We’ve heard from a few people who feel our charging $1.99 for the app is wrong in principle. From most of you, we hear that yes, it’s only $1.99, but the principle of charging any money when you, our users, are volunteering to provide content is unreasonable. Well, know that we’ve gone through that same argument ourselves.
Before we released the app, we went back and forth on the idea of charging for the app. You’ve already hit on the reasons we had for making the app free. But our rationale for setting a price on it may not be what you’d expect. We’re concerned about ensuring you get the best content as fast as possible. In developing other apps before BillionGraves, we’ve learned that free apps get downloaded by the casual passerby—and often don’t end up being used, or end up being used improperly. With most apps, that isn’t much of an issue. But BillionGraves is a camera app, and the content gets uploaded to a site with a very specific purpose. To the casual passerby, who does not necessarily understand or have a particular passion for finding and preserving the names of the dead, it may seem fun to take pictures of a dog, the front lawn, a car, a dresser—the possibilities for inappropriate photos are endless. As you may have seen already, sometimes these types of photos end up coming to BillionGraves because of an honest mistake made by someone who is interested. Cemeteries, which require individual approval to ensure accuracy, can be added incorrectly. All this faulty input has to be managed, and to conserve resources and put them to better use, we need to mitigate the amount of faulty input. The more faulty input we get, the longer it takes to make good photos and cemeteries available, and the longer it takes to make the improvements and additions you’ve requested.
So that’s the problem we’re facing. Charging $1.99 was the solution we settled on. Our logic was that $2 is not enough to deter someone who is interested in the project (hopefully). It would probably cost you more to get a bottle of water at 7-11 to take with you to the cemetery than it would to buy the app. But $2 is enough to make casual passersby think twice before downloading. If they then chose to download, it would most likely be with a more honest intention to satisfy their curiosity by using the app the way it was meant to be used.
With the feedback we’ve gotten, it’s apparent that you’d like us to find another solution as well. The amount of the cost isn’t the issue: it’s the principle and we understand that. We’ve been brainstorming all day, trying to figure out a way for someone to prove honest interest and be rewarded with a way to download the app for free. But it’s difficult to find a solution that will work for both the iPhone and the Android. The capabilities and restrictions for the two stores are different. Nevertheless, we’ve settled on an option we’ll try, and we hope you’ll try it with us.
If you register on the BillionGraves.com website and send us an email through the “Contact Us” page using your registration email address, we’ll buy you the iPhone version of the app and give it to you. Then we have the guarantee that you’re at least somewhat interested and you get the app for free.
We’ll incur some costs in the process, but that’s okay right now. The trouble is, Android distributors don’t have quite the same options for gifting apps, so we’ll need to adapt the solution when the Android app comes out. We’ll try this method for the next two weeks, until June 17, at which point I’ll report back on how things are going and if we’ve found a good, more permanent solution. We’re actively looking to find a way to provide both the BillionGraves content and the means for gathering it for free while still maintaining speed and quality. For now, try this solution with us.
Since our launch last week we’ve received feedback that some feel we’re duplicating the efforts of Find a Grave, or that we should be collaborating with them. However, we feel that the way things have evolved is a good one: the mission of Find a Grave and the mission of BillionGraves.com are different, so it makes sense that we ended up being separate.
When our team first decided we wanted to work on a project to make gathering cemetery information more efficient and accessible, we attempted to contact Find a Grave to create a partnership: we’d provide a mobile app and they’d provide the website it integrated with. We never did hear back from the folks at Find a Grave, but that’s completely understandable. It makes a lot of sense. Our goals are different than their goals.
Find a Grave creates a sort of online memorial for deceased persons. Genealogical information can be gleaned from these memorials, but that isn’t the primary purpose (Find a Grave lists “grave registration” as its primary purpose; genealogical information is a tertiary purpose). At BillionGraves.com, we wanted to build a fast, easy way to accurately collect and search the genealogical information on headstones. This goal materialized more and more during our years of development, and it meant we needed a fairly complex website structure to support a mobile app. Find a Grave does what it does wonderfully, and it would have been a shame to make its primary purpose harder to achieve with the restructuring it would have taken to integrate the app we envisioned.
At BillionGraves.com we also wanted to make it very simple to capture complete cemeteries full of records that may not exist in any other place. Many people who research family history have heard of the valuable information a researcher can find by stumbling upon a small family cemetery that isn’t on any map or in any database. The mobile BillionGraves app makes it easy to add those sorts of cemeteries to our database and map out all the headstones in them instead of just a select few. Then these previously undocumented and inaccessible sorts of records are easy to find, easy to search, and thus, easy to add to your research and share with others.
Another tool that is already available online is Names In Stone. The site is dedicated to carefully mapping out cemeteries. Names In Stone has worked well with the resources it has; BillionGraves.com can take it one step further. Names In Stone relies on hand-recorded data that is then added to the site. We’ve taken a similar process and automated it using the iPhone app and our servers to map out the cemetery as you’re collecting photos and then making the transcription of those photos quick and simple (it’s fairly easy to collect one photo every 15 seconds or so—much faster than a by-hand system). Interment.net is also a great resource, but also requires a more complicated recording and transcription process.
All the grave-recording services have their own value, and we hope you stay connected to them. Especially while the BillionGraves.com database is in its infancy, these sites will help you further your research. However, we’ll continue to provide our services because hard-working researchers deserve to have tools that fit their needs. These other tools fill some needs, but not others. BillionGraves.com fills the gap.
As we here at BillionGraves.com launch our website and release its integrated iPhone app, I wanted to give you an insider look at what we do and why we do it.
As I delve into my family history, I celebrate every ancestor I find, and every record or scrap of information I can locate. But over and over, I run into roadblocks. Anyone who really digs for their family roots knows what that feels like. All these records and snippets of history I’m trying to find are out there, somewhere. But all too often I don’t know where to find it, or I can’t find it because I can’t travel to wherever my ancestors were born, lived, or died. But I realized something: every record is near somebody, even if that somebody isn’t me. As far as headstones and graves go, someone out there lives next to the cemetery I need. And who knows, maybe the cemetery they need to search through is the one in my home town.
So my friends and I started work on BillionGraves.com. In building the site and its iPhone app, we’ve created a framework that allows people all over the world to map out photos of all the headstones in their local cemeteries and upload them to the BillionGraves.com database. Once the photos are there, fellow family historians can transcribe the information from the headstones and make it easy to search, which puts unique headstone records only mouse-clicks away from anyone looking for their ancestors. By using the iPhone’s location services, we can ensure that even when descendants are half a world away, they can not only see their ancestors’ information, but they can also see the actual headstones and exactly where those headstones are. Previously undocumented records end up collected in an easy-to-access, free-to-use location, and family historians anywhere can use this framework to build on their existing research.
The trouble is that even though we’ve built this framework, it won’t amount to much unless we have help from all over the world. And by all over the world, I mean if we don’t have help from you. We have the audacious goal to accurately record at least a billion graves for our database, but that can’t happen unless you help us.
How You Can Help
If you have an iPhone, please download the BillionGraves.com app from the iTunes store (available for free from now until June 1 as a Memorial Day special, $1.99 after that). Take your iPhone with you to your local cemetery and start taking photos of the headstones there. You have unique access to those headstones. Share that access with the world.
Once the headstone images are uploaded to BillionGraves.com, everyone—even and especially those who can’t collect photos with an iPhone—can transcribe the previously exclusive records and make them searchable. By transcribing, you’ll make important records available to descendants everywhere.
Help everyone find their ancestors by participating in our grand goal to map out the world’s cemeteries. Together, we can record a billion graves and more so nobody is ever lost or forgotten.