Modern Software Experience

2011-11-21

the revolution has been sold

FamilyLink A MyHeritage company

closing curtain for FamilyLink.com

FamilyLink, the company that was originally known as WorldVitalRecords, and that called each and every product a revolution of genealogy itself, has not been doing well. The original FamilyLink.com site, later renamed FamilyHistoryLink, was closed down in 2009. The GenSeek site, once heralded as their greatest revolution of genealogy, never made it out of beta, and is dead now. In May of 2010, they closed down WebTree.com, their GEDCOM hosting site, introduced in 2008. Their WorldHistory.com site still exists, but it does not look like much, and the WorldHistory FaceBook games (History Quizzes, Remember when... and HistoryWarrior) have disappeared. FamilyLink did not keep up with FaceBook changes. Many of their apps were quietly retired. In September of 2010, they were trying to sell the MyFamily app, they had bought in 2008. Their We're Related app, never a real genealogy application to begin with, has not improved either, and has become nothing more than an poor excuse for a page overloaded with advertisements.

WorldVitalRuin

The last few years, FamilyLink seemed to be in dire needs for cash to survive. They not only spammed any email address they had with increasingly desperate one-time offers, but even introduced the FamilyLink Plus subscription with a revolutionary new business model; demanding a subscription fee for access to non-existent premium features.
They sold WorldVitalRecords.au to FindMyPast and Gould Genealogy, it is now known as findmypast.com.au. In February of this year, FamilyLink sold GenealogyWise to the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (NIGS).
FamilyLink did not ask Funium, the creators of the FaceBook game FamilyVillage, to pay for access to WorldVitalRecords, but invested in Funium to have the game developed. The FamilyVillage game met an unenthusiastic reception.
It seems that the only product to ever come out of FamilyLink that was received well and continues to do well is Dan Lynch's Google Your Family Tree book.

FamilyLament

FamilyLink tried to grow aggressively, and regularly tried to bite of more than it could chew. FamilyLink tried to innovate, but it wasn't a very innovative company, because they lacked the patience, the persistence and focus to make a new product or service successful. FamilyLink hopped from one unoriginal me-too idea to another, and hardly ever bothered to improve or maintain a product after releasing version 1.0. They introduced new things, but lacked the commitment to follow through. Even WorldVitalRecords, the eponymous service the company started with, was practically ignored by management, and fell seriously behind the competition. Thus, the company's financial backbone liquefied and evaporated.

FamilyLink presented itself as a genealogy company and tried to sell its services to genealogists, but did not listen to the complaints and wishes of genealogists. The continued lack of GEDCOM support in We're Related is the most infamous example of the attitude that FamilyLink had towards user feedback. It is true that We're Related was never really aimed at genealogists, but at ordinary FaceBook users instead, but it is also true that genealogists recommend and discommend apps to friends and family, and that they could have filled the We're Related database with millions of profiles, like they've done on sites such as Geni.com.
The bottom-line is that FamilyLink lacked leadership with strategic focus and vision. Rumour is that Paul Allen has been trying to sell FamilyLink for some time. FamilyLink was already a mere shadow of its former self, selling of assets to stay alive. Now it is nothing more now than daydreams of what could have been, and yet another MyHeritage acquisition.

WorldVitalRecords A MyHeritage company

A MyHeritage Acquisition

I've observed before that MyHeritage is accelerating its natural growth through acquisitions. They bought Pearl Street Software in 2006, and continues to promote the Smart Matching technology they acquired this way. In 2008 they bought competitor Kindo, and early in 2010, they bought competitors The OSN Group (Verwandt.de, DynasTree), and Zooof.com. In June of this year, MyHeritage bought the Polish site Bliscy.pl, in September they bought BackupMyTree, and just now they bought FamilyLink.com.

The atmosphere at MyHeritage is probably more than somewhat hectic. Each new acquisition needs to be integrated into the existing company, so all this keeps them quite busy, but these acquisitions are addition to ongoing MyHeritage developments, such as improving their own site and desktop application. This year MyHeritage introduced MyHeritage Backup, added direct import to Family Tree Builder, and introduced their Family Graph API.

MyHeritage has not wasted time asserting its ownership. The FamilyLink and WorldVitalRecords logos have already been updated. Both now carry the byline A MyHeritage company.
The original MyHeritage / techcrunch news release suggests that MyHeritage bough the entire FamilyLink company, but that is not the case.

less than accurate

As seems to be MyHeritage custom, they sold their news as an exclusive to the techcrunch blog. The techcrunch staff created a news release based on information that MyHeritage provided directly to them. Only after the techcrunch blog published their news release, did MyHeritage publish their official press release. As usual, the MyHeritage blog was practically the latest genealogy blog to report their acquisition, doing so only after everyone else has already reported it and commented upon it.

This time round though, their 2011 Nov 23 MyHeritage blog post was an unpleasant surprise for techcrunch, and all the media that relied on either the techcrunch news exclusive or the MyHeritage press release that followed. The MyHeritage blog post revealed that the techcrunch news release and the MyHeritage press release that had published only two days before are less than accurate.

The techcrunch news release clearly states that MyHeritage the company bought FamilyLink the company. Their news release does not except anything from the sale, and that's wrong. For example, the FaceBook app We're Related, arguably FamilyLink's best known property, is not included in the sale.

The MyHeritage press release contains the sentence FamilyLink.com founder Paul Allen, previously a co-founder of Ancestry.com, and FamilyLink.com's "We're Related" Facebook application, will not be part of the merger with MyHeritage., which is easily misread as only being about FamilyLink founder Paul Allen, and how involved he was with the We're Related app. That is arguably the only reasonably interpretation of that sentence, because the techcrunch news release, created in close cooperation with MyHeritage, did not except the We're Related app. Moreover, the FaceBook app redirects to wererelated.familylink.com, and the press release leaves no doubt that MyHeritage just bought the familylink.com site.

The news and press release should have made it clear that MyHeritage bought only part of FamilyLink and only part of the familylink.com site. The 2011 Nov 23 MyHeritage blog post MyHeritage acquires FamilyLink.com and WorldVitalRecords.com states:

The Facebook application called We're Related developed by FamilyLink was not part of the sale, it has been developed by a separate business unit and staff of the sellers, and it will continue to operate independently after the deal, and will not be affiliated with MyHeritage. Neither will be a few other smaller properties of FamilyLink such as an advertising network.

sold

MyHeritage did not buy the entire FamilyLink company. They did not buy the We're Related FaceBook app or the FamilyLink / We're Related web application at familylink.com. They did not buy FamilyLink's advertising network AdMazing, and they did not buy several other small FamilyLink properties.
Apparently, MyHeritage only bought WorldVitalRecords and the FamilyLink name, and did not consider the rest worth buying. So, in a sense, MyHeritage did buy FamilyLink, Inc; the tidbits they left behind are hardly worth having. However, there is a real difference between me, a third party, commenting upon the deal like that, and MyHeritage itself unreservedly announcing the acquisition of FamilyLink.com, Inc.

FamilyLink

FamilyLink is multiple things. FamilyLink was originally the name of a site that got renamed to FamilyHistoryLink only to be discontinued. FamilyLink became and still is the name of the company originally known as WorldVitalRecords. FamilyLink is also being used as the name of what is essentially the We're Related app on the web.
Right now, FamilyLink is the once so promising competitor being acquired by MyHeritage. To be more precise, MyHeritage apparently acquired the company name and its prime assets: their building, their staff and WorldVitalRecords.

WorldVitalRecords

WorldVitalRecords is a web site that offers access to records from multiple sources. FamilyLink liked to advertise that WorldVitalRecords offers more than 1 billion (they mean one milliard) sources, but the most important thing to know about WorldVitalRecords is that the bulk of the sources they offer can be had elsewhere for free. There is little unique content, the quality of the scanned images they offer varies greatly, their user interface in inconsistent and their viewer cannot compete with the footnote.com fold3.com viewer.
WorldVitalRecords has brand recognition, but may well lose a feature comparison with relative newcomer Archives.com.

We're Related

We're Related is FamilyLink's major FaceBook app. FamilyLink was the first to recognise that the FaceBook graph provides a great basis for a genealogy application, but their execution of that idea was less than excellent. FamilyLink promoted We're Related heavily, most infamously with their 2009 April 1 spam, that told recipients that they are related to U.S.A. president Barack Obama. Unlike most FamilyLink products, We're Related saw several major updates, but it always remained a rather poor and disappointing FaceBook app. Aggressive promotion and the first-mover advantage ensured initial success, but its low quality made its decline inevitable. The growing number of FaceBook permissions demanded and increasing number of ads displayed alienated many existing users.
MyHeritage did not acquire We're Related.

AdMazing

It is a little-known fact that FamilyLink owns AdMazing.com. AdMazing is a me-too advertising network that never really took off.
MyHeritage did not acquire AdMazing.

new ground

The acquisition puts MyHeritage on new and unfamiliar ground, not just figuratively, but literally too. The FamilyLink acquisition gives MyHeritage a presence in the U.S.A., and not just any presence. MyHeritage likes to position itself as Ancestry.com's main competitor, and their new U.S.A. offices are practically across the street from Ancestry.com's headquarters.

The acquisition of WorldVitalRecords provides MyHeritage with a genealogical records subscription service. That does not make them a dangerous competitor to Ancestry.com yet, but it does fill out a gap in their portfolio of genealogy services, making them more comparable with Ancestry.com than ever before. MyHeritage's own chest-thumping press release talks about MyHeritage being a one-stop shop now. The WorldVitalRecords service needs some work, and MyHeritage is likely puts its own stamp on it while improving and expanding upon the existing service.

MyHeritage did not buy We're Related, so they still do not own a FaceBook app. We're Related isn't a very good app, but several major MyHeritage competitors do have a FaceBook presence, and the app does not only come with lots of genealogy data, but with access to lots of FaceBook user data as well.
The MyHeritage blog post does not explain why MyHeritage did not buy We're Related, it only states that We're Related will continue to operate independently. Did MyHeritage did not consider it worth buying, or did the former FamilyLink employees offer more?
It is not unlikely that MyHeritage is already developing FaceBook, iOS and Android apps. They'd want a nice clean MyHeritage API to enable creation of these apps - and that is exactly what they introduced this year.

The We're Related app has new owners. The wererelated.familylink.com app continues to work, without presenting the slightest hint that it is no longer owned by FamilyLink. The new owners of the We're Related app have not announced any plans, but it is reasonable to expect the We're Related app to move from the wererelated.familylink.com subdomain to its own wererelated.com domain.

My2012

MyHeritage will integrate WorldVitalRecords into its existing product portfolio, and start offering record matches to MyHeritage users, playing feature catch-up with Ancestry shaky leaves and Geni.com record matches. MyHeritage is unlikely to rush the integration; they not only have a lot going on already, they are not eager for a repeat of the problems they created when they rushed the Verwandt.de integration either.
In the short term, MyHeritage will simply continue to operate MyHeritage and WorldVitalRecords as before. MyHeritage is additionally offering discounts of up to 50% on WorldVitalRecords subscriptions to MyHeritage customers and vice versa.
We have to wait and see what MyHeritage is going to do exactly, but it is already clear that 2012 will not bring a dearth of announcements from MyHeritage.com.

updates

2011-11-24: revised text

The above is a revised text. The original text was revised after it became clear that the MyHeritage / techcrunch news release and the MyHeritage press release are less than accurate. A link to the original text plus update is below.

2011-12-22: Family Tree Builder 6.0

MyHeritage has released Family Tree Builder 6.0, and it finds matches to records in WorldVitalRecords.

2012-06-11: record matching

MyHeritage has announced that is implementing the WorldVitalRecords record matching feature I suggested in the closing My2012 paragraph above.

2012-09-19: record matching

MyHeritage has announced the record matching feature mentioned above again. Back in June it was merely an announcement of an upcoming feature for the genealogy press. Today the new feature is live on the MyHeritage servers, matching MyHeritage tree profiles against the WorldVitalRecords records.
Update 2012-09-23: See MyHeritage Matching.

links

FamilyLink

MyHeritage