Modern Software Experience

2011-08-13

assimilation

Geni.com logo

Geni just got better - or worse

The latest post on the Geni.com blog, Geni Pro just got a Whole Lot Better has the Geni.com community buzzing. That isn't because of the hilariously geniological first sentence, At Geni, our vision is to empower the genealogy community to create the world family tree, the single largest, most accurate, and comprehensive family tree in existence. Geni.com's Borg Tree isn't genealogy. The Borg Tree is not even geneathology. Geni.com's Borg Tree is geneatheology.

profile management

The buzz is about the second paragraph. Geni.com announces the release of new permissions that are designed to accelerate the growth and improve the quality of the world family tree.. The first thing it notes is that Geni Pro subscribers now have full permission to add on to, edit, and merge profiles in the historical parts of the tree..

One reason for this change, not mentioned in the blog post, perhaps because Geni.com assumed everyone already understood that, yet stated in comments, is that Pro users no longer have to worry about people that won’t reply on merge requests. This is, or rather was, a common complaint of Geni.com users.

Geni.com profiles have a profile manager. By default, the creator of the profile is the profile manager, and may designate other users as collaborators. You can request that two profiles be merged, but if the manager of the other profile does not respond, nothing happens. The big change is that the manager and collaborator status no longer matter. If you have a Geni Pro account, you no longer need to wait for approval from a profile manager, but can merge any public profile.

The Geni blog post states there are new permissions, but that is a confused statement. There are no new permissions.
The merge privilege used to be restricted to the profile manager and collaborators, but these roles have effectively been removed. Now, the merge privilege is restricted to users with a Geni Pro account, i.e. users who with paid subscription.
This certainly solves the problem of unresponsive profile managers, but it introduces new problems. This change practically ensures edit wars. Well, maybe not, as Geni.com still has curators, who can actually lock fields with known good data, but that solution is itself a problem; it only works for as long as you happen to agree with their notion of what constitutes known good data…

free users

The changes Geni.com just made certainly don't improve the Geni.com experience for free users.
Free users not only lose their profile manager status, they basically lose all control over all but their closest ancestral profiles; when some Geni Pro user swoops in to merge a profile in your tree with some other profile, there is nothing you can do about it, unless you are willing to pay for a Geni Pro account and start a profile edit war.

It used to be possible to build your own tree and deliberately avoid merging it into the Borg Tree, but that is not what Geni.com wants. Now, some Pro users will merge your tree for you. If they've got it wrong, tough luck. All Geni.com users are equal, but Geni Pro users are more equal than others. Geni Pro users can merge your tree with the Borg Tree.

All Geni.com users are related, but Geni Pro users are more related than others.

search

There are more than 100 million profiles on Geni.com. It used to be that all users could search all profiles. Now, searching Geni.com has essentially been restricted to Geni Pro account. Sure, free users can still find their closest relatives, but you hardly need an online family tree for that, and you hardly need a search feature for that either; you use an online family tree to make contact with distant cousins - and now only the Geni Pro users will be able to do so. All Geni.com users are related, but Geni Pro users are more related than others.

Ken Tregear notes that it is strange that although Geni.com profiles can be found through google, you can no longer search for profiles on the site itself. Imminger M remarks that Geni seems to have no clue how many people do this because they don’t have any family relations left inside of 3 generations..

unhappy Pro

It makes sense that many free users are unhappy with these changes.
Limiting free accounts as much as Geni.com just did may not be wise. The key to making the freemium model work is enticing free users so much that a percentage of them decides to go for a paid account. The Borg Tree is central to Geni.com, and now most free users cannot even see the Borg Tree in search… The changes make it unlikely that a free users will find any distant relative on Geni.com in any way. How are free users ever going to like Geni.com so much that they decide to go for a paid account?

That free users criticise Geni.com for not thinking the changes through isn't surprising, but it aren't just the free users that are unhappy. Geni Pro users are unhappy too.
The gist of several comments is that Geni.com should not try to make Geni Pro more attractive by subtracting features from the free account, but by adding features to the Pro account. One reason for that position is that limitations on free accounts affect Pro accounts as well. All Geni.com members use the site to collaborate with each other. Limiting what free users can search and find does not only reduce the value of a free account, it reduces the value of a Pro account as well. By limiting what free users can search and find, Geni.com is limiting the contacts that Geni Pro users make.

User Stig Roar Bye remarks that he was about to invite some family to check out the tree he has made, but now that the free accounts have become so limited, has decided not do so. Instead, he'll export his tree to GEDCOM and check out the competition.

Geni GEDCOM export

One problem for users who want to leave is that Geni.com has their data, and GEDCOM export of your forest is a Geni Pro feature.
One solution is to take the free limited-time Pro trial, export your data to GEDCOM and then cancel the Pro subscription, but that requires you to have credit card.

The easiest approach to getting your most important Geni.com data is to use AncestorSync. The AncestorSync for Geni Beta allows you to specify both a tree depth and breadth, and then download your data from Geni.com complete with documents and photos.

money versus genealogy

Several users comment on a fundamental issue with Geni.com's changes; the ability to pay for a Geni Pro account does not equal genealogical quality in any way. If Geni.com really cares about the quality of the Borg Tree, the decision to merge profiles should not be based on whether the user is willing and able to pay for a Geni Pro account, but on arguments. Shutting free users out of the decision is putting money before accuracy, and does not show respect for genealogy itself.

The comments got really heated when one Geni Pro user decided to call the free users freeloaders. Some freeloaders where quick to point that they joined Geni.com years ago, when there were no Pro accounts, and that they added all the data that makes today's Geni Pro account worth paying for. They might not have provided their data or put in so many hours of labour on the site if they had known Geni.com was going to do this.

one tree

Geni.com labels the changes it made as improvements, but even Pro users are unhappy. That is not just because fewer free users will contact them, but also because letting every Pro user merge public profiles is a double-edged sword. It not only takes care of profile managers who never respond to merge request, it also allows every Pro user to mess up your tree. Never mind how much of an expert you are, never mind how much careful research you did; all the qualification anyone needs to jump to conclusions and perform a bunch of merges that completely screw up your tree is a Geni Pro account.

That particular complaint is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what Geni.com is and is not; Geni.com is not about your family tree but about their Borg Tree. Most online genealogy sites keep your tree separate from other trees, Geni.com aims to assimilate all member trees into its collective.
On Geni.com, there is no such thing as your family tree. There's only the collective.

updates

2011-08-14 free users going private

Free users are opting out of having their profiles merged by Geni Pro users by making all their profiles private, even deleting and disconnecting individuals that connect their ancestry to the Borg Tree.
It is possible that Geni will respond by turning all profiles for people born more than hundred years ago public again.

2011-08-15 GenSoftReviews

Back in 2009, when Geni first limited free features, users took to GenSoftReviews, and Geni.com's average score took a dive. Its overall rating seemed to be improving since then, but once again, disgruntled users are venting on GenSoftReviews.

2011-08-15 exodus to WikiTree

On both FaceBook and Google+, Chris Whitten has remarked that WikiTree has welcomed a flood of ex-Geni users over the weekend.

2011-08-17 WikiTree 30% traffic jump

WikiTree reports a 30% jump in traffic over the weekend.

2011-08-17 Geni CEO message

The Geni blog has posted A Message From Geni’s CEO. The message stresses what has not changed and states there will be more to announce soon.

2011-08-17 WeRelate 100% signup jump

WeRelate reports that this past Saturday, Sunday and Monday, they saw a 100% increase in new user sign-ups.

2011-08-18 Geni Public Access

The Geni blog has announced Geni Public Access; a Geni Pro access program for libraries and societies, not individual users.

2011-08-18 Geni Public Access

The Geni blog has announced that forest export, the most inclusive GEDCOM export option, is now part of the free account.

2011-08-23 Geni Stats Down

Geni Stats Down examines Geni.com's public statistics.

2011-11-02 more changes

The Geni blog posts Changes to Membership Tiers & Merging introduces more changes; most significantly, free users are now limited to just 100 profiles.

2012-11-30 Geni.com

MyHeritage has bought Geni.com, and rolled back some changes, see MyHeritage gobbles Geni.

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