24 February 2014

Speak to What You Know

Some time ago, a friend of mine directed me to a review online about Ancestry.com. She was amused at the misinformation and misunderstanding from the blogger himself as well as the claims made in the comments by others. Much of what was said were things I had seen a hundred times already and I took it upon myself to comment. I received notifications on occasion that a reply or new comment had been made and I'd go back to it if I felt it warranted another go. After a while, I pretty much gave up on the comments as they all seemed to just want to pat themselves on the back and agree that Ancestry.com was horrible. This weekend another comment was made and it was full of ridiculous statements that only proved that these people continue to not know what is going on or read what has already been said. That the reviewer didn't give the site a fair trial is ignored by these people who seem to believe that all the information they need should be and is somewhere free on the internet "if you look hard enough". So instead of continuing to argue with them on that page, and knowing that there are many who aren't on that review (now very old, like 2010) who spew the same silly things, I thought I'd address the objections here for a moment. I'm going to quote and breakdown the argument from the most recent comment.

"The whole setup is a huge earner for many companies as people business, is big business and they are simply cashing in on it.
Firstly, most of the information found in their public records can be found online if you are persistent and know where to look and even a lot of that data is either not precise or incorrect.
The parts that would be of interest to me is the public member trees, photos and scanned documents which of course is only put up by people, these are not official public records and I am not going to pay hundreds of dollars per year just for that, because it`s simply not good value for money.
So in fact
ancestry.com and their subsidiary companies change a fee to subscribed members to place their data onto their site and others have to pay subscribe in order to access that information, then all the owners do is sit back and watch all the paid subscriptions coming in, or in other words, this racket is a nice little earner.
Also there are probably many of our details on the ancestry.com site or as parts of others family trees, without our knowledge and without our permission and if discovered ancestry.com gives the complainants a real hard time trying to have the stuff deleted. People can publish a lot of private material about others on ancestry.com without permissions or concerns about copyrights as in many cases they are protected under the auspices of these so-called genealogical companies, which means many people unbeknown to them are making contributions to these companies and the only ways to discover if we are listed on their sites is to pay subscribe ourselves. These huge companies are in a win, win situation.
I have no prejudices against any companies making achievements and becoming successful, but my grievances are; is that anyone can place data about anyone on there with virtually no questions asked and I ask; why should I or others have no say with our details being publish on those sites and why should people have to pay subscribe to access information about themselves?"
 
My responses will be highlighted:
"Firstly, most of the information found in their public records can be found online if you are persistent and know where to look and even a lot of that data is either not precise or incorrect." Since Ancestry.com compiles records from other repositories, yes you can find many collections elsewhere. Vital records, for instance, but not every state/country provides their own online database. As for the information not being precise or correct, welcome to genealogy, the microfiche is to your left and the pots of coffee for your midnight searches is on the right. Use pencil in your notes, because you'll be making a lot of adjustments to what you "know" as you learn. But please don't ignore the many collections digitised and compiled by Ancestry.com itself and available nowhere else.
"The parts that would be of interest to me is the public member trees, photos and scanned documents which of course is only put up by people, these are not official public records and I am not going to pay hundreds of dollars per year just for that, because it`s simply not good value for money." If anyone is paying hundreds of dollars to take the photos and scanned documents from public member trees, they are wasting their money. Mundia.com allows you to see the same public trees for free. You pay Ancestry.com for the records that are not found elsewhere online or not found elsewhere for free. And if all you do is pull your information from other people's research, no wonder you find so many errors.
"So in fact ancestry.com and their subsidiary companies change a fee to subscribed members to place their data onto their site and others have to pay subscribe in order to access that information, then all the owners do is sit back and watch all the paid subscriptions coming in, or in other words, this racket is a nice little earner." Again, you pay for records access, not to steal/borrow/take/collaborate/whatever off a public member's tree. And since you can upload and build a tree for free, subscribers aren't being charged to "place their data onto [Ancestry.com]". You want just public member tree information? Try Mundia.com, same trees, same fluff, no records.
"Also there are probably many of our details on the ancestry.com site or as parts of others family trees, without our knowledge and without our permission and if discovered ancestry.com gives the complainants a real hard time trying to have the stuff deleted. People can publish a lot of private material about others on ancestry.com without permissions or concerns about copyrights as in many cases they are protected under the auspices of these so-called genealogical companies, which means many people unbeknown to them are making contributions to these companies and the only ways to discover if we are listed on their sites is to pay subscribe ourselves. These huge companies are in a win, win situation." First, searching is free, it's accessing records that is a charge. You can search yourself out to see if you are listed. As said before, Mundia.com shows public trees, so you can search and view public trees from Ancestry.com for free to see if you've been placed in someone's tree. Second, facts are not copyrighted. The fact that you were born in Oklahoma is not copyrighted and anyone can place a profile of you with that fact on it. Now, a photo of your first birthday taken by your mother is copyrighted by your mother and must have permissions from your mother prior to upload *if it bothers your mother* but you have no copyright claim to that photo and cannot request it's removal based on a copyright claim. If you write a story about your life, that story is under copyright, but the facts *inside* that story are not and can be used. Living people are supposed to be private, so if you were to find yourself on a public tree and clearly visible, you can have the profile removed or privatised in the tree as a breach in TOS. This whole paragraph seems to be the commentor's effort to prove how greedy genealogy companies are without actually knowing how they make money or what copyright means.
"I have no prejudices against any companies making achievements and becoming successful, but my grievances are; is that anyone can place data about anyone on there with virtually no questions asked and I ask; why should I or others have no say with our details being publish on those sites and why should people have to pay subscribe to access information about themselves?" Just one more paragraph illustrating that this person, much like others who commented, have no idea what genealogy is or how these genealogy sites really work. That they chose Ancestry.com for this particular review doesn't matter. These complaints are out there for every site.

This is just one seemingly rational person making the worst mistakes of assumption about Ancestry.com. I see these same arguments a hundred times a day. Right up there with the charge per month being too much (which is still the cheapest out there and much cheaper than offline research), bashing Mormons (there is some serious misinformation about Mormons and genealogy/Ancestry.com that never goes away), and automatic subscription renewal being unethical (I would seriously love a list of the websites for any service that don't autorenew your subscription). And I'll close this brief rant with two problems I had with the initial review:

1. The reviewer never does the 14 day trial, because he won't put in a credit card number. That's all well and good, but it's not a fair trial of the site. He could've gone to the library to use their edition for free. He could've used a prepaid credit card if his worry was protecting his privacy and financial accounts. He could've done as normal people do and tried it out for a day or two and then cancelled the trial prior to charging (saving his cancellation number should a charge go through anyway). I would never accept the review for any product from someone who didn't actually use the product. He doesn't even seem to attempt to check the card catalogue for the hundreds of free databases that could've been of use to him without a subscription. He doesn't even acknowledge they exist.
2. The reviewer seems to think that one day we'll have this large crowd sourced site that will take over for the pay sites. An interesting idea........ that's already been tried. Rootsweb, Geni, Mundia, MyHeritage, and even the one Family Tree on FamilySearch.org all try to put researchers in the driver's seat. And we all know how those user submitted parts of sites do, don't we? (One World Tree ringing any bells?) There is nothing more frustrating or error-ridden than user submitted information without source citation. What I also find confusing is where he and his supporters think all the documents for this crowd source are going to come from. Obviously they believe most of the information available anywhere is completely free if you just search hard enough. But anyone who's done genealogy for even a few months knows how much is payment only, even offline. I may be able to get a free copy of a vital record in many states as long as it's 100 years old or more, but I'm going to have to pay for my grandparents', parents', and my own certificates. And don't get me started with sites like ScotlandsPeople, which I love but have to pay for each search page and each image I want to view on the search page. And while I enjoy sharing my paid research with family so they can save some money, I'm not about to break copyright laws just so complete strangers don't have to pay money. People who believe genealogy should be free seem to ignore how many of the sources we use weren't made for the benefit of genealogists (census, anyone?) and we are lucky they exist! Just because your family is listed doesn't mean you own the records. The cost of housing, digitising, transcribing, indexing, and protecting these sources have to be covered somewhere. And no, not every source of genealogical information is paid for with your tax money since not every source is governmental in origin (baptismal records?). But the reviewer keeps insisting that one day this will be possible. One day we will have a Wikipedia style genealogy site that is totally free and totally user submitted public information.
You have fun with that, Sunshine. I'll pay to actually get somewhere in my research.
-Ana
(I considered not linking to the review so as to not give this man more traffic, but I thought others should have as much fun as I have: http://shoutsfromtheabyss.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/ancestry-com-can-eat-my-ass/ )

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Rhi. I respect both points you raised about my initial review. The fact is, and this is my opinion, if you are just mildly curious about your genealogy, $24.95 a month is too high a price. If you're a hardcore researcher or really into your genealogy, perhaps that price seems more reasonable. To each their own. As to your other point, you are right. I didn't know that any other sources existed. All I knew was that the website wanted my credit card. They certainly weren't going out of their way to make me aware of options that might interfere with that process. You may not like my review but it accurately describes my experience and my reaction to the pricing. Was it offensive? Yeah, that's kind of what I do. I apologize that it bothers you. That was never my intent. I appreciate how you've thoughtfully corrected the record as you see it. I find you to be a reasonable and well intentioned voice and I appreciated hearing what you had to say. I wish you all the best! --Tom

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