Thursday, November 06, 2008

USGenWeb Vs Ancestry.Com


Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Opinion piece: Ancestry.com / USGenWeb squabble

The well publicized squabble between Ancestry.com and U.S. GenWeb Project (USGenWeb), in my opinion, has hurt both. But perhaps the greatest damage has been suffered by USGenWeb and has been of its own doing.

USGenWeb is an unincorporated non-profit association of volunteers that maintain a set of geographically organized web sites. Separate, but linked, web sites exist for every county and state in the country. The binding philosophy among all these non-commercial web sites is, "Keeping Internet Genealogy Free." Many had made use of RootsWeb's free genealogy web site hosting service. When Ancestry.com acquired RootsWeb, they continued the program, despite dire predictions by some that Ancestry.com would discontinue it.

The squabble arose when Ancestry.com announced that the RootsWeb.com address was being automatically replaced with RootsWeb.Ancestry.com and that mandatory headers would be automatically added to the free genealogical web sites hosted by RootsWeb. For some sites, the headers were merely a change from the mandatory top and bottom advertisements that Ancestry.com added to the sites. For USGenWeb sites, the headers were new.

While the organization's bylaws allowed "a website [to] acknowledge any entities who may host their website (i.e., provide server space at no cost)" (Article IX, Section 2.), some web site coordinators feared the worst. (See this post or this for a couple of examples.) USGenWeb sites contain genealogical data gathered through thousands of hours of volunteer work. The mere specter of Ancestry.com assimilating these contributions led some web site coordinators to move their sites off RootsWeb. Even the national site made a quick decision to move off RootsWeb, temporarily using a private server donated by a member before moving the site to IX web hosting.

"After many years at RootsWeb, we made a quick move to another option for web hosting," Mike St. Clair, USGenWeb Advisor Board Member later reported. He advised the board that, "a more organized evaluation of the options available would be useful before we decide to confirm that quick decision for the longer term."

Those sites that have moved have spent focus and time on the task, and many are still not finished. (See for examples, ILGenWeb, Town of Essex and the Kidz Project.) Changing URLs have produced broken links, upsetting easy navigation among sites, and cutting off some outside traffic.
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