Update on Ancestry.com Search – Input Needed

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[Editor's Note: We just received the following information from Ancestry.com and want to pass it on to our readers.  Please take this opportunity to let Ancestry.com know about the features in Old Search that you use most, if you are a current user of Old Search.]

In an effort to continually improve your experience on Ancestry.com, we are asking for feedback on our search function. Our plan is first to gather feedback from our core users. We will take all of that feedback into account when we are merging the functionality of Old Search and current search into a consolidated search experience.

You can take the survey here: http://ancestry.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_8ubNXU8IiQcxqVD

Many of the recent concerns and comments have cited functionality that actually exists in current search, as well as in old search – specifically:

1. Our current search experience allows users to view search results as a list of ranked records or as a consolidated list of categories.
2. Our current search experience allows users to do “Exact Match” searches.
3. Our current search experience allows users to specify a “Collection Priority” to filter results by country.

Crista Cowan has a great educational video which demonstrates this functionality in the current search experience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c423yU5Ccs0

We also have a helpful article which does a side-by-side explanation of how to achieve the same types of results with the current search as in Old Search: http://ancestry.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/5569/kw/old

Thank you,
The Ancestry.com Product Team

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Ancestry.com Changes Search Functionality and Removes Old Search

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That’s right! More changes in genealogy technology! This time changes to various search functions at Ancestry.com and the end of Old Search. Despite what the cover above looks like, there is no reason to panic and there are good reasons for change . . .

What The Changes at Ancestry.com Will Mean

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with Ancestry.com product managers and saw a demo of the changes to search.  Not only was I impressed, but I was actually blown away by some of the new ways in which search results can be displayed.  For me, the most important features were those where you could customize what you did or didn’t want to see.  With any site that relies on Big Data and ways to display it,  I appreciate it when I site doesn’t “assume” what I want right away but allows me to select the data fields I want.

As noted in the email from Ancestry.com to its users (see full email below), here are the anticipated changes:

  • More relevant search results with the best results at the top
  • Easier refining and control of your search results
  • Keeping a better history of the work you have done
  • Publishing more new content and more corrections to existing content
  • Performance improvements to return results faster

The Death of Old Search on Ancestry.com

One change, which some might see as radical, is the removal of Old Search. I have to confess that I am still among the 2% of Ancestry subscribers who still rely upon Old Search.  I know that things changes, that platforms have to change in order to improve performance.  PAF is going away (understandable), Google Reader is going away (still blows my mind), and now Old Search.  I’m actually surprised it took so long; I know it isn’t easy to support two different search mechanisms and then continue to make changes to each.

During the conference call, I and other genealogy bloggers on the call urged Ancestry.com to “manage expectations” when it came to announcing the removal of Old Search and to get input from the community.  From the email below you’ll see that and I urge those users passionate about Old Search to click the survey link and send your feedback.

Technology Changes – Get Used To It

I’ll admit it isn’t easy even for a tech guy like me to keep up with changes in technology, and yes I get frustrated too.  But I’ve come to realize that I need to evolve and “change with the changes.” I also think about how my ancestors reacted to technology changes: the automobile, the telephone, etc.  Yes the changes seem to come more rapidly nowadays, but we use way more technology than our ancestors.

I look forward to the changes in search at Ancestry.com and I’m keeping an open mind, especially knowing that they want feedback and want search mechanisms that best serves its user community.

* * *

Here is the text of the Ancestry.com email to its users:

Ancestry.com is continuing our efforts to improve the search experience across Ancestry.com and will be making changes to our search functionality in the upcoming months. Some features will be added and some will be discontinued. As part of the 2% of our subscribers that use the old search function on the site, we know that you are passionate about the search experience on Ancestry.com and we are reaching out to you to get input on potential improvements. We hope you will take the opportunity to share your insights and feedback on our plans.

To identify which areas of the experience we should focus on this year, we have drawn on customer input, usage data, usage patterns and our old search function for inspiration. From all of that, we are looking at making your time on Ancestry.com more productive by improving these areas of the search experience in 2013:

  • More relevant search results with the best results at the top
  • Easier refining and control of your search results
  • Keeping a better history of the work you have done
  • Publishing more new content and more corrections to existing content
  • Performance improvements to return results faster

As we begin to make these improvements, we will no longer maintain two separate search systems for the site. Maintaining two systems limits the resources we can use to make improvements and increases the complexity of every improvement we try to make. Additionally, continuing to maintain the two systems limits our ability to direct more investment into other areas like adding more record collections and correcting existing collections.

Based on that, as a part of the work this year we will be bringing together the two search experiences into a single search experience on Ancestry.com. We hope to bring forward the best features of both the old and new search systems into the consolidated experience to facilitate the transition for our users and to improve the overall search experience. We expect to discontinue the old search function as a separate experience within the next 6 months.

As a user of the old search feature, we wanted to give you advance notice and let you influence the changes we are making in search. Please take this survey to share your feedback and ideas on key features to improve.

Best regards,
The Ancestry.com Product Team

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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Using the Cloud for British Family History Research – An Interview with Graham Walter

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[Editor's Note: Genealogist Graham Walter will be leading a series of genealogy classes discussing cloud computing and British family history research during the upcoming British Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7-11, 2013. In a recent interview conducted by Thomas MacEntee, Graham describes the state of cloud computing as it relates to genealogy research.]

If you had only 10 second to describe The Cloud to a genealogist, what would that description be?

‘The Cloud’ is a term that describes software and services presented via the internet. It can come in the form of small applications installed on the local computer or device but can also be presented as web-based apps but most share a common function of synchronising data between devices and web-based storage as well as being able to share with other users of our own choosing.

While it seems that many computer users have embraced “The Cloud” concept, in both the business world and personal computing space, the genealogy community has lagged behind. Are there any clear reasons for this reluctance to use The Cloud for genealogy research?

Many of us have collected out family history data through hours of toil in record offices and archives, often collecting it in the form of photocopies, hand written notes and sometimes microfiche. The result is a physical collection and very tangible ‘proof’ of our efforts.
Whilst a lot of our community are technically competent, many are not necessary of a technology ‘mind’. Also the computer industry has not, historically, been kind the end user – how many of us, in the early days of non-business email services, ended up loosing months of emails by a change by your ISP or by not having the enough of the ‘dark arts’ required to configure an email application?

In some respects, as a community we have been wary to adopt the ‘new’ of technology – how long did it take many us to upgrade to Windows XP from Windows 98 (or XP to Windows 7)? If it ain’t broke don’t even look for the tool box.

I think with the wide spread and reasonably quick spread of smartphones and tablets we (family historians) are seeing that there are may benefits of the services and applications provide by the cloud – for both mobile and static computing devices.

In your track at British Institute 2013, Using the Cloud for British Family History Research, you plan on covering various aspects of using The Cloud, especially for research trips. Can you give us a sneak peek as to what specific apps or functions you’ll cover?

I like to use an example of a trip to the Family History Library back in 2010 whilst in Salt Lake City for an earlier British Institute.

My computer was connected to the library wifi, as was my iPad. I collected a film and proceeded to look for some of my Wales ancestors, transcribing the information onto the iPad and Evernote as I went… after finishing with a few films I went back to desk and the computer – all of the transcriptions taken with the iPad were already there waiting for me… to trim them up, correct a few spelling errors (auto-’not-quite’-correct!!) and collate the new information into my family history application. I didn’t need to try and fit the computer next to the film reader; there was no need to transcribed my hand written notes and then collate them – much of what was needed was already done by using a cloud solution.
We will also be looking at file storage with services such as DropBox and Box.net; web-based applications such as Google Docs and MS Office 365; photo storage with 1000 Memories and Flickr; as well as examining some of the specific family history web sites to further our research in to our British ancestors – findmypast.co.uk; TheGenealogist.co.uk; Ancestry.co.uk; British Newspaper Archives and British Origins.

Is The Cloud concept here to stay or is it just a fad? And why does The Cloud seem to make sense right now?

I think the cloud is here to stay – in that applications and services will continue to be provided by the internet… but it may be that the way they are presented to us and the way we interact with them will change. Will we have ‘augmented reality’ overlays from our head-mounted computer displays that show us images of the street we are in as it was in 1883? The possibilities presented by experiments like Google Glass can only be imagined but the underlying presentation of the data will likely come from the cloud.

Are there any genealogy-specific apps or programs taking advantage of The Cloud? Or has the genealogy community had to “ re-purpose” programs like Evernote to make them work for genealogy?

There are examples of those apps that we would re-purpose for our family history needs but there are those that are dedicated to genealogy and family history.

Many of the apps or services we will use from the cloud are often referred to as ‘productivity applications’ – they can be used by anybody for use in almost any type of activity, from hobbies to business and all points in between. Like the the typical ‘office applications’ like Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Cloud apps can be adopted to fill the needs of the genealogist and family historian.

There are cloud-based spreadsheet, word processing and database applications that can directly replace the locally installed versions. We have apps that are have similar features that provide a better, specific use-case… and electronic notebook for our journalling as a replacement or adjunct to a physical notebook, a photo storage app that provides a means of collecting and sharing as a replacement for the physical photo album… and many more.

There are also the family history specific apps and services. Companies like ‘My Heritage‘; ‘findmypast’; ‘Family Search‘ and Ancestry are now providing services that can, if you want, replace the need for installing a family history application to your computer. These cloud-based services may provide enhancements over the ‘normal’ application by providing a means to match and compare your family tree data with other users within the site; share you family tree via the web with family members or other interested parties – even access your tree from other devices you own – like smartphones and tablets.

About Graham Walter, MCBS

In the real world Graham is an IT manager with Nissan and Renault in the U.K. He is a professional member of the British Computer Society. In the family history community, he is a volunteer with the Society of Genealogists’ Educational Outreach program. Graham works together with Jeanne Bunting as part of the “Census Detectives,” attending various family history fairs and society open house days showing people how to make use of online services for their family history research. He is also a member of the Guild of One Name Studies. and has given talks at their one-day seminars as well as presenting at family history group meetings.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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