The announcement was made almost secretively: Rootsweb mailing lists for genealogists will be closing on 2 March 2020.
For three decades Rootsweb has hosted mailing lists for genealogists and enabled them to communicate with others around the world and to collaborate in grenealogy and family history research. For more than half the time those mailing lists have been administered by a commercial firm, Ancestry.com, which has now decided to pull the plug.
This comes only two months after YahooGroups, another host of mailing lists, made a similar announcement, though a change of management at Yahoo had already resulted in a partial crippling of YahooGroups in 2013.
One result of the Yahoo! debacle was the formation of groups.io, which offers a new and improved version of the YahooGroups format, and with the impending closing of Rootsweb many of the Rootsweb mailing lists will be taking refuge there as well.
On the positive side, there will probably be a weeding out and streamlining of of genealogy mailing lists.
For example, there were about a dozen mailing lists on Rootsweb related
to specific areas of South Africa, with fairly sparse traffic. groups.io
makes it possible to have subgroups, so we are encouraging people to
join a new list for the whole of Africa, and we can open subgroups for
different regions, but only if traffic from those regions gets too
You can see the African list here:
there are also discussions about consolidating various northwest
England groups on Rootsweb (Cumbria, Cumberland, UK-Northwest) into a
new one on groups io.
The Rootsmagic-users group, for support of users of the genealogy program Rootsmagic, has already opened a new list on groups.io, and no doubt others will soon do the same.
The bad news is that thirty years of archives will effectively be lost.
For thirty years people have been sharing their research on genealogy mailing lists. Many of the people who collected that information are now dead, and much of their work will be lost.
Among the more useful items were online discussions about published family trees, noting inaccuracies in them and often providing corrections.
Rootsweb was originally an amateur effort, but grew so large that amateurs could not afford the time or the money to maintain the servers and negotiated with Ancestry.com to take over the administration on condition that Rootsweb would always remain free. Perhaps, in hindsight, that wasn't a good idea, and it might have been better to set up a kind of non-profit trust, but it's far too late to think of that now.
But there is hope in the migration to groups.io, and I only hope that it will be done with consultation, and with weeding out and consolidation of duplicate, overlapping and redundant mailing lists.
Some have sugested that Rootsweb group members should migrate to social media web formats like Facebook groups, but though such forums are popular, they are far less efficient or effective than mailing lists. Because of Facebook's algorithms, one is quite likely to miss the most useful and relevant messages altogether. With mailing lists you decide what is relevant, but on Facebook, it is Facebook's algorithm that decides what it will and will not show you. And finding a message again after a couple of days is often an enormously time-consuming task.
I mentioned that the announcement of the closing of Rootsweb was made almost secretively. A web search revealed not a single news article about it. So if you were concerned enough about it to read this far, please help it better known by sharing this article on social media too -- there are little buttons you can click at the bottom of the article to do so.