Big Y is a test. However, a test is meaningless without being compared to other samples.
FTDNA does an in-house analysis of your Big Y one view of which is called the Block Tree (available to customers) and the haplotree (public). You will only see FTDNA customers on this tree. YFull offers an analysis that compares your sample to those from eleven testing companies, including FTDNA, who have purchased the service for $49. The YFull analysis also provides a number of additional features outlined in the table below.
So while there are other deficiencies in the FTDNA Big Y Tree (see diagram below), the main reason Big Y customers do the YFull analysis is because it simply makes sense from a cost-benefit analysis to see relatives from all testing companies for just a fraction of the cost of the original test.
Customers have spent at least $500 on the Big Y and decided it was worth it to spend an additional $49 to get the best analysis possible - seeing relatives from all testing companies in a tree that also contains scientific samples and ancient samples.
An additional advantage is that any geolocated sample on the YFull tree contributes to public research into our common origins by means of the PhyloGeographer theoretical migration path project.
Going Forward - FTDNA Introduces $99 Tariff to do YFull Analysis
While FTDNA has maintained a good chunk of the Y-chromosome NGS market, competition is increasing. Dante Labs has attracted thousands of customers with its Black Friday sales, although anyone considering testing with them should know that they have failed to fulfill many orders in a timely fashion. Many of these samples are going on the YFull tree, none of them are going on the FTDNA Big Y Tree. With the rise of Nanopore technology there will inevitably be new competitive challenges.
To stay competitive against Dante Labs, FTDNA has announced it will slash test prices but tack on a $99 tariff for those who wish to do the YFull analysis. Of course it is ludicrous that this tariff, disguised as a "fee", is double the cost of the YFull analysis itself. This move may backfire as haplogroup researchers who always recommend the YFull analysis as the best value option for testers will need to take this additional tariff into account. The overall best value option may end up being Dante Labs if they get their act together and consistently fill orders and provide free BAM download link. If not, some other competitor.
The $99 Tariff is Bad for Haplogroup Research
Haplogroup researchers should understand that given this new $99 BAM download tariff, it will be more difficult to convince Big Y customers to do the YFull analysis. As a result, if the Big Y market share stays the same or increases, the pace of haplogroup research, in so far as it is defined by the YFull tree, will decrease.
The extent to which the YFull tree is perceived as the standard in haplogroup research varies from haplogroup to haplogroup. In J2 the consensus is that YFull is the standard - we value the additional samples from other testing companies and in particular the scientific studies in South Asia which make up 23 of the 38 total samples in J-Z2432.
Some haplogroup administrators have from the beginning not advocated their members to do the YFull analysis. It's never too late to recommend to your members to do the YFull analysis. But this is a daunting task for volunteer researchers of larger projects, so many may feel they can only continue research effectively from within the FTDNA data silo.
While their haplogroup research must continue within FTDNA unless/until they do they YFull analysis, these data siloed haplogroups need not completely endorse FTDNAs steps to monopolize the testing industry.
STR Match Finder is a free tool that allows people to find their STR matches within public FTDNA and YSEQ projects. While the matches displayed are limited to project members, the genetic distance cutoff is adjustable and the visualization helps easily identify potentially related individuals by showing rare matching STRs in shades of red. I used it recently to predict that a J-M241 Azorean would end up being the first European from otherwise South and West Asian J-Z2432 rather than belong to the J-L283 haplogroup more common in Europe.
While the FTDNA matching interface can show additional matches that have not joined a project, their genetic distance cutoffs are limiting for haplogroup researchers. I've found dozens of relationships in this way that would otherwise remain hidden within the FTDNA data silo.
FTDNA's $99 3rd Party Analysis Tariff Is a Two-Pronged Strategy To Monopolize the Testing Market by Undermining the YFull Tree
I perceive FTDNA's monopolization strategy as such:
- Less Big Y customers will do the YFull analysis given its steeper $148 effective cost
- The YFull tree will grow more slowly than it otherwise would
- This will help (but not guarantee) the FTDNA Big Y Tree to continue to outperform the YFull tree in the single metric where it objectively excels - total number of samples
- If the relative gap in sample size actually increases, FTDNA hopes that more future Y-DNA testers will decide that their FTDNA Big Y Tree is nearly good enough, equivalent or superior to the YFull tree
- Given a narrower perception of increased value, some additional customers will be drawn to test with FTDNA because of lower total test + analysis cost relative to perceived value
The stronger any company's monopoly, the higher the prices for customers and less future innovation.
Keep this in mind even if you are from one of the haplogroups which is very well represented on FTDNA and do not see much of a gain in doing the YFull analysis. The YFull analysis is and has been making your tests cheaper because FTDNA has to be competitive with people testing in other companies. In fact, FTDNA would not have implemented the Block Tree / Haplotree views or numerous other improvements without the competition offered by other testing companies, facilitated by the YFull analysis.
Instructions to do the YFull analysis - This may need updating depending on the new FTDNA workflow to get BAM file.
Genetic genealogist Linda Jonas discusses in more detail how to make use of YFull's capabilities in this article.