Fooey! Per their e-mail to me today (see below), I am one of only 2% of their subscribers using the "old search" and they are going to discontinue it in about six months.
I primarily use Ancestry in a somewhat different way than most folks - As editor of the "Maverick" column of the Token and Medal Society, I assist members of our organization in the attribution of trade tokens that do not show on them the city and state where they were used. As an example, see eBay item 111105958281 which just has the name, "W. M. Pashons" One clue I have is that the seller is in Indiana, but even that is a starting point. From experience, I can guesstimate the piece dates from say 1910 to 1935. With the old search, I can search for "Pashon*" and get the summary of records, and use my best guess to check the 1920 Census first and look at 44 records before moving on to my second guess, etc. With the new search, I get a list of 1425 possibilities, starting with the latest first. I can either refine my search to look at 1920 first, or wade through pages of meaningless results.
Call me "stuck in the mud", but I see this "improvement" as just another example of fixing things that aren't broken.
President - Token and Medal Society
Ancestry.com’s email to John Mutch:
Ancestry.com is continuing our efforts to improve the search experience across Ancestry.com and will be making changes to our search functionality in the upcoming months. Some features will be added and some will be discontinued. As part of the 2% of our subscribers that use the old search function on the site, we know that you are passionate about the search experience on Ancestry.com and we are reaching out to you to get input on potential improvements. We hope you will take the opportunity to share your insights and feedback on our plans.
To identify which areas of the experience we should focus on this year, we have drawn on customer input, usage data, usage patterns and our old search function for inspiration. From all of that, we are looking at making your time on Ancestry.com more productive by improving these areas of the search experience in 2013:
- More relevant search results with the best results at the top
- Easier refining and control of your search results
- Keeping a better history of the work you have done
- Publishing more new content and more corrections to existing content
- Performance improvements to return results faster
As we begin to make these improvements, we will no longer maintain two separate search systems for the site. Maintaining two systems limits the resources we can use to make improvements and increases the complexity of every improvement we try to make. Additionally, continuing to maintain the two systems limits our ability to direct more investment into other areas like adding more record collections and correcting existing collections.Based on that, as a part of the work this year we will be bringing together the two search experiences into a single search experience on Ancestry.com. We hope to bring forward the best features of both the old and new search systems into the consolidated experience to facilitate the transition for our users and to improve the overall search experience. We expect to discontinue the old search function as a separate experience within the next 6 months.As a user of the old search feature, we wanted to give you advance notice and let you influence the changes we are making in search. Please take this survey to share your feedback and ideas on key features to improve.
The Ancestry.com Product Team
I certainly understand your pain. Anytime Ancestry.com (or FamilySearch or some other company) redoes a product from the ground up, they always mess up. What we have today as “old search” is already wanting of what the real old search used to be.
Let me give one example. Before Ancestry.com introduced relevance-ranked results one could click the search button without entering anything in the search form. The search engine dutifully did its thing, and as old search does, listed the number of results in each category and in each record collection. This was a great coverage tool. One could immediately see that (for a hypothetical example), Cook County Marriages looked too low to cover the entire population. When Ancestry.com switched to relevance-ranked results, some well meaning engineer or manager stopped that, giving an error message when searching on an empty form. Perhaps it was necessary to prevent the engine from comparing many billions of records with nothing. Or perhaps they thought they were being helpful. Either way, functionality was forever lost.
Let me give another example. Just as it does today, the real old search allowed the user to specify the number of results. If you selected 20, then the end of the URL showed “hc=20”, or whatever other number selected. There are several workflows where a researcher might want to examine 1,000 results at one time. With the real old search, you could change 20 to 1000 and the search engine would do what you asked it to. Today, it doesn’t. Picking a a FAN club out of results might take copy and paste of 20 pages.
John, the bad news in this situation is obvious. But I don’t want to be a Debbie-downer. There is good news as well. I’ve decided to make this “Ancestry.com S.O.S. Week here at the offices of the Ancestry Insider to delve further into the issue.
The Ancestry Insider
P.S. My apologies to anyone actually named Debbie Downer. I don’t mean to offend. Oh, and you have my sympathies as well.
Tomorrow: Ancestry.com’s responds to John.