17 June 2015

Disruptive Innovation in Genealogy

John Grenham's most recent Irish Roots column asks "Is professional genealogy dead?"

He concludes that "Like many other things the internet was going to sweep into the dustbin of history, professional genealogy lives."  Grenham has acquired a slight rose tint to his glasses. The profession may live but is it healthy?

Ancestry tells anyone who watches TV "You don't even have to know what you're looking for, you just have to start looking." They're not running those ads because nobody pays attention.

What we're seeing in genealogy is an example of disruptive innovation.  This theory holds that an innovation comes along that adequately serves the low end of the market. It takes clients away from traditional suppliers while also attracting new clients because of the lower price. The low end, for genealogy it's searching the census and other records now made accessible through the innovation of digitization and indexing, becomes a commodity. Why pay a professional to find what you can find yourself, and get the satisfaction of finding it yourself, for a fraction of the cost?

That leaves the professional to tackle the more challenging and interesting projects. By expanding the market the innovation perhaps benefits the professional by drawing in those folks who've already done the research they can do themselves but want to go further. But does that compensate for the loss of the low end of the market?

Disruptive innovation theory has the new lower-cost service moving up-market as capabilities improve. As more convenient resources come online the domain of the professional is whittled away. The product doesn't have to be as good as that from a professional, it will certainly lack the professional stamp of authority, but can meet the client need.

The history of disruptive innovation is that it takes years for the process to run to completion, but beware of Big Bang Disruption.


Rick Roberts said...

Good points, well put.

Here's a link to a 7 minute video of Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School defining disruptive innovation. http://blog.oldstlabs.com/clay-christensen-explains-disruptive-innovation-video-7-mins

Mike More said...

Although I have been on a number of genealogy mailing lists for years, there has been a recent boom in genealogy Facebook pages. Based on the questions being posted, I believe that there are a great many, presumably new, genealogists who seem to know very little about the hobby. All they know is Ancestry and Family Tree Maker, and not much about those either. I am not sure how we reach out to them and let them know that there are vast resources out there in books, courses, societies, websites, etc. Ancestry is not doing it.