Review: Genline vs. Arkiv Digital

Arkiv Digital Example
Arkiv Digital Example

As the year ends, I am both closing out an account at Genline (now a subsidiary of Ancestry), and trying out Arkiv Digital.

I have found Genline to be frustrating. Some of this, no doubt has to do with the fact that the family is not the easiest to find, with the parish changing names, as I mentioned yesterday. Some of it, though, is Genline’s interface and their images. In Genline, you select a län (County), one or more parishes, and one or more church record types. The interface is completely in English on the Mac, so at least you don’t struggle with rudimentary vocabulary.

Once you run your search, you receive a list of relevant pages. Each is marked with a Page Type (Normal Page, Register Start, Cover of Book, and so on). There are columns for place names and years, but these area all too often blank. (Imagine how quickly this would be indexed by year if they had an open community sourcing model like that at Footnote! Genline is starting to experiment with allowing users to annotate the images. I hope they continue.) On both sites, many if not most of the pages are distinguished only by their number. Arkiv Digital often provides a typed sheet at the beginning of a book telling you which page to go to for a particular year. Even when there isn’t such a rough time index, the pages load about 50% slower on Genline. (This is not scientific, but my perception is that I was getting downloads from Arkiv Digital in fewer than 3 seconds and in about 5 seconds from Genline.)

Genline Example
Genline Example

When you decide to dive in, you have grayscale images that were taken from the LDS microfilms. They are serviceable, but do not always have the best contrast. (Genline does provide some tools for adjusting brightness and contrast.) Arkiv Digital provides clean, new high-contrast color images. I don’t know about you, but if I am going to be reading images line by line in 150-year-old Swedish script, I much prefer the Arkiv Digital product to that from Genline.

Genline offers a great feature allowing to see where you are in the context of the image when you are zoomed in on the image, and might need some perspective, which I find handy. You can also use it to change how much of the image you want to see by interacting with this thumbnail. However, I find it perplexing that the search window disappears when I want to look at the result. I much prefer Arkiv DIgital’s approach, which uses tabs, like a modern web browser.

Then, there is the pricing. Archiv Digital is 995 SEK (Swedish kronor) until January 9th, or about $146. Genline is 1295 SEK, or about $190. Both seem over priced if you compare their prices for access to the 24 million Swedish church records to those for sites like Ancestry ($300 a year for the run of all 6 billion historical records), or Footnote ($80 for a year, 72 million images).

One wonders what Ancestry intends to do with sites like Genline, which (as does Arkiv Digital) requires an installation of the user, and still remain intensely country specific. My hope is that Ancestry is trying to build its global brand by focusing on competing in local markets, where a sizeable chunk of the addressable market is interacting with other vendors than Ancestry. If these products can be folded into the Ancestry World Access product, or as some more reasonably priced add on, I think they have some real opportunities. And putting the innovation engine that is Footnote into the mix — if Footnote is allowed to teach Ancestry and all of its brands a trick or two — really makes the new year interesting in the commercial ancestral records market.

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