The prospect of months of delays
The news about RootsWeb is thoroughly depressing.
When The Legal Genealogist wrote on Monday about using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine or the caching features of search engines like Google as a stop-gap measure,1 what I had in mind was a short-term stop gap.
Optimistically, even days.
The news came yesterday without fanfare as an update on the RootsWeb homepage, and it’s thoroughly ugly and depressing.
We’re talking months just to get minimal access back to some critical parts of this data.
Here’s what Ancestry is saying as of now:
Right now, the best way for us to meet both goals (security and access) is to begin bringing portions of RootsWeb back online in a read-only state. This means you will have access to content, but you will not be able to load new content in these sections. While this may not be ideal, it is the best way for us to protect RootsWeb users while also providing the ability to use the content you value. This is an interim step while we continue to evaluate the potential for bringing more of the RootsWeb services back online in a more complete manner.
Here’s our current plan:
Hosted Web Sites: Soon we will begin bringing Hosted Web Sites back online. We will start with a few hundred and then add more over time, giving us a chance to scan the content.
Family Trees/WorldConnect: Family Trees or WorldConnect allows you to upload a GEDCOM file and publish it for others to see. It is currently being reviewed by our software engineers and security team and we plan on having a read-only, searchable version up in the next few weeks. The ability to upload new GEDCOM files will be available in the coming months.
Mailing Lists: Mailing Lists have been functioning as normal, but the archives have been unavailable. We plan to make the archives available to you once we have WorldConnect available to you in a readable version.
We will be making decisions about other functionality over time.2
This is Not Good News.
Not at all.
And it’s obviously going to take a lot more time than any of us had hoped. While I challenge Ancestry and its software engineers and security team to surprise us — pleasantly — I’m not going to be shocked or dismayed if the reality leaves us disappointed.
All of which absolutely underscores the critical importance, for all of us who use the internet to exchange family information, of having a complete backup of our data in more than one place. The simple reality is that none of us can safely rely on a single resource to store or share our information. We have to have backups and a plan to be able to access and restore our data if the worst happens to the site we’ve chosen to use.
And it also absolutely underscores the critical importance of keeping in mind, always, that “you get what you pay for.” Or, putting it another way using another cliche, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Time after time, users who have relied on a free web resource have ended up being burned as their data either disappeared, became inaccessible or slipped behind a pay wall.
All of us need to think about how we can protect and preserve for the future all of the hard work we’ve put into our family history websites, particularly if we’ve chosen to put them on free websites that could well disappear without notice.
• Getting together with cousins we’re collaborating with, writing up our findings and self-publishing in book form is one option. Using services like Lulu.com, producing copies of that family history in soft- or hardcover doesn’t have to be expensive.
• Getting together with cousins that we’re collaborating with and buying web hosting for some term into the future on a basic web hosting service would mean we have (a) control over that website and (b) some assurance that it will exist for at least the term of that hosting. This doesn’t have to be expensive: many web hosts offer good plans for less than $50 a year. And, of course, once we have our own websites up and running, we can submit our sites to Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine for archiving into the indefinite future.
• Even printing out the pages on our home printers and making sure that copies are in the vertical surname files of genealogy libraries in the areas where our ancestral lines lived is better than doing nothing and then bemoaning that we suddenly lost access to a website we weren’t paying for.
Think about it. Plan for it. Backup your research data now.