Open Genealogy Alliance : Response to Society of Genealogists Blog on OGA

Open Genealogy Alliance

Response to Society of Genealogists Blog on OGA

By Javier Ruiz on May 13, 2011. Comments (1)

The Society of Genealogists have published an interesting blog on the OGA. This is our response.

Dear friends

As one of the co-ordinators of the Open Genealogy Alliance I am very happy to see that the issues are being debated, although I would hope that it's not such a divisive issue.

Generally, the benefits of opening up genealogical information  -- so it can be shared, combined and built upon to develop new information and services -- are not questioned. As you rightly point out, the main issue of concern for hobbyists and citizens is the sustainability of the genealogy sector. However, we believe that there is a confusion between enabling particular efforts of digitisation of archival materials and the long term viability of the sector.

The bulk of genealogical information is public information, and as such I am sure we all agree that any restriction on access should be exceptional. This is taken very seriously in relation to on-site access, and few if any archives or registers charge access fees. Our fundamental premise is that citizens of the Internet age expect this principle of open access to extend to digital materials online, not to have a completely different value system based on paid for access.

The very real costs of digitising materials to be available online could be borne in a variety of ways. Governments have generally a duty to make available cultural materials including genealogical data.  We must remember that in other areas -- such as geographical information -- the policy of the coalition government is making public data freely available in order to generate innovation.

If institutions supplement limited public funds by forming partnerships with private organisations, all we are saying is that the agreements should be carefully constructed to maximise the original organisational mission of public access archives or educational charities. This is a not prescriptive principle.

In practice, this means that after the costs of digitisation have been covered -- including the commercial partners' expectation for a reasonable profit -- the digital materials should probably be made as widely available as possible as soon as possible.

The costs involved in the dissemination of digital materials are very different from the costs of digitisation. The marginal costs of online digital materials (the cost of producing one new copy) are very low, and decreasing every day. We should take a hard look at what it takes keeping the materials online, and look at what business models could sustain these.

This is one thing we would like to clarify: we are not anti-business per se, we just highlight issues with what we believe are outdated business models based on data hoarding. But we are not particularly unique on this, we are just applying the same logic that has seen changes in many other sectors.

The market on CDs is probably the best example of how things are moving on, with or without us. Music CD sales have plummeted in the past few years, with Rock holding a bit better than other genre because of the older demographics of the buyers. The Apple Ipad does not even have a CD slot. A model based on CD sales does not look very sustainable nowadays.

And it's not just a matter of formats. The whole notion that data is something that you have to keep in your computer, or in shelves full of CDs, is currently being challenged. Data is increasingly seen as an always-on service you expect to be able to receive on your desktop, mobile phone or as part of your social media platform. Many commercial companies of course have already clocked this, for example Ancestry’s co-founder Paul Allen is now developing exclusively Facebook applications.

In your blog you also raise many other issues we are exploring, such as the role of volunteers, quality, licensing, etc. Actually, you managed to bring up so many interesting things that it would be impossible to cover everything here. We will be very happy however to continue exploring these and discuss any concerns people may have.

Comments (1)

  1. Tod Robbins:
    May 15, 2011 at 08:02 AM


    Your response is well put. The data hoarding comment resonates with me. It's not so much about commercial interests pushing the data, but establishing unilateral relationships with archives that may prevent re-digitization by a public interest entity. Of course, that is what we want to be researching to make sure our opinions are as comprehensive as possible.



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