Monday, February 6, 2012

FamilySearch Watch Feature

I recently experimented with the FamilySearch watch feature of Family Tree (and legacy new.FamilySearch). You can indicate which people in your tree you wish to watch. Then each week you receive an e-mail detailing the changes. Here’s an example of the e-mail.

FamilySearch Family Tree notification e-mail

On the positive side, you aren’t spammed with an email for every change, each time a change occurs. On the negative side, you aren’t informed of changes until they are a week old.

I continue to be amazed at FamilySearch’s tenacity in ignoring its users needs and feedback. With genealogy’s appeal to an older audience, it defies logic that FamilySearch continues to use a low contrast user interface. Light gray on white? Dark grey on light gray? Genealogy is hard enough. Why make it difficult to read the screen?

The premise behind watch is more powerful. This feature is another in a series making the FamilySearch Tree—a common pedigree of all mankind—more wiki-like. I’ve written before about Ron Tanner’s presentations on the subject. Like Wikipedia, the idea is to let anyone add to or fix anything. Most people I talk to don’t believe the concept will work. I happen to be one that hopes it will.

Change notifications and discussions are key features. The wiki philosophy is that someone who wants to make a change sticks their neck out and does so. Other interested parties get the change notification and they revert the change and begin a discussion. The parties of interest discuss the change and come to a mutually agreeable decision. Then one of them makes the change.

This works well for a neutral-point-of-view encyclopedia, as both sides of an issue are appropriate for inclusion in an encyclopedia entry. But it may not work so well for the FamilySearch tree. The tree designers have designated some facts as having a primary value and alternative values. They think that there is always one best, right answer that genealogists can decide upon. That’s pretty naïve.

That brings us back to gray on gray text. FamilySearch’s tenacity in ignoring its users will spell certain failure for a wiki-type common pedigree.


  1. This Change feature is definitely interesting. But I do have to agree that I avoid FS simply because it is so difficult to read. There is lots of research out there on the "correct" contrast for ease of reading webpages... who was the idiot who ignored all that helpful information and went with what he/she thought was 'restful' or whatever!? Fire them, and everyone who went along with the decision - amazingly foolish decision.

  2. About 3 months ago I was so frustrated by difficulties in reading and driving that I went to my optician and had a sight test. The result? Cataracts. But not such serious cataracts that they would advise an operation now, or think it worthwhile to give me a new glasses prescription. I live in the UK and am a pensioner so the cost factor of all this is different than if I lived in the States.

    However, I am beginning to wonder how long I will be able to do online genealogy. It isn't just FamilySearch but so many other websites who use grey type of all shades and 8-point Arial to go with it.

    If I have to bow out of my project before it's finished, you know the reason why.


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