ancestry.com kills Family Tree Maker – 4 reasons I’m annoyed

Yesterday ancestry.com, the makers of the popular Family Tree Maker software, announced that as from the end of December 2015 they would stop selling their PC and Mac-based genealogy software. Further they announced that support for the product will end on 1st January 2017. To clarify, the company announced:

“Ancestry will continue to support current owners of Family Tree Maker at least through January 1, 2017. During this time, all features of the software, including TreeSync™, will continue to work, and Member Services will be available to assist with user questions. We will also address major software bugs that may occur, as well as compatibility updates.”

What is important here is the January 1st 2017 date. So if you are currently using Family Tree Maker then you have over a year to figure out what to do. After that date Family Tree Maker will continue to work – for ever. What may not work (and what I’d do if I was Ancestry, is kill off the TreeSync™ function after this date.

Having read some comments from the genealogical community, you would think this is the end of the world. In my opinion it’s bad, but not that bad. I thought it’s worth jotting down why I think this is a bad decision, even thought I’m confident my thoughts won’t make Ancestry change their minds.

I should start by mentioning that I’ve used Family Tree Maker (hereafter FTM) as my main software tool for organising my research for at least a decade. I upgrade every few years, and am now working on FTM Version 14.

So why is Ancestry’s decision bad?

  1. I wrote early in the year how I though ancestry.com would end up as the dominant player in the DNA-for-genealogy test market. I still believe they will. In fact they look as though they’ve already lost a competitor, as 23andMe up their prices and seem to be heading towards the DNA-for-health market. A key argument for Ancestry’s dominance is that they offered a complete package, i.e. DNA-testing, a website, historic records by the bucket-full, desktop software and Tree-Sync™. This complete package is now gone
  2. I like Famiy Tree Maker. I find desktop-software faster and easier to use when entering data. In particular I have a single screen (the People screen) where I can see four generations of people and enter a persons key data (birth, baptism, marriage and death plus sources). In contrast the new ancestry.com website is rather clunky, especially when switching between the two most important screens, the profile-view and the tree-view.
  3. As Ancestry are withdrawing Tree-Sync™ I can only update my online family tree by being on their website. I’m feel as though I’m been pushed into Ancestry’s “Walled Garden” i.e. I’m expected to work on-line, use their data-store and use Ancestry’s records to add to my family tree. Sorry Ancestry, but I need to go beyond your records. In the early days of the Internet AoL (previously America Online) tried to do this with their “Communities”. I didn’t like “Walled Gardens” then and I don’t like them now.
  4. My Family Tree represents hundreds of hours of my work. I therefore consider it my “Intellectual Property” – I own it. Publishing it on-line, via the ancestry.com website, is mostly for the benefit of other researchers/family members. I consider the safest place to store my work is on my PC. I’d rather not lose this control and have to rely on Ancestry’s infrastructure, availability and charging model. As an aside, it also feels like Ancestry is also losing out here. Well-researched family trees add to the value of their website. As a result of these changes I expect Ancestry will lose some of the family trees they published whilst others will just rot away as they aren’t updated. It’s a Loss-Loss situation.

What am I planning to do ?

At the moment nothing. I’ve still got a year before Tree-Sync™ stops. Family Tree Maker will continue to work after that date, so I don’t have to do anything immediately.  I am hoping to wait a while and see if Ancestry changes their mind, although I doubt it. In the mean time I’ll be looking at 2 things.

  1. Alternative desktop genealogy software. RootsMagic has an offer on for FTM Users, as has Family Historian. I expect to also be looking at Legacy Family Tree.
  2. I’m planning to migrate the key stories and photos from my Ancestry-hosted tree to this blog. Hopefully WordPress won’t stop it’s free blog hosting for a few years.

[Update 19-Dec-2015] On the 9th December Ancestry published further information on their plans to discontinue FTM, you can read it here. In reality it doesn’t say anything new, it just reminds people that FTM will continue to work during 2016. The only thing of interest is that they now give themselves  a little wiggle-room with their plans to terminate support. The date of 1st January 2017 may not be set in stone. As Ancestry says “Towards the end of 2016, we will assess our progress toward a smooth transition for our customers and review our support commitment at that time”. Personally I think that may be too late to “save” FTM, but it’s probably just a case of “kicking the can down the road“.

[Update 21-Mar-2016] Ancestry has now come back with some more reasonable plans for Family Tree Maker. On the 2nd of February they announced two software partners, MacKiev and RootsMagic who will both be providing future desktop-based genealogy software. MacKiev were, I think, the Mac developers for FTM. They will “publish future versions of Family Tree Maker for Mac and Windows.” On the other hand RootsMagic have agreed “to connect Ancestry with the RootsMagic software by the end of 2016.” In both cases the press-release promises that with either software you will have “access to Ancestry Hints, Ancestry searches, and be able to save your tree on Ancestry.” Notice that there is no promise that you can synchronize your desktop tree with the online verion. My money is on Ancestry dropping this feature.

A further announcement on the 1st of March indicates that MacKiev are now shipping updates for FTM for Windows v.2014 and Mac 3. There are no significant new product features, but it’s a first step in handing over product development to MacKiev.

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