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Geni – Stuck On Stupid


Since Geni made its much hyped and, in my opinion, misleading announcement Geni Pro Just Got A Whole Lot Better, I’ve taken a few days to write this post and have gone back and forth about whether such a post belongs here at GeneaBloggers or on my personal genealogy blog.

I’ve had an ongoing relationship with Geni over the past year (see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations) which has included producing a weekly podcast covering genealogy concepts and trends in the industry. That relationship began to feel personal – there seemed to be real engagement between me, the Geni staff and the genealogy community concerning collaboration and getting folks connected in the genealogy community. Based on this relationship, I thought expressing my opinion on Geni’s recent decision to change its data access and business model would be better suited to my personal blog.

If you aren’t yet aware of what those changes are, I invite you to read the original announcement here as well as posts from my genealogy colleagues (Genea-Musings, DearMYRTLE, Little Bytes of Life and WeTree are just a few).

So why the post at GeneaBloggers? Because I am more concerned about what Geni’s move means for the genealogy industry and more importantly for the genealogy community.

Geni – Keep Rubbing That Magic Lamp

Here’s my no-holds barred take on the situation, for what it’s worth.  Proceed at your own risk:

  • My main concern is that I and many others have discussed the merits of collaborating to the point of encouraging not just uploading data but also interacting with other researchers. And now we have a genealogy vendor who has no qualms in restricting access to data uploaded under its freemium model by a variety of users, from the beginning family historian to the casual genealogist to the family keeper of history to the professional genealogist.
  • Geni has set our community back by basically slapping its users in the face, especially those who have contributed data freely, and shaking them down for money.  They also seem to be endorsing not just a “pay to play” scheme (which is valid in most cases), but have acted in a stealth manner by making this move seem to be an improvement.
  • I’ve also been waiting for a response from Geni – more than the tepid individual response to comments that I’ve seen so far.  I get no sense that Geni is retreating on this move. I don’t think they care.  I also get no sense that there was any foresight involved here.  Is it required to run everything past the genealogy community, especially the bloggers and social media users who have the ability to cheerlead a product or a concept? No. There is no such requirement or duty.  Would it be good business sense to do so?  You betcha.
  • Someone at Geni thinks that they are the smartest one in the room and must be surrounded by a lot of Yes people to try and put this one over on its users.  You can polish a turd all you want, even spray paint it gold or take your Bedazzler to it.  It’s still a turd. And it still stinks.
  • Every business has the right to run its business as it sees fit.  And every business has the right to run itself into the ground.  It’s a free country and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  • Geni would have done better to offer a new set of expanded features to its Pro members and as a way to entice other users to become Pro members.  There are so many other ways – much better ways – that this could have gone down.  But it didn’t.
  • Finally, I’m laughing at Geni’s tag line under the logo: “everyone’s related.” Yes, but some people are more related than others (especially if you pony up money because that makes you a genealogy expert). I wonder if there is an underlying tagline that says “everyone’s stupid?”

The Genealogy Community Is Not Stupid

I’ll say it now and keep saying it: the genealogy community is not a bunch of rubes who fell off the turnip truck.  We’re smart. Ya think? Look at what we do and specialize in: research.  We do our homework.  We know how to think.  We know how to analyze.  We put 2 and 2 together and get 4 most of the time.  As I’ve said: “My mother didn’t raise any stupid children.  There are however, two ugly ones but they’re still at home.”

The anger comes about in feeling duped.  Will I try uploading my data to another site in the future? Probably. Will a Geni-type fiasco happen again? Probably which is sad.  But perhaps this post and others will serve as a warning for others who feel they can court a community, use them and then take a sharp turn towards a business model which serves as a detriment to that community.

It All Comes Down To Relationships

As others have mentioned in similar posts about Geni’s latest move, relationships are peculiar things but necessary.  Relationships are learning experiences.  Relationships bring meaning to our lives. Relationships are one of the ways in which we grow and are enabled to make decisions for ourselves. I just think that my relationship with Geni has served its purpose.  I’ve learned and I’m moving on.

No Regrets

Do I regret working with Geni, providing podcast material or uploading my data? Not at all.  I am not a man of regrets and I truly believe in the phrase “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I’m willing to take a chance on a new product or concept and explore it.  I felt pretty confident that Geni was a good fit for our community to the point of listing it as a possible means of collaborating and sharing data with family and other researchers.  I felt that the content I was writing and providing in podcasts and show notes was beneficial to the genealogy community as much as it was to Geni.  And let’s be honest, it helped with my own publicity – I’d be stupid not to admit that.

There will be no break down for me. No sobbing into my pillow, beating my head with clenched fists like Annette Benning in American Beauty, yelling “Stupid! stupid! stupid!” I’m better than that. We’re better than that.

So What Now My Love?

Onward and upward.  I’ll try not to talk bitterly of my ex – Geni – and I wish them well. But I think that I have a duty to the community to call out business and consumer practices that I feel hurt us more than help us. I realize no one is perfect.  No relationship is perfect.  But I know we deserve better as a community.

And what do I still believe in? I still believe there is great merit in sharing your story, sharing your family’s stories and sharing your genealogy research data.  I also still believe there are people – both individuals, societies and companies – committed to letting you do so without taking advantage of you.

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

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

27 thoughts on “Geni – Stuck On Stupid

  1. George

    You feel disapppointed? Really?

    I spoke with Grant Brunner this afternoon and got the Double Speak which obviously is the Geni company line. I got no sense from Grant nor from your responses to users in various comments and posts that any conversation with Geni would be productive and I told you this in my last email.

    Don’t make this seem like I haven’t been in communication with Geni. I just don’t feel that communicating with you or Geni would do anything more than raise my blood pressure and make me open my window a la Howard Beale in Network and yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

    As I made clear in my post, the genealogy community is not going to take it anymore.

  2. Excellent post, Thomas. It was the right thing to do. The comment from George sort of confirmed it, in my opinion. Onward and upward. Yes. Keep up the work. Let’s all continue to work together, for the common cause, as well as our own. 😉

  3. It’s interesting to hear your take on this Thomas. I’ve been listening to your podcasts with Geni and was actually considering looking into setting up a tree. The concerns I have about people copying and posting your data (incorrect or correct) willy nilly seemed to have been addressed with this company. It seemed like it might be a good fit for me.

    Boy am I glad I didn’t. Posting data and having someone else take over CONTROL of it would have really, really pissed me off.

    I’m moving on too. There’s one potential (maybe even paying) customer Geni just lost.

    Now onward and upward for us all.

  4. I agree with Thomas and the other geneabloggers that have expressed their views on this turn of events with I tend to look at businesses from a “top down” perspective. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs (and it’s sourced). (You could say it’s in my genes. Sorry. Had to do it.) So, bear with me and my perspective.

    Oh. And other than receiving a complimentary Pro Geni membership at Jamboree in my geneablogger’s swag bag and a really cool pen from their booth, I have no connection to whatsoever.

    It always surprises me when a company comes on the scene with a great business idea online then offers itself as free to use. They haven’t demonstrated that their site and what they’re peddling (Or what they’d like to peddle. Let’s face it. Everyone has bills.) has any value. So they offer it for free. Commonly, these sites depend upon these potential customers to add value to their site. And that’s a great idea because that’s less work for you, the business owner.

    This is what makes the Freemium business model so appealing. You can offer something for free (like uploading your family tree to share with others) to add value to your site, and then you can add more and better services based upon market research (because why would you add services no one wants?) for the fee, membership, subscription, etc. portion of the site. Therefore, in designing your very own Freemium business model (or any business model including the I’m-offering-everything-for-free-cuz-I-love-you-so-much-and-I-just-want-to-share-everything-with-you business model. Hello? At some point you’re gonna have to pay some bills.) you must really brainstorm and craft your business model with the future in mind.

    Once you’ve set those parameters, you have to stick to them because you’re building a relationship based upon trust with your customers. You know. You-said-you-were-going-to-do-this-and-you-did-it kind of relationship.

    In’s case, instead of changing the parameters of their business model, they should have, in my very humble opinion, simply added more value to their pro-membership, and left the free part alone. Yes, they cya’d with their TOS. But? The whole point in business, the goal, ~whether for profit or not~ is to make money. And when the customer isn’t gonna be happy with your business practices, then you aren’t gonna be happy with your bottom line. Therefore, the ultimate goal ~always~ in business is to do things to make the customer happy. And you certainly don’t want to upset a potential customer, right? I mean, you haven’t SOLD anything to them yet. In fact in’s case, their potential customers have added value to their Pro-membership portion of their business as well as the free part. And before they have converted a potential customer to an actual customer, they’re slapping them in the face, so to speak. And, hey, this is America, and you’re free to do whatever you want (within the current applicable laws) with your business. .And really? The market tends to balance itself out. You make bad business decisions and don’t correct them quickly, you’ll have to close your proverbial doors eventually. And the ones who stick around ~your competitors~ are going to be feeling pretty darn happy with their bottom line.

    As a side note, those “Free” sites? Stop doing that. You need to train your customers or potential customers that things aren’t free ~ that there is value in what you’re doing. Don’t do a “Free” site. Do a “Freemium” site and prepare your customers for your future goals. If you end up hitting the ball out of the park with your business model, then you’re overhead is going to increase. Then you’re going to be up all night fiddling with your website design instead of sleeping, which will make you cranky. In turn, you’ll decide after 5 cups of coffee at 4am in the morning you really should be getting paid for this crap. And? You’d be right. Then you’ll have to turn around and tell your potential customers that some ~if not all~ they’ve been doing on your site won’t be free anymore. Just out of the blue. All because you didn’t train them (Oops. I mean educate them) on the fact that nothing is free.

    Unless, of course, you’re independently wealthy. In which case, you can do whatever the hell you want. Until you’re out of money.

    Just My Silly Opinion,
    ~Caroline Pointer

  5. Excellent post, Thomas, and great comment Caroline! I never liked Geni, so I guess I’m lucky. I have friends who have trees on there and they are trying to delete them, but are having no luck. Does anyone know how to delete a tree on there except one person at a time?

  6. Part of the problem — the part where online companies, websites, whatever, can change their TOS at any time without notifying customers, members, whatever — began when nobody said “boo” when the first shrinkwrap license came about. That’s the one where once you open the shrinkwrap, you’re stuck with the product and the license terms the provider set down. That should have been taken to court on the first day. From that day, software manufacturers, website creators, and online businesses have considered customers or members to be so many sheep to be sheared.

    Looks like Geni was no exception, and I’m glad — for now, at least — that I went with WeRelate. There is a place or volunteer, “open source” projects.

  7. Great post, Thomas.

    Caroline, I don’t think you should paint all free websites with the same brush. Geni failed at it, but there are plenty of other free websites that thrive and prosper. The economics of an online business are such that you can offer some pretty amazing services and pay for them with relatively modest advertising.

    I see no rationale for charging people who contribute valuable content to a collaborative or wiki website. is entirely free for everyone and I’m personally committed to keeping it that way.

  8. Your comments are indeed very appropriate to this blog. And, as others have said, George’s comment supports all you said. Thanks again for all you write, Thomas

  9. Pingback: Geni – Doomed?
  10. Excellent post – I’m hoping Geni reads it past the first comment.

    Not only am I really unimpressed by their decision to essentially steal my data, but it also leaves me looking particularly stupid. You see, I am a very amateur genealogist who has introduced my entire extended family to Geni. And it has worked great, linking distant cousins in ways we could not have expected. but these people are not genealogists, and never will be. They are much more interested in the links with the living and now I’ve encouraged them to use a site they really can’t use anymore. This is really frustrating.

  11. I was lied to by Grant of Geni at the NGS Conference in South Carolina. I was told by Grant that AncestorSync would have capabilities to upload my gedcom within days and with my purchase of a Pro subscription, I would get it for free for a year. So I bit. AncestorSync still hasn’t come up with a sync and Charles at Geni won’t refund my money or extend my subscription to one year AFTER the sync ability is done. I feel robbed…cheated…lied to. Don’t do business with Geni. Now I won’t use them even if they paid me. I plan on telling anyone who will listen to me at the Ohio NGS conference the same thing.

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