Q&A Recap with Geni CEO Noah Tutak


This past Monday, August 22, 2011, Geni CEO Noah Tutak appeared on a special episode of GeneaBloggers Radio to discuss some of the recent changes in how Geni works for both their free (Basic) users and their paid (Pro) users as well as the reaction to such changes. You can click here to listen to the recorded episode.

Several bloggers and others in the genealogy community have asked for a summary of the talking points from the episode. Below are the question I asked during the show – I forwarded the list to Tutak after the show and asked him to provide answers if possible.

I want to point out that these are not the transcribed answers from the broadcast.  The cost of transcribing the episode is just out of my reach. So if you listen to the episode and try to match up the exact answers, it isn’t going to happen. I ask that we as a community focus on the dialog and the conversation that continues to take place with Geni and on the subject of genealogy websites and the concept of a collaborative world family tree.

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Can you give our listeners a brief overview of what Geni is? Perhaps a quick “elevator speech” for the product?

Geni’s mission is to create a single family tree of the entire world. We’ve built a platform that people can use to document their family history, meet new relatives, and share research. Ultimately, as your family tree grows, it will be merged with other overlapping trees. You then get the benefit of the combined research of thousands of people who share your ancestors.

Let’s discuss the recent changes at Geni. Again, a brief summary as to what has changed for both Basic (Free) users and Pro (Paying) users as of August 11, 2011.

Geni has a simple privacy model – each profile is either public or private. Only close relatives (3rd great grandparents and closer, and 4th cousins and closer) can view and edit private profiles. Anyone can view public profiles, but the editing permissions on public profiles were complicated before the recent changes. Due to this complexity, a user had just enough permission to “tangle” the tree by merging duplicate branches, but not enough permission to clean it up after the fact. Now, anyone that can add to the public parts of the tree can also merge any existing duplicates and clean up any other duplicates after the merge. The goal is to reduce duplication and increase the quality of the data on Geni. As of August 11th, public editing and merging permissions are part of a Pro account. Basic users can still edit any public profile they added to Geni, but they are now required to upgrade in order to add additional public profiles.

In many of the communications from Geni over the past week or so, we’ve heard mention of the “world family tree” or a “collaborative family tree.” Again, what in your mind, or Geni’s vision is such a tree?

Our motto is “Everyone’s Related.” Unfortunately, genealogists spend a lot of time on research that has already been done by someone else who shares the same relative you are researching. By combining all of this research into one tree that everyone can access and work on together, genealogists can spend their time on original research and conclusions. We think this is a better way to do genealogy.

Do you think that the genealogy consumer wants a collaborative tree? What are the advantages? Are there disadvantages that you see to such a tree?

Working with others on the same tree is definitely a paradigm shift for a lot of people. Some people understand the value right away and completely buy into the vision. Other people are skeptical, but I believe that over time the benefits will become clear, and ultimately, a single shared tree is inevitable.

How long has Geni as a product been available to users? Was the collaborative family tree always part of Geni’s mission or at some point did Geni decide to shift gears and become more of a site where users uploaded information to a collaborative tree rather than work on their own family tree shared with close family members?

Geni launched publicly in January 2007. The mission has always been to create the World Family Tree. In fact, if you read the blog post announcing the launch (http://www.geni.com/blog/geni_launches-36151.html), the mission is clearly stated in the very first sentence: “Hi and welcome to Geni, a new website with an ambitious goal: to create a family tree of the whole world!”

With over 6.5 million users, and more than 110 million profiles, almost 60 million of which are connected together in one single tree, I think we’ve made pretty good progress toward our stated goal.

The reaction to the changes Geni has put in place have been . . . well as you described by own post at GeneaBloggers last week, “passionate and honest.” Some would say overly negative. Are we dealing with a small but vocal group of dissatisfied Geni users or is this more pervasive? Why aren’t we hearing more from the Pro users who supposedly are benefitting from the recent changes?

One thing that Geni has always had is a passionate, vibrant user community. Over the last four years we’ve done a lot to encourage this community and give it a voice. We spend a lot of time listening to feedback from the community, but we also look at hard data. So far the data has shown that these changes are having exactly the impact that we had hoped, with more merges, fewer new duplicates and more subscribers. We haven’t seen any data that indicates that a significant number of users are unhappy with these changes.

Why the change now? Has this been planned for some time or is it a reaction to pressures from VC funding and investors? To be honest, many feel that Geni was ill prepared to launch such changes and didn’t take the time to test the waters via focus groups and other interaction with its core users and the genealogy community.

We’ve been working on making changes along these lines for some time now.  We have a lengthy product roadmap, and we simply felt it was the right time to make these changes for the benefit of both past and future efforts.

Is the phrase “Geni has set the bar in such a way so that anyone who can afford their product become the “experts” who can manage the tree entries and merge data. Having the ability to pay does not an expert make.”

We have found that there is a high correlation between users actively engaged in contributing to the tree and users that find enough value in Geni to upgrade to a Pro account. Obviously this system is not perfect, but it works pretty well, and also ensures that Geni is a viable business that will be around for a long time to come. We know that hosting the world family tree is a serious responsibility, and part of that responsibility is ensuring that we remain a viable business. We want to make sure that your relatives stay around indefinitely.

In terms of backlash, do you think that users might migrate back to desktop software for tracking their personal genealogy and be skittish about sharing information?

We believe that desktop software will coexist with Geni for at least a few more years. In fact, we are working with a number of partners, such as AncestorSync, on improving the experience for users who choose to use desktop software in addition to Geni. We’re very happy if people combine the power of desktop software with Geni’s collaborative platform.

Do you think that over time, Geni users and the genealogy community will come to better understand Geni’s mission and embrace the concept of a collaborative world tree for genealogy?

Absolutely. In fact, I believe it’s inevitable. When wikipedia first launched, everyone dismissed it as a joke. The general public doesn’t question the concept of a crowdsourced encyclopedia anymore. Over time, as users better understand the advantages of our model, the world family tree will continue to improve as a resource within the genealogy community.

Could you have handled the changes and the aftermath better? If you had a “do over” what would you do differently?

Yes! We are a very fast moving company. Once we set our minds on something, we turn it around very quickly. Sometimes we move too fast for our own good. We’ve certainly spent some time internally discussing how we can better communicate future changes to our community. We think communication is key, and it is something will always strive to improve.

Tell us where you see Geni one year from today in terms of product, services, and user community.

We will work hard to continue to improve the platform and roll out new features that make Geni an even better collaborative genealogy platform. Geni will gain increased acceptance in the genealogy community, and our API partners will enable you to use your Geni data with a number of interesting services, providing even more value for people who choose to contribute their data to Geni.

In one year, the tree will be bigger and, more importantly, much more accurate. As is evident by these recent changes, we are firmly committed to quality over quantity. You can follow the progress of the world family tree here: http://www.geni.com/worldfamilytree.

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Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

GeneaBloggers Radio – Show Notes for Friday, August 26, 2011


GeneaBloggers Radio Episode 32


Friday, August 26, 2011
10pm-11:30pm Eastern US
9-10:30pm Central US
8-9:30pm Mountain US
7-8:30pm Pacific US
3am London UK
12pm Saturday Sydney AUS

Don’t forget that there is a chat room where all the “cool kids” hang out on Friday night! Sign in to BlogTalkRadio with your Facebook account or set up a free BlogTalkRadio account to join in the fun.

Genealogy Back to School Special

This week our show is entitled Genealogy Back to School Special. Our special guests will include: Louise St. Denis of the National Institute of Genealogical StudiesAngela McGhie of the ProGen Study Group; and Patricia Walls Stamm, CG, CGL℠ of the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course. We’ll be discussing educational programs for genealogists and family historians.


Louise St. Denis
Louise St. Denis

Louise St Denis was born in Timmins Ontario Canada to a bilingual family who moved to Windsor when she was 10 years old. She studied Mathematics and Business at the University of Windsor.

Louise became the controller of a large insurance and real estate firm in Ottawa. After the installation of a computer, the fascination of this new technology took over. She then assisted in Toronto, in the start up and continuing operation of what was to become Canada’s largest firm specializing in the marketing of software and hardware to the insurance industry.

Genealogy became a fascinating and fast growing hobby for her in 1984. Louise researched her ancestors back to the 1600s.

Some of Louise’s time is also spent helping in the non-profit sector — she is the founding president of the Société franco-ontarienne d’histoire et de généalogie – Toronto Branch, Past-president of its’ provincial organization, Past-treasurer of the Association of Professional Genealogists-Ontario Chapter, a member of several genealogical organizations both in Canada and in the United States. Louise also served on the Special Advisory Board of Library and Archives Canada as well as the French genealogical representative for the Ontario Heritage Alliance, a group with representatives from provincial organizations concerned with the preservation of our heritage.

The first instructional video tape on how to research your roots called ‘Your HERITAGE, to discover, to share…’ was produced by Louise. She also publishes the HERITAGE BOOK SERIES as well as the Genealogical Diary, a workbook to record and organize all your findings. The Heritage Series now consist of over 100 books. (www.genealogystore.com) She is the author of 10 of these books. Many new titles are in various stages of production.

Louise lectures internationally on many areas of genealogy and has been the Key Note Speaker for various conferences as far away as in Australia and New Zealand. Lectures can be heard in both French and English.

For two years Louise lead an in-classroom program at the University of Toronto, Continuing Education in Genealogical Research. In 1999, Louise established a partnership with the University of Toronto, Univeristy of St Michael’s College, to offer the first and only comprehensive Certificate program in Genealogical Studies offered entirely online. To date over 75,000 course registrations have been received. (www.genealogicalstudies.com) Louise has been instrumental in the development of not only the program development but also the course delivery software. Louise is the Managing Director of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies.



Angela McGhie
Angela McGhie

Angela Packer McGhie is a genealogical researcher, lecturer and instructor. She serves as the administrator of the ProGen Study Program, president of the National Capital Area Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and assistant director of the Columbia Maryland Family History Center.  She is the coordinator for the 2012 Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) and a genealogy instructor for Howard Community College. Angela has completed the NGS American Genealogy course and attended the National Institute on Genealogical Research (2008), the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (2009-2011) and the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (2009 & 2011). She is a regular researcher at the National Archives and writes a blog on genealogy education at http://www.genealogyeducation.blogspot.com.



Pat Stamm
Patricia Walls Stamm

Pat Stamm has an extensive background as an instructor at the St. Louis Community College, the St. Louis Genealogical Society, and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research in Birmingham, Alabama. She has served as conference program coordinator and education director for the St. Louis Genealogical Society. Stamm is a life member of the State Historical Society of Missouri and the St. Louis Genealogical Society. She received the St. Louis Genealogical Society President’s Award in May 2009 for work that led to an expanded educational program for the society.
Stamm holds a tested concentration of genealogical instruction from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has lectured both locally and nationally. She is a published author with articles appearing in the NGS NewsMagazine, APG Quarterly, and Genealogical Computing. A member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and NGS, she currently chairs the NGS’ Rubincam Youth Award Committee.
The NGS American Genealogy Studies is designed for both the beginner and the established genealogist. These busy individuals want to learn about a specific topic and put the ensuing knowledge to work quickly. NGS courses offer the convenience of completing a genealogy study at their own pace at home.

The current course offerings include:

  • Introduction to Civil War Records
  • Introduction to Religious Records
  • Social Security Sleuthing
  • Special Federal Census Schedules
  • Transcribing, Extracting, and Abstracting in Genealogical Records
  • Working with Deeds


After Party at Outloud.fm!

That’s right – we’ll be having another fun “after party” over at the genealogy room at Outloud.fm (http://outloud.fm/genealogy) where the theme will be: School Daze. This means we’ll be spinning tunes having to do with schools, teachers, learning and even those teen years! So grab your MP3 copy of Rock and Roll High School and come join us!  Not only can you listen to what others upload to Outloud.fm,  but there is an interactive chat room where you can extend the discussion on education or whatever genealogy topic you want!

Genealogy News

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Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogist Lecturer are Service Marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists used under license after periodic evaluation by the Board.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Genealogy Blogging Events Week of August 26 – September 2, 2011

genealogy blogging calendar
Here is a list of events and goings-on in the world of genealogy blogging. Here’s what is happening in the coming week:

GeneaBloggers Radio

Another episode of GeneaBloggers Radio will be broadcast this evening, Friday, August 26, 2011 starting at 10PM Eastern, 9PM Central, 8PM Mountain and 7PM Pacific! Tonight’s show episode is entitled: Genealogy Back to School Special.


The August 2011 Scanfest will take place at AnceStories on Sunday, August 28 from 11 AM to 2 PM, Pacific Standard Time.

Scanfest may be a new term for some of my new readers. What is Scanfest? It’s a time when geneabloggers, family historians, and family archivists meet online here at this blog to chat while they scan their precious family document and photos. Why? Because, quite honestly, scanning is time-consuming and boring!

Scanfest is a great time to “meet” other genealogists, ask questions about scanning and preservation, and get the kick in the pants we all need on starting those massive scanning projects that just seem too overwhelming to begin.

Data Backup Day – September 1

Don’t forget that the first day of each month has been designated as Data Backup Day – and here are some great resources to get you started. Post about how you backup your data (or don’t backup your data) and we’ll carry your post here at GeneaBloggers on September 1st!

Daze of the Week!

Some of you may have noticed that in each Genealogy Blogging Beat we now feature national holidays and some of the more offbeat holidays. Here are some dates next week to look out for so you can plan your blog posts for next week:

  • August 26: National Dog Day (US), Women’s Equality Day
  • August 27: Just Because Day
  • August 28: Crackers Over the Keyboard Day
  • August 29: Late Summer Bank Holiday (UK)
  • August 30: National Marshmallow Toasting Day (US)
  • August 31: Eat Outside Day
  • September 1: Emma M. Nutt Day (US)
  • September 2: National Beheading Day (US)

Happy Blogiversary!

If your blog anniversary is coming up soon, make sure it gets on our GeneaBloggers calendar! Remember to send your blog anniversary info to GeneaBloggers.

Genealogy Webinars This Week

For more information on genealogy webinars check out GeneaWebinars.

Genealogy Conferences This Week

View upcoming genealogy conferences in the United States and across the globe at the group of calendars at GeneaBloggers. If you know of an upcoming expo or conference that should be on the GeneaBloggers conference calendar, send it to us at geneabloggers@gmail.com.

Appearances By GeneaBloggers Members

For a listing of speaking engagements by genealogy bloggers, along with their profiles and available presentations, visit GeneaSpeak.

GeneaBloggers Group on Facebook

The Facebook Group for GeneaBloggers has been disabled – you can read more about the issues involved here. Please go to the Facebook page for GeneaBloggers (http://www.facebook.com/Geneabloggers) and click LIKE in order to follow the latest news and events related to GeneaBloggers on Facebook.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts (one for each week of 2011) that invite genealogists and others to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants. You do not have to be a blogger to participate. If you do not have a genealogy blog, write down your memories on your computer, or simply record them on paper and keep them with your files.

  • Week 35: Weddings. Tell us about your wedding. You may also talk about your future wedding, the wedding of a relative or shape this question to fit your own life experience.

We’ll list a new challenge each Saturday which should be completed by the following Friday.

GeneaBloggers Calendar

And don’t forget to check out other upcoming events at the Geneabloggers Calendar. This is the same Google calendar that has been in existence for quite some time. And if you subscribe to the calendar you’ll receive email reminders of events.

© 2011 copyright, Thomas MacEntee