Family History Library Catalog 2.0

This morning at a very small press conference in Kansas City at the National Genealogical Society annual conference we made a very large announcement.

In fact, we announced something that I have personally hoped for and dreamed of for more than a decade.

Today we announced a partnership between FamilySearch and FamilyLink.com to publish the Family History Library Catalog — the largest single database of genealogy sources in the world — in Web 2.0 fashion.

This means that individual genealogists, librarians, archivists, and others from around the world will be able, when the Catalog 2.0 comes online in the coming months, to enhance and extend the value of the catalog. Users will be able to add new sources that are currently in the library catalog, and thus extend its scope of coverage. They will be able to improve the source descriptions, and even rate and review sources as to their usefulness.

Whenever a source listed in the catalog has been digitized, and exists somewhere online, there will be links created to the digital version by users or through automation technology that FamilyLink.com will utilize.

The catalog lists millions of sources from more than a hundred countries, including more than 2 million rolls of microfilm. About.com genealogy guide Kimberly Powell calls it the "gem of the Family History Library," and "the best resource on the FamilySearch web site."

The Genealogical Society of Utah has been microfilming valuable records from all over the world since 1939. The catalog lists all of these films, and organizes them by locality and record type. Some of the records that have been filmed have since been destroyed by war or accident, and so the films become the only surviving copy of the valuable records. And the films themselves are preserved in the famous Granite Mountain Vault.

The catalog also lists books, periodicals, maps, and all kinds of other holdings in the world’s largest family history library (in Salt Lake City) that would otherwise be unknown and unused.

As I said earlier, I have wanted to work with the catalog for more than a decade. I think it is one of the most valuable tools in the world for family history, and I think it can become more accessible and more useful to millions of people worldwide, who don’t yet know that it exists or how to best use it.

When we founded Ancestry.com in 1996-97, our vision was to digitize the genealogical records in all nations and make them available online. We saw the catalog playing a key role in that vision.

I had started a Masters Degree program at BYU in Library Science back in 1990 (although I had to drop out early to focus on my electronic pubishing business.) I have a great respect for libraries and library science. After all, the accessibility to most of the world’s information, prior to the internet, came because of the organizational skills and care of libraries and archives around the world.

I had also watched as the founders of Yahoo began to turn an online classification system for web sites into a multi-billion dollar company. Until Google came along, Yahoo was the most valuable of all web sites. Why? Because it catalogued all the rest. It could be the starting point for all queries, even before search had been perfected, when browsing was one of the dominant activities on the web.

We made several attempts over the years to see if we might be able to license and publish the catalog. But the timing must not have been right. Until Web 2.0 and social networking came on the scene, I’m not sure what value we would have been able to add to it, so our attempts were not successful.

But today, I’m overjoyed that my new company, FamilyLink.com, will have the privilege of working with this precious asset in partnership with FamilySearch, to develop the next generation version of the catalog, that will become more comprehensive, more open, more accurate, and provide more intelligent, algorithmic guidance to sources for family historians worldwide.

Since only a tiny fraction of the known genealogical content in the world is in digital format today, the catalog serves an incredibly valuable purpose, directing researchers to offline sources including microfims that contain the answers they are looking for. (And those microfilms can be accessed from over 4,500 family history centers around the world, for a very small fee.)

As more and more sources become transcribed or digitized, the catalog will directly link to the online version, whether they exist on Ancestry.com, WorldVitalRecords.com, FamilySearch.org, Footnote.com, NEHGS.org, or on Google Books, Microsoft Live Books, USGenWeb, WorldGenWeb, or other web sites, saving researchers countless time.

The new catalog, which will be available via both FamilyLink.com and FamilySearch.org in the future, may become the single best starting point for family history searches, the way Yahoo used to be the best place to find any web site, and may help any researcher quickly see which sources will help the most, and which other researchers have used those sources previously.

This project will bring the "wisdom of the crowds" to genealogy in a way that has never been possible before, showing which of the sources for any locality in the world ought to be consulted, and in what order.

I want to thank everyone who made this announcement possible, including those who have worked on the catalog for many years to make it the wonderful resource that it already is, and those who have been designing the next version of it, as well as the decision makers at FamilySearch who believe with us in what is possible for this catalog.

In addition to what has been described above, how would you like to see the catalog enhanced? What would make it most useful to you personally, or to your institution?

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Official Press Release

a few thoughts

World Vital Records is running more smoothly, and is closer to achieving our near-term financial goals, with sales 136% higher in September than in our best previous month.

As we get through some of the early start up pains, and as our organization and systems mature a little more, I should be able to budget some time each day to blogging. I have missed it terribly. I love the feedback from readers. I love being part of the conversation. I love that to intelligently blog I need to read a lot first to see what is going on and what people are thinking about, and then organize my own thoughts. As Susan Easton Black, author of more than 100 books told me, you need to “read to write.”

If or when I have time to think and blog more fully, here are some of the topics I’d like to address:

  • Fortune says that Josh Kopelman (who I believe is the top seed stage investor in the country today–a few years ago I would have said Steve Jurvetson of DFJ) and partner Howard Morgan are likely to raise a $75-100 million fund for First Round Capital, which has already invested in more than 40 companies in the past two years. Josh is a fantastic blogger. I encourage entrepreneurs to read his blog as well as anything Paul Graham writes.
  • Josh is also on the advisory board for a new $10 million fund that Facebook has set up to provide grants to Facebook apps developers.
  • Josh Coates, a Silicon Valley transplant to Utah, recently sold Berkeley Data Systems which created Mozy.com, the award-winning free online backup solution, to EMC. Last week Josh told me he be teaching a computer science class at BYU (CS 405) starting in January. I bet Josh will inspire the next generation of Drew Majors and Alan Ashtons.
  • I heard Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speak at BYU last week. He gave a great speech on faith, family and public service.
  • Last week we rolled out a new App on Facebook called We’re Related. It is starting to pick up some serious steam. I’ll blog more about it later.
  • Trying to find Facebook developers is not easy. I may encourage the Utah Facebook Developer’s Group to have another get together soon.
  • I am so happy to be working with Kent Thomas of CFO Solutions again. He is the leading financial consultant/advisor to Utah startup companies. He has helped 75 companies raise more than $300 million during the last 10 years. He and his dozen employees keep books, do financial modeling, and help CEOs make the right decisions. He will be acting CFO for World Vital Records, and help us get ready for future growth.
  • I’m impressed at how much traffic GodTube.com has, shortly after launch. The most popular clip is of a little girl reciting Psalms 23.
  • Techcrunch says the MySpace Platform will launch this week at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. MySpace is opening an office in San Francisco and will hire as many as 200 employees.
  • I’m amazed at how legal bills can mount, given our Series A financing and the dozens of contracts that we are working on with genealogy and technology partners. I intend to find a great US firm that outsources a lot of the contract drafting to India or elsewhere, but still reviews, oversees and approves all of the work. My friend told me there was a major story in the American Bar Association Journal this past month on legal outsourcing to India. I want to learn more.
  • I am researching virtual currencies, point systems, and reward systems that might be useful in our family/genealogy social networks. I came across something from china called the QQ–a point system developed by a private mobile company in China that is now being used by millions as an alternative currency. I believe the online genealogy world could use a virtual currency of some kind to help reward the volunteerism that already happens and help people trade value for value.
  • My brother gave me a copy of “Made to Stick” and said it is one of the top 5 books to read this year.

News Discussed at Today’s Live Friday Session (Mostly from Business 2.0)

Normally I get my news for Live Friday from 100+ RSS feeds, but this week I found that a deep dive into Business 2.0 (my favorite internet publication–it took the place of Industry Standard which went away years ago) gave us much more interesting topics that the kinds of PR and brand new announcements that hit the blogosphere. Business 2.0 tends to cover companies that are getting real traction, so you can avoid wasting time on all the hype that is out there. I think I’ll use Business 2.0 a lot more in the future when planning Provo Labs Academy events.

  • This month’s issue of Business 2.0 lists the 12 Influential Investors that every Web 2.0 Entrepreneur Needs to Know.
  • 2007 is shaping up to be a better year for IPOs, according to Business2.0. I always love when a great company files to go public and you get to read the S1 for the first time. I rarely met a first time entrepreneur that has any idea how much information they can learn from public filings, including S1s. One place to see who is has just filed to go public is Hoovers.com. Hoover’s also has a calendar of when the IPOs are scheduled to occur. I hadn’t noticed that Glu Mobile, run by Greg Ballard (former CEO of MyFamily.com) went public about 10 days ago and raised $84 million. (See Glu’s Google Chart.)

    When entrepreneurs write business plans, they can get all the market research and statistics they need for their plan from public filings of companies in a similar sector.

  • We demonstrated chacha.com, the Jeff Bezos funded ($6.5 million) human assisted online search engine that reportedly had 30,000 guides working from home by January and is aiming for 300,000 guides by June. The founder wants to replace 411 calls (an $8.7 billion industry) which human assisted searches using his group of guides. He is planning for voice activated searches from mobile phones. The online strategy seems secondary, but he is hoping to have a million consistent users per month by June. Chacha intersperses sponsored links among the natural search results, but in my tests, I found the human guides actually found some great sites for me. I did have to wait several minutes in one case, but I could do other work while I was waiting for the guide to help me. The business model includes improving the natural search results by what the guides find for searchers–an interesting but possibly expensive model. But the founder thinks he can generate $12 million next year while paying his guides about 20% of that revenue. The Business 2.0 article says his long term vision is “instant access to guides on near-invisible Bluetooth earpiece.” Imagine that: being seconds away from free human help from trained internet searchers, at any time, from any place. Let’s hope chacha.com gets some traction, because this is a cool vision.
  • We discussed how Spot Runner (which was founded by the folks behind Firefly and PeoplePC and has already raised $40 million in VC) is aiming to make local, targeted television advertising available to virtually any small business. They have divided businesses into 4,000 categories, and are producing generic TV spots for each type of business, that can be customized (new voice over, logo, phone number, address, and etc, I suppose) for any company, and then run on cable TV stations targeting local audiences. The founder rebuts the “TV is too expensive myth” because they sell these customizeable video spots for $500 and then help you place the ads for cheap: “You can buy 30 seconds of prime time on a premium network in almost any local market in the country for less than $200. Outside the top 10-15 markets, it’s less than $100. Outside prime time, it’s less than $50.” Google will certainly be competing soon with Spot Runner, so this space will become very exciting to watch.
  • RightMedia.com did $150m in auction-based online advertising sales last year and expects to triple it this year. Yahoo recently paid $45 m for 20% of the company, and offers billions of impressions on its web sites for sale via RightMedia.com. I haven’t tried this site yet, but encourage people to try this and see how well it works for them.
  • We discussed how PayScale used public domain data from the federal government to attract search engines and go from 10,000 monthly visitors to 1.2 million, primarily through natural search traffic (and word of mouth) without spending any money on advertising. And now, it has wage data on 5.5 million US employees, nearly 5 times as much data as the leading traditional wage consulting firm. Using public domain data to attract initial customers, and user generated content to keep people coming back and signing up for your free salary comparison reports, so you can upsell them to your $19.95 for six months subscripton to more detailed reports that can help someone get a pay raise, is a brilliant business plan. I’m very impressed with this company and its model. It generated $5 million last year.
  • We also looked at Mojopages and Yelp both of which are yellow pages sites trying to supplement their data with user reviews. Mojopages expects $500k in revenue during the next 12 months, while Yelp already has a great Alexa ranking of 1,744 and a nice three year chart.
  • Finally, we looked at Meebo.com, a VC backed company that lets you put IM windows on your blog or webpage (kind of interesting), and Pickspal.com, which facilitates office pool betting, and has attracted 200,000 registered users since October and has 1 million monthly unique visitors. I dislike gambling and anything gambling related. I simply showed this site because it has a novel viral marketing approach. The founder “created an incentive for users to invite their sports-obsesses buddies to the site: if they win a prize, so do you. ‘I’m going to be giving away two of a lot of things.’”
  • Finally we looked at Dogster, a profitable (since July 2005) social networking site for dog lovers, which had $1.1 million in revenue last year and doubled the number of users. We highlighted their iterative and rapid approach to web development, which I wholeheartedly agree with: “Instead of working on a feature for months trying to get it perfect, we’ll work on something for two weeks and then spend two or three days listening to users and fine-tuning it.”

Required Reading for Web 2.0 Entrepreneurs

I just recommended that our World Vital Records team all get copies of the new book from 37signals called Getting Real. Get this: you can read it free online or buy a PDF or paperback version of it. They’ve sold 20,000 copies so far.

I will probably read part of it online and then buy the paperback version so I can mark it up like crazy, and put my notes at the end of the book the way Tim Sander’s teaches you to read in “Love Is the Killer App” (my most highly recommended business book of all time.)

Also, I was on a Facebook online marketing group tonight and found out that Paul Graham’s Y Combinator has released a reddit-like news aggregator for startup entrepreneurs. Check it out: it’s going to be recommended reading for all the entrepreneurs I know.

Paul Graham’s Y Combinator is an incredibly cool incubator/seed stage funding mechanism with an incredible focus on technology startups. If I ever do an incubator again (after spending the next N years running World Vital Records), I’ll meet with Paul first and try to learn from what he is doing. I think he’s nailing it.

But, I may never do an internet incubator again, since Geni just demonstrated that a genealogy/family social networking web site can become worth $100 million in about 8 months.

Can you believe it!!! With 100,000 users in less than 2 months, and with $10 million in new funding (at a $100 million post-money valuation) Geni is poised to become one of the most important players in the genealogy world.

It will be interesting to see their revenue model, as it unfolds.

We found at MyFamily.com that it was nearly impossible to make money with online advertising. When people are engaging with their family in private communications and content sharing, they are in what we called a “heads down” mode, that is, they were really focused on their family, and not willing to click on advertisements. We tried all kinds of things, but nothing worked.

Many other content sites are “heads up” sites, where people are in exploring or research mode and are totally ready to view ads and click on them. Our advertising click rates at MyFamily.com (where I worked from 1996-2002) were about low as I have ever seen anywhere.

So the Geni model, if it is advertising based, will be interesting to watch.

My guess is that Geni could be like YouTube–get acquired for a ton of money because of its number of users, without any regard whatsoever to revenue. That surely must be what the venture investors are thinking. If an exit like that happens, more power to them.

But if an exit like that doesn’t happen, in other words, if Geni is required to make money (and a lot of it because the valuation is so high), then the company might have to severely compromise its user experience, and bombard people with online and email ads in order to survive.

World Vital Records has been working on its “MySpace for Families” business for several months now, before we had heard about Geni’s launch in January. So we believe in this space. But unfortunately, we weren’t the first one’s to launch a real Web 2.0 application for family history.

But we believe that our angle is very unique. Our team has deep roots in family history, and our approach is very different from Geni’s, although we can certainly learn a lot from what they are doing. Our social network site won’t have to make money because our genealogy subscription site is doing that for us (we had a record month in February), so it can focus on member acquisition and user generated content.

Our site will be called FamilyL— something. Stay tuned.

Amazon’s Jeff Barr visiting Provo Labs

Jeff Barr is coming to Provo Labs in February!

This is going to be a great opportunity for Utah’s entrepreneurs and IT crowd to learn more about what Amazon is doing with web services. Jeff is a Web Services evangelist at Amazon; he has an great inside view of the powerful tools and services that Amazon has built for internal use that they are willing to provide to other companies, some for free and some for a fee.

I’ll post information about time and place later. We will have room for all our Provo Labs Academy members and may have space for others. So please let me know if you’d like to be on our waiting list.

Utah’s First Blog Search Engine: TagJungle.com

Our friends at TagJungle have launched a working blog search website at TagJungle.com. I like the implementation a lot. Phil Burns blogged last month about the leadup to the launch. It’s nice to see a Web 2.0 company launch in Utah with a very different approach to searching the blogosphere than anyone else. I like the TagJungle Alexa chart, which is showing about 18,000 for today. I’m betting their traffic will increase rapidly and they’ll quickly break into the top few thousand web sites. They have a LONG way to go to catch Technorati, but catching icerocket and feedster may not be so difficult.

Better than Rocketboom!

I heard about Rocketboom last year, a simple, short-format daily news video broadcast that has attracted millions of views. They have a growing archive, of course, and they use a simple web 2.0 tagging system to identify the topics that are covered in each broadcast. (See the Rocketboom Alexa chart.

When you visit Rocketboom, your first reaction is, anyone could do this. But the fact is, they did it, and they did it early in the online video revolution, and they are still doing it. Unfortunately, Amanda Congdon, the original Rocketboom news anchor left the site earlier this year. Now the anchor is Joanne Colan.

I swear that when I originally saw Rocketboom I thought about my friend Lindsay Campbell, an actress in New York with a degree from Stanford University. She was my assistant at “Infobase Ventures” (the predecessor to Provo Labs). After graduating from Stanford she got an MFA from a very fine acting school in Colorado.

I actually thought she would make a better news anchor than Rocketboom’s. I tried to figure out something that worldhistory.com or one of my other companies could do that might put Lindsay in front of a daily online video news broadcast. But I didn’t figure anything out and never approached her about it.

So imagine my surprise yesteday when I got an email from Lindsay saying that she is quitting her day job to become the news anchor for a new online video news site called WallStrip.com.

It’s a better concept than Rocketboom because it has a more narrow focus, but it will appeal to millions of people who owns stocks and who want to know how changing trends will affect the companies they have invested in.

It’s about the stock market. It’s about highlighting one stock each day that is close to a 52-week high and then going behind the scenes to figure out what is powering the growth of that stock. They will interview people, figure out what is going on in pop culture that is fueling each company’s growth. Then, on all the Wallstrip blogs, professional investors and others will debate the company’s prospects.

Today’s Wallstrip news story is on Apple Computer, whose growth is fueled by the iPod as well as the retail stores that Apple is opening.

So the bottom line is: better concept than Rocketboom. Better anchor than Rocketboom.

I’ve never hired a news anchor before, but I can tell good ones when I see them. I was a huge fan of Soledad O’Brien early on, back when I watched MSNBC’s The Site, one of the programs that fueled the internet revolution.

I am extremely happy for Lindsay and the founding team of Wallstrip.com, and I wish them well. I think their format is excellent. I think Lindsay is perfect for this job. Her career is going to take off. I always knew she would go places!

Howard Lindzon, the founder of Wallstrip outlines one of his goals on a recent blog post:

One of my goals out of Wallstrip is to create a deeper conversation, a better MEME for stock bloggers, market investors and enthusiasts.

The tech nerds have MEME

Phil Burns and Provo Labs Consulting

Phil Burns, whom I have described in the past as a Web 2.0 native that makes me feel like an old, slow, immigrant, is now heading up one of the most exciting things we are doing at Provo Labs. He describes in a recent blog our new Provo Labs Consulting services and how we will are utilizing our employees, our portfolio companies, and their extended networks to provide excellent technology and business solutions for its customers. Phil is on fire with this concept. He has had a very successful career as a business analyst and applications developer. But never has he had hundreds of resources (our employees, their contacts, our portfolio companies, and all their solutions, including hundreds of open source projects and Web services APIs) at his fingertips. His ability to solve business problems is magnified many times because of all these connections and resources. As Phil is able to hire more developers and consultants, if he can train them to think like he thinks, and act as quickly as he acts to match up solutions (people and companies and software that we know) to problems (business needs), this system may become the greatest asset we have at Provo Labs, because we’ll use it for customers as well as for our own startup companies.

The Future of Cell Phones: Point, Click, Learn

Here’s a great NY Times article about how Japanese cell phone users are able to point their specialized phones at buildings and monuments and get information about the location. More than 700,000 locations have information or advertisements associated with them already. or A San Francisco-based company called GeoVector is involved. This is exactly the kind of advance I have been hoping for, so that worldhistory.com, with its growing database of geocoded data, can find a way to deliver it to cell phone users. I’m looking forward to more advances in the U.S., but according to one of GeoVector’s founders, Peter Ellenby, they may be slow in coming here. (Release 1.0 interviewed him late last year.)

While I’m at it, I ought to mention two other interesting location-based services. One is Plazes.com, a German web 2.0 startup with funding, 5 employees, some traffic growth and an API. The other is Socialight, run by New York-based Kamida. It allows people to create StickyShadows, or geotagged notes, which can be viewed by others when they visit the same location later.

My favorite book about society and mobile phones is Smart Mobs. Can anyone recommend any other books about where mobile phones and location based services are heading?