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.”
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/.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
- Go to https://groups.io/g/eogn and subscribe manually.
- Or you can send a brief email messages to: email@example.com.
- Of course, you can always unsubscribe instantly at any time by sending a brief email message to: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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.