James Tanner posted: MyHeritage Creates New Community-Powered Question and Answer Hub

The new MyHeritage Community is at: https://www.myheritage.com/community

Will the new MyHeritage Q&A impact GF&H SE's plans to expand?

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    Well, at first sight that's a trainwreck. Lots of "here is a name and maybe a date, tell me more". Unless they get some moderation and enforce some question guidelines it'll be unusable. I assume that will happen, though, it's early days still. – AndyW Jun 8 '16 at 16:40

Put concisely: No.

This site has co-existed throughout its life with other Q&A sites and we aten't dead yet (to quote my grandmother 10 years before life caught up with her).

I did an analysis 3 yrs 6 months ago of one of our competitors Analysis of 100 questions on Yahoo's Genealogy answers and I've no reason to believe that either that site or any of the "generalist-all-comers-all-questions-no-matter-how-ridiculous-volume-matters-more-than-quality" sites have raised their game.

But it doesn't matter if they have -- we've always been in a saturated market and trying to stake out our niche versus message boards/mailing lists, forums, Q&A sites, specialist websites... the list goes on).

Even I (pass the smelling salts) use other sources of information. Much as I love this place, it has not (in the past) helped me much identifying really local place names in a census or linked me with local experts who can translate my Welsh documents -- we don't have the critical mass everywhere in the world.

So we really need to identify our niche (quality questions with quality answers that you can apply to your family history problems if you're willing to step back and consider how our suggestions might apply -- but not if your questions are really local?).

No doubt somebody here can put a marketing spin on this... and then the assembled brains can determine how best to sharpen our focus and trumpet it to the world.


Let's assume for the moment that we are software developers, creating a new type of genealogical software that is different from what anyone else has ever seen before.

While we are in the midst of our development cycle, MyHeritage comes out with Family Tree Builder and gives it away for free. What's the appropriate response?

  1. Cry "oh, no, this won't be good for our project"
  2. Go on working on our own project, sticking to our core vision of what we want it to be
  3. Learn from the success of other software, but still keep focused on what we want to do
  4. Something else

We're basically in the same position as someone writing open source software. Not everyone wants to write it -- not everyone wants to use it. If the commercial venues all exploded and went away tomorrow, would that magically drive all their users and developers to us? I don't think so.

The genealogical community is full of places to leave queries -- what's one more?

We have the opportunity here to build a site which is completely different from anything else out there -- and we aren't taking advantage of it.

Every commercial site, every magazine, forums all over the internet, have created places for people to leave queries and get answers to them. We don't need to be yet another place where someone asks "I have a John Smith in 1760 and does anyone else know this family?", where the answer is "I have a bunch of stuff, I'll send it to you offline" which helps no one except the one person.

With our self-answered questions, we can be like the professional genealogists who share their work in the journals, writing up our Q/As as case studies, so that others can see how we solved the problem, and can learn from what we did.

And with the questions that are not self-answered, we can demonstrate that you don't have to find someone who is already studying your own family's surname, or the exact town that your family came from.

As for building the community -- let's think a moment about why we are here. I came here because someone told me about the site, who was already involved in other sites. When I got here, I discovered that many of the community members were people I already knew. Sure, it took me a while to figure out what Stack Exchange was all about. But I stayed because it was useful to me to take a break from my own research, and work on someone else's problem. I dug in and researched things. I learned new things as I wrote up answers.

You'll note that that last paragraph is in the past tense. It's not useful to me to write answers to vague questions written by people who show no research effort. It's not fun.

So my response is -- MyHeritage is starting their own Q/A site? Good! Let them take the questions from the people who only know how to ask "I've searched (MyHeritage) and I didn't find anything!" Let them have all the "I want to know everything about my family!" posts and all the other vague, unanswerable questions which are off-topic for this site.

Just upping the raw number of questions per day is not enough -- we need to figure out how to attract good questions.

There's a quote attributed to the late Yogi Berra -- "If people don't want to come out to the ball park, nobody's gonna stop 'em." We want to advertise, find, and pull in the people who do want to come to the ballpark -- not the ones that wouldn't come, no matter what effort we make.

  • If I was a software developer, creating a new type of genealogical software that is different from what anyone else has ever seen before, I would find a way to work with MyHeritage and get both our programs to share data and integrate with each other, i.e. a win-win situation. But I don't know if that answer can be applied to the StackExchange Q&A vs MyHeritage Q&A relationship. – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 19:04
  • I agree that "Just upping the raw number of questions per day is not enough" but I think just figuring out how to attract good questions is not enough either - if we can do the latter as well as improving some of the raw questions to be good along with encouraging their askers to ask better questions then we will have more good and some great content. – PolyGeo Mod Jun 9 '16 at 4:30
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    @lkessler My point is that our target audience is not the same as that of the MyHeritage Q/A area or Ancestry message boards. – Jan Murphy Mod Jun 9 '16 at 17:10
  • Jan. That's good then, and you're saying you expect their forum will have little effect on Genealogy & Family History SE. Maybe we can take advantage of that somehow and say something like: "Want to learn if someone is related to you? Then post at MyHeritage. Want to learn about genealogy? Then post here." – lkessler Jun 9 '16 at 21:00
  • I think we should be trying to pull the best genealogists and family historians from MyHeritage Q&A and its ilk, and not risk pushing any borderline users their way until we have the numbers to afford to be more choosy. – PolyGeo Mod Jun 9 '16 at 22:10
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    I'm saying that we should go about our own business, and not worry about what MyHeritage is doing. Remember the self-evaluations, and how we were asked to test how well our Q/As came up in search results at Google? We should focus on making the content here the kind of content we want to see more of, and making sure it can be found via the search engines, because that's how most people will come. – Jan Murphy Mod Jun 10 '16 at 3:54
  • New question: What makes a question and answer worth sharing? meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/3148/1006 – Jan Murphy Mod Jun 15 '16 at 0:10

It may present a problem, but that's far from certain.

Being on a major genealogy website will certainly bring users to "MyHeritage Community". But I think the effect on G&FH.SE will depend on the size and nature of that user base. It may be that exposing more people to Q&A sites will actually "grow the market" for such things. In that case G&FH.SE can position itself as an alternative, perhaps for the more "discerning" genealogist.

Update Mar 2017
I've popped back to MyHeritage Community a couple of times recently to have a look. I haven't tried posting there. I wouldn't say the site is thriving, but there is a steady stream of questions. Eyeballing it, I'd say it averages 2 or 3 questions a day, but can reach double figures or be zero. So maybe a bit more than G&FH.SE, but not substantially so.

The site seems to have acquired a strong central/eastern European focus. There are lots of questions regarding translatiion to/from German, for example, and plenty from Poland, Russia, Scandinavia etc. Relatively few questions concern UK/USA/Canada.

I'd guess (very) roughly half of posts get an answer, and mostly that occurs within a few days of posting. That's probably because there is still (as far as I can tell) no search function, so the only "easy" way to find older posts is to click "Next" a lot. The questions do appear to be indexed by Google, so questions can be found that way, but from within the site older questions appear dead and buried. Learning from answered questions is not going to be a big "thing" at Community.

So MyHeritage Community has clearly found a useful niche, and is helping a modest number of people with their research. It is probably becoming a valuable tool for European researchers, in particular. But given MyHeritage's apparent huge user base, the number of active Community users is rather tiny. The UI/UX are awful - no search, no help, primitive filtering, one image per question, no posting guidelines - and I suspect it turns off far more potential users than it attracts. Because of this, it doesn't function effectively as a proper Q&A site, but it does work as a translation and "tell me info plzz" request site, and that's what many of the questions appear to be.

Based on this, I doubt that Community is growing significantly the market for Q&A sites. It may even be shrinking it! The question in my mind now is: will MyHeritage persist with the Community site? They haven't attempted to improve the site since launch, so I do wonder if MyHeritage consider the site worth the resources it costs to run.

  • MyHeritage claims over 80,000,000 users. Don't know how many of them are active. We have 2,300 users. But over 2,000 of them have zero reputation points in the last year, so we have fewer than 300 active users, or 1 out of 8 registered users here are active. – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 14:26
  • Now that I look, I see we may have as few as 100 active users. People can get reputation points from past questions and answers. Our list of most active users in the past year includes GeneJ in 22nd place who quit in 2014 and Gene Golovchinsky in 32nd place and who was very active until he passed away in 2013, – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 14:50
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    So maybe the number of voters in the past year is a better indication of how many active users we have. After all, if a person hasn't voted, are they really getting what this site's about? Sorry to say that in the past year, we only have 24 voters. – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 14:52
  • Wow, that's even less than I thought. But if I'm reading the users page correctly, there are over 150 "new users" (<45 days), so presumably few of these are become active. It looks like G&FH can attract a few new users a day on average, but retention is simply awful. – AndyW Jun 8 '16 at 15:05
  • If you subtract from the new users who had 1 reputation point or 101 reputation points (100 bonus for being on another StackOverflow site), you are only left with 32 new users in the past 45 days who got some reputation. Usually someone will upvote a question a newbie asks to encourage them. – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 15:46
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    So only around 1 in 5 new users actually interacts with the site to gain reputation, and even fewer actually vote. Perhaps that side of the SE ethos just isn't obvious or attractive enough to new arrivals. – AndyW Jun 8 '16 at 16:16
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    I'm an old hand, being at StackOverflow for years before, and being a programmer, I appreciated getting answers from there and helping others. So also being a genealogist, I helped bring Genealogy & Family History SE into the fold. That makes me too ingrained in this to really understand what new people think. You are relatively new, so your opinion is very valuable in this discussion. – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 16:23
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    The SE way can be a bit off-putting, and that may not help with retention. But as @JanMurphy points out, a flood of users may not help. I see this as a place where learning new "facts" is good but incidental: learning to become a better genealogist is the true benefit. The MyHeritage Community site is already full of seals simply barking for herring. G&FH can teach users how to fish. That's a strength, and I think this situation presents an opportunity to attract compatible people. – AndyW Jun 8 '16 at 19:04
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    @lkessler in some ways it is that low voting number that worries me the most because it suggests our regular users are not appreciating the encouragement that near zero effort action can engender. I think the carrot of upvotes can be much safer to use than the stick of downvotes on any new user who arrives with the potential to become a good user but posts a less than well thought out first question. – PolyGeo Mod Jun 8 '16 at 21:43
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    I'm not sure that the triad of "Ask - Answer - Vote" is pushed hard enough. Ask and Answer are obvious, but it's not really clear that voting is important. The tour (which is rather good) covers it, but that's usually hidden away in the tiny "help" menu. I think there needs to be something front and centre on the home page encouraging voting. – AndyW Jun 9 '16 at 11:29

I submitted a comment to James' blog post about MyHeritage's new Q&A hub. I said:

It's too bad more people aren't using the Genealogy & Family History Stack Exchange Q&A site at: https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/

Somehow, word of keyboard has just not made enough people aware of that fantastic resource where people share their knowledge with everybody.

James replied with:

I will look into it. Thanks.

Hmmm. That seems to indicate that James, a prolific blogger in the genealogy world, did not know about our site.

  • I added one there too, and then the one after that speaks poorly about the MyHeritage Q&A. I do not know if that is from one of our users but I have no reason to suspect that it is. – PolyGeo Mod Jun 11 '16 at 0:26
  • Justin was one of the originals who helped our site get to beta 4 years ago. He's a smart young programmer who's involved with FamilySearch. I met him at RootsTech. – lkessler Jun 11 '16 at 0:40
  • I should have recognized JustinY :-) – PolyGeo Mod Jun 11 '16 at 1:28

I'm curious as to what style of Q&A that initiative will have to offer.

I know that unless it has wiki-style editing of questions and answers, that allows its community to improve every post, the impetus for me to try it will not be there.

Why is this site so different from discussion forums? (a guide for new users) provides the rationale as to why I think our value proposition should not be affected if MyHeritage Q&A turns out to be just another Q&A site featuring long back and forth discussions rather than clear questions and answers.

  • With all due respect, our guide for new users is not simple and has lots of rules. I do understand why and agree they're needed, and it's because the quality of questions and answers is what StackExchange wants to uphold. – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 14:31
  • @lkessler are you saying that even the Tour is too complicated? – PolyGeo Mod Jun 8 '16 at 21:45
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    It's probably laid out as best as it can be. And each point in itself is simple (and the animation is captivating), but the points add up. If a person is interested, they'll go through it and see that it's worthwhile. But like anything else, it's hard to understand until you start doing it. And it's tough to get a person started as we can see by the number of users who joined but really didn't participate. – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 23:12
  • And the other question I would have is if you, as moderator, have stats as to the number of people who have viewed the Tour. What percentage of all users is that? What percentage of users who never participated viewed the Tour? Is the tour link really visible enough to ensure that most new users would visit it? (Hey, I'm not criticizing. You know I'm trying to help, and figure out how to get more users) – lkessler Jun 8 '16 at 23:14
  • @lkessler I think those stats would only be available via SEDE which my SQL is not up to querying. It's not a stat available through mod tools. My perception is that perhaps 1 in 5-10 new users takes it prior to posting their first question - I think G&FH SE is better for this than GIS SE which is the other site I moderate. – PolyGeo Mod Jun 9 '16 at 0:39
  • I found an SEDE query related to the Tour - it does not give the stat you were after but may point you or someone in the direction of how that stat could be obtained: data.stackexchange.com/genealogy/query/273734/… – PolyGeo Mod Jun 11 '16 at 1:34
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    Well, that's interesting. They use the "Informed" badgein the query which is given to people who read the entire tour. Just looking at our informed badge statistics, it seems quite a few more people read it (358 to date), than I would have thought. That's good! – lkessler Jun 11 '16 at 3:58
  • What I would most like to see is to have the how-to-ask and how-to-answer pages in the help center moved up the list. How-to-ask should be #3 in the list at least, right after the on-topic and don't-ask. I've looked on meta.stackexchange.com but I can't see if this has been addressed already -- but I don't think mods can rearrange the help in that way. As it is, how-to-ask is invisible because it's hidden behind the 'more' link. – Jan Murphy Mod Jul 10 '16 at 20:00

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