Friday, June 7, 2013

Ancestry.com Revisiting Search

Ancestry.com is refocusing and reinvesting in the search experienceAncestry.com is refocusing and reinvesting in the search experience, said Katharine Nester, director of product, and Dave Menninger, UX lead designer. Ancestry.com held private briefings with bloggers earlier this week to unveil several new search concepts. These concepts are still under investigation. Some might never see the light of day. Others might be changed from what we were shown, so we were asked not to show screen shots.

For several years investment has been elsewhere: providing hints (shaky leaves), a new image viewer, and the 1940 census. Now Ancestry.com is investing again in the search experience because of the big impact it has on customer satisfaction.

Part of that investment goes behind the scenes, changing infrastructure, improving performance, maintaining browser compatibility, and automating some steps in the publication process. Part of the investment will make a direct impact on users’ search experience.

Better Use of Context

“Our results do not take into account records a user has already found or reviewed,” Nester said. Ancestry.com can make better use of user context. With 86% of subscribers having a member tree and at least 50% of searches specifying a person in the tree, the tree can be used to provide context and to capture context about the search for an ancestor.

The search engine (system) already indicates what records in the search results you have already attached to that person. Many times a person is expected to appear in a collection only once. So if a result from, say, the 1940 census is already attached to the person in the tree, the search engine could be told to ignore that collection.

Today users can review a search result and say “yes” that is my guy by attaching the record to their tree. Tomorrow users may be able to say yes, no, or maybe. A user would specify that a record is not a match for a person in their tree so that they were never shown that record again. (There would be some mechanism to see them, just not in the regular search results). If a record might be a match, they could stick it in a shoebox specific to that person.

Ancestry.com is looking at better ways to facilitate comparison of the information in the record and the information in the tree. Today minimal information from the tree is shown in a box above the top of the search results. Tomorrow a fuller set of information might be shown side-by-side. Tomorrow a map might show the location indicated in the record versus other locations where the person was known to exist.

Refining Search Results

Ancestry.com is considering several ways of filtering the number of search results, at the same time revealing the power of the match options currently available for each field on the advanced search page (like Soundex, exact match, adjacent county, and so forth).

The Google Maps magnification sliderOne concept is to use sliders (like the Google Maps slider shown to the right). A slider would be provided for each search parameter, like first name, last name, location, and date. Zooming in would correspond to narrowing the number of results.

Location might zoom from match on anywhere within the country, to states and adjacent states, to specified state, to county and adjacent counties, to county, or finally to exactly specified location. Date would narrow the range of matching years. Names might range from loose match including initials, to Soundex/phonetic matches, to exact match.

Filtering might be provided for life stages. Users might select to show results corresponding to

  • All results
  • Hints
  • Records for the person as a married adult
  • as a single adult
  • as a child
  • as an immigrant
  • related to military
  • or in a specific collection.

Category filters on Ancestry.comFilters (called facets) might be provided that work a lot like online retail websites. Instead of filtering by price, manufacturer, and TV size, users would filter by location, date, and record category. Next to each facet is a number indicating the number of results in that facet. The category facet looks just like the category list today (shown to the right), except that a checkbox would be in front of each category. Users could select one or more categories, or drop out one or more, like the ever ubiquitous census results.

Time Frame

Ancestry.com indicated there was no set timeframe for the release of these features. Some, the handling of attached records, could be released in the next month or two. Others could be released throughout the year. And some may not be released at all.

5 comments:

  1. The reason I use ancestry.com is for the documents. GO! ancestry.com! Don't get sidetracked with making us all belong on the same tree. Anyone can make a list of people. I want to know about the individuals who became my ancestors.

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  2. I like the potential option to filter by life stage - that will be very useful. (For immigrants, the location "slider" could include multi-national regions or a whole continent).
    However, hiding results rejected by previous searches needs to be reviewed carefully. I've found myself revisiting many records, either because other information has shown it is a match after all, or because I am now looking for another person with the same name who does match that record.

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  3. bgwiehle, I won't use that option unless I am absolutely positively beyond a shadow of a doubt certain that person is not mine. Too often when picking up a pile of knocked over papers I've found a really good clue that didn't look helpful when I found it but now that I know more, is the right family. It's a good thing my body isn't able to kick my own behind!

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    1. I really liked Ancestry.com, but cancelled my subscription because they are just too expensive. I found other geneaology websites that are constantly upgrading and are becoming almost as good as Ancestry and cost far less than Ancestry. Their searches include all of the US census', Canadien census', United Kingdom' census', all birth, marriage and death records for all the above, and newspaper articles! I do prefer Ancestry.com but I wish they would lowere their price. I can't afford $39.00 a month anymore. I'm on a fixed income. Please Ancestry.com consider dropping your price? I'm sure you have so many customers, you could afford to do it!

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  4. Tealover, Amen! What are you using now? When I first started I used familysearch but now they link to ancestry and fold3, both pay per view. I need to see the document or at least get enough information from what's shown to know if I have the right person. I can not afford to pay everywhere! None of the "free trial" sites I've used have information on my brick walls so no point in paying there. I decided to leave my tree at ancestry, share information with a paid up cousin, and just wait a year or two before I pay again to see if anything else turns up for the people I can't find. I should take a class in beginning German while I wait! In the meantime if there is a promising shaking leaf I can check it out through her. It has forced me to research the same way I started; on line books, state web sites, GENWEB, and those sorts of places. Every now and then I find a clue. Very time consuming but free and I have more time than money. Once in a great while the message boards will produce something. Ancestry.com has some really good specials pretty often. That's what I use when I have a subscription.

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