Thursday, March 27, 2008

You Will Hate Ancestry's New Search, Not!

Did you learn WordPerfect and then make the grueling switch to Word? Are you a "classic" Family Tree Maker (FTM) user drowned by the undertow of the new FTM user interface? Were you one of the Ancestry users irked back in July 2006 when Ancestry split its Search form into four tabs?

If you fall into the latter category, hold on to your hats 'cause Ancestry's at it again. Although judging from his blog article, Ancestry's Search Product Manager, Kendall Hulet, has learned his lessons.

Back in 2006, subscribers woke up one day to find the old search interface gone and the new one thrust upon them. This time select subscribers asked to try out the new search interface have the ability to switch back and forth between the old and new interfaces.

And this time the change is rolling out gradually, user feedback is being solicited and the UI (user interface) is being tweaked weekly according to the feedback.

In some ways the new search interface is a return to the beloved old one that went away back in 2006. The separation into four tabs has gone away; once again one search searches all databases. The 2006 changes moved the advanced search from the main search form onto a page of its own. Advanced search has now migrated back into the main search form.

However, if you hate change, you will hate this. In many, many ways the new search interface bears little resemblance to its pre-2006 ancestor. The Search team seems to have had the same epiphany that I experienced Christmas shopping online. The excellent techniques used by online resellers to refine and narrow your gift searches can also be employed to finding ancestors.

Ancestry has also made it much easier to evaluate search results by including Hover-Previews, photograph thumbnails and newspaper image snippets.

My initial experiences with the new Search?

Being the suspicious type, any search that resulted in zero results was suspect. I spent a lot of time switching back to the old interface and re-trying failed searches, each time finding that the old search couldn't find any results either.

I wouldn't be long in the old interface before I longed for features of the new. I always found myself switching back to the new search UI.

Ancestry still gives lots of ridiculous results. I wish Ancestry would allow use of date and geographic filters in record searches as they do in the new card catalog. That would go a long way in clearing out the flotsam.

Searching databases with OCR indexes still stinks and search is still matching on initials. This makes it impossible to find newspaper articles about people with given names starting with A or I. But the image snippets make it possible to avoid most of these rat holes. Too bad they don't have them for family and local history books also.

Al-in-all, I think Ancestry has a winner on its hands. To see for yourself, click here to see screen shots and a detailed description of the new Search UI.

3 comments:

  1. That "New Search" looks terrific! Can't wait until it's rolled out to my account.

    Assume that the Matching Person tree data for Personal Member Tree will show only the birthdate as it has previously?

    In other words, assume that the example is evidently showing a Public Member tree?

    Previously it identified whether Public or Personal but didn't see such reference in the screenshot.

    Maybe it will just explicitly identify Personal, or will they Personal tree data not show up in the new search at all?

    A little curious because I used to get perhaps a couple or more connection-service emails a week for my personal tree, but it has dropped off to almost none in the past two-three weeks.

    Also, which might just indicate resources devoted to other priorities lately, Invite-people tell me they haven't been receiving their "Tree is Growing" emails over about that period.

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  2. I sent the following comments to Ancestry just a while ago:

    The new format is, with one exception, AWFUL, AWFUL, AWFUL. Why?

    1) TOO MUCH MOUSE NAVIGATION REQUIRED to employ the various "additional information" search fields
    2) The "attractive" new layout take up too much screen space and requires CONSTANT scrolling up and down to set search parameters and view results.
    I've had to scroll and click 100 percent more in the new format. It's slower, annoying and my fingers are beginning to ache. Navigation should be doable through TAB functions ALL of the time.

    ALSO:
    3) TOO many irrelevant results delivered, even on searches where I have a very good idea of what information is available, often BECAUSE:
    4) if the "exact" check boxes are selected the search is much, much too restrictive, BUT
    5) if the "exact" check boxes are not selected, the search limits in those boxes seems to be COMPLETELY ignored and thousands of irrelevant results are displayed AND
    6) The irrelevant results can't be easily sorted out/hidden by (e.g.) date or geographic limits

    The ONLY redeeming feature of the new search format is the combined record page and page viewer which makes it easier to skim through similar records and zero-in on the relevant items.

    Otherwise, your new layout has all the "charm" and automatic, nanny-like "let us help you" annoyances that plague programs like Microsoft Word. It's too damn "helpful" and delivers a flood of useless results that only make the search for the desired record or ancestor HARDER.

    (And by the way, please give us a way to stop the stupid pop-up box from getting in the way when beginning new searches.)

    Finally: Why doesn't the card catalog have a simple Title/Author/Subject search format? Why must one click, click, click through a dozen "limits" in order to find titles that I either (1) already KNOW are in the database, or (2) similar or related titles???

    Disappointedly yours,

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  3. As much as I've tried to like the search as it is now, I still can't stand it. I've almost totally given up on doing any Ancestry research because of it after having been a user for a very long time. It was SO much easier to sort and evaluate data the old way. It might be easy for people with little experience, who don't miss what they never had, but for me, I'd like to meet the folks who created this monster!

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