Unless you live under a rock (or have a life outside of genealogy blogs), you’ve probably heard that a new search engine for family historians launched last week. It’s called Mocavo. The company’s blog says that the site “enables the search of more than 50 billion words – including billions of names, dates and places, all within fractions of a second” (which is pretty much how all search engines work). It goes on to say that “coupled with the speed and accuracy by which search results are produced, Mocavo.com represents a major technological breakthrough within the genealogy world.”
I spent 15 minutes or so trying Mocavo out last week. I tested out some of the names I’ve been working on recently, so that I could compare the results to the results I’ve found using Google recently. I didn’t find anything I wasn’t already aware of through my Google work, but I did find that Mocavo missed:
- Blog posts. There are nearly 2,000 members of Geneabloggers now, and presumably there are other genealogy blogs out there who aren’t members. This seems like a huge oversight to me (although the company says that they’re adding blogs soon).
- Obituaries from Legacy.com. Mocavo says it searches free sites. Legacy.com is a site that houses obituaries from newspapers around the country, and some older obituaries cost $2.95. It’s not free, but I have had HUGE breakthroughs from a single $2.95 obit.
- Google Books. I recently found strong evidence that a husband I thought had died in 1894 actually left his wife and continued a lifelong pattern of flakiness that ended when he died at sea seven years later than I’d thought. I found it via Google, not Mocavo.
- Rootsweb mentions. A mention of Olive Laura Fetherston Corey’s obituary easily came up as part of a Google search I did last week. It was listed in the Obituary Daily Times on one of the Rootsweb listservs. I couldn’t get the same link to show up on Mocavo, even when I tried searching multiple ways.
Again, Mocavo is brand-new. It’s clearly a work in progress. It’s not reasonable at all to expect it to work as well as Google or another major, well-established search engine.
But that really begs the question: Do we really need another search engine?
Maybe I’m special or something, but I don’t find Google that hard to use. I already know how to narrow my results and how to use different techniques to find things. If I didn’t know, I’d learn. If I didn’t like Google, I’d use Bing. Or Yahoo. Or all three. How does having another search engine to check help me find stuff more effectively? It seems like it’s just adding another place to check, without adding much value for the trouble.
Then, too, there’s the whole underlying concept that narrowing results is a GOOD thing. Maybe I’m special here too, but I absolutely, positively do NOT want a search engine to narrow my results for me. If I want them narrowed, I’ll do it myself. In fact, one of the things that concerns me most about Mocavo is the fact that it’s apparently meant to search only free genealogy sites. Even they were well and truly able to search every free genealogy site in the world, I wouldn’t want that. I want to know what’s on a paid site too, so I can decide for myself whether I want to pay. I spent $2.95 on one of those Legacy.com obits yesterday, and it broke down a huge brick wall for me. That was money well spent. I would have hated to miss that.
And what’s a genealogy site anyway? Is Facebook a genealogy site? I found a descendant of someone I’m working on last week on Facebook. I googled the ancestor, and this descendant (who has the same name) has a Facebook page. Further research indicates they’re related. In this context, Facebook is absolutely a genealogy site. I’ve found other clues via high school reunion sites, charity run results pages, donor recognition pages, church bulletin PDFs…all kinds of places that aren’t genealogy sites. I can’t imagine a reasonably exhaustive search that is limited by a web developer’s definition of “genealogy sites.”
I have one other concern about Mocavo: How do they make money? I don’t mind people making money off me (in fact, if you’re providing a service to me that has value, you SHOULD make money for that…although in not everyone in the genealogical community agrees). I do, however, like to understand exactly how companies are getting paid. Search engines aren’t exactly the easiest way to make a fortune these days. It’s hard to understand why starting up a new search engine would be a good idea. What’s the business model here? Will there be display advertising? Paid placements? How does this work long-term?
I feel bad for being such a Debbie Downer, but I just…don’t get it. I’m not seeing the “major technological breakthrough” here. What am I missing?
UPDATE: There’s a follow-up to this post here.