Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interview with MyHeritage Marketing Director Mario Ruckh

I recently interviewed the MyHeritage Director of Marketing, Mario Ruckh. MyHeritage is a social network for families that, among other things, allows users to create family trees and connect with relatives in a private, personal way.

Can you provide a brief overview of the company?
MyHeritage was started in 2003 by Gilad Japhet. We initially started as a software program for building family trees. We still have it, it’s called Family Tree Builder and has been downloaded more than 4 million times by now. From there we expanded the family tree concept to the Internet. That way, I can take that tree and show it to my family, see what they think and see if they have anything to add to the family tree. That is how MyHeritage.com got started in November 2005. Since then the site has grown to a full social network innovating technologies like face recognition for you personal photo collection. By now we have more than 33 million registered users and 350 millions profiles, making us one of the leading family social networks.

How do you think the site became one of the largest family social networks on the Web?
The main success factor is the need of families to share photos and family information in a private network. Everybody has those cousins and uncles he would like to stay in touch with, but doesn’t find time to. Family social networking is a fun way to stay updated with the whole family bunch at once.We generally believe that family just is a different space and a different kind of relationship, as compared to business relationships and your friends. So you don’t necessary want to mix them up. Family relationships are more private; they are more limited, more precious. It's not something that everyone can access. It’s more control, more protected. You don't necessarily want to share all of your photos with your families.

Can you speak a little bit about the women using your site?
Well, it is as much as 70% of our US users which are women. They are one of the three big user groups on MyHeritage. They are often younger women who have kids or are about to have kids. We actually have three main user groups. One is core genealogists. They are older and above average male. And the third main group is what we call the young family networker. They are college students or young professionals studying or living far away from their family that don’t want to cut off family ties. They want to share photos with their family.

You have 23,000 new users a day. How have you been expanding your audience? What marketing initiatives are you using, or is it all viral growth?
We have a very viral product, where relatives invite relatives. You invite your uncle and he invites his wife, and so on... We also see a lot of traffic from natural search be it on family sharing or networking topics or on genealogy or family tree related topics. There is also our family software downloading. Additionally, we do post advertising, work with different events as well as bloggers and media people.

MyHeritage recently announced some new tools. Can you tell me a little bit more about them?
The first is mobile uploads. Everybody in your family gets his or her own email address, and whatever photo, video or document they send there, will be published to your family site. You can do that with any mobile device that is capable of emailing photos. It’s great as it helps to share family events as they happen.
We also launched the automatic photo tagger, which organizes your photo collection by people. It finds all the faces in your photos, groups those that are of the same person and lets you quickly tag them with a name from your family tree or a new name. After you identified all family members at least once you can turn on automatic tagging, so people in new photos will mostly be tagged automatically.
Lastly, the interactive slideshows provide several options for viewing your photos. We offer a presentation that pans over your still images and zooms into people's faces while fading from one image to another, or a photo stack that is kept in a nice Polaroid retro style. There is also Cover Flow, a very aesthetic way of flipping through your albums in a horizontal arrangement.

I noticed that all the new tools are related to photo sharing and uploading. Why did you focus mainly on the photos?
We've seen from our statistics that photos are a core part of what people want to share with their relatives. Moms want to share photos of their new kids, for example, or youngsters who move to a new city want to share their experiences. They are very important to what people want to share with their family, and MyHeritage is the ideal space where people can do that, as opposed to sending lots of pictures via email. We believe in an easy way to share photos with your relatives. On the site, you can upload several photos at a time or send them in an email. And it makes sense to be able share photos via mobile as well, so you can share family events as they happen. Instead of sharing them with everyone, you can share them with the people you actually care about.

Any examples of how the tools will impact your audience, especially women?
As mentioned when we talked about the audience, photos are becoming more important. With mobile devices capable of sending photos to the net instantly, they became part of our everyday life. We hope that families enjoy the new tools, that they will help them to bring their families closer together, and that they share their enthusiasm with friends.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thanks a lot for the interview and your blog in general. We really enjoy your female perspective on social media and your smart comments on women’s needs. Finally, we also have a blog about family social networking that also has all the news about MyHeritage as a company and that can be found here:

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