Upon hearing a rumor that Ancestry.com intended to turn off its Old Search sooner than later, I posted an article pinging you, my readers, to see if you thought New Search was ready. Comments ran 4 against and 1 for. I also posted an online poll asking, "Is Ancestry's New Search ready to replace Old Search?" Because online polls don't use random sampling, the results are unsound. But when 18 of 19 voters say that New Search isn't ready to replace Old Search, you'd think Ancestry would sit up and take notice.
And notice they did. After that post, Ancestry's PR machine went into action. Kendall Hulet, Ancestry's head of product management, did an interview for DearMYRTLE's Family History Hour 1 July 2008. Reaction from listeners looks very positive. I feel like Mary Poppins in the final scenes of her stay with the Banks family. Mr. Banks is finally connecting with his family. The wind is changing. It must be time for me to move on. What's that you say? A tear? Sigh....
Then, to my surprise Ancestry sent the Ancestry Insider an invitation for an interview with Hulet. The Ancestry Insider wrote back and gladly accepted. I had to laugh, though. After carefully doing our dance of independence through the Ancestry Insider's e-mail address, PR booked the meeting like normal through Outlook and Exchange. I will miss all the great people in our PR department. Mike Ward is not only a good friend, he's a 5th cousin! But I digress...
Monday I brought my laundry list of New Search complaints culled from my own experience as well as what you've shared, directly and elsewhere on the net. Hulet was very open and freely shared some problems and solutions of Ancestry's New Search.
New Home Page Forces New Search
When Ancestry's new home page (for logged-in users) was released 2-July-2008, complaints started popping up online about New Search! Since the home page and the search are independent, I was confused.
Hulet said that some of the links on new home page inadvertently switch users' search preference to New Search. While the user can manually switch back, using the links on the home page will again force the user to New Search. Hulet characterized the issue as of such high priority that a fix was being pushed forward as quickly as possible. Hulet expects it will happen today.
There were two sets of links that could have been incorporated into the new home page. The legacy set would respond to the users' search preference and should have been used on the new home page. The new set would override the users' search preference. Some of these links were inadvertently used.
I poked around a bit and I think these are the links of which Hulet spoke. clicking a link in the first column will preserve your search setting. Clicking a link in the second will switch you to new search.
|Legacy Links||New Search Links|
|Birth, Marriage & Death Records||Birth, Marriage & Death Records|
|U.S. Immigration Collection||U.S. Immigration Collection|
Hulet warned that the fix has the side effect of undoing some users custom links, but deemed the fix important enough to justify this side-effect.
Many people, including myself, have noticed that New Search's exact searches return a lot of false-positives, which is to say, matches that aren't matches. Performing the same search on old and new gives more results with new. That would be good, except the additional matches are all non-matches. Hulet admitted this is a problem. Old search looks for "proximity" among the search terms. In other words, the terms must appear close to one another on the page. New search does not, so it returns more and worse results. Hulet all but promised that a fix would be released for this problem some time this week so that new search also looks at proximity.
Hulet also mentioned they are close to releasing a bug fix for another issue that produces bad results. If one searches for a name using a wildcard, like "Joh* Smith," the wildcard causes the name parser to throw a gasket trying to divide the given name and the surname. The fix is in the pipeline and will likely roll live this week or next. In the interim, to perform a wildcard search on a name, use the Advanced search form which has separate first and last name fields. To switch between normal and advanced, click on Advanced at the top-right corner of the search field.
Hulet is hopeful that these corrections will fix all the instances where new search returns more false-positives than old search, but acknowledged there's no guarantee. These two bugs are so predominant, Ancestry won't be able to tell if any further, minor bugs exist until they take care of these two.
I'll have more of the issues I discussed with Kendall Hulet in an upcoming article. Stay tuned...