Wednesday, August 5, 2009 Catch-up

The conference last week has thrown me off my groove. There’ve been important updates at that I need to tell you about in case you depend on me for your news. As I’m behind, I’ll draw from the company’s press release. I particularly applaud for their newly digitized content. It’s much more expensive than converting microfilm, but it’s a bigger value-add to the genealogical community.


Product Updates from Eric Shoup, VP Product

The major Product news this month is the launch of two major new features: Member Connect and the Enhanced Image Page.

Member Connect

We have been talking about this feature to our members and to you all for over a month now. It is now here and by the time you read this, I am sure there will be lots of feedback from our members about it. In case you missed it, you can read more about the feature here. There are some aspects of this feature that we have not talked about publicly. I wanted to give you the inside scoop on a few things.

What it took to build

This is probably one of the most complex projects that has undertaken in the last few years. The idea of exposing activities to members that are taken by other members on the site in a timely and relevant manner sounds simple but turns out to be very complex to do at the scale at which we are doing it. Member Connect has taken over a year to go from concept to reality. We have involved a large cross-functional team of employees to design and build this feature. We have also performed a number of usability tests with members (and even talked to some of you) to get feedback on the concept and its design.

Needless to say, we expect that we will get plenty of valid criticism of this feature once it launches. We will be listening closely and iterating on Member Connect to ensure it meets customer expectations. Let us know what you think by emailing us at

What is happening behind the scenes

We have been running Member Connect in an invisible mode on for over a week now. To give you a sense for the scale at which this system is functioning, in the first 24 hours that we had the Member Connect feature turned on, we saw the following:

  • We logged 4.7 million member-generated activities (such as a member saving a record to their tree or uploading a photo)
  • 1.5 million of these activities were relevant to at least 1 other member and would be “shareable” in their Member Connect Recent Activity list
  • Since many of the activities logged were relevant to the research of multiple other members, these 1.5 million individual member activities spawned 18 million individual entries to be published in individual member’s Member Connect Recent Activity lists.
  • As a result of this, nearly 70% of our members had 1 or more entries included in their Recent Activity list. About 30% had 10 or more entries and about 10% of our members had 100 or more entries.

All of this in the first 24 hours!

Expected member concerns

There are two concerns that I expect our members to raise initially as they are getting used to Member Connect:

  • Overload: A small subset of our members may feel like they are being deluged with data. These members have a few options: 1) They can ignore the summarized homepage recent activity list and focus instead on the recent activity list for a specific ancestor in the tree by going to the ancestor profile page for this person, 2) members can filter their Member Connect activity items through filters we have provided and/or 3) they can turn-off major parts of Member Connect altogether.
  • Privacy: Some of our members will be concerned that their actions on the site will be seen by others. The reality is that almost everything being exposed via Member Connect is already available on the site! We have just made it easier to find. Ultimately this means that we all can collaborate with each other more quickly and easily to build our families’ histories. All that said, those who feel uncomfortable with this new level of transparency can change their privacy settings here. It should be reiterated that we will still honor tree privacy settings and never share information about people we believe are living.

Enhanced Image Page & Improved Editing

We have talked about this feature in quite a bit of detail here. We initially rolled the Enhanced Image Page to just 12 of our smaller census collections. As we gauge member reaction, we will roll it out to our major census collections.

The inclusion of index pane, Member Connect info and source info right next to the historical image will be great. However, the part I am most excited about is our expanded editing capability. We have made the process of submitting an alternate much easier and we have expanded the number of fields you can edit. Since alternates get included in our search engine, member-submitted modifications make it easier for all of us to find the records we are looking for. Even without these capabilities, we get 30,000 alternates submitted by members to our indexes a week. Will these changes increase this rate by 50%? 100%? 200%? I’ll report back on this in a month or two when we have solid data on this.


Content Updates from Gary Gibb, VP U.S. Content

Here’s a some Collections new or coming soon to

Jewish Collection Update
Description: New collections from 2 new Jewish content partners (to be announced in August) and more great content from our current partners JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) and

Immigration Collection Update
Descriptions: Large additions to our U.S. Naturalization Originals and the Passenger and Immigration Lists
1830 U.S. Federal Censuses Improved
Est. Record Count: 1.8m
Est. Image Count: 142k
Description: New clearer, higher quality images.

New York Mortality Schedules, 1850-1880
Est. Name Count: 146k
Est. Image Count: 15k
Description: Records from the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census of people who died during the previous 12 months in the state of New York.

New York State Passenger and Crew List Update
Est. Name Count: 320k
Est. Image Count: 27k
Description: Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at Buffalo, Lackawanna, and North Tonawanda, New York, 1945-1974; Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at Rouses Point and Waddington, New York, 1954-1956.

Honolulu Passenger Lists, 1900-1953
Est. Name Count: 4m
Est. Image Count: 193k
Description: Scanned onsite at NARA.

Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1963-1974
Est. Name Count: 133k
Est. Image Count: 494k
Description: Records of U.S. Citizens who died in other countries (scanned onsite at NARA).

1880 DDD Special U.S. Census Schedules
Description: DDD special census records from selected states.

1 comment:

  1. The MemberConnect rollout ". . .even talked to some of you . . ."?

    The MemberConnect octopus is posed as:
    1) Greater assistance researching "your ancestors";
    2) Collaboration between "members" regarding researching "ancestors".

    #1--in most trees, ancestors are a tiny minority of tree occupants. In practice, the system retrieves some operation done by someone else in their tree, performed on a (say) spouse of the father of the spouse of a 6th cousin 3 times removed. Many trees have myriad such occupants.

    #2--the extent of collaboration in the added system is to make it easier to take stuff from other people's trees. No improvement in ability to communicate with the other tree's Owner. That Owner may be notified of the taking **if** the taker has not set their preferences to **not disclose** one's activities.

    The one area that could have been really collaborative was through the "comments," which are now hidden as of a couple of weeks ago. That was part of the individual-page redesign in the Trees that was required for implementation of the MemberConnect business. Now it is not even evident that someone has made a comment on something about an individual. There used to be a display showing number of comments per individual; that has been removed. Used to be able to view comments on the main 'overview' page along with the key items that the comment might be about: vital dates, places, parents, spouse(s), children. No more.

    There is a great deal of redundancy in the new design. The MemberConnect lists duplicate the old "Tree Hints", both appear on the individual page. There are two or more ways to do any one thing, each with its little quirks.

    Something was said about ability to determine what notifications one receives.

    A) On one's Home Page one can limit the items displayed, but the settings all reset with each visit to the HP: you visit 6 times in one day? You must re-select the "activity" items each time, if you want any at all displayed. And in my system, the overall space for the display does not contract with removal of items; I get a big mostly blank box obscuring the other Home Page items.

    B) There is no way to set what "activity" you want to be notified of for a given Tree. On each Individual page if you click on "Member Connect" tab you can un-check the "Activity" items you want displayed in the list of Trees that have entries for that individual. That de-selection 'sticks' exactly as long as you have the MemberConnect tab open that time in that visit to that individual's page-group. If you go to another view of that individual and then return to the MemberConnect tab you have to do the de-select all over again.

    There are a number of outright malfunctions that seem to occur when servers are busy, but the above clickiness is unrelated to that little issue.

    The Enhanced View has prompted many complaints about inabiity to sufficiently enlarge the document images, inability to print them in readable size or at all, and inability even to view some kinds of images. Clearly insufficient pre-implementation testing was done.

    There have been some acknowledgments by a couple of Project Managers that the several software revisions in recent months should have had longer and more varied beta-testing. This is said, but clearly not put into action to date.

    On the plus side, however, it should be noted that has been notably much more responsive to customer complaints and sugggestions regarding usabiity of new formatting, in the past 9 months.

    If only, just once, new code would actually work right the first time around . . . .


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