FamilyLink is (or soon will be) for genealogists

Randy Seaver is one of my very favorite genealogy bloggers. (Click here to visit his blog.) He has excellent insights about tools, technologies, and content that genealogists find useful, and he often provides better reviews (and screenshots) of new products and services than anyone else I follow.

He is into genealogy – not social networking – so he typically reviews things from the perspective of a genealogist. I think that makes sense, because he is an excellent genealogist and his readers look to him for genealogy advice. But I have sometimes felt that he and other genealogy bloggers haven’t appreciated the fact that our primary thrust at FamilyLink.com has been to expose literally tens of millions of non-genealogists to the first experience building a family tree made up of their living relatives (whom we make it easy for them to find on Facebook) and then to help them stay in touch with those relatives.

Most of the millions of trees that our users have created on our Facebook app or on our Flash-based family tree on FamilyLink.com are made up of living relatives. In fact, of the 80 million people who have used our application, the average user has 8 known relatives. We make it easy for them to drag-and-drop those relatives onto their family tree on FamilyLink, and then, if they want to, to add information about ancestors as well. (Randy is right that we haven’t enabled GEDCOM uploading on FamilyLink – making it almost useless to a genealogist wanting to share his/her tree with their relatives. The reason is that only a small percentage of our users even known what a GEDCOM is, while the majority of our users want to share and view recent family photos with each other. So it’s always been a matter of priority.)

Because of our unique focus on helping people find living relatives, we have attracted a huge mass audience since we first launched “We’re Related” on Facebook in October 2007. Clearly, far more people are more interested in their living relatives than they are in their deceased ancestors. (I recall data from my MyFamily.com days – a long time ago – that 7% of adults are involved in family history but 95% of people feel it is important to stay in touch with living relatives. That means we may potentially have a 13.5x larger audience than purely genealogy sites.) That said, many of us at FamilyLink helped pioneer the online genealogy industry, and have wanted to provide valuable and innovative tools and content to the family historian in every family – in addition to the living family tools.

Already this year, we have enhanced our photo sharing features for families, added instant messaging, and are rolling out a new sign-up flow, a new home page, and a desktop photo uploader in the next few days. After we complete two more major features in the coming weeks, we will take FamilyLink.com out of beta and formally launch it. We believe it will be ready for millions of families to rely on as their primary family web site. Other features and enhancements will be added later, of course, but the major features of our family social network will be in place, and no longer in beta testing mode.

With the social features well underway, we are turning our attention back to taking some of the “really good ideas” Randy gives us credit for – he’s referring to our genealogy ideas – and baking them into our FamilyLink experience. Many observers will say “it’s about time.” But as a company, we feel good about the fact that given our limited startup capital we had to choose between building (or completing) our advanced and innovative tools for genealogists and our mass market family social network tools, and we chose the latter. Now we are in a position to complete some of our earlier projects and roll them out as part of our flagship service, FamilyLink.com.

Randy recently wrote a blog post about FamilyLink Plus, the new premium (subscription) service that FamilyLink is introducing. Like most other companies in the family/genealogy space, we have chosen to introduce a premium service on top of our basic free service – and some of the main features in the Plus product will appeal primarily to the family historian of the family.

Randy raises some good questions about FamilyLink Plus, which I will attempt to answer here.

  • Regarding Ancestor Searching (letting members search more than 1.5 billion online names) he says, “This must be a subscription to WorldVitalRecords, right?” Yes, in fact, it is a subscription to the World Collection on WorldVitalRecords.com. This is an introductory price, and there is currently no way to extend your current WVR subscription for $59.40, but our call center will probably be able to do that soon. (Call 801-377-0588 in a week or two if you want to do this.)
  • Regarding Family Tree Matching he asks, “Does this mean they will finally accept a GEDCOM file upload?” I hate to disappoint, but the answer is our tree matching will be done before we support GEDCOM uploads. We have purchased technology that will enable us to support GEDCOM uploads soon – hopefully within a month or two – but the focus of our family tree matching will be to help you find more possible living relatives more than it will be to help you find more possible ancestors. As Randy says, others have done a very good job with tree matching for genealogical purposes.
  • Regarding Map My Ancestors he wonders if FamilyLink will “permit all localities to be shown for the family tree entries” and if this feature will behind the subscription wall. Since this is built on Google maps, it should support all localities that match current place names in Google (some historical locations will continue to give us trouble), and since we have far more engineering resources on FamilyLink than we have on worldhistory.com, we expect our location-support will improve on what we built before.

So even though Randy concludes that he will pass on subscribing to FamilyLink Plus for now (partly because of the very sound logic that he already has a subscription to WorldVitalRecords), I especially appreciate Randy’s sentiments about FamilyLink:

“I want them to succeed, because they have really good ideas and I believe that competition is really good for the genealogy world.”

In conclusion, we view ourselves as the world leader in social networking for families. Our priority has to be features that help families find and stay in touch with each other.

But at the same time, it is often true that the genealogist in the family is also the connector of the living family – the person who keeps track of marriages and births and family achievements and makes sure that family reunions occur to keep people connected.

When I was fund-raising back in the late 90s for my first genealogy company, I used to joke that there are two kinds of people who keep in touch with all their living relatives – genealogists and multi-level marketers – and that we decided to focus our company mission on helping the former gather families together online.

Building more features for the genealogist of the family will increase the number of people actively using FamilyLink to share and preserve their family heritage online — in addition to “what’s happening today” in their family.

3 Comments

  1. I already have my family tree back like 15 generations in Geni.com. If there’s no way for me to import that data to FamilyLink, then I simply won’t be using FamilyLink.

    Import/Export is the first thing you should have implemented, otherwise I will never even consider using the service for anything, ever. Nor will any of my family, since I’d be the one hooking them into it in the first place.

    Data lock-in does not appeal to me, and you can’t realistically try to sell me on it as a good thing.

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