Groups.io: The Do-It-Yourself Replacement for Disappearing Message Boards and Mailing Lists

There seems to be a trend amongst many online services to delete or scale back the services of the message boards and/or mailing lists that they offer. Most genealogists now know Ancestry.com recently announced that the Mailing Lists functionality on RootsWeb will be discontinued on March 2, 2020.

See my earlier article at https://blog.eogn.com/2020/01/07/rootsweb-mailing-lists-to-be-discontinued/ that includes the announcement from Ancestry.com as well as a number of comments from the company’s customers expressing displeasure with the announcement. If you are a user of Ancestry.com’s mailing lists on RootsWeb, you probably will want to read that announcement as well as the comments that followed it.

I also posted a comment to that article: “In short, my advice to genealogists is the same as my advice to most anyone else: If you are unhappy with the service you have been using, look for alternatives. You are free to do so. That’s what free enterprise is all about. There is no monopoly.”

Of course, Ancestry.com is not the only web site that is cutting back on mailing lists and/or message boards. Yahoo Groups has recently gone through a similar reduction in its many mailing lists (and the Yahoo Ham Radio mailing list I subscribe to is up in arms about the reduction!)

Newsletter reader “Chris in CT” and a number of other newsletter readers asked similar questions:

“Now that we know RootsWeb Mailing Lists are being discontinued, the question is what to do about it. Several people have recommended Groups.io as a substitute. What do you know about it? What other alternatives would you suggest that respect privacy?”

Of course, the highly-popular Facebook offers somewhat similar services, allowing many people with similar interests to gather together and exchange messages about their favorite topic(s). However, many people refuse to use Facebook because of the company’s disreputable business practices and its open cooperation with Cambridge Analytica, the Russian government, and other providers of “fake news” as well as being swamped with questionable advertisements. In short, Facebook Groups doesn’t seem to be a very attractive alternative.

RootsChat at https://www.rootschat.com/ (with no advertising) is popular in the United Kingdom but hasn’t enjoyed much popularity elsewhere. One possible solution is to expand RootsChat to handle thousands more worldwide messages; but, so far, there has been no announcement of any such plans.

Of course, other genealogy mailing lists already exist at MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org, and a number of other web sites. However, these all seem to have similarities to the RootsWeb mailing lists; they are typically provided by one organization and are subject to the whims of the managers of those organizations. Such message boards therefore could be deleted or “frozen” at any time.

In the comments to the original announcement at https://blog.eogn.com/2020/01/07/rootsweb-mailing-lists-to-be-discontinued/, several people suggested switching to Groups.io, a so-called “freemium” service that promises to be a great alternative. As mentioned by “jimella” in the comments section at https://blog.eogn.com/2020/01/07/rootsweb-mailing-lists-to-be-discontinued/:

[Groups.io] “…offers the ability to send images and all other file types, either by adding them directly to each group’s web site or as attachments (with group moderator’s control over whether to allow the attachments), as well as searchable archives, topic threading, databases, wikis and more, and it has a very responsive support service. Quite a few people have tried both FB and groups.io, and they invariably then abandon FB. Unlike FB, groups.io makes a point of not monitoring what people do and does not sell personal details of any kind.”

That sounds great! I decided to try Groups.io and to report on my experience here in this newsletter.

Groups.io may be found at: https://groups.io/. According to that web site (I added bold text to some of the items I considered most important.):

“Email Groups. Supercharged.

“A modern platform for online communities. Powerful management tools. Mobile ready. Free and paid plans. No ads, no tracking.

“Easily integrate Feeds, Slack, Google Drive, Github, Trello, Email and soon even more services into your group.”

“No Ads, No Tracking

“We are a freemium service. We don’t run advertising and your data is never submitted to any ad tracking networks.”

Each group also has a calendar, chat, polls, a database section, a photos section, a files section, and a wiki. Also, groups can have an unlimited number of subgroups on your own subdomain.”

“Mute topics and keywords, ensuring you only see the messages you’re interested in. Take advantage of better email delivery options, including receiving the first message only in each thread or receiving replies only.”

“We make it easy for you to move your group to Groups.io. Take advantage of our advanced features. Host with a company dedicated only to groups, where groups aren’t just an afterthought.”

There is a lot more information available at https://groups.io/ and especially at https://groups.io/static/features.

In short, ANYONE can start a new discussion group on Groups.io. Any discussion board on that site alo may be used as a mailing list. As an example, I just started a group as a test for readers of this newsletter to “try it out.” I’ll describe that later in this article.

Groups.io has been around for several years and appears to be very stable and reliable. You can read about the history of this site at: https://wingedpig.com/2014/09/23/introducing-groups-io/.

To use Groups.io, you first must create a free user account. The web site promises that your information will remain private, will not be shared with any other organization (meaning no future spam-like email messages), the web site will not track you, and generally will protect your privacy. The Groups.io Privacy Policy may be found at: https://groups.io/static/privacy.

Groups.io offers both free and paid accounts. I suspect most users use free accounts and probably will never upgrade to paid accounts. In any case, you should first sign up for a free account. If you later decide to add the extra features available in paid accounts, you can upgrade at any time. Pricing information may be found at: https://groups.io/static/pricing.

After signing up, the next page you see doesn’t provide much information. However, you can click on “Find or Create a Group” to see all sorts of options. I first went to the SEARCH box and entered: genealogy

The result was a list of 168 discussion boards about various genealogy-related topics! Some of them are designed to attract many users’ interests (such as the Mostly South-Jersey Genealogy Forum with 263 members) while others will attract smaller groups of very focused users, such as the “RIPPINGALE Family History” forum with 9 members.

I also saw other forums about non-genealogy topics that have thousands of users. Most are in English, but a few are in other languages as well. If you read, write, and speak the language of your ancestors, you might want to search for a genealogy or history forum that is in that language!

I searched for some of my interests and soon signed up for the “on-line meeting place where members of the Pittsfield Historical Society and anyone interested in the history of the town of Pittsfield, Maine can exchange information.” I selected the option to receive one email message every morning of all messages posted to that group the previous day, if any. (If there are no new messages, no email message is sent.)

I could go on and on about all the features and options available in Groups.io but (1.) that would be a VERY long article and (2.) all that information seems to already be available in a well organized manner on the https://groups.io/ web site. I don’t see any need to duplicate the information that is already online and is easy to read. Instead, I would suggest you first spend some time exploring the https://groups.io/ site.

I then decided to create a new group. The eogn@groups.io discussion board became available within 5 minutes after I first conceived the idea! In short, it was simple.

The https://groups.io/ site is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to join and read or write messages there. Each user has an option to RECEIVE new messages in email, in the same manner as most mailing lists. I suggest the new tps://groups.io/ site be used as a “test bed” for experimentation. Please feel free to read and/or write messages as you wish so that you do not clutter up other message boards with your test messages. All I ask is to keep the posted messages clean with no profanity, no spam, and only content that your mother would approve of. In short, just be polite.

Feel free to post messages such as: “This is a test message.”

I am guessing this will not be an active message board for years and years. I suspect it will receive a flurry of activity for a while and then will receive fewer and fewer messages as time goes by. If I am correct, I will eventually delete the entire message board and focus on other things. However, if this new message board remains active, I will keep it open for as long as it receives usage.

To subscribe to the new EOGN discussion group on groups.io, you can:
  1. Go to https://groups.io/g/eogn and subscribe manually.
  2. Or you can send a brief email messages to: eogn+subscribe@groups.io.
  3. Of course, you can always unsubscribe instantly at any time by sending a brief email message to: eogn+unsubscribe@groups.io. There is no need to ask someone else to unsubscribe you. You are always in full control of your options!

Please feel free to ask questions about articles posted in this newsletter, ask about obtaining research help in the areas where your ancestor(s) lived, ask about DNA, or discuss any other topics.

Summation

In short, in my brief test of Groups.io, I was impressed with the service. It is easy to use, is free (with an optional paid upgrade), can be used as a message board and/or a mailing list, works well on desktop, laptop, smartphones, and tablet computers, is available online and by email, accepts images, and more. Best of all, Groups.io does not spy on its users, does not collect and sell your personal information, includes a calendar, chat, polls, a database section, a photos section, a files section, and a wiki, as well as a lot more.

I am impressed!

Will Groups.io ever replace the RootsWeb mailing lists or any other discussion groups? I have no idea. However, it certainly seems to have the CAPABILITIES of replacing other groups. All it needs is interested users who will create and use genealogy groups on Groups.io.

My suggestion? Try it! Go to https://groups.io/ to get started.

25 Comments

Great article, full of helpful info. Thanks so much for this. Several of my rootsweb and yahoo groups have already migrated there but I really didn’t know anything about it. Now I do, thanks to your very complete article.

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TMG and TMG refugees have recently moved there. Most Ten Tec Ham Radio groups have moved there. I have moved my Church group and the Snobol programming languages there. I have encouraged groups.io to think about automatic transfer (for a fee) of rootsweb groups. They are thinking about the idea.

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    Edward – you can do that now.
    If you are the List Admin on Rootsweb, go to Members / Subscribers and the button allows you to download a CSV file of all addresses.
    In your list on groups.io just go to INVITE and UPLOAD your csv file then sent the invites to each of your Rootsweb subscribers – works perfectly on the Free version.
    Regards … Susie Zada

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    groups.io would have to work very fast to come up with an import process from RootsWeb Mailing Lists. Downloading by Administrators ends March 2.

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Like you I am very impressed with groups.io and the multitude of options. I have spent the last week researching alternative options for the about-to-be-defunct Rootsweb Mailing Lists – some of my lists have been there from the 1990s with enough subscribers who still want a Mailint List alternative.
I’ve set up a number of my Rootsweb lists on groups.io and delighted with the results.
From Rootsweb I can download a CSV file of my subscribers – I then sent a warning message to my list that I was about to send them invites to the new list on groups.io . It was so easy – I was able to modify the standard invitation message, upload the CSV file and with one click send out hundreds of invites. The recipients of these message then had the option to join the new list or not! So easy.
One tip – if you include the word Rootsweb in your list description, you can easily find all former Rootsweb lists – so easy!

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Brian & Karen Leverich, who started RootsWeb, are considering starting a similar setup, like RootsWeb 2.0 – Brian calls it “RootsWeb TNG” … he posted a public post on his FB account discussing it and there is good discussion in the comments.

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This is ridiculous. I want to know why Ancestry.com, who guaranteed that when they purchased rootsweb that we wouldn’t lose anything? The 2nd point. This is crazy. The message board contains thousands of people research. That can’t be replaced and rootsweb had many more than anyone else. I have been contacted by a cousin who’s line had knowledge only there line had. She contacted me 5 years latter and unraveled what had happened. Some of this information can be found no other way. It is like destroying all the Irish Census and the 1890 Census. This is the same thing. Ancestry should give this database to someone actually cares more about research than money.

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    I am disgusted by Ancestry’s move to shut down the message board before managers have a chance to recover the message that have been posted. Years and years of data is lost since we are already unable to recover it. An advance warning would have been nice…. Thanks for nothing, Ancestry!

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    There was a discussion in one of the genealogy groups and one poster said that the interactivity is what will be discontinued – but that the old posts will remain there. I guess we’ll see.

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    The Ancestry MESSAGE BOARDS are NOT being terminated. Only the ROOTSWEB MAIL LISTS. The ANCESTRY message boards still have copies of all the ROOTSWEB mail lists that were gatewayed to them over the years and are STILL accessible and will continue to be. The Ancestry Message Boards have boards for many-to-most localities in the US and many surnames, as well as some genealogical topics.

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Two neighborhood listservs hosted by Yahoo groups folded when the service folded. They moved to groups.io and function virtually like the former listservs did. When recently a genealogy email mail list shut down I recommended the groups.io to replace it. Works great. Thanks for the shout out!

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Just wondering what’s in it for Groups.io. Doesn’t supporting all of the functionality require some type of giant server? Who pays for that when most people opt for free accounts?

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    As you mentioned, MOST people will opt for the free service. But SOME people will decide to pay for the enhanced services. That helps to pay for the servers and other costs.

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    That business model is used by a lot of online service providers now. It must be working.

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Hi – thanks for setting up that site. Here is another site. I learned of the Rootsweb issue from a site manager of one of the Rootsweb groups I belong to each focused on an area in Germany. That manager has just indicated he has set up German-genealogy-ENG@groups.io intended to be a place for all German speaking areas all in one for now — ENG means it is set up for English language.

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I was the manage of two Yahoo Groups for genealogical purposes. When Yahoo “improved” the Yahoo Group to the “neo” groups, I set up one IO Group for fear they would end Yahoo Group in then. False alarm. But I’m glad I did. Now I manage two IO Groups with all the content of the Yahoo Groups The “neo” Yahoo Groups hid many of their features in drop down lists. Not so in the IO Groups. All the features are out in the open, easy to access. Any email address will work. No Yahoo account needed. I couldn’t be more pleased.

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They had me at “Groups.io does not spy on its users, does not collect and sell your personal information…” and it’s free. Rootsweb email lists of which I am a member have now migrated, or are in the process of migrating, to Groups.io. Kudos to whoever started the site for realizing that the whole spying on private citizens for no good reason (and without a proper search warrant) is sheer idiocy (and a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights – but that’s another story involving the illegal and unconstitutional Patriot Act, now renamed USA Freedom Act which retained all the negative things about the Patriot Act, FISA ’08, etc.). Seriously, some of the things our senators and representatives are subjecting us to via their catering to and collaborating with telecom corporations to increase their record-setting profits is just daft, as well as being unconstitutional and illegal. Those laws never should have passed in the first place and need to come to a swift halt.

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In the long run, we may be much better off without Ancestry despite this short term pain. Since the very start of their purchase of Rootsweb, it was apparent that they were not going to devote any resources to improving it. Only maintain its minimal functionality and milk it for what they could get out of it. That has been accomplished. The mailing list functionality had not changed until things blew up and were down for weeks. Some could not even be restored. The new version they came out with was horrible. Difficult if not impossible to search archives – at least for me. From the article here, it seems like Groups.io has the features and capabilities that should have been built into Rootsweb a long time ago.

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Steven Fleckenstein January 12, 2020 at 8:54 am

I’ve been online since the 1980’s Fidonet BBS days. One thing that has always rang true is if you cherish a web site, mailing list, forum, reflector, whatever you want to call it you should make a local copy of what you want for your own future use. It’s not a matter of if the data source will go offline, but when it will go offline, never to be seen again. Anyone remember deja news?

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    Totally agree Steven. If you find information on the web that may have permanent value to you then download it. You never know when it will be gone.

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Thanks Dick. I ran across an interesting resource, a 380 page PDF file of links to genealogy facebook pages. 14,500 entries. free. It is nicely organized by states and subject matter. The link is https://socialmediagenealogy.com/genealogy-on-facebook-list/

Best regards Barry Fleig

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Is there any way to capture, download and then upload the thousands of historical data messages that have accumulated in my group since 1998?

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    Only one at a time and copyrights apply according to a message sent by Ancestry to list owners. The message originator owns the content so you would have to get their permission. Ancestry won’t provide a bulk download because of copyright and because it will continue to support the searchable archive.

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Thank you. So sad that decades of shared data will now be lost forever.

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