Friday, April 4, 2008

MyFamily.com Reverses Forced Migration Policy

The MyFamily.com 2.0 Beta LogoThe MyFamily.com team at the Generations Network (TGN) today announced a reversal of their decision to force users to migrate from the tried and true MyFamily.com 1.0 websites to a new version, dubbed MyFamily.com 2.0. Previous migration announcements worried long-time users who felt the new offering lacked necessary features, or was too hard to learn.

In a letter sent to users today, MyFamily.com said, "As of today, we will continue support for MyFamily.com 1.0 and have no plans to require migration of 1.0 sites to 2.0." Full text of the announcement can be found on the Official MyFamily 2.0 Blog.

TGN hired Michael Graff in September 2005 to head their MyFamily.com business unit. Graff was a 14-year veteran at Microsoft and lived in the greater-Seattle area. In early 2006 TGN announced the establishment of a Bellevue office to "enhanc[e] the existing MyFamily.com product," said at the time to have more than 3 million users. Most of 2006 seems to have been focused on SnapGenie, a technology acquired by TGN. SnapGenie.com was announced broadly in September 2006.

The first 2.0 beta rolled live in early December 2006. The features were photos with descriptions, stories, notes and invitations. The next big release came at the end of January 2007 adding comments, voice notes, story sharing and photo sharing. In March they added news calendar, member list, avatars and albums. (See timeline.) And MyFamily.com announced the migration plan that would ultimately move everyone off 1.0.

MyFamily.com announced the release of an enhanced 2.0 beta in October 2007. This table compares 1.0 and 2.0 feature sets.

Comparison of 1.0 and 2.0 features

A January 2008 post on the MyFamily blog indicated the migration from 1.0 to 2.0 was taking longer than expected and the transition period would extend into 2008. Then the blog fell silent.

Michael Graff's LinkedIn profile indicates that he left MyFamily.com in March 2008. No announcement was made of his departure, but in his keynote address at the BYU conference, TGN president Tim Sullivan indicated MyFamily.com membership had fallen to 1.8 million. On 25-March-2008 a post on the MyFamily blog titled "Getting back on track" started off by saying "Obviously it's been a while since we've had a fresh post here on the blog."

Now, less than 2 weeks later comes the announcement that mandatory migration will no longer be required. This is more than 2 years after spending on 2.0 began.

While I'm not privy to all the thinking behind MyFamily 2.0, I know that 1.0 is built on really old technology that none of the techies in the company want to touch, fearing it is so brittle it will easily break. I believe the decade old code had to be rewritten, but I believe TGN approached it the wrong way.

I'm a big believer in the philosophy behind Baby Steps, the fictitious book from the movie What About Bob. Paul Allen quotes several industry luminaries in his latest blog entry that illustrate my belief that fast incremental advancements and small incremental changes are better than large changes that take a long time.

TGN and MyFamily.com users would have been better served with incremental rewrites of the 1.0 code. Make the gradual rewrite transparent to users. You don't have to replace the entire website. You can introduce improvements and new features incrementally.

When I started work at TGN, a similar process appears to have been in process with the Ancestry.com site. Parts of the site were implemented in the same old technology as the MyFamily.com 1.0 site (internally called Warp). Parts of the site had apparently been rewritten in Microsoft ASP technology and plans were already underway to eventually move to ASP .NET.

Over several years the parts of Ancestry.com on Warp have been upgraded to the latest technology transparently to users. This has made it possible to improve the Ancestry.com website while the MyFamily.com 1.0 website has sat largely static.

The jump from MyFamily.com 1.0 to 2.0 is too gigantic, leading many 1.0 users unlikely to make the leap. Meanwhile, the inability to make changes to the 1.0 code-base has left MyFamily.com unable to compete effectively against other social networking websites.

As I say, I don't know the plans behind MyFamily.com. But in my opinion, they should start the incremental rewrite and upgrade of the 1.0 site. When they get it far enough, they may still be able to salvage much of their investment in 2.0 by applying it to the incrementally rewritten 1.0 site.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad they made the decision to allow us to keep our 1.0 sites. Lately, when I would try to use the 2.0, after just a few minutes, the crammed up page got on my nerves. I always felt like they tried to cram too much into too small a space, and the hovering just made it worse. Personally, I think they could make use of that tool as a torture tool for terrorists. Now, there were some features that were wonderful. I loved the new voice mail and new way of creating albums, and adding those to 1.0 would be great. But, I'm in total agreement that it needs to be introduced a little at a time. I'm sure most folks would love to have new things added to our site. But, when they do, they need to be specific in their instructions. When I would read some of the answers we got while we were in the process of migration, I thought some of those folks could appear to be answering a question and beat around the bush with an answer that would put all the politicians in Washington to shame.
    But, I'm so glad that the decision came when it did, but it should have come much sooner. Good luck on building the 2.0 site. I know it will be great in the end, because we know you are capable. But, if we are going to be introduced to a whole package at one time, please have it all working properly before you expect us to make it work.

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