Is Ancestry Dumb?

Is Ancestry DumbSo the big news today in genealogy-land is that Ancestry is dropping its ExpertConnect service, effective next Thursday.  ExpertConnect was a service where you could hire a genealogist through Ancestry (which is by far the largest genealogy website in the United States).  A researcher would bid on work, the client would pick a winner, and Ancestry would keep a commission of 15-25%, depending on the type of project.  It was somewhat controversial among the genealogy glitterati, but a lot of good genealogists were getting their start and/or building their business through ExpertConnect.

Last year, Ancestry bought ProGenealogists, a professional genealogical research firm.  The speculation now is that Ancestry shut down ExpertConnect because they don’t need/want it anymore, since they have ProGenealogists.

I’m not buying it.

ProGenealogist’s website lists only 20 researchers to cover North America, Ireland, and the British Isles.  If the world only needs 20 people to do that, we’re all screwed.  I don’t believe for a second that there wouldn’t be an abundance of genealogical work left over after those 20 people were fully engaged.  Why wouldn’t Ancestry want a 15-25% cut of that other work?

Then there’s the problem of geography and geographical expertise.  Those 20 people can’t be everywhere and know everything.  Often, the whole point of hiring a professional is to get some local help and expertise.  For example, I have work I need to do in Freeborn County, Minnesota.  It doesn’t appear from the list that any of those 20 researchers are anywhere near there, and the Family History Library has few records for that location.  The work I need has to be done onsite in Freeborn County, by someone familiar with the records there.  In essence, ProGenealogists doesn’t provide the services I need…so a researcher who lives in and specializes in Freeborn County is not in competition with them.  Why would Ancestry stop taking a 15-25% chunk of that Freeborn County researcher’s pay?  There’s no conflict for them.  They have an in-house team, and they also get a cut of work they can’t handle themselves.

It doesn’t make sense.  It can’t be that simple.  I have no idea what the back story is behind this surprising change, but I don’t believe for a second it’s as simple as “they have ProGenealogists now” (unless they’re going to add a couple of zeros to the number ProGenealogist employees).  They used to say that all politics is local; I think all genealogy is local as well.  One firm can’t possibly do it all.

I think there’s more to the story.  I hope Ancestry is going to share much more about this and about their strategy soon.  Right now, they’ve left a wide swath of the genealogical community completely befuddled.  Befuddling your customers is dumb…and if there’s one thing Ancestry isn’t, it’s dumb.

Disclaimer: I’m technically an ExpertConnect provider, but I never did any actual work through them because, in a stroke of brilliant timing, I signed up less than 24 hours before they announced that they were pulling the plug.  I’m also an Ancestry affiliate, but the links above are not affiliate links, because it seemed kinda tacky to use them for this particular post. Additionally, I own a tiny bit of stock in Ancestry, which is another reason I’m so curious as to why they’re doing this.

Photo by cogdogblog

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