Monday, May 24, 2010

Is The Way To A Geneablogger's Heart Through Their Vanity?

I have tried. I really have, not to weigh in on the (MH) Awards, but I can contain myself no longer. Now before you title this post "Whine From Sour Grapes," let me remind you I held Family Tree Magazine's feet to the fire when they announced their plans for a Top Forty Geneablogger Award, and I do have a blog on this "MH Top 100" list.

On April 30, I received this email:

Name: Robert

Hope you're well. This might be an unanticipated email, but hopefully you'll bear with me just a second!

I'm writing to you from, the global genealogy and family history website. We've recently been on the lookout for some of the highest-quality genealogy websites out there, because there's so much excellent amateur work being done these days which deserves some recognition and exposure.

And, as you can guess from the title, you were one of the winners. We picked out your site because had high quality content, was offering something a bit different, and was also nicely designed.

I know receiving a prize online these days can raise alarm bells, but we're not going to ask for any bank account details! We were hoping to simply list you among the winners on our website, and to offer you a html badge to display on your website. There's no pressure with this, so if you don't want to have a badge on your site then you don't have to do that. But if you'd like to have it, let us know and I can send it over right away - it's very easy to embed in the website.

Do let us know if you'd like to go ahead with this. We're hoping to send out the badges very soon, so it'd be great to hear if you'd like to get involved.

Kind regards,


(Emphasis Added)

I'm sorry, but this email didn't pass the smell test. Here are the reasons why:

-- Robert does not introduce himself. Who is Robert at MH? No idea, still don't know.

-- The email had not been proofread.

-- The criteria MH was looking for was extremely vague:

1) highest-quality genealogy websites
2) excellent amateur work
3) high quality content
4) offering something a bit different
5) nicely designed

-- I was not told who sat in judgment of my site. Who selected the winners? The email doesn't say.

And the overriding question:

-- Do I win if I don't respond? "Do let us know if you'd like to go ahead with this. We're hoping to send out the badges very soon, so it'd be great to hear if you'd like to get involved."

I did not respond, declining the opportunity to display their badge on my winning blog; as this "win" appeared to be little more than a ploy to drive traffic to MH’s own site. I did not respond, and still I made the list.

I can hear you. You think I'm being too harsh. Treating the email as if it was one of those equally carefully crafted Nigerian requests. Certainly they didn't mean that if you failed to respond you wouldn't make the list?

Well, yes, that's exactly what happened.

Donna Pointkouski of What's Past Is Prologue got the same email. Donna was out of town at a conference and didn't respond. Guess what? Her blog did not make the list.

Now if you're wondering what all that ROTFLMAO was about on faceBook and Twitter, check out the badge below. I emailed it to many of my geneablogging friends who were strangely absent from the list.

Those of you who know and read What's Past Is Prologue are aware that Donna is always looking for the humor in life, and MH, bless 'em*, gave it to her.

Donna responded to the email after the list had been published, and MH, bless 'em*, sent her a badge. Then to add insult to injury, MH, bless 'em*, asked Donna to write a short piece about her site to be added to the list she didn't make. And I, who never responded and made the list, was never asked to explain myself.

Then sometime between April 30, and the posting of the winners the selection criteria changed:

How did we put this together? We wanted to identify and give recognition to websites which offered high-quality content, were innovative in topic or design, and which were frequently updated with new content. We also put some emphasis on finding hidden gems in the community, and bringing sites to attention which currently have relatively small audiences. As such, there are a number of lesser-known sites included, and a few more prominent sites unmentioned for the same reason. (Posted on the MH site.)

How unprofessional.

MH, when you decided to embark on a public relations campaign that involved naming "Top Genealogy Sites" you had an obligation to our community to treat us with respect.

A "Top Genealogy" list is a powerful entity in our world. It can bolster a geneablogger’s confidence, or crush it in a heartbeat; encourage excellence through example; or discourage it; increase a geneablogger's reputation, or damage it.

Anyone with a website and a keyboard can create a "TOP" list. Few can be considered intelligent, evenhanded, and trustworthy enough to sit in judgment of our work.

So MH, you have reflected. Good! I'm still not sure you got it; only time will tell. Your post hints that you didn't:

“We still think the selections we listed are all great sites.” Of course they are! They are the terrific geneabloggers who bang it out everyday on their blogs and websites. I love this community and I am very protective of it.

I’m sure no one ever questioned the credibility of those you included in your list. Rather, members of the geneablogging community have questioned the credibility of your public relations campaign.

And now for the slings and arrows.

* The late Dixie Carter once explained that she didn't live in Hollywood because the gossips were cruel and vicious. She said she lived in Tennessee where when you talk about someone you add "bless 'em," it's so much more civilized.


Blogger Sheri Fenley said...

Bravo. I would clap but I can't get up off the floor! Tell Donner I am still looking for my ass.

Is "Bless 'em" short for "Bless their little hearts"

I really must get a Southern Dictionary. It is important to learn a second language.

May 25, 2010 at 12:16 AM  
Anonymous GrannyPam said...

I agree, they want traffic, and a badge on 100 blogs will get 'em some. Offering paid adverts costs money, having a guy from the backroom send out an e-mail to the high traffic blogs and have them place a advert free costs nothing.

I wonder if anyone who uses a contact from (like I do) got anything from them?

May 25, 2010 at 3:11 AM  
Blogger Kerry Scott said...

That's precisely why I don't sweat these lists too much...often, they're just a means to get a badge on a bunch of websites. For me, a badge is also known as a "free ad." I don't do free ads. I have kids to feed.

If you want to buy ad space on my website, I'm happy to work with you. But don't try to sucker me into giving it to you for free.

Ugh. Don't get me started.

May 25, 2010 at 5:36 AM  
Blogger Linda McCauley said...

I couldn't agree more. I also ignored their e-mail. They didn't send me the badge but they did leave me on the list. I also ignored their request for a description but I see they lifted something from my blog and added that to their list as if I had replied.

After I posted "Is An Award Always An Award", Sebastien from MH left a comment for me saying that MH's overarching goal is to "democratize genealogy". I responded to him by e-mail and in a 2nd post but I haven't received a response so I still don't know what that even means. I did notice that this "goal" isn't mentioned in their Reflection.

Documenting the Details

May 25, 2010 at 6:41 AM  
Anonymous Chris Sanderson said...

I agree there's always some commercial interest with these things. The one thing I can't get my head around is why they chose to pick so many lower-trafficked sites if they were gunning for the best free ads.

May 25, 2010 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Interesting. I never received the email from Robert, and yet my site still made the list. Makes me wonder if it was an "after thought," when the ones they really wanted didn't respond. Guess I should be happy to be a "seat filler," bless 'em.

I did receive the "tell us about your site" email, but got too busy to respond. I have no idea if they made something up for me or not.

May 25, 2010 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Sheri - We may be the only people who find the badge humorous. But then we are strange.

Pam - you are so over thinking this. You are just far too attractive & well-known. I'm sure Sheri will invite you join the club. LOL!

Kerry - Sorry to wind you up. I'm just one of those truth, justice, and the American way sort of people. BTW - LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog. You are on my Rock Star List!


May 25, 2010 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

Goodness gracious, now I truly feel like a sucker for falling for all this!! I never considered an ulterior motive like a public relations campaign. I do like these lists because they expose me to lots of new blogs to read and follow. I suppose on one hand I could do that other ways (through carnivals, memes and etc.). Thank you for making me into a more thoughtful blogger.

May 25, 2010 at 10:43 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Linda McCauley - How I admire you! (Plus you have the most beautiful first name.)

To be a relative newbie and take this on shows what you're made of and I like it! You are also now on my "rock star" list.

Actually it is yours and Luckie Daniels answers from MH that really got the hair to stand up on the back of my neck.

Particularly the overarching goal is to "democratize genealogy" remark.

How I read it was that apparently those considered “Top Sites” were actively working to keep lesser known blogs down and only MH could properly represent them. I found it insulting.

I have no idea what they truly meant. Keep up the terrific work!


May 25, 2010 at 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Tamura Jones said...


I am honoured to have received your "TOP genealogy site 2010, not awarded by MyHeritage", and pleased to be in some excellent company.
I do assume that because this is a non-award, I should non-accept and non-display it ;-)

- Tamura

May 25, 2010 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Chris - If I could answer that one! -fM

Elizabeth - now listen to me. You are not now, nor will you ever be a seat filler. You are one of my favorite people and geneabloggers.

I am furious at MH for creating a climate of doubt as the result of their shoddy work, for making any geneablogger wonder if they are an after thought or a "seat filler."

I hope you know it was never my intent to criticize the winners, only MH's lack of respect.


May 25, 2010 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Tamura - OK, you are too funny for words!

Yes, non-accept and non-display. Just the right touch.


May 25, 2010 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger Thomas MacEntee said...

Well said fM, and I appreciate all the work you do to make sure there is honesty and transparency in the processes used to build these "top" lists.

Kerry - just an FYI, I believe there were no strings attached in Robert's original email. Since I haven't had much interaction with MH in terms of accepting any subscriptions etc., I didn't see the need for a blogger disclaimer.

Heather - don't feel that you were "taken" - I don't see it that way. We all have the right to market our blogs as much or as little as we want. It is difficult sometimes to ascertain the best ways to do so. You have a great blog and I don't think your participation in the MH Top list detracts from that at all.

I'll probably have more to say about MyHeritage and the process over at my personal blog later today.

May 25, 2010 at 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Chris Sanderson said...

Having done a bit more reading about it, it does seem like a half-baked marketing scam they have been trying to pull. MH seem to try to fool their customers at every turn, and even their software tries to hijack your computer and web browser, and then won't let you uninstall without flinging you back to their site continually. Having read Tamuras work on this I have also just seen how they faked recommendations in the past and how this came right from their head of marketing.

The lesson has to be that you must not try and fool the ordinary people, and it is much better just to honest with them. If you try and deceive the users they will always find out eventually. I am glad that this scheme has been exposed by the community.

May 25, 2010 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


You said: "Goodness gracious, now I truly feel like a sucker for falling for all this!!"

You are no sucker!

This was my experience with MH and their process and how they treated several bloggers I count as dear friends.

I want MH to understand: A "Top Genealogy" list is a powerful entity in our world. It can bolster a geneablogger’s confidence, or crush it in a heartbeat; encourage excellence through example; or discourage it; increase a geneablogger's reputation, or damage it.

I want MH not to treat this lightly.


May 25, 2010 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Chris: Thanks for the update!

Thomas Love: Not sure about that "No Strings" in light of how Donna was handled.


May 25, 2010 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger Becky Wiseman said...

You're "right on" again as usual, fM! I received the initial email from MH also and didn't respond. Then when I saw my blog on the list and so many others missing I questioned why kinexxions was there - It has been 6 months since my last "genealogy" type post! So many others should have been included if it was a "top" list!

May 25, 2010 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

I get excited every time I see your name Becky. You have a very special spot in the footnoteMaven's heart.

You are on my perpetual "Top" list. I can't wait for us to sit down and jaw at Jamboree.


May 25, 2010 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Kerry Scott said...

Okay, sometimes I shoot my mouth off and offend the wrong people, so just to be clear: I definitely don't think anyone is a sucker for being on the list (or putting up the badge). That's not my point at all, and there are some sites I like a lot that give out badges (for lists or any number of other things).

I am just not a fan of the sort of lists where you are honored for reasons that might be unclear, by an organization that isn't well-known to all of the participants. There's almost always drama when those lists appear, and the drama can really take the fun out of blogging.

I'm amused by the idea that anyone would work to "democratize genealogy." One of the things I like about it is that it's pretty democratic to begin with.

fM--thank you. I'm not sure I've ever been called a rock star before. My husband would probably say I'm more like adult contemporary, or possibly old Duran Duran. *wink*

May 25, 2010 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


I never thought that.

You have just proved my hypothesis.

A "Top Genealogy" list is a powerful entity in our world. It can bolster a geneablogger’s confidence, or crush it in a heartbeat; encourage excellence through example; or discourage it; increase a geneablogger's reputation, or damage it.

It only takes the fun out of it if you let it.


P.S. Someday I'll tell you the story about a member of Duran Duran asking my daughter to marry him. For real.

May 25, 2010 at 3:27 PM  
Blogger Kerry Scott said...

I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to sleep or eat until I hear that story. Especially if the member was Roger Taylor. In 8th grade, I got in trouble because I wrote "I [heart] Roger Taylor" on every single page of every single textbook that Lemon Grove Junior High School had issued to me.

In fact, if anyone wants to make a list of the Top 100 People Who Still Like Roger Taylor Even Though They Are Married With Two Kids and Minivan And Way Too Old For This Stuff, I would totally put THAT badge on my blog.

I'm kidding. Sort of. I mean, if my husband asks, I'm totally kidding.

May 25, 2010 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Just got note from daughter who says I'm getting really old. It was INXS, not Duran Duran.

Well, at least I took you back to a happy place.

I am getting old!


May 25, 2010 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger Kerry Scott said...

That means Roger is still mine. Yay!

Although INXS is pretty impressive too. Those guys were not ugly (and their music was actually much better).

May 25, 2010 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Lori H said...

Thanks. Now I feel lots better about not making the list. :)

May 25, 2010 at 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Luckie said...

I have to say, the more I read about My Heritage, the less & less I like them.

Once again, I'm introduced to another set of selection criteria! It would seem it varied according to the audience ~ my version included the selection of "ethnically neutral" blogs!

At the end of the day, I agree with you that never were the blogs selected in question. We all put our feet to the grind digging up Ancestors. I respect anyone committed to this labor of love.

My position supports the other issues raised and adds a slap on the hand for not including a respectable representation -- by number -- of African-American contributors.

One thing I am 100% sure My Heritage has learned -- this is NOT a community to mess with!



May 25, 2010 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger Bill West said...

Yikes. I confess I was happy to hear
I was one of the selectees.Given the
year I've had so far, anything positive makes me happy.

Ah well!

May 25, 2010 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


You are the "Top" on any list.

Revel in it my friend. The year is destined to get even better for you.


May 25, 2010 at 7:52 PM  
Anonymous Donna - What's Past is Prologue said...


Thanks for making me laugh, as usual!


May 26, 2010 at 5:17 AM  
Blogger John said...

Well, whenever an entity has a for-profit model, you can assume *anything* they put on their website is meant to bring in traffic.

This applies to MyHeritage, OnlineUniversities, ProGenealogists, and FamilyTreeMagazine. They all want customers, so they're going to put stuff on their websites they think will attract viewers.

So the issue (from my perspective) isn't their motive. The motive behind these Top lists is always the same. It's the methodology.

1) Is there a reasonable connection between the for-profit mission of the company and the blogs they are ranking. (MyHeritage, FamilyTreeMagazine and ProGenealogists pass this question. OnlineUniversities doesn't.)

2) Are they clear about the process behind the list?

(ProGenealogists and, for the most part, FamilyTreeMagazine passes this question. MyHeritage and OnlineUniversities don't.)

3) Do they act professionally?

Evidence suggests MyHeritage has failed this on several counts. I've seen no complaints concerning the other three.

May 26, 2010 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger Elyse said...

I'm rather late to the conversation, but I will put my 2 cents in anyway.

I got the emails and responded. I made the list. Reading all of this now makes me think about this list in such a different way. I should have put some thought into why I was chosen, their criteria for choosing websites, etc but to be honest, it never occurred to me. I'm with Heather in that I feel a bit like a sucker.

I'm also with Bill in that I was happy to be picked because it was something positive.

Hmmm...this is definitely something to think about.

May 30, 2010 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

In order to "democratize genealogy" shouldn't we all have had the opportunity to vote? I didn't get a ballot, where is my ballot??

"democratize genealogy", what DOES that mean???

May 30, 2010 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger GeneaGeek said...

I made the list and must confess that I was flattered when I received the email.
After a bit of thought, I realised it involved free advertising for MH but since I don't get much traffic, decided it was worth being involved with anyway.
It's a shame to find the list has caused so much controversy.

June 1, 2010 at 6:34 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

OK, I'm late to this convo, but I have a good reason. I've been researching. Yup, I've been researching my ancestors. Silly me.

Anywho, I don't give a rat's patootie what company is giving out what awards. I didn't start blogging about my Family Stories to win awards. I started because I wanted to share my Family Stories with others so that they might start thinking about their own Family Stories. OK, fine. A small part of me likes to entertain my readers. So sue me. [But, really? Don't.] So maybe I don't blog everyday. How could I, really? When would I research, eh?

Anyhow, the point is [What was my point?], oh yes, I don't give a rat's patootie that I did not make a company's list of "Top Whatevers" [no offense to those who won]. This is a company who has no clue how to execute a marketing plan that other companies have been able to accomplish. Successfully, I might add [tho' I didn't make those lists either*]. A company who deemed me sufficient to interview for their blogger spotlight, but not sufficient to make their "Top Whatevers" list [The criteria seem to change, so "whatevers" seems appropriate.]

I'm willing to give a little blog love to companies who give me blog love. It's a trade-off. That's why when I was interviewed by them, I created a link to my interview on their blog. It's the way it works. ALL of these lists and badges are for marketing purposes. That doesn't make 'em bad, but the execution of this particular marketing plan was about as messed up as a soup sandwich. Seems like they need to revamp their marketing department. But, hey, what do I know? I'm just a blogger. Just a consumer. Just a lowly potential customer/client. I'm no one famous.***

So there. That's my 2 cents worth that's probably worth less than that. [Remember when you could buy a cup of coffee with 2 cents? Yeah, me neither.]

~Caroline Pointer
Family Stories**

*That's right, I wasn't even the recipient of fM's lovely and hilarious Not Award blog badge. However, I have my fingers crossed for next year. Gives me something to aspire to. [I love you, fM, but I couldn't resist!]

**Sorry for the shameless plug. But, hey, some of us have to work our own marketing plan. Ya' know? [Dang bills.]

***Speaking of famous, I used to L-O-V-E John Taylor. My best friend loved Simon and I loved John Taylor. [sigh] I liked INXS until the lead singer's death. Eeew.

June 3, 2010 at 5:36 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Lori: Wish I could tell you what it took to make the list, but there was no criteria.

June 3, 2010 at 7:48 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Yee-hah!You said it!


June 3, 2010 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


I think motive is always a consideration, but method may be even more important. And as you so eloquently put it, "they failed."

Our community must keep these people honest.


June 3, 2010 at 7:57 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Elyse: Provoking thought is important. Wish there had been more provocation with MH. - fM

Jenna: Your ballot is in the mail. -fM

GeneaGeek: Getting your name out there can be a good thing. And who doesn't love a geek? -fM

June 3, 2010 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

OK, Caroline patootie, check your email. Shades people got the Not Award. Wondered why you didn't laugh. You in particular. It would have been to multiple recipients.

Agree with what you siad, but it is an affront to all hard working bloggers to treat them with such disrespect. My 2 cents.

*And I love you too!

June 3, 2010 at 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Chris Sanderson said...

I am still in a state of beffudlement at the whole thing. I have yet to see a satisfying explanation of why, if it was pure marketing spin, MH did not target the highest traffic sites from which they could have reaped the greatest benefits.

I guess I just find the whole ordeal confusing, still. That is my overriding emotion. As an outsider (I research and follow blogs but not blog myself...yet!) I do feel the current criticism has escalated to the point of pickiness, and even spitefulness. I do not share this, I just see it as a muddle of a process and am very much confused at the whole thing.

June 4, 2010 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


I think Tamura Jones has addressed that.

As a blogger who puts their life blood into this I do understand the emotion and the anger.

I also agree, we're beating a dead horse.


June 4, 2010 at 10:47 AM  

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