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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ancestry.com Buys Top Facebook App We're Related

In the early days of Facebook's developer platform (2007, to be exact), as apps were going from 0 to 2 or more million users in just a matter of days, family history apps were among the first to rise to the top. The link between family connections and friend connections seemed like a natural fit for apps that were built to connect one another. It appears that, according to Ancestry Insider, one of the pioneer Facebook apps in this industry, We're Related, was just acquired by Ancestry.com for an undisclosed amount (both are Utah-based companies where I am located).

We're Related quickly went to the top of the Facebook app store as number 1 where it sat as the top-used app by users worldwide on the Facebook Platform. The app, founded by Paul Allen (ironically the founder of Ancestry.com), intended to show how Facebook friends were related through their family history. The app allowed users to enter their family information, and would then notify family members that they had been added to one's family tree, asking them to confirm the addition. This "peer-pressure" amongst family members no-doubt led to the app's popularity on Facebook.

The app was soon expanded to the site, FamilyLink.com which built a standalone site around connecting families through their social networking connections. Shortly after Facebook started imposing restrictions on how app developers could advertise, the app started losing money and FamilyLink had to pivot to more of a site-based model.

According to Ancestry Insider, FamilyLink was sold recently to MyHeritage.com, but the assets of the We're Related Facebook app were retained by Paul Allen. It would appear that some time before July, Paul Allen sold the final assets of the We're Related app to Ancestry.com for somewhere under $11.7 million. According to the SEC Form 10-Q filed by Ancestry.com, "In March 2012, the company completed two acquisitions for a total of approximately $11.7 million in cash consideration. The company acquired the DNA assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization with a diverse collection of DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information. The company also acquired We’re Related, LLC, which operates the We’re Related Facebook application." It is unclear how much of that $11.7 million went to We're Related.

Ancestry Insider also notes that Ancestry.com also has started their own Facebook app, which operates somewhat similar to the We're Related app on top of Ancestry.com data. It's unclear as to whether Ancestry.com has used the assets of We're Related to create their own app.

This acquisition marks the end of a golden era of Facebook app development. This was an era where apps could integrate with every element of the Facebook.com experience, advertise as they wanted, and see incredible results as a result. The playing field has since shifted to a much cleaner approach by Facebook of focusing on the News Feed, while encouraging developers to integrate Facebook Platform outside of the Facebook environment. These apps were truly the pioneers in this era, and deserve all the credit they can get.

Disclosure: We're Related was one of my first clients when I went out on my own as an entrepreneur. I helped them with some initial wireframes of the app, and later on with some help in publicity for their app. This app is near and dear to my heart.

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