Monday, May 4, 2009

NFS's Helper Feature

Jim Greene, former New FamilySearch (NFS) product manager, recently explained what the Helper function is and why it is present in New FamilySearch.

The helper function was designed to allow all members to participate in new FamilySearch, and not just those who have computers, access to the Internet, or who love technology. There are many many members throughout the world who feel intimidated by the computer, or who have physical constraints that do not allow them to see a computer screen or work with a keyboard. Many others simply cannot ever afford to own a computer or pay for an Internet connection. The Helper function was designed to allow a consultant or even a family member to come into a person's pedigree and act as if they were that person, without (and this is the key) actually being that person or having access to the person's account.

One reason for the Helper feature is auditing and security. According to Greene,

We have placed audit controls into the Helper Function that record BOTH the name of the person you are helping, as the contributor of the data, AND you, the helper, as the submitter of the data. Because you have to login first in order to then help someone we are setting up an audit trail that ultimately both protects the contributor and their data, but also the system as a whole.

There are some things that a helper cannot or should not do. These limitations led some to help others by getting their usernames and passwords and logging in rather than using the Helper feature. Greene condemned this practice in no uncertain terms.

A recent posting stated that it would be better to login as the person than to use the helper function. That is not true and that rumor must be stopped. ... But it seems that rumor...is hard to kill. Registering for someone or logging in using their ID is a major security breach. Bad data, malicious data, and offensive material could be entered by someone who has logged-in for someone else, and we would never know it was not the person to whom the account belonged. We would only know that this ID logged in and contributed this material. And if it was offensive, etc. we would be forced to de-activate the user account and force the person off of the system.

On the other hand, logging in and using the Helper Function protects the individual because not only are both contributor and submitter recorded, but helpers also do not have access to the user's profile, and cannot change passwords or other secure features for the person they are helping. Most helpers are not out to do malicious things to our system. However, the only way you can be sure someone is not stealing your ID and getting away with incorrect behavior is to always use the Helper Function whether you are helping or being helped, and to NEVER share your Login ID or password with anyone. ...

So please insist that anyone helping others, or being helped by others, use the Helper Function....And please help me kill this Urban Legend about the helper causing problems. (Source: "The nFS Helper: Exploding the Urban Legend.")

Anyone with an NFS account can "Sign in to Help Someone Else." You can have a friend, relative, or family history consultant help you. The person helping you will need your name, date of birth, and your "helper access number." To begin with, your helper access number is the last five digits of your Church membership number. But you can change it later.

To sign in to help you, your Helper logs in using their own username and password. Then they click on "Sign in to Help Someone Else," circled in the screen image, below.

Sign in to Help Someone Else

To avoid the misinformation currently circulating about the helper feature, I logged into NFS, I clicked on "Help Center," and I did a search for "help someone else" (including the quotes). Here are some articles I found. (You must be logged into NFS to see these links.)

"Using the New FamilySearch Web Site for Someone Else," A User’s Guide to the New FamilySearch (May 2009) Published 24 April 2009

The new FamilySearch Web site allows you to sign in to help someone else use it. When you do this, you can perform any task except make changes to the user profile of the individual that you are helping.

For example, you can do the following:

  • Add family information
  • Edit and delete family information
  • Print family information
  • Prepare and print a Family Ordinance Request for the person to take to the temple

When you help someone else, the system identifies the individual that you are helping as the contributor of the information and you as the submitter of the information (the user who actually entered the information). This allows others to contact the individual that you helped, not you, to coordinate research.

Note: If the person that you help is not a registered user of the new FamilySearch Web site, then the system cannot display contact information for the person being helped. It does not show the submitter’s contact information either. No contact information will be available for changes made.

 Helping a person who is not registered (105306) Published 11 December 2008 (italics added)

People who have accounts with the new FamilySearch should not use their account to use the Sign in to Help Someone Else feature to grant access to a nonregistered individual. Individuals who are in a temple district that is not live and are not registered need to wait until the new FamilySearch is available in their temple district before accessing the program.

Consultants may use the Sign in to Help Someone Else feature if the person whom they are helping lives in a live temple district, but does not have a computer. If, under those circumstances, the helper creates an FOR for the patron, the patron can have the FOR reprinted by anyone able to access the patron’s information through the new FamilySearch helper feature.

People who have access to the new FamilySearch should never register a person they are helping. Instead, they should walk the patron through the registration process, letting the patron register for himself or herself.

 new FamilySearch: What can a helper do? (100546) Published 31 March 2009

... Caution: There may be unfavorable consequences in the future if you sign in for someone else and make changes to his or her records before he or she is registered. ...

Helpers are unable to:

  • Make changes to the person's profile information.
  • [Request] changes to information from Church membership records.
  • [Request] changes to information from temple records.
  • "Declare this legacy contributor as yourself" for any unregistered person.

 When I submit feedback while signed in as a helper, the feedback shows as being from me, not the helpee (100181)

If you are signed in to the new FamilySearch as a helper and you send feedback from the help center, the feedback is treated as if it were from you (the helper), not from the person you are helping (the helpee). Consequently, any communication sent from Support about your feedback will be sent to you, not to the helpee. Also, any cases generated from your feedback will appear in the help center under your My Cases log.

Greene admits that some of the misinformation about the Helper feature may have come from a Help Center article. Last year, FamilySearch's Don Anderson pointed out a Help Center article that contained a longer list of things not to do when signed in as a Helper. Since that article is no longer present, and is at odds with current Help Center articles, I wonder if this is the article Greene references. Since mailing list postings are archived forever, one should always look to official sources to get current information.

Last weekend Greene made another post reiterating the statement in Help Center Article 105306 that helpers should not perform the registration for a person they are helping.

For security reasons registering for someone else is much more risky and undesirable behavior than helping someone. We want you to use the helper feature for those who cannot or will not register, we do not want you to register for them. If you really want them to be registered so that their contact information shows up, then sit them down at your computer and help them to register, making sure that they write down their user name and password in a safe and secure place that only they can see.

In closing, Greene said, "There is still much mis-information about the helper function out there. Please help me to kill it!!"

Jim, I hope this article helps.

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