Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Incremental Improvement of the New Ancestry.com Website

The Ancestry Insider at Niagra Falls
Software used to be developed using a waterfall process.

Software is now developed iteratively and incrementally.
Whirlpool image: Wikipedia
Ancestry.com launched its new website design in an unfinished state. I suppose this was a calculated move. Gone are the days of “waterfall model” development where the entire website is conceived before coding begins and released only when entirely finished. Today, software is developed using iterative and incremental development. This is why you regularly see websites and features not quite finished. Examples are Ancestry’s “new search,” the old incarnation of Ancestry Member Trees, the Ancestry mobile app, the New FamilySearch (NFS) Tree, FamilySearch RecordSearch, and more recently, the AncestryDNA website, the Ancestry Findagrave app, FamilySearch Family Tree, FamilySearch historical records search, FamilySearch mobile apps, and, now, the New Ancestry website.

Users overtly hate and unperceptively love iterative development. Iterative development allows a company to give you that long requested Xyzzy widget as soon as it is developed enough that it gives you value, not when it is flawless. Users use it and react. “Here’s what I like; here’s what I don’t like.” If it is valuable enough, they continue using it despite its flaws. It gets better over time. It gets improvements. It gets polished. But It also moves around, changes color, and morphs in sometimes unexpected ways. That confuses users, makes it difficult to find, and forces teachers, like me, to constantly redo our slides.

But we love—or at least value and hate—these unfinished websites or features enough to continue to use them while simultaneously complaining.

Well, that is not always true for every user in every case.

Such is the New Ancestry Website. When I announced its release in June 2015, several readers saw fit to comment. While there were a few “just don’t like it” comments, I was proud of y’all. There were lots of actionable observations, explicit items you didn’t like, like tree background color, printing family group reports, display of age on timeline, thumbnails and links to media, web links, and problems with comments.

Almost immediately after releasing the new Ancestry website, Ancestry said they were “still working on a few final missing features, as well as making continued improvements to new features based on your feedback.” Sound like incremental development? In that post they listed features and fixes they were working on. As they’ve finished the bulleted items, they have posted completion status. See “New Ancestry: Feature Update” on the Ancestry blog.

Armed with your specific comments, Ancestry has fixed many of the problems you posted here. See “The New Ancestry: July 15th Feature Update” and “The New Ancestry: July 22nd Feature Update” on the Ancestry blog.

Get specific feedback to Ancestry. They will aggregate your opinions and act accordingly, incrementally, and iteratively. That is the nature of incremental development processes.

Monday, July 27, 2015

BYU Conference (#BYUFHGC) Starts Tomorrow

BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyThe BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy runs this week, 28 to 31 July 2015 and you can signup clear to the last day of the conference, online, by phone, or in person.

I’ve already mentioned two conference activities: Cokeville Miracle and the BYU Family History Library open house. Let me mention two more.

EZ Photo Scan is offering free photo scanning at their booth. They have a high speed scanner (80 a minute!). Bring a large stack of photos. I get nervous about damaging prints, so I would only trust photos in good shape and would prearrange them in stacks of the same size. They hope to scan 30,000 photographs during the conference. The announcement doesn’t mention if they will be supplying memory sticks/thumb drives, so I’d bring my own, just in case.

You can also sign up for the ICAPGEN luncheon on Friday. This is a networking luncheon for those who want to learn more from or talk with Accredited Genealogists, but anyone can go. Lunch will be held on the Conference Center patio and feature chuck wagon food: BBQ Chicken, baked beans, Dutch oven potatoes, house rolls, coleslaw, vegetables, and BYU Creamery ice cream dessert, all for $20.00.

As always, I will be attending lectures given by Ancestry.com and FamilySearch so that I can give you the latest news on their products. FamilySearch is giving an entire track on Tuesday. I will be reporting on several of those classes.

Aaron Orr, a product manager at Ancestry.com, is presenting “Using AncestryDNA to Further Your Research” at 1:30 on Thursday. I asked Aaron why someone would want to attend his class. “If you’re wondering how a teaspoon of saliva can help you break through brick walls, then this class if for you. ,” Aaron said. “I’ll walk you through the basics of genetic inheritance and how you can use your AncestryDNA results to discover mysteries once lost by time.”

Lisa Elzey is an Ancestry.com family historian and researcher for the television show, Who Do You Think You Are. She is presenting “How the Records Tell the Story” at 4:00 that same day. Of her class, she said “Discovering the detail within records will help you piece together your family history narrative much like we do for Who Do You Think You Are. Even with the records you already have found, it's about looking at them in a new light to illuminate a richer story.”

See you at the conference!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Serendipity from a Strange Phone Number

Jen W., writer of Peculiar and Co.A coworker alerted me to a blog article about an adoptee’s quest to find her birth mother. In one sense, these discoveries are becoming less and less serendipitous as DNA databases get larger and larger. This particular story is well written and worth the read.

Jen W. had a long-time dream of finding her birth mother, sometimes whimsically googling the question, “Who is my biological mother?” One day she “suddenly became overcome with the thought of having [her] DNA tested.” However money was tight and needed elsewhere. A DNA test would have to wait. Then one day, something happened to change that.

I received a phone call from a strange number. Usually I don’t answer calls from numbers that I don’t recognize, but this time I decided to live large.  After picking up the phone, I learned that my mother-in-law had been talking to one of her friends about my desire to have a DNA test done.  This friend just ‘happened’ to have an extra DNA test kit lying around her house.

Read Jen’s story in her own words, “In the Face of Another,” on her blog, Peculiar and Co.

FamilySearch Cameo in Salt Lake City Parade

The big parade in Salt Lake City is the “Days of 47” parade on the 24th of July each year. It commemorates the arrival of Mormon pioneers in 1847. FamilySearch got a brief cameo. One float with a family history theme had a sign sporting the FamilySearch logo hanging from a tree (almost hidden on the left in the photo below).

Family history themed float in a Salt Lake City parade float displaying the FamilySearch logo

The float included a bubble making machine. The bubbles were too much of a temptation for one little girl. Mom had to run out and grab her.

Family history themed float in a Salt Lake City parade float

FamilySearch had another couple of tie-ins to the parade this year. The parade passed in from of FamilySearch headquarters, which occupies several floors of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. And FamilySearch Records Division director, Rod DeGiulio, was briefly interviewed late last night on a local television station as he camped out on the parade route, saving a place for his grandchildren. Way to go, grandpa!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

AncestryHealth and DNA

Ancestry.com has launched a new service, AncestryHealth.Last week Ancestry.com publicly released its AncestryHealth website, https://health.ancestry.com. According to Ancestry, “AncestryHealth’s first offering is a free service, currently in beta, that gives consumers the ability to compile their family health history information with the help of their Ancestry family tree.” Since many health issues run in families, tracing health conditions can help individuals and health care workers take steps to minimize risks. Saving health information in a tree records the information for sharing with health care workers and future generations.

With the launch of AncestryHealth, Ancestry has also added a chief health officer to its executive team. Cathy A. Petti, MD, will be the first person to occupy that position.

“This new service leverages expert research and delivers customized information to consumers about the risks and prevention measures to help empower them to make healthy lifestyle choices,” said Tim Sullivan, Ancestry CEO. “Combined with the breadth and scale of Ancestry data, we expect AncestryHealth to be a key piece of the puzzle as we look to understand how health is passed down through generations, and we are excited to have Dr. Petti lead this effort."

It looks like Petti will report to Dr. Ken Chahine, executive vice president and general manager of AncestryDNA and AncestryHealth. This could signal a move by Ancestry into health-oriented DNA testing.

“We set out to create health offerings for our community that integrate with, and leverage the successes of Ancestry and AncestryDNA,” said Chahine. In the AncestryHealth press release, Ancestry positioned itself as both “the leader in family history and consumer genetics.” (Italics added.) According to Ancestry, Petti will work alongside genomic teams and will lead regulatory affairs.

Regulations have stymied the health-related DNA offerings of competitor, 23andMe. Back in November 2013 the FDA informed 23andMe that they hadn’t complied with all the regulations necessary to market their DNA for providing health reports on genetic diseases, conditions, and predispositions. 23andMe subsequently ceased providing health-related DNA reports. 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki explained that “this is new territory for both 23andMe and the FDA. This makes the regulatory process with the FDA important because the work we are doing with the agency will help lay the groundwork for what other companies in this new industry do in the future.”

In February of this year the FDA granted 23andMe authorization to market its test for Bloom Syndrome carrier status. (See the 23andMe press release.) Perhaps Ancestry has decided, as Wojcicki predicted, to follow the course charted and begin their own efforts to satisfy government regulations so that it can offer health-oriented DNA tests.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

AncestryDNA Exceeds Million Mark

AncestryDNA infographic. Click to see the complete graphic.
Click to see the complete infographic.

Last week Ancestry.com made two big announcements. The size of their DNA database has exceeded 1 million samples. And they have launched a new website called AncestryHealth.

“We just hit a huge milestone, and we are excited to celebrate!” said Ancestry spokesperson, Anna Swayne. “In just three short years AncestryDNA has genetically tested one million people to help them discover more about themselves and their family story.” The database size has more than doubled in the last year.

As the size of their database grows, they are starting to be able to make some interesting observations. In a group of 5,000 people you will likely find a close relative. (I think that means 4th cousin or closer.) Using that fact, Ancestry has put together an interesting infographic.

  • On any given day, 39 of your relatives will pass through the Los Angeles LAX airport.
  • Sixteen of your relatives will be in the stadium of a sold out home game of the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Ten of your relatives visit Disney World each day.
  • Six of your relatives finished the Boston Marathon. (I know one of my six.)
  • Two of your relatives visited the Statue of Liberty today.

Wait for my Friday article for a particularly touching AncestryDNA story.