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Geni, a world family tree site where users can build family trees by creating profiles
for relatives and ancestors, has made big changes to what paid and free members can
do on the site.
this blog post Aug. 11, Geni announced that free, “Non-Pro” members can no longer
add new profiles to the “historical” tree (any public part of the Geni tree) or merge
profiles. Free members still can add to their private trees.
Geni Pro subscribers, who pay $4.95 per month for a one-year membership, now “have
full permission to add on to, edit, and merge profiles in the historical parts of
the tree,” according to the blog post.
Pro users also can search through all the 110 million public profiles on Geni to find
relatives to add to their trees. Free members can search and find only their close
relatives in the historical tree, as well as profiles they added and profiles they
“Close relatives” means 4th cousins and closer, as well as third-great-grandparents
and closer. In-laws are included.
“I’d like to make it clear that Basic (free) users did not lose their ability to view
or edit any profiles as part of these changes,” says Geni CEO Noah Tutak. “In fact,
we did not change view or edit permissions at all. What we did is align permissions
in the historical, public sections of the tree, beyond close relatives.”
But comments on Geni’s
blog post are largely negative. A common theme: Many members, some of whom have
added hundreds or thousands of profiles to the site, feel Geni is cutting them off
(without advance notice, according to the comments) after encouraging them for years
to build its historical tree.
“Losing control” of their public data strikes fear in the hearts of genealogists.
They don’t like to idea of others merging their ancestors without having to compare
notes first. They have visions of mistaken merges and incorrect names and dates replicating
themselves across the internet.
Tutak thinks Geni’s changes will reduce such errors. “These changes were designed
to restrict merging to a smaller group of more engaged users, with the goal of increasing
data quality,” Tutak says. “If a merge is made in error, the same set of tools are
available now as in the past to correct mistakes. In the near future, we’ll provide
even more robust tools to undo merges that will make correcting these mistakes, which
are extremely infrequent, even easier”
Several Pro users commented that they’ll no longer be able to entice relatives—who
aren’t likely to purchase Pro subscriptions—to collaborate on building their family
“A member with a free account can build out a large enough tree to get a good feel
for the quality of Geni’s tools and decide whether or not they would like to use Geni
for their entire tree,” says Tutak.
“The number of users contributing to the world [public] family tree is a small percentage
of our overall user base, and so far we haven’t seen a slowdown in the growth of the
tree due to these changes.”
Family tree sites have struggled for years with how to build accurate trees that are
large enough to attract additional contributions—that’s why we’re still waiting for
the trees feature on the new FamilySearch.org to be publicly available. Skewing benefits
toward paying users—who, theoretically, are more heavily invested and knowledgeable—is
one approach. It’s also likely to anger free members. Many comments on Geni’s blog
predict that the site won’t survive this change.