RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

More about competition in the genealogy community

From an abstract standpoint, genealogy competes with all of other goods and services in the marketplace. If you view life as having an economic basis, then you will judge every human activity in terms of choices between various options in the marketplace of life. Every time I make a choice to do or not do something, I have essentially allocated my resources to that activity. From that perspective, genealogy competes with eating, sleeping and all other human activities. But, and this is a big exception, my comments are aimed at the narrow choices available in the context of genealogy. If you choose to do genealogy, what choices do you have?

If your goal is to invest nothing more than time, then you have some limitations in what kinds of research you can do and how complete or effective you can be. On the other hand, there are very few people who have unlimited time and unlimited resources to spend on just genealogy. My question, framed as narrowly as possible, concerns whether or not the providers of goods and services in the context of the genealogical community are in competition with each other. There is, of course, no completely free service or product. You must have a computer, access to the Internet and the time to spend regardless of which product or service you use.

Assuming for the purposes of this discussion that the cost of a computer and connection to the Internet is discounted from any consideration, can any of the participants in the community be said to "compete" with each other? Many genealogical records are available for free, either on the Internet or from providers that have no charges other than access to the Internet. How can anyone be said to compete by offering free records.

I realize it is a little repetitious and perhaps redundant to remind the reader, that all activities compete for our time and interest. Discounting the basic issue of time and interest competition, the question is how do the participants in the genealogical community compete, if they do? Free is not competing. If a supplier or service offers its "product" for free, then how can it be said to compete? For example, if you are reading this blog post, you have made an economic decision to use my "free" information instead of paying some other entity for information or services. But, reading a free blog post or looking at free records online does not per se keep you from paying for other services at other times and places. I may read blogs, but I also pay for an Ancestry.com subscription. As long as I pay, Ancestry.com could care less about the actual time I spend with their product. So if I choose to read a blog rather than use my Ancestry.com subscription, can the two activities be said to be in competition?

I guess you can likely see where this discussion is going. I don't view the various participants in providing goods and services in the genealogical community to be in competition. Decisions to buy a product or service are not made on the basis of a choice between competing products, but as an allocation of the consumer's interests and goals. I don't choose Ancestry.com over WorldVitalRecords.com on the basis of a decision that one service is "better" than the other, because there is no way to compare the two, I make that decision based on criteria that are completely indifferent to the relative merits of the two services. I make the decision based on my personal perception of the utility of the services. My choice comes from my personal perception of value to my own research. I may subscribe to one and not the other or both, but the choice is based on my personal evaluation not on competition among the two services. In both cases, I could always decide to go to a FamilySearch Center and use either or both services for free. That "free" option is what negates the competition.

Likewise, I may decide to go to a free local genealogy conference or not. But my decision will not determine whether or not I also go to a conference that cost money. I don't choose or not choose to go to a conference in the same way I choose one brand of camera to purchase over another. The purchase of a camera, like the purchase of a car, will likely preclude me from purchasing another camera, but my decision to attend a conference will not likely preclude me from attending another conference.

Are any of the genealogical goods or services absolutely essential to conducting research or organizing my genealogical data? The answer is no. I can refuse to go to any conferences, I can refuse to pay for any subscriptions and I could refuse to incur any costs for any other goods or services and rely entirely upon those with "free" access. My decisions can be made entirely for personal reasons. Likewise, I could refuse to purchase a car. But by living in Mesa, Arizona my choice would severely limit my ability to buy food, go to work and conduct many of my day-to-day activities.

That still leaves the question of whether any of the genealogical goods and services are free? I guess I will have to keep writing.

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