The website was officially launched today on the Jeanie Johnston in Dublin by Arts Minister Séamus Brennan and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Such big names from both sides of the border, a high profile launch like this surely means the project was heavily funded. So I was interested to see how it stacked up vs Web 2.0 offerings like Geni. Suffice to say that Irish Roots is unlikely to be featured on TechCrunch any time soon.
I’ll excuse the system for being painfully slow, this could be related to a spike in traffic following the initial launch. I’ll get over the odd fact that, despite access to (allegedly) millions of records, I get 0 results when searching for “John Murphy”. I’ll forgive the awful (yet somehow award-winning) design, since you would expect this from any web project remotely related to the Irish government (just ask Eoghan.) I’ll even turn a blind eye to the domain name (a .net AND a hyphen!)
But I’m finding it difficult to overlook the blatantly obvious fact that once again, some fatcats in the Irish web industry have slurping up never-ending expenses in return for amateur work, safe in the knowledge that our beloved government will never think twice about pouring massive amounts of cash into some disastrous tech project. On the contrary, they’ll celebrate its launch with champagne and caviar. On the Jeannie Johnston, no less.
I don’t have the facts to hand, so maybe I’m way off with my assumptions and this is just a badly run private venture. I did find this (outdated) article quoting some figures, interestingly enough arguing the case that placing all of these records online to begin with is ultimately damaging our tourism. It cites a Sunday Times article from 2005:
Since 1997, the Irish government has invested 2.5 million Euro into a project known as the Irish Genealogical Project. While this project has the potential to further hurt the Irish tourism economy, it is currently behind on its digitization schedule. The Irish Genealogy Ltd., which is in charge of the project, wanted to be 90 percent finished by 2007, but “because of a lack of FAS trainees, the work has slowed to a trickle and, at current rates, it will take more than 20 years to input the 3.2 million church records outstanding.”  Now, Irish Genealogy Ltd. is planning on outsourcing the project, an unexpected plan considering Ireland’s reputation as a technological country, and one that will further remove economic benefits from the country (Burns, 2005).
So it has been trickling away for another few years since. God alone knows how many FÁS trainees have come and gone on the project, and this is what we’re left with. A disastrous website designed by BRS Systems (surely this isn’t the same BRS Systems that specialises in providing Internet based IT solutions to golf clubs across Ireland and the UK?). And not only that: the promise that whoever is milking this gargantuan cash-cow can continue to do so indefinitely.
It is free to do a general search on the site, but €5 for a more detailed search thereafter.
The Irish Family History Foundation, which runs the website, says all money goes back into making the site bigger and better.