September 16th, 2007

Visit to Geni

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I visited on their invitation yesterday.

The first time I come across Geni was on Techcrunch when it amazed everyone with a US$100M for a 7-weeks old company. They are founded by a bunch of ex-Paypal and eBay employees.

I finally got around playing with their tool and I have to say I am pretty amazed at what they did. They are quite proud in what they have, and is not shy to say they have a web “a grandmother can use”. And it is probably true.

But of course, the cool AJAX interface/usability is only part of the puzzle. What is more important is whether the social network is actually useful. And they seem to have the answer:

1. Genealogy, according to them, is one of a popular hobby in US. I can imaging that is kind of hobby one would take up when you grow older and from our conversation, thats seem true.

On the other hand, they admitted that most of their family trees are currently started by younger generation. This is going to be challenging to them to market to the right market segment.

2. United State is a melting pot. You will find relatives scattered all over the globe within a generation or two. Therefore, internationalization and localization is very important.

I would go as far as saying whether will make it or not depends how well they do on this. The services isn’t localized and shielded within US, that it can be useful if it is just restricted to US.

The other risk is that if they have any traction, expect to see a China-clone which will copy every feature, every usability you have, only localized it to Chinese. While Chinese are also scattered all over the globe, a Geni-clone could do very well just in China alone – the market is big enough, the history is long enough (family records going back 10-15 generation is not uncommon) and all within China.

They only have one guy doing internationalization and I honestly dont think that is even close to what they even need. I will put at least 50% of my developers on this.

3. I think the most obvious application of Geni, beyond the “hobby” is the medical history particularly on gene diseases. The challenge is how to do this with a balance of privacy consideration. I want to know whether I have a risk of heart diseases or cancer but I certainly don’t want my insurance company or employer to know.

They seem to have a handle on this issue and would be tackling it soon.

I am not sure what would become of them in the future but I can see this being a very useful service 50 or 100 years from now. I wish them all the best.

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