- Regarding the acquisition by Spectrum: "Spectrum does not really get involved in the day-to-day operations of companies." That being said, CEO Tim Sullivan speaks with Vic Parker on a very regular basis, and Mr. Parker is a "very actively participating board member with great passion and knowledge of the [genealogy] category." Tim said it is nice to have a single owner that is supportive of the company plans and can also help challenge them with the company's strategic direction. Regarding the rumors/discussion that this buyout might be the precursor to TGN going public, he admitted that it is "a sizeable company in a very interesting category." He went on to say that "companies like that have a lot of options." For now they plan to focus on delivering and developing a great product with great value. Obviously, we "want to do well for our members and shareholders."
- Regarding future investments: The buyout by Spectrum was not really about providing increased funds to allow TGN to grow at a faster pace. Instead it was about buying out the previous owners of the business. Having a single majority owner offers TGN "greater clarity and stability." In other words they no longer have to worry much about who might buy them and what they might like to do with the company. Spectrum is committed to TGN's long-term vision.
Tim explained that TGN has been in the fortunate position of being able to fund all of their growth in recent years with the profits and cash flow that the company has generated. They spent "well over $10 million this year acquiring and digitizing content, and creating indexes." This is also about what they spent on increased content in the prior year. Plus, he said, TGN "has made an equal or greater investment in technology development" to help people find what they need in a more efficient manner. They plan to continue to invest in new content at an equal pace in the forseeable future.
- Regarding the Internet Biographical Collection: Tim was happy to finally be able to speak openly about this touchy subject. Because they were in the middle of negotiations with Spectrum at the time of this...shall I call it a fiasco?, he felt he couldn't speak as openly to the community about the issue as he would have liked at the time. Now, he says "We're a company that I'm thrilled when we try things and fail. We like to try things to advance the online genealogy space. Sometimes we stumble. Sometimes we implement things incorrectly. Did we implement it [IBC] right? Absolutely not."
While he admits that the company made a big mistake with this release, he also said it was very hurtful to read the many personal, emotional attacks from the genealogy community. This wasn't a malicious effort by Ancestry.com to "steal" content, he said. They released this collection because they "absolutely belive there is a way we can help genealogists by taking our search technology and help unleash it to search the Internet." For example, the traditional search engine does not recognize that there are hundreds of variations of the name "Catherine," or that 1880 is close to 1882. Their technology is more specialized than most in this regard, and they hope to eventually be able to use it to help genealogists discover content all over the Web. The Internet Biographical Collection was a first step in this direction, and they were thinking a "technology first" release with plans to "tweak" it later. They recognize that they obviously should have gotten more user feedback prior to release which is why they chose to pull the database so quickly. Tim said they learned a lot from IBC and that he "respect[s] intensely the passion that people brought to this topic. A very fascinating and educational experience."
- Regarding Family Tree Maker 2008: The Generations Network chose to skip a major release/update of Family Tree Maker last year to focus on the new product. The code base for the old FTM software was 15-years-old and holding back their "ability to innovate." Tim admitted that TGN knew it wasn't "delivering 100% of what everyone wanted," but that they also "didn't appreciate the extent to which the absence of some of the reports and other features" would be missed by the genealogy community.
While it wasn't a perfect launch, he said, they did "talk to our existing users a ton." He feels they have tried, and largely succeeded, in developing a new product that is both appealing to the serious genealogist and the novice. They wanted to carry forth the most important features of FTM in this initial release of FTM 2008, but "we blew it." "We did a lot of user research," Tim said "with both very experienced genealogists and novice users." Somehow, he said, the research and user testing completely missed just how fundamentally important the absence of reports and publishing options would be. This absolutely was not because "we don't listen to or care about our customers."
Tim says that TGN is a fast-moving company and "by golly we're going to do everything we can to make it right." They plan to add back the majority of the features that were left out and continue to work toward making the new Family Tree Maker that a product that will appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
- On Genealogy.com and RootsWeb.com: TNG plans to continue to support Genealogy.com, but are "no longer aggressively marketing the Web site." New content is still added on a "regular basis," but to much less extent than at Ancestry.com. Ancestry is where the content and development focus lies. TGN is fully committed to continuing its support of RootsWeb as a free resource for the genealogy community.
- On plans for Ancestry Member Trees and other Family Trees: Discussions are currently underway to find a way to combine the multiple family tree interfaces currently found on Ancestry.com into the current Ancestry Member Trees. We "ultimately and absolutely seek to find a way to present to the users a single, unified tree space." Tim believes Ancestry Member Trees are the way to do that as they make it easy for users to upload photos and documents, add sources, and use the "Ancestry hints" to connect information found on Ancestry.com with the individuals in their family tree. They recognize that One World Tree is no longer being updated, and plan to eventually remove this from the service after they've improved the alternatives. The plan is to hopefully replace One World Tree and Ancestry World Tree with the newer technology available in Ancestry Member Trees. The trick is for them to find a way to do this without negatively impacting users. They are actively working on a solution. They will not remove WorldConnect from RootsWeb in this process, but do hope to point RootsWeb users to the richer family tree content platform available on Ancestry.com.
In the meantime, TGN continues to make a significant investment in the "hint" technology used by both Family Tree Maker 2008 and the online Ancestry Member Trees. In the next few months a lot more of Ancestry's online content will be searched and included in the hints. They also intend to eventually remove One World Tree from the hint engine, and replace it with hints to the newer family trees which include primary source documents, photos, stories, etc. They are really excited about their hint technology because it looks at family groups, not just all the information on an individual, but also that individual's spouse, parents, children, etc., providing a much better opportunity for accurate results.
- On plans for the future: Look for some "pretty exciting changes" coming in the search interface. They plan to release the new search engine as a beta experience so people can try the new one out, or continue to use the existing search interface. They will also continue to invest aggressively in both acquiring and digitizing/indexing new content, and in their technology, such as search and hints. They plan to continue to invest in finding content in the US as well as overseas that is of interest and value to researchers. Along these lines, they are "incredibly focused on markets outside the United States," because they know "establishing presence in those markets will help more easily accelerate the acquisition of content." All of this new content will continue to be available to World Deluxe subscribers, and they may also add a few other goodies into the World Deluxe subscription.
They also hope to add more Web 2.0 interaction, such as the ability for users to tag documents and records, and make comments and corrections to content. Tim says he hopes their efforts in this area "will blow people away."
- On the future of online genealogy, and TGN's role: The future of online genealogy is a focus that is going to be led and driven forward by three different forces: 1) the volunteer community that will continue to work to put records online as they have for years; 2) the commercial marketplace, because genealogy offers the opportunity to make "a good business out of delivering value to people;" and 3) societies and professional groups will continue to play a major role in moving genealogy forward
The ultimate goal of Tim and The Generations Network is to help more and more people "find that moment of joy earlier in the process."
Disclaimer: I have no affiliate or other relationship with Ancestry.com or The Generations Network, other than that I've been a subscriber for many years. They do advertise on my site from time to time, but that advertising is an arrangement between their ad agency and the About.com ad department. In other words, I have no personal interest or bias. ;-)