Sweden opens embassy in Second Life

http://www.thelocal.se/6219/. This article says Second Life is approaching 3 million users, a third of them having joined in the last 60 days. A lot of companies are jumping on the Second Life bandwagon, but this is even more interesting.

Imagine being an embassy employee assigned to interact with people in Second Life. Embassies are so large, imposing, and intimidating–they don’t welcome visitors to come in and just chat. This virtual Swedish embassy may be the best opportunity in world history for an embassy to “get to know its customer” through casual conversations with potentially hundreds or thousands of people each day.

Next headline to look for: 2008 Presidential Campaign for _________ opens office in Second Life, welcomes all visitors to come and meet the candidate.

Google is rumored to be building their own immersive world and may be buying AdScape to become a player in in-game advertising.

I’m not a fan of Second Life yet (although Jeff Barr is helping me realize how real business can actually be conducted in the virtual world, not by just wandering around, but by planning events or attending planned events). But as these kinds of online worlds start attracting businesses and governments and millions of new users, there will definitely be business opportunities opening up left and right for savvy entrepreneurs.

As a former Dungeons & Dragons player (I quit cold turkey at age 13 or 14 after a full year addiction) I can see the appeal of games like World of Warcraft, Everquest, and now SecondLife, which some people don’t call a game, but which certainly has a lot of appeal for gamers. As an entrepreneur, I see huge opportunities emerging here. In business, you need to go where the eyeballs are, and if million join immersive 3D worlds, then you better find a way to play there.

I think a Google immersive world built on Google Earth will be far more interesting than Second Life, and I hope the rumors are true.

International Genealogy Search Engines

Our World Vital Records team has launched international genealogy search engines for 11 countries, with 18 more in the pipeline already.

Our intial list includes a search engine for genealogy in China and a search engine for genealogy in India. Other countries include Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Kenya, the Philippines, Tonga, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Also this week, we are uploading 200 electronic back-issues of the famous genealogy magazine, Everton Genealogical Helper. We have indexed more than 10,000 pages dating from 1947-2006. That’s 60 years of content from the magazine that is the most interactive of all genealogical publications. For decades, readers have been writing in their queries, which would get published, and other readers would then connect with each other. The Helper was a genealogy bulletin board before the internet was even invented.

We are currently designing and building the interactive features of our new family history web site. If we can engage the Helper audience in using our new web based tools, then we’ll be able to take interactive genealogy to an entirely new level.

Search U.S. Patents with new Google patent search

For nearly 20 years I’ve dreamed of an easy to use search engine that would index all US Patents and make it easy for any inventor or entrepreneur to do sophisticated patent research.

As an employee of Folio Corporation in the late 1980s, my job was to index huge data collections, such as AICPA content, all the IRS publications, and the US Code for our reference publishers who licensed our search engine technology. We looked at patent data several times, but it was never a project that actually got a sponsor.

With its introduction of Patent Search (in beta), Google has taken another large swath of content and made it more accessible and useful than ever before.

This will be a tremendous boon to inventors and entrepreneurs. Patent attorneys will still have to help the lay person understand what they are finding; but like individuals who do online medical research before going to the doctor, the individuals paying the patent attorneys will be more active in the conversation and more intelligent. Patent law will be less of a secret art and more open to all of us. I think this will have significant positive ramifications to business and entrepreneurship.

For information entrepreneurs like me, check another project off my list of things to do. Google is taking over the information world one large step at a time. Earlier this year Provo Labs kicked off a project to index all the SEC documents that are critical for anyone in the stock market to understand. We were able to easily download and index a large number of public filings. We did it because like the USPTO.gov site, the SEC.gov site is horrible, and all the SEC search engine sites that used to be free (during the bubble) have switched over to subscription models. Like my friend John Bresee says, an advertising model could be disruptive to these companies.

Judd Bagley suggested we launch our annual and quarterly reports search engine under the name 10qverymuch.com. So we bought that domain. But like some of our other vertical search engine ideas, we didn’t get very far along with this project. I’m glad we didn’t attempt a patent search engine; and now I’m just wondering when Google will launch it’s own SEC fillings search engine.

The SEC recently awarded $54 million in contracts, primarily to Keane, to update its Edgar database system over the next few years. I’m not sure that was necessary. Why not let one of the Google employees do this on their 20% time?

Okay, the overhaul is probably still needed; but if part of the contract is for a public-facing search engine upgrade on the SEC.gov web site, that would be completely unnecessary because Google will do this sooner or later.

I would hate to be Edgar Online right now, with Google on the prowl to index all the world’s content and make it free. Imagine the hit to the EDGR stock if and when Google unveils its SEC search engine. Ouch.

I would also hate to be 10kwizards.com, a company that I have admired.

I’m glad that Provo Labs didn’t fully fund and develop an SEC search engine, a plan which I blogged about in February, because there is no doubt in my mind that someone at Google is working on this right now.

It’s like trying to be Encyclopedia Britannica with Wikipedia around. What in the world would you do to survive? I just don’t think it’s possible.

Fortunately, for internet entrepreneurs, Google is great at search but not yet so good at community. And that leaves opportunities for information entrepreneurs who empower people to connect with each other as well as with the information they need.

But the window will close quickly. Google’s acquisition spree continues and its two latest purchases, JotSpot and YouTube are squarely in the community space. They join earlier acquisitions Pyra Labs (creator of Blogger.com) and Dodgeball, which gave Google the world’s largest blogging network and a mobile application for social networking.

Clayton Christensen, speaker at the first Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco (I can’t remember if it was 2004 or 2005) said that technology entrepreneurs had to add value to the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Php) and all the other open source software and web services that are freely available by doing something innovative on top of the stack.

This is really good news for entrepreneurs. Milions of dollars of development work has already been done for us, and we just have to add something new on top of the stack, in order to create value for customers.

With information entrepreneurs, I think we need to accept the fact that Google and other companies will be indexing virtually all the data in the world and providing most of it for free to everyone. As Christensen says, we’ll have to build something valueable on top of this free stack of data. It might be organizing it in a particular way, or building online communities around it, or providing online learning that takes advantage of the free information, or providing tools that help people utilize it and apply information better in their daily work, such as mobile or smart apps that are location aware or sensitive to what you are doing, so they intelligently bring the right information to you at the right time.

I believe there are more opportunities than ever before for entrepreneurs. They’re just a few notches higher on the value stack than they used to be.