Your Past Could Be Big Business

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History is big business. Just as millions look to the future of technology, millions more are using technology to peer into the past. That's been Ancestry.com's (NAS: ACOM) business model for years, and quite the successful one at that -- the company's grown revenue every quarter since its IPO. However, it might not be long before a much larger company starts sniffing around the family tree, eager to mark its territory.

Enter the softy
Facebook or Google (NAS: GOOG) would seem to be Ancestry's most obvious challengers -- both could take advantage of reams of gathered data and brilliant programmers to make a genealogy search more streamlined and more accessible. That might still come to pass, with Facebook's new Timeline feature representing an early step toward comprehensive cataloguing.

Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) Research could do them one better, with a concept site that can organize the history of anything a user finds interesting. Project Greenwich, as it's called, will enter beta by the end of this month. Its goal is to allow users to collect photos, links, scanned objects, and potentially more information to create chronological timelines about specific events, people, places, or things. While there's no mention of integrated genealogical functions, the project's lead designer was inspired by his grandfather's photographs. Creating an interactive timeline of one's family history would be an ideal match for this service.

Foe or friend?
Microsoft might find partnerships a better use of its new project. Competing with Ancestry would require a massive data-gathering operation to catch up to its decades-long head start, or an expensive acquisition. On the other hand, interactive timelines would be a great way to make membership stickier for Ancestry, the better to combat potentially dangerous subscriber churn.

Another possibility: Microsoft could license the service to Ancestry, and could also make it work with XO Group's (NYS: XOXO) portfolio of lifestyle sites. Folks who can't resist sharing every detail of their wedding planning or pregnancy progress would love the ability to chronicle these important periods in a chronological, visual, and interactive way. Some of their friends would love if they weren't subjected to it in constant Facebook updates. Talk about win-win!

Will we see the nice Mr. Softy or mean old Microsoft emerge from Project Greenwich? For Ancestry's sake, let's hope it's the former. In the meantime, add these companies to your Watchlist to keep track of how Project Greenwich affects their prospects.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorAlex Planesholds no financial stake in any company mentioned here.Add him on Google+for more insights and random ruminations.The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Microsoft.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Ancestry.com, Google, and Microsoft.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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