RootsTech 2015, Online Genealogy Marketplace Sites Review
If you attended RootsTech 2015 and you wandered into the Expo Hall past the heavily staffed, glitzy showcases found front and center, you may have noticed a few vendors (GenMarketplace, ancestorcloud, and RootsBid) promoting and demonstrating something you may have never heard of – an “online genealogy marketplace”. Don’t worry your pretty heads, that’s nothing more than a real fancy term for what’s really a very simple idea. You need something, someone else can get you that something, you connect, a price is named, money and goods change hands.
Simply picture that desired resource as any genealogically relevant record, put RootsTech conference badges on both people, and arm them each with their internet access device of choice and you get the idea. Family researchers working for fellow family researchers. The genealogy community is already astoundingly collaborative, this just adds some coin incentive.
I saw three such ideas marketed at RootsTech 2015 and was lucky to catch lightening talks on each of them during the Family History Technology Workshop held at BYU prior to the conference. These talks showcase the latest apps and software ideas in short, bare bones presentations by the developers themselves and yours truly was present and drooling. (Yes, the developers were mostly handsome young men, but alas, I drool now only for good ideas, and, maybe, pink frosted donuts.) Afterwards, out in the hallway, we grilled the handsome, young presenters while demoing their apps. And even though the group skewed towards FamilySearch apps (because, who can blame them?), it was refreshing to talk shop with so many bright and eager minds. Out of the mix, the marketplace apps were the most interesting to me.
Although each of the three has a unique focus, they all pretty much work the same. A post or job request is entered by a user, other users scan or search these posts or requests and flag the one they will fulfill. They wander off, do the work, and when completed and approved by the requester, they receive a reward.
The low-down, presented alphabetically, on the three of them, IMHO:
Did you see the booth with the “We Seek Dead People” t-shirts and buttons? That’s them. Developer Wesley Eames was engaging and keen to talk about his site. I hope you got one of those buttons because they may just become collectors’ items (more on that later).
Work it: Users can request records, photos, translations, or research help and specify up front what they are willing to pay for the job. This site uses their own currency, “ancestorcoin”, which, I bet anything, cost real dollars. Fulfillers are paid for each job completed. They can then use that bank to pay for their own requests or cash out. During one of our numerous conversations, Wesley mentioned that they plan to partner with genealogy organizations to create an online shop where ancestorcoin could be spent on books, t-shirts, and the like. The web site and video both claim the service is free.
The Nitty Gritty: The user interface, incomplete at conference time, was friendly, modern, and uncomplicated looking. Kudos for the use of color! I was disappointed it wasn’t coded out far enough for a real test drive. Undaunted, I stood there and narrated how I envisioned it working and was met with “yes”, “exactly”, and “uh-huhs” and lots of nodding until I said, “And I can receive notifications of newly posted jobs in my locations by email.” Pause. Then, “Oh, good idea, let me add that to my list.”
Gotchas: Now, remember what I said about the buttons? I tried to use the site today and LO! I saw a dead web site. Give your email address at the login and regardless that you thought you created an account at their booth, you go nowhere. So am I just jumping the gun? Checking my notes, I could not find a release date nor is it mentioned on their FB or Twitter. And then, the plot thickened! I found Genealogy’s Star’s review about them from LAST year’s RootsTech where the product, with the same name, isn’t a bidding job site at all, but a cloud based repository/sharing site for photos, documents, and records. WTF? I do admire their agility and it does explain their odd name, but launch the marketplace version of it soon, guys. Cuz, won’t I feel silly otherwise? Also, I could not access their Terms and Conditions so cannot speak on the fine print.
Video found on home page of web site:
Matthew Faulconer is the brains behind this one and he’s a real nice guy. His booth wasn’t in a high traffic area like ancestorcloud’s and he was giving away pencils instead of cute buttons but he graciously talked to me time and again and now I’ve got enough lead to scribble in all of the books in all of the genealogy libraries from here to Tippecanoe (I kid. I’m an ink girl, all the way. Just ask the 5th floor librarian at NEHGS. If she recovered, that is.) You know him because he was one of the finalists who presented at the Innovators Challenge (if memory serves, he took third place and a $3000 prize).
Work it: It’s FamilySearch Family Tree based, so all jobs created are for growing that tree. You can request a location, source, name, child, parent, etc, etc, be added or tagged in the Family Tree or create a custom job. You set an initial price, maximum price, and increase rate. There’s also a Chrome extension or use Find-A-Record (see the App Gallery) for auto job posting capability. Once you PayPal enough funds to the site to cover your request, it gets posted. Other users “reserve” the job, have three hours to complete it, then “claim” the reward. Unique to this site is that the price offered for each job increases as time passes, so the longer a job sits, the higher the price goes until it hits the set maximum price, so there’s potential for some tricksy strategy here. Also, payment for jobs claimed but not approved by the poster occurs automatically after seven days (interesting if your strategy is fraud!). Currently, there’re over 400 jobs listed but most are for the very unmotivating price of 9¢. As popularity of the site grows, I’m hoping prices become more realistic.
The Nitty Gritty: The site, though functional, needs some basic user interface voodoo applied. Login requires a user name rather than an email address. The posts are not on the Home page, nor are they on the Posts page. It takes half your day and three clicks of drill-down to find them.The forms need work too, but now I’m starting to sound all UI-bitch-girl, so I’ll stop. The issues can be easily addressed and Matt did mention his goal was to launch quickly and gussy up later (I’m holding you to it!). On the plus side, the help section was really, well, helpful. And the papa, mama, and baby leaf logo is subtlety cute.
Gotchas: It’s not close to free. GenMarket receives 15% of the final cost of each job. It only works with FamilySearch Family Tree and how the heck I missed that little factoid until now is beyond me, although I don’t recall doing any hands-on testing at RootsTech. I don’t actively use that, but I suppose I could still use this app to obtain missing family data and then copy it. Or is that shady? It also means that you are financing the growth of the Family Tree, something you do not own or control and what would stop another user from changing or deleting the very record you just paid for? (It may at this point be obvious that I really don’t know doodoo about FT.)
Gotchas, part II: Another thing, read the Terms and Conditions carefully because there’s a wee clause in there called “Outside Contacts” that basically states that you cannot form new, collaborative friendships with the other users and not invite GenMarketplace to be part of that party.
Video found on home page of web site:
Founded by Eric Proffitt, Michael Parker, and Steve Pedersen, RootsBid connects family researchers to other, reviewed researchers, who live in “your ancestral homelands”. Their booth was near the back left corner and they were sucking people in with daily prize drawings including an iPad Mini (still waiting to hear I won…). Nice people, knowledgeable about our pain points, excited about their product and that pearl bracelet prize.
Work It: Users create “requests” and specify the location of the record, photo, or information they seek. Posting a request requires an account but the posting is free. The request is both posted to the site and emailed to area “registered” researchers. On this site, the user doesn’t set a price, the responders bid for the jobs. Based on the reviews, which I could not find anywhere on the site, and the bids received, the user chooses which bid, if any, to accept. RootsBid escrows the money until completion and acceptance of the results, when the researcher is paid, minus RootsBid’s 5% fee. Currently, there’s about 20 requests for research in a handful of different global locations.
The Nitty Gritty: Well designed user interface with clear how-to graphics but how many times have we already seen this same sepia-toned color scheme? The how-to video is wonderfully short yet deftly covers the bases. I’d like to be able to browse some of the reviews, just to get a feel for what to expect and to see if there’s a reviewer near any of my ancestral homes, but it is refreshingly clear that a good amount of thought went into their product and their web site.
Gotchas: Their Terms and Conditions spell out that there’s no playing among the kiddies outside of the RootsBid owned sandbox. Plus, looks like everything you create or do or upload in relation to using their site, unless you explicitly state otherwise, is also theirs to use for marketing or “other purposes”. Sigh.
Video found on home page of web site:
So, that’s that. I don’t see these new apps replacing any of our basic research processes or resource repositories but each of them may fill a small, previously unfilled niche in our toolboxes. GenMarketplace has, despite their narrow focus and need for applying that prize money to user interface improvements, great potential to be a top FamilySearch App Gallery entry. RootsBid sounds like an easy way to connect to vetted, foreign researchers. They also have the advantage of allowing for in-depth requests, but I worry about the lack of any template or other means for defining the exact scope of each request. Based on their video and my impression at the conference, ancestorcloud will be the most versatile and easy to use of the marketplaces. Job requests are not limited to Family Tree, include records look-ups, photo requests, and translations, and there’s no bid vetting step. We’ll know more for sure when, and I do mean when, Wesley Eames, it’s launched.
What do you think?
- Taner, James. “Ancestor Cloud.” Genealogy’s Star. 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/2014/02/ancestor-cloud.html>.
- GenMarketplace. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.genmarketplace.com/>.
- RootsBid. Rootsbid, Inc., 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.rootsbid.com>.
- ancestorcloud. AncestorCloud, Inc., 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <http://www.ancestorcloud.com>.