17 November 2011

Ancestry Survey Missing a Critical Question

I just completed a survey from Ancestry.com after receiving an e-mail message from them. I was excited for a brief moment thinking they really wanted comments on what would make me a satisfied customer. The first paragraph of the message was:
Just like every family tree, every Ancestry.com member is unique. And that’s why, in 2012, we’ll be making your Ancestry.com experience match your preferences, your family history goals and the way you use the site, better than ever before.
Most of the questions seemed aimed at someone who thinks putting all of her data on an Ancestry tree is the be-all and end-all of research. The rest were aimed at finding out how many would then access those trees on a mobile device.

Right now I have a love-hate relationship with Ancestry. I love that so many records are available digitally—that makes me keep paying my annual subscription. I hate that they make it so hard to find what I am looking for in the haystack of records. And, I'm sorry, my jaw clenches every time I hear, "You don't have to know what you're looking for. You just have to start looking." I know what I am looking for and want it to be easier to find it! That could make Ancestry work well for me and for the people who want to enter some data in a tree and wait for a leaf to start shaking to get their attention.

Ancestry's tools seem geared toward giving an inexperienced user so many hits they think they are getting lots of good information. It is an illusion. Some new researchers have no idea how to weed through the multiple hits of a person with the same or similar name who is the right age, more or less, and in the right place, more or less. Experienced users learn to mow through the close-but-no-cigar hits, but it isn't easy. It takes a lot of time.

Ancestry has added some features in recent years to help users isolate hits to those of interest. These tools are still woefully inadequate. I want advanced search features like those that were offered almost a decade ago by FamilySearch on their 1880 U.S. census CD set. Ancestry's keyword search is a start, but needs to give more control to the user of which field contains the keyword. I want to be able to search for a person who has a spouse with a specific name. That is essential when the name you are searching is a common one.

Also, I want to be able to sort the hits based on the field of my choosing. Sometimes I can see that if I keep paging through what Ancestry displays I might eventually find what I am looking for on the 30th or 40th page or 90th page of hits. I set Ancestry to display 50 hits per page. The 40th page is 2,000 hits in to the list. If I could choose the sort field or tell Ancestry to eliminate certain "pseudo-matches" I might find the information I am looking for within the first 10 pages and save hours. And yes, I've played with all the advanced search options and still find them lacking.

This frustration with Ancestry made me take heart when Footnote.com was started. Then Ancestry bought Footnote. Competition is good for companies. Too much of a monopoly allows a company to coast without implementing major improvements.

I'd much rather see Ancestry investing in better and more specific search tools than re-inventing the wheel with new advanced viewers. I can use the viewer of my choice once I download an image. But I have to be able to find and download the image first.

The missing critical question on the survey—a comment block where I could enter comments that weren't related to any specific question on the survey. You know, the block that makes you think they really care what you have to say, not just whether or not you'd pay more for a mobile app that lets you access the site. I get frustrated enough on a large monitor. I don't need to be more frustrated trying to slog through on a tiny screen.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. The quality and precision of results is lacking.