Rootsy’s Private Social Network Lets You Build Your Family Tree Online

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Rootsy is the latest entry in the private, family-focused social networking space – an area which has seen a surge of startups in the wake of Facebook’s rise to become the largest social network worldwide. With little hope of taking on the Facebook behemoth, the new companies are attempting to carve out a niche for more personal sharing. With Rootsy, the angle is that it lets users build their own family tree, which includes family members both living and deceased, and then allows you to upload content like photos, videos and stories to accompany those family members’ profiles.

The startup is currently a part of Aol’s tech incubator QLabs (disclosure: Aol is TechCrunch’s parent company) which helps pay the bills, but the eventual goal is to spin off as its own company and raise outside funding. Previously, during Rootsy’s beta period, it went by the name of “When.com” – a domain name Aol had access to thanks to an events company Aol launched back in 2008. However, Rootsy’s creators felt that “When.com” didn’t accurately represent what they were building – a social network for families – so they changed it to Rootsy instead.

According to co-founder Cezary Pietrzak, who previously co-founded Wanderfly before coming to Rootsy, the startup’s goal is fairly simple: to create a private place where families can share. “The way Facebook is at this point, is that people are almost crafting an image of themselves that doesn’t exactly match up the reality,” he says. And once you have hundreds or thousands of friends on Facebook, he says, the personal moments in your life start to lose meaning. (See also: all that Unbaby.me drama).

That, of course, is the general value proposition from all these newer family-focused networks, including 1000memories (our coverage), FamilyLeaf (our coverage), MyHeritage (our coverage), and apps like Burst, 23snaps, Sidebark, and more. In addition, private sharing, in more general terms, is the key selling point for Path. What makes Rootsy different, says Pietrzak, is that it’s not just about sharing – it’s also about helping build the family tree. Using the family tree builder is actually the first thing users do upon signing up. “That’s an interesting aspect of the network as it really promotes the connections between family members and reconnecting with those you don’t know too well,” he says. Further down the road, Pietrzak says he could see Rootsy expand to include partnerships with genealogy research services, in order to help users build their tree even further.

Other monetization possibilities include offering printed products like photobooks, and additional partnerships with brands, where it makes sense. For example, one feature Rootsy is looking to add is recipes – you know, support for Grandma’s famous apple pie – and that’s where a brand partnership could come into play. Also on the near horizon are mobile applications, but first Rootsy wanted to first launch publicly on the web and see how people were using the service before going mobile. Stay tuned. In the meantime, new users can sign up here.