Thursday, August 23, 2007

Genealogy sites at no cost to users?


Website management and bandwidth (useage) costs are problematic for individuals and small societies


Costs of running websites are factors online genealogists are unaware of but must take into consideration.

All this talk about free website access through local LDS Family History Centers is fine, but if the affiliate websites are not able to gain paid membership and outside advertising, the house of cards will fall. Ol' Myrt has some understanding of this. It costs money to purchase computers, maintain a website, and provide bandwidth (usage). These costs are not unlike the costs to house the original historical documents we seek at local courthouses, regional & national archives and libraries.

We must remember there is no free lunch.

Eventually, someone has to pay the piper.

CASE #1 – Accessing Italian & German databases through Steve Morse’s website

Today on a public genealogy mailing list called, this notice was posted:
From: Behalf Of JDeLalio
Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2007 10:15 PM
To: APGListserv
Subject: [APG] Steve Morse/IGG/GGG
As a founding member of the Italian Genealogical Group, I would like to clarify an email that was sent regarding problems with the use of Steve Morse's One-Step website to access databases on the Italian Genealogical Group's website. Neither IGG nor GGG blocked people from accessing our databases through Steve Morse's site. The problem occurred because of the systematic methods used by Steve Morse to obtain information from our website. He has allowed many many people to use the site in such a way that it overwhelmed it. Our ISP provider crashed which affected not only our two organizations but all of his other clients. He therefore banned Morse's access. [See DearMYRTLE’s Italian & German database access through Steve Morse”.]

We have now had to get a larger provider at a greater cost. It is important to understand, however, that by using Steve Morse's site people can obtain their data without going through the previous IGG pages. These pages explain what the work we do in assembling these databases which have millions of records from the New York area. They pass by the requests for donations which is needed to keep adding the databases online and for volunteers without whom these records could not be assembled. If you have ever visited our website you readily understand that this is a big undertaking for two small genealogical societies. We cannot do this without help. Therefore, while we would like to accommodate everyone's use of Steve Morse's site, it does come at a cost to us. If the donations and volunteers dry up, we may have to remove or restrict the databases. We are not the bad guys and wanted to explain the situation to all.

TO WHICH, our dear friend Joy replied:
From: On Behalf Of Joy Rich
Sent: Thursday, August 23, 2007 11:22 AM
To: APGListserv
Subject: Re: [APG] Steve Morse/IGG/GGG
June and other readers of this list,
I apologize for giving the impression that the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group made the decision to block access to some of their databases via Steve Morse's website when it was actually the decision of their Internet Service Provider. IGG and GGG are providing a wonderful service to the genealogical community, and I wouldn't want to besmirch their reputations.

Ol' MYRT FIGURED it was an bandwidth (usage) issue, since this fine group of websites, organizations and individuals is working toward the same end – helping researchers find ancestors. The the overwhelming cost of bandwidth (useage) is an important consideration when societies and individuals undertake to present information on the web.

Overwhelming response is the primary factor that pushed Ol' Myrt to suspend internet radio streaming, because the cost of sending out 750,000 - 1 million individual listener streams per week was prohibitive. By contrast, podcasting is usually worked through a much less expensive business model.

Production costs are practically nil, once equipment & software is in place. But Ol' Myrt still must provide space for the initial podcast file on my website. Fortunately most people listen to my newer-style DearMYRTLE’s Family History Hour genealogy podcasts via iTunes and that keeps my costs down. Also quite fortunately, the number of individuals who listen to a single episode directly through my website is small – about 500 per week, so I can handle the bandwidth (usage) costs.

But if those numbers grow, I’ll be stuck with the same problem described by the Italian Genealogical Group. That’s what we get for not selling out to big business, I guess.

Sometimes success is a difficult thing with which to deal.

(Maybe I need to take a few business classes?)

Genealogy website management revisited
Effective search engines cut bandwidth usage
& improve chances of finding an ancestor

Several things have come to mind since writing this blog entry. Creative-Gene blogger
Jasia also wrote about the behind-the-scenes costs of running successful websites.

Let’s revisit the notion that the volume of IGG database searches was bogging down ISP servers.

What I failed to consider in my original post was that the ISP would have been more overwhelmed if the searches had not gone through Steve Morse’s more efficient search engine. Why?

Without Steve Morse’s search engines, people typically spend more frustrating hours of research on a website, thereby truly bogging down ISP servers.

Researchers and database managers alike are grateful for Steve Morse’s free search engines. Long honored for his work in the genealogical community, Steve Morse most recently received the 2007 NGS Award of Merit from the National Genealogical Society and the 2007 APGQ Excellence Award from the Association of Professional Genealogists. The venerable website recognizes that Steve Morse has a better search engine, and provides a link to his site for our use in sticky Ellis Island search situations.

In fact, I use
Steve Morse’s search engine to look at Ellis Island right off the bat, because of the 44 basic search criteria (plus 158 ethnicity options). Contrast this with’s 4 basic search criteria where the ancestor’s last name is required. What if family tradition has it that your female ancestor came through Ellis Island in the summer of 1898 from Greece at age 22 but you don’t know the name? Steve’s search engine can handle it.

Perhaps the IGG should consider using a different ISP to handle the volume of researchers accessing the site. Switching servers isn’t hard and it doesn’t mean the web address needs to change. It only means the servers change.

You know, it isn’t just websites that have problems with ISPs arbitrarily deciding to block access from other websites. Myrt remembers the case of an individual researcher, “Tom” who had RoadRunner somewhere in upstate NY. He reports that his old ISP blocks all RootsWeb genealogy mailing lists for some unknown reason. Can you imagine not being able to receive RootsWeb postings?

The fact that a lot of genealogy activity is going on out there on the web should not cause an ISP to block that activity. After all, they are internet service providers, aren’t they?

The bottom line is – if your ISP doesn’t meet your needs, SWITCH.

Changing ISPs is easy for webmasters. Ol’ Myrt moved her website to a different ISP and discovered it is a fairly painless process. Expect that your website will be down for a maximum of 24-48 hours to give the internet directory time to point to the new servers. In my typical case, there was no change in the domain name

Ol' Myrt here now uses as my web server, and I never go over my budgeted amount. Receiving daily usage reports allows Ol' Myrt to determine the level of bandwidth she should provide to allow free access for her DearMYRTLE readers and listeners.

As I mentioned in the original column, it was the internet radio streaming that would have cost me an arm and a leg, not a fault of the ISP but of old technology. Fortunately newer podcast technology has saved Ol' Myrt’s pocketbook in that regard.

As I mentioned in the original column,“The the overwhelming cost of bandwidth (usage) is an important consideration when societies and individuals undertake to present information on the web”. The mystery of website mechanics is challenging for entities that work on limited budgets and are focused on collection of relevant genealogical data.

Bandwidth costs need to be factored in to the commitment when deciding to create a website. Prospective website creators might think it is an easy thing to put a database up on a website. That is the least of their worries. In any scenario, if one’s current ISP can’t handle the load, then the webmaster should take his group’s business elsewhere.

Please don’t give up using the web to distribute your information. Ultimately the WWW will be more successful than a printed book on the shelf at your local library if you sincerely want to reach your target audience – namely, serious genealogy researchers who need access to your compiled data.

Be grateful for Steve Morse’s labor of love providing free superior search engine capabilities for genealogists. Long ago I joined the ranks applauding his work.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

(c) 2007 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

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