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!)

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.

Catching the Geni that’s out of the bottle: introducing FamilyLink

On January 16th, an amazing, innovative, well-financed company (especially now, after raising $10 million!) launched a brilliant, web 2.0 based online family tree building tool called Geni..

After getting TechCrunched more than once, Geni caught the fancy of many bloggers and started spreading through word of mouth, but more powerfully, its innately viral application started attracting thousands of users very quickly. (Geni’s Alexa chart doesn’t look great, but Geni’s Quantcast chart looks better. No “addicts”, however, which comprise 38% of Ancestry’s traffic.)

I was both thrilled and disappointed. You see, I want interest in family history to spread all over the world. The family is fundamentally the most important unit in society, and modern societies with the ever weakening family are bring hosts of problems that will never be solved by government, which relies on force to tax people and create policy. The Old Testament ends with two haunting verses: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Getting families to pay more attention to each other is important not only to those who believe in the Old Testament. Phillip Longman, author of “The Empty Cradle” which decries the falling birthrates in industrialized countries from an economic standpoint ends his book with these powerful words: ” If free societies have a future, it will be because they figure out or stumble upon a way to restore the value of children to their parents, and of parents to each other.”

Even the Soviet Union, when its birth rates kept declining, spoke out. Andrei Kirilenko, the ideology chief, said at a Kremlin rally in 1979, “Our common responsibility for the country’s future requires us to strengthen the family, to elevate the prestige of motherhood and to increase the demands made on the parents as to how their children are growing up.” Note how the language implies the power of government (which is always coercive) to get parents to do better. (Cited by Longman)

So I was thrilled by the launch of Geni, the best free online family tree building tool since MyFamily.com/Ancestry.com launched its free online family tree building tool back in 1999, and excited by the new attention that was being given to the family history category by the blogosphere. The first time ever really, since Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com are rather mature web sites and The Generations Network, which owns both of them, is more in its “monetization phase” than in a “build the market” phase. The blogosphere has never gotten all that excited about what Ancestry.com does and since MyFamily.com hasn’t been free since 2001, it has experienced “negative population growth.”

(Speaking of negative population growth, no less a thinker than Peter Drucker said that negative population growth is the single biggest issue facing civilization today. So on my recent trip to Europe it was very interesting to read “The Empty Cradle” completely and to consider the factors there that are leading to fewer children. Italy used to have a million births a year–now it’s 500,000.)

Not that Geni or MyFamily.com or any site that connects families is going to increase the worldwide birth rate. We’ll leave that job to matchmaking sites like eHarmony.com.

The CEO of eHarmony.com spoke at Stanford on Valentine’s Day, and casually pointed out that on any given day, 200 marriages occur where the people met on eHarmony, and that by the end of this year, there will have been 100,000 babies born to couples married because of eHarmony. No wonder he says doing any other job seems trivial compared to this most-satisfying company. Maybe the solution to worldwide negative population growth is to make sure eHarmony rolls out worldwide as quickly and inexpensively as possible!

Okay, so back to Geni. I was disappointed by Geni’s appearance because I had decided late last year to stop running my Provo Labs incubator, and start focusing on just one company, and turn that company into a raging success. I had chosen to focus on World Vital Records, along with the very talented team that is already there, for many reasons, one being that we felt we could be the first genealogy company to launch a social network for family history, and social networks are generally the fastest growth web sites today.

We were planning to do something entirely different than what family history web sites have done before, and we still are. But Geni’s launch has caused us to change our time table for many of our product features.

To be honest, my disappointment has entirely faded. It’s been swallowed up by an overwhelming feeling of excitement about family history sweeping the world, about families actually using technology to connect, rather than to disintegrate. The Geni launch, as well as all the great moves that Ancestry.com is doing (like launching international sites, kicking off its first-ever integrated advertising campaign — worth $10 million — to boost interest in the brand) and the newly formed alliance between werelate.org (see what Dick Eastman said about werelate.org last June) and the Allen County Public Library, the second largest family history library in the country — all of these things add to the level of excitement.

Anyway, the big question is can another family history social network take off? Can anyone catch Geni?

I’m not going to answer that question, because I simply can’t predict it. And it really doesn’t matter. Geni provides a great service to people who want to build their first family tree and to invite family members to collaborate on it. Geni is obviously great at listening to customers (Geni blog, Geni forum) and at responding to their requests quickly.

And of course Ancestry would certainly dispute the need to “catch Geni” in the first place. Ancestry is loudly defending its leadership position in this space. They have made it clear through recent press announcements that the Ancestry family tree software is attracting millions of records, photos, and more. And with revenues of $150 million per year, they have a very good chance to defend their leadership position.

So where does World Vital Records stand? How we can think that we have a chance to compete in this venture-capital driven world of online genealogy?

The key for us is to attract millions of users to our new free social network for family history which we call FamilyLink. We are some days away from our beta launch, and we can hardly wait. Our site will offer unique and valuable help to every serious family history researcher, and it will nicely coexist with all of the TGN web sites as well as Geni.com.

Our team is cautiously optimistic about our initial launch, and wildly enthusiastic about the long-term potential that we have to provide value to family historians worldwide. And we believe that by adding new databases every day to our World Vital Records web site, that our revenue will be able to keep up with our expenses. It won’t be cheap to run FamilyLink. But World Vital Records continues to generate record revenue each month and we are getting ever closer to being a sustainable business.

Thanks to the GEDCOM standard for data exchange, anyone who downloads a family tree from familysearch.org or Ancestry.com or Geni will be able to import their family data into virtually any genealogy software program or upload it to sites that accept gedcom uploads. And based on Geni’s March 15th blog post, any gedcom upload site that gets 100 uploads of family trees with at least 1,000 names in them, will end up with bigger trees than Geni has right now.

Of course, the magic in Geni is not in the size of its trees, but in its virality. Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn says he keeps a list of 12 people in the world who truly understand viral marketing (and he is one of the 12.) I wonder if anyone at Geni is on that list. Probably so, given the common PayPal connections. I doubt that anyone from TGN is on his list. But I hope that FamilyLink might convince him to add one more name to this list…and soon.

You can visit FamilyLink today and sign up for the beta. We’ll let you know when it is available. It won’t be long.

Physical Libraries vs Electronic Libraries

The Everton Collection at the Logan Library in Logan, Utah could use more visitors.

Last September Leland Meitzler on his excellent genealogyblog broke the following news about one of the largest private genealogical collections in the U.S.:

I really feel that I’m being premature in posting this blog, but since the word is now circulating on the Internet, I’m forced into it. Yes – plans are underway for the Everton library to open in early October. I will announce the actual opening when it happens.

The Everton collection, which has been unavailable to the public for over two years now, will be opening soon. Logan Library Director Ron Jenkins has been interviewing potential librarians for the collection – and earlier this month, Jenkins hired Jason Cornelius, who is moving from Salt Lake City to Logan. Cornelius will be a full-time librarian, cataloging and overseeing the daily operations of the collection.

The books are housed in an unfinished and unused auxillary courtroom in Logan. The facility is very warehouse-like, complete with bare concrete floors. However, the bookshelves are full of an amazing variety of genealogical materials. It will be good to see the facility open to the public.

Volunteers are needed to assist with clerical work and help genealogists use the massive collection.

Read more about the “opening soon” of the Everton collection in the September 22, 2006 edition of The Logan Herald Journal.

Yesterday, a news story claims that the Library has had only 200 visits since it opened last October.

I googled “everton library logan” and “logan utah genealogy” and couldn’t readily find any information about the library, its holdings, hours or anything else. I looked at Everton.com’s home page and couldn’t find anything. Then I googled “logan library” and found the Logan Library home page with a prominent link to the Everton Collection information that visitors or volunteers would need.

If Logan officials would like more visitors to the Library, I’m sure World Vital Records can help a great deal. We have thousands of daily visitors to our web site. We could make it easy for these visitors, who are accessing some portions of the Everton Collection on our web site, to find the physical library in Logan where they can access the entire 82,000 piece collection, including the many copyrighted materials that World Vital Records will not likely put on its web site for some time.

I have wondered how physical libraries around the world will fare as Google Book Search, the Open Content Alliance, Microsoft Live Book Search, and other massive book digitization projects around the world.

(I think Microsoft Live Book Search is cleaner than Google’s. And to compare the size of the content, I did a search for my ancestor William Brewster, of Mayflower fame. Here are the 1,449 William Brewster results on Microsoft and the 3,608 William Brewster results on Google.)

Thomson Gale’s Access My Library project is a very smart effort to continue to make libraries relevant, by enabling library patrons to access huge electronic collections using their library ID.

I personally love physical libraries–there is nothing like browsing shelves and thumbing through old books. While I love the digital libraries for searching for something specific, I prefer to browse in a physical library. I have had some ideas about how RFID or Bluetooth could be used along with Smart Phones and PDAs to turn physical book collections into a wonderful experience of discovery–where the PDA knows what you are looking for and the books know what they contain, and the PDA and books can communicate as you wander around around the library, and let you know when you’re near something of interest.

I think future physical libraries could be really far out, but unless they do something radical, I’m not sure how they will survive.

What are your thoughts about physical libraries and the purpose they will serve in the coming years?

International search engines for genealogy

World Vital Records most popular international search page is our German Genealogy Search page. According to Overture, there were 1045 searches on the Yahoo Network last month for “german genealogy” and 292 for “germany genealogy.”

After Germany, our most popular international search engines are England, Ireland, Australia, Italy, France, Austria, Scotland, Wales, Hungary, Sweden, China, Slovakia and Brazil. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed Slovakia has recently been one of the leading sources of international traffic to my personal blog site, paulallen.net.

As we begin to enable our site visitors to share content with each other and to connect with other researchers, the popularity of our international search engine pages will grow.

We also invite libaries, archives, publishers, website owners and authors worldwide to contact us if they would like us to index their content and make it available to our growing audience of worldwide genealogists. We pay higher-than-average royalties to our content partners, as well as to our online affiliates.

We are doing all we can to keep our overhead costs low so that more people can afford to access online family history resources than ever before. With Google Book Search scanning millions of public domain volumes and with FamilySearch‘s digitization of the famed Granite Mountain Vault in the next five years, so much family history content will be free. There will be valuable collections of exclusive, proprietary content that people will pay for, but many more will be able to enjoy the family history hobby with just an internet connection.

We are currently designing a second web site and a business model that is designed to prosper in a world where much (if not all) genealogy data is free. That is a daunting task for those of us who launched the first online genealogy subscription site (Ancestry.com in April 1997) and then watched as hundreds of millions of dollars of subscription revenue were generated over the next ten years.

Our World Vital Records site will be subscription based and our forthcoming site (soon to be publicly announced–the domain name starts with FAMILY) will be free and supported by advertising and other revenue streams.

We appreciate every new customer who purchases a subscription on World Vital Records — I wish I could call and thank every one of you — because it gives us the resources we need to continue to develop that site, with its international databases, and to launch this new site which we hope will provide a value service to millions of family historians.

The future of Google Video search

From the Official Google Blog, we learn that Google Video searches will now include links to videos hosted at YouTube, but in the future, Google Video will index “the world’s online video content” whereever it exists.

Starting today, YouTube video results will appear in the Google Video search index: when you click on YouTube thumbnails, you will be taken to YouTube.com to experience the videos. Over time, Google Video will become even more comprehensive as it evolves into a service where you can search for the world’s online video content, irrespective of where it may be hosted.

This actually makes a ton of sense. Google will focus on indexing all the world’s video content, regardless of where it exists, and not try to host it all. There are scores of “YouTube” like sites cropping up everywhere, so one of the major challenges for Google will be how to manage duplicate video content. Many marketers/advertisers will upload their videos to all the video sites they can. It will be interesting to see how Google will rank the results when the same video is hosted in dozens of places. I suppose Google Video and YouTube results might appear first.

The biggest challenge of all may be to avoid indexing all the UGC (user generated crap) that millions of amateur video producers will be posting online.

I was in Las Vegas recently when the CEO of CBS took the stage at CES and showed us a glimpse of the future. As they presented a totally lame video produced in Second Life using some CBS Star Trek content, I began to worry that the future of television will include millions of home-made poor quality video clips with all the intelligence and redeeming value of South Park or Beevis and Butthead, or the kind of fake porn or near porn that Mark Cuban says exists in so much abundance on YouTube.

Mark recently blogged about the the top 20 most played videos on YouTube in December.

Go through the list. Only the StarWars PSA, the Christmas Tree Jump and PowerTool Racing are really user generated content. 3 out of 20.

From there you have a contrived 12 days of christmas that is one of thousands of promos for Youtube users themselves trying to build a following. Is this social networking at its best?

From there we have commercials or promos for movies, tv shows, blenders, knives, music videos and for a phone company. Then we have the most popular of Youtube videos these days. The fake Porn thumbnail with headlines of: Britney, Paris, whoever, nude, in the shower, wherever, doing whatever. 5 of the top 20 are fake porn.

This is the future of TV and entertainment ?

Thats what Youtube has become. Fake Porn and Commercials. Sure there is still some fun stuff on there and being uploaded, but how long before fake porn just takes over? It was 9 of the top 20 for the week as I write this.

At CES, Michael Dell showed a historic cartoon showing what might have happened if ancients had access to personal computers (Dell computers of course), and he wondered outloud what Spielberg would be doing now if Shakespeare had been producing action movies in the 1500s.

I worry when we start thinking that video is more important than text.

If you haven’t read Neal Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, you should.

I hope Google or someone can figure out a way to index all the good, wholesome, uplifting, educational, informative, appropriately entertaining and useful video content and filter out all the rest, at least for those of us who don’t want to fill our minds with garbage. Some of us still believe in the “law of the harvest”–that what you sow, you shall also reap. And some of us want to have all the positive benefits of technology without all the negatives.

Think about it. Stanford hosts the most successful investors and entreprenuers of all time and posts the full video interviews on their entrepreneur education web site. This is really valuablel stuff. Probably get a few thousand views each, if they are lucky. Meanwhile, YouTube gets millions of views of the fake porn videos that Mark Cuban refers to.

Makes you think about the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and other civilizations that lost their bearing and got corrupted by entertaining themselves to death (sometimes literally).

Recent polls show that about a third of young people in the U.S. read the bible weekly, but a third have also watched a particularly violent TV show in the last month as well as a violent movie. If you add “a violent or raunchy” web video to the poll, I bet the numbers are much higher.

So if the Bible and Shakespeare and the classics keep fading from popular culture, and our minds become more and more filled with lousy UCG, what will our country look like in the next few decades, and how will we respond to the incredible economic and educational energy coming from China and India and elsewhere in the world?

As a social entrepreneur, I like to look for opportunities to counter the negatives that I see in our culture with new positive things that can be done with modern technology. My focus for the next few years will be on genealogy and connecting families using technology. But I admire other social entrepreneurs who find ways to use modern technology to improve our minds and solve all kinds of problems.

I’m especially excited about Google Book Search and the other projects that are underway to digitize all the books in the world. I haven’t seen any Hitwise or Comscore stats showing the usage of these online projects. But I’m interested to see how many people will use them. I fear that it will be only a fraction of the people who use video search.

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.

Google and History

I am very impressed with Google’s recent launch of its News Archives Search. Basically, in partnership with major content owners, Google is indexing newspaper and magazine articles going back to the 18th century.

I spent an hour doing various searches and found the content very interesting, although a lot of the historic newspaper content is full of typos and OCR errors, and much of the best content is available only for a fee. Over time, more and more good historical content will be free. The Time Magazine content is very useful.

I’ve been listening to an audio book called “Lies My Teacher Told Me” that reviews 12 American History textbooks and shows how false and full of misinformation they are, especially when it comes to religious, race, and economic class issues in American History. Textbooks gloss over these issues and almost never quote from original sources.

Google’s News Archive Search is a step in the right direction. Combined with Google Print, which will bring millions of public domain books onto the web (and into PDF format for free downloads), more people than ever before will be exposed to actual historical content. I really wonder what it will do to our view of ourselves when we realize how racist and bigoted we have been in this country (like under Woodrow Wilson), and how interventionist we have been (according to “Lies My Teacher Told Me” the U.S. has intervened in Nicaragua 17 times) and how the way other nations view America is shaped in part by what they teach in their history books and we omit from ours.

My own political views have been affected by listening to this audio book and discovering some historical facts I have been ignorant of. I look forward to learning more.