This is a Medium post that I wrote recently that explains how I believe that our LifeStories anthologies, as Non-Fungible Tokens, will change media ownership.
This is a Medium post that I wrote recently that explains how I believe that our LifeStories anthologies, as Non-Fungible Tokens, will change media ownership.
The genealogy market is forecast to grow by 11% between now and 2027, becoming a $12Bn business. The problem is that it’s dying; it just doesn’t know it yet.
There are legions of hard-core and casual family historians being well-served by the various genealogy websites such as Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch. People are building detailed family trees going back many generations.
My father was one of these people. He used to love digging out the slightest clues from census records over 100 years old. When he died several years ago, I kept a copy of the research that he did, but as much as I’m interested in what he discovered, I have no desire to go over the same ground that he did. So, unless I choose to look at a particular branch of the tree, as far as I’m concerned, the job is finished. There’s no reason for me to have a subscription with any of the leading genealogy websites
Genealogy companies have embraced the golden goose of DNA testing without realizing that it is a herald of their doom.
The problem for any subscription-based business is churn, losing customers faster than you’re adding them, or in fact, just losing them at all, because it’s more expensive to add new customers than it is to keep the ones you already have. As family historians like my father grow old and pass away, the torch passes to the next generation, and they don’t need that service anymore.
Now that view is definitely on the pessimistic side, but even if it’s partially true, it leaves the genealogy companies with a growing problem. You might think that the recent boom in DNA testing to find out an individual’s heritage shows that interest in genealogy is alive and well, but the same argument applies. If my mother and father have records based on their DNA, what’s the point in me having one?
And yet, in genealogical DNA testing, we see where the future lies. There’s a subtle difference in motivation between DNA testing and traditional family history research. With traditional research the quest is to find out about our ancestors, who were they, what did they do? A DNA test has nothing to do with the individuals of the past, it’s an answer to the question of “Who am I?”.
Genealogy companies have embraced the golden goose of DNA testing without realizing that it is a herald of their doom. People are less interested in the past than they are in themselves.
What family historians and others are just starting to realize, is that they are the ancestors of future generations, and there is an opportunity to leave a digital personal history that could endure for generations to come.
The tools to create these personal histories now exist, the problem is how to make them persist for generations to come?
Thus, we come to the salvation for the genealogy companies. They have large numbers of subscribers, every one of whom has the potential for a personal history. They can sell a new service to all of their subscribers, one that doesn’t look at the past, but instead looks to the future. They can then turn their attention to solving the substantial problem of ensuring that personal histories can be created, archived, refactored and presented for the generations to come.
Genealogy is dead. Long live mea historia.
The market for genealogy products and services is expected to grow to around $12Bn per annum by 2027, driven to no small degree by the applications of DNA analysis. While I don’t think I’m in a position to question the exact number, it does seem like a reasonable growth from its current position.
The market has many players providing services to end-users such as Ancestry, FamilySearch and MyHeritage, and several major DNA testing labs that have grown to support them. It has reached a significant level of maturity.
However, as I have been preaching for the last two years, I believe that there is a subtle underlying change taking place, and that so far the industry has not recognised what is happening and where their future lies.
It is inconceivable to me that the companies that offer genealogy subscription services will not add personal history services to their portfolios.
The question of where we come from and who were our ancestors has been roundly answered, and the DNA test provides an interesting corollary to the record-based data provided by the genealogy vendors. Having satisfied their curiosity about the events before them, people will become more interested in the consideration of how they will be remembered. I think of this change from the past to the future and being the move from family history to personal history.
So if the market for family history is worth $12Bn by 2027, how much is the market for personal history worth? While I don’t have enough data to come up with an equivalent number, I do have some thoughts on the subject.
Revenue in the genealogy business is based on subscriptions to family history companies and discrete products like DNA tests or personalised research.
I’ve run a subscription business. Your #1 objective is to stop customer churn, i.e. customers leaving your service. You have to do as much as you can to ensure customer satisfaction. If the opportunity to offer a new service occurs, you offer it to the customer, especially if that service has the potential for a revenue uptick. It is inconceivable to me that the companies that offer genealogy subscription services will not add personal history services to their portfolios. It will only take one of the larger players to take the first step and all of the others will attempt to follow suit. Of course, the problem with this approach is that none of them currently have the tools to create personal histories for their subscribers, but I’ll set that aside as a challenge that they have to face, knowing that it might result in some consolidation of the market.
So what about the DNA test, the golden goose of genealogy? Well the goose hasn’t stopped laying, but it’s certainly slowed down a little. Demand for DNA testing has slowed as the hard core family historians have already been served.
However, I believe that the true potential of DNA testing lies in the present and not in the past. Getting a DNA test to find out your long term ethnicity and roots is definitely interesting, but getting a DNA test because it could help you live longer is a whole new proposition, yet that is the basis of the science of pharmacogenomics.
To summarise, the future of DNA testing has very little to do with the past.
So I could make the argument that some proportion of the $12Bn/year genealogy revenue will be down to personal histories and their impact on subscriptions and DNA testing, but the fact is that none of the currently available market research has considered personal histories, so whatever revenue they offer, it will be on top of the $12Bn.
You can see how you could look at the genealogy business to draw parallels for the revenue streams of the personal history business, but there is a bigger stream to consider that does not have a parallel.
From its inception, LifeStories has been about solving two problems. The first was to give people the tools to create their own LifeStory, and our Studio application does that. The second was to create a structure for all our customers to persist those LifeStories long into the future. That is going along here behind the scenes, but generically you could refer to it as an archive subscription, funded through trust. It’s the unique revenue stream for personal histories and we intend to be the leading provider in the market as it emerges.
It would be easy for me to make a baseless claim that the market for personal history will exceed that of family history, but I believe that it will happen at some point, the question is when? As the current generation documents its family history in detail, there’s less for the next generation to do. The heavy lifting has already been done, so there’s likely to be a natural decline in people looking back in time. As I said earlier, I believe that the major genealogy companies will embrace personal histories as their next logical step, but the ratio of personal to family revenue will only go in one direction.
I originally wrote this post 2 years ago, and just looking back and reading through it, I’m still 100% convinced that what I said then was correct.
Take a look and see what you think. What comes after DNA testing?
If you’ve ever done family history research, you’ll be aware of how time shrouds our knowledge of those who’ve gone before us. Faced with this simple fact, it’s surprising that so few people make a concerted effort to document their own life story for future generations.
Except that when you think about it, it’s not a trivial task. How do you pull together everything you’ve done in your life; where you’ve been, the people that you know, the work that you’ve done, what you’ve achieved; and of all the photos, videos, letters, audio recordings, anecdotes, Facebook posts or WhatsApp chats that together encapsulate your life? There are companies that will write your biography for you, and that’s better than nothing for sure, but in this digital age, printed media is hardly likely to be the answer.
LifeStories Studio allows you to collate all of your media and present it in a coherent LifeStory that you can build on a Mac or run it on an iPad or iPhone.
When you do this, you find that leaving a record for posterity is not the only advantage of a LifeStory. In fact, there are two much more immediate benefits. The first is the ability to carry your LifeStory with you at all times. There are few better pick-me-ups than the ability to drop into all of your favourite memories and relive the great times that you had. Having a tough day? Here’s an anecdote you recorded of the day when you closed a huge deal, or here’s a video of your children as toddlers. It’s called episodic memory and its a guaranteed tonic.
You also get the extra benefit of a fantastic tool for fending off memory loss as you get older. Medical professionals regularly identify the creation of a life story as one of the main tools in the battle against dementia.
None of us like to think about our own death, but we plan what we’re doing to do with our estate after we die. Perhaps it’s time to plan what we’re going to do with our memories.
Did you know that neuroscientists classify our memories into two different types? Procedural memory is for the things we do without conscious thought like eating, driving or riding a bike. Declarative memory is the conscious, intentional recollection of factual information and previous experiences. One of the main sub-categories of declarative memory is episodic memory, which is the memory of autobiographical events.
Episodic memories are important to our well-being. When we’re feeling low and in need of an emotional lift, it’s comforting to look back on some happy event in the past and share in that past feeling of happiness. However, as we get older the past gets bigger and it can be difficult to remember the details of an event in quite the way that we used to.
As you might expect, scientists have studied episodic memory extensively:
Episodic memories are consciously recollected memories related to personally experienced events. Episodic remembering is a dynamic process that draws upon mnemonic and nonmnemonic cognitive abilities in order to mentally reconstruct past experiences from retrieval cues.
Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, 2009
The key to success is the retrieval cues. Having something that we can use as a trigger to better remember a past event makes a huge difference to our episodic memories. So what are our retrieval cues in the modern world? Photographs are one of the more obvious triggers, but for many people, this means a collection of albums or assorted prints stored in an attic. Video is also a possibility, but older videos will be stored on tape and playing them back may not be a trivial exercise. Any old audio recordings will have the same problems.
When we reach the digital age, the problems are arguably worse. Chat conversations can beautifully encapsulate the contributions and feelings of multiple people, but how do you access them unless you go to the trouble of backing them up?
The reality is that retrieval cues might be vital, but they are scattered across a range of media and access formats, which is why I created the LifeStory of course.
Given that I developed the concept and the prototype, it was natural that I would use my own LifeStory as a test case. I was surprised to find that I needed to draw from lots of different places, including
All of these things now exist in one place and are accessible at any time. While I have an iPad version, I also created a version for my iPhone, so no matter where I am I can quickly bring a smile to my face by dipping into one of the many memories that are stored there.
If you’ve ever researched your family tree, you’ve probably been able to trace your ancestors back several generations. You’ve probably also found that the further back you go, the less you know about the people that you find. In as little as a couple of generations, the past becomes shrouded.
In generations to come, how will you be remembered? Will it be the snatches of anecdotes passed on by relatives, or will you leave a detailed and coherent portrait of the way you want to be remembered?
We leave our digital imprint in many places, but this scattering of information will do little to help future generations build a picture of us, even if the information lasted long enough to be researched.
And the reality is, it’s not likely that the data will last very long. It needs a concerted effort to retain and repurpose it. There are three problems to overcome; human intervention, technological change, and information decay.
There have been many examples in the last 100 years of how information and media that should have been stored for posterity has been lost as a result of financial pressure, accidents and a lack of understanding of its long term significance.
In 1948, Universal Studios destroyed most of the 5,000 films it produced during the silent era. In fact, across all studios, it is thought that less than 25% of silent movies survive. People often fail to see the historical value of objects when making key financial decisions.
The companies that we store our data with today seem strong and prosperous, but over decades there are sure to be financial pressures to reduce costs. As data becomes older and less relevant or if a company comes under financial pressure it is likely that they will cease maintenance of older data. Twenty years ago you may have uploaded extensive amounts of data to MySpace. It was the forerunner of today’s social media and gave the impression of longevity in the same way that Facebook does today, but it recently confessed it had lost all of its data for the period prior to 2013.
In these cases, the data was lost because someone had to make a decision and the value of the data was just not valuable enough for them to justify maintaining it.
The last fifty years have seen huge changes in the way that we store information. So much has gone digital, and technology changes very quickly and data needs to move with it.
For generations to come, the way that we record, compress, store and playback data is also sure to change radically.
Audio, video and still images are all compressed using common formats. In 50 years those formats will be archaic and will have been replaced with more modern techniques. It is therefore vital to ensure that content is upgraded as storage is upgraded. It will take a commitment to migrate data to new formats to ensure that information remains accessible.
There are several problems that affect the long-term storage of digital information.
Modern storage media is prone to decay over an extended period of time. If you’ve had a computer for many years, you’ll probably know how often hardware failures occur and that data can be lost.
How fast the data is lost depends on how it is stored. For complex systems like computer hard drives, the failures are relatively fast. Despite conservative manufacturer predictions, the majority of hard drives used for data storage will fail within 15-20 years.
Disk-based storage like CD/DVD and Blu-Ray is harder to estimate as manufacturers have done little testing. However, an accelerated aging analysis by the National Institute of Standards and Technology suggested that the lifespan of disks could be in excess of 30 years when stored in optimal conditions. It is likely that magnetic tape storage will be equally durable under optimal conditions.
However, in terms of longevity, it is clear that all of these methods will result in potentially significant levels of data loss in less than 50 years. Whatever the media chosen, long-term survival of information needs a proactive approach to storage that includes redundancy and a commitment to move to new technologies.
We’re building LifeStories to be the solution to all of these problems. Be sure to follow us on our journey.
The availability of the Internet in the mid-’90s transformed family history research as more and more records were digitized and put online. Websites like Ancestry.com provided subscribers with tools to research and catalog their family trees. People were able to make a connection to their past and had the ability to dig deeper and go back further.
This relatively sedate business was given a significant jolt when someone figured that you could use a DNA test to establish a person’s ethnicity. Suddenly, DNA test labs started popping up and all of the major family history websites took advantage to offer DNA testing services as a premium product offering.
The market for direct to consumer DNA testing is already worth over $1Bn and is still growing, but it’s a competitive business and naturally, customers and analysts are looking to see where the family history business is likely to develop next.
Perhaps the clues are right in front of us. Prior to DNA testing, family history research was mostly about the people you found in the past; the great, great grandmother who emigrated or the great uncle who fought in a major war. It was about peeling back the shroud of the past to see who you would find.
DNA testing has subtly shifted the focus. It’s no longer about the people we find, it’s more about finding out who am I?
Without most people realizing it, family history has become a lot more about personal history. If you accept this trend, then the question is what these more self-aware customers will want going forward?
I believe that the epiphany that family historians will come to recognize is that they are the ancestors of the people of the future. They are the people who will be shrouded and lost, unless they make a concerted effort to the contrary.
The solution to this problem is for people to document and preserve their life stories, pulling together the audio, video, photos, and social media interactions that highlight their lives. It’s a statement of “This is who I am, and this is how I want to be remembered”.
Once created, the LifeStory needs to be made accessible for generations to come, which of course is the greater challenge. How can you ensure that the LifeStory that you create today will still be accessible in 100 years?
It’s a challenge. There’s no mistaking that, but it’s a challenge that we’re meeting head-on, here at LifeStories. We’ve developed the tools to create LifeStories. Now we’re building the infrastructure to persist those LifeStories long into the future.