Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Incremental Improvement of the New Ancestry.com Website

The Ancestry Insider at Niagra Falls
Software used to be developed using a waterfall process.

Software is now developed iteratively and incrementally.
Whirlpool image: Wikipedia
Ancestry.com launched its new website design in an unfinished state. I suppose this was a calculated move. Gone are the days of “waterfall model” development where the entire website is conceived before coding begins and released only when entirely finished. Today, software is developed using iterative and incremental development. This is why you regularly see websites and features not quite finished. Examples are Ancestry’s “new search,” the old incarnation of Ancestry Member Trees, the Ancestry mobile app, the New FamilySearch (NFS) Tree, FamilySearch RecordSearch, and more recently, the AncestryDNA website, the Ancestry Findagrave app, FamilySearch Family Tree, FamilySearch historical records search, FamilySearch mobile apps, and, now, the New Ancestry website.

Users overtly hate and unperceptively love iterative development. Iterative development allows a company to give you that long requested Xyzzy widget as soon as it is developed enough that it gives you value, not when it is flawless. Users use it and react. “Here’s what I like; here’s what I don’t like.” If it is valuable enough, they continue using it despite its flaws. It gets better over time. It gets improvements. It gets polished. But It also moves around, changes color, and morphs in sometimes unexpected ways. That confuses users, makes it difficult to find, and forces teachers, like me, to constantly redo our slides.

But we love—or at least value and hate—these unfinished websites or features enough to continue to use them while simultaneously complaining.

Well, that is not always true for every user in every case.

Such is the New Ancestry Website. When I announced its release in June 2015, several readers saw fit to comment. While there were a few “just don’t like it” comments, I was proud of y’all. There were lots of actionable observations, explicit items you didn’t like, like tree background color, printing family group reports, display of age on timeline, thumbnails and links to media, web links, and problems with comments.

Almost immediately after releasing the new Ancestry website, Ancestry said they were “still working on a few final missing features, as well as making continued improvements to new features based on your feedback.” Sound like incremental development? In that post they listed features and fixes they were working on. As they’ve finished the bulleted items, they have posted completion status. See “New Ancestry: Feature Update” on the Ancestry blog.

Armed with your specific comments, Ancestry has fixed many of the problems you posted here. See “The New Ancestry: July 15th Feature Update” and “The New Ancestry: July 22nd Feature Update” on the Ancestry blog.

Get specific feedback to Ancestry. They will aggregate your opinions and act accordingly, incrementally, and iteratively. That is the nature of incremental development processes.


  1. Except we are paying for a working website, not a beta. Not like it's free. The timeline story they attach to our timelines are terrible. We tell our own story in own research, not the Mickey Mouse story that Ancestry wants to attach. They are sticking with circles for photos which not only cuts off heads, but in the case of a posted headstone instead of a portrait, it just diesn't work. In addition in the past we could attach media items directly to our timelines; An important feature lost I am afraid.

    1. So give them your feedback directly in a constructive way

    2. I have many times...they delete posts that don't support their new version. I have phoned, I have emailed...they simply don't care what their subscribers think.

  2. Did Ancestry write this review? Or did they pay you to write it? This is so biased in their favor that those are the only possibilities I can see for writing this. Customer have been submitting constructive feed back, as Ms.Lewis calls it, for weeks. Examples, details, snapshots of the issues have been provided. Most of them are not listed in their sorry blog, and almost none of them have been corrected. You are out of touch. Here is some additional information: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/600/803/575/save-ancestrycom-classic/.

  3. I wonder how many employees can get away with the excuse that they are using iterative and incremental development for their their incomplete work. They should pay us for being their Guinea pigs.

  4. Too late, ancestry. I rarely visit your web site any more. Amazing discovery I made: I can live without ancestry!

  5. I've liked the new website since its release. Didn't think I would. And I have continued to see improvements. I haven't seen one thing I asked for, Military pages, but I'm hopeful something along those lines returns. Other than that, good job Ancestry with the new design. It appears to have been created to make us better researchers and better assessors of our work so far.

  6. I have to be absolutely honest. I've gotten so tired of paying out good money for a product/website that doesn't work properly. I don't care what the explanation is for it not working. I've been waiting for THREE years for the to fix it and it only gets worse. But being a professional genealogist, unfortunately Ancestry is one of those Damned if you do, Damned if you don't type of things. But I will say this....I am removing every tree I've built on their site (and that's over 200 of them!) because of the continued reports of how they are SELLING the online trees to third parties. And I am SO glad I did not do my DNA testing through them because they have sold that information as well.

    But Ancestry better watch out.....there are many alternatives to them that have entered the race and many of them are FREE to use. It's almost to the point where you can find just about everything you have to pay Ancestry for on free sites.

  7. I could manage with the new version, but the two pieces that I use regularly, Member Connect and Family Group Sheet, are apparently a low priority. I don't even use the pieces that they are working on.

  8. Unfortunately --not many positive comments. But that is normal. Those who like software changes tend to not be as vocal. It's one thing to tamper with look and feel but when it is functionality - it is painful to be a user in this iterative mode.

  9. I have been a member of Ancestry.com since 1998, and the new Ancestry just blows! I hate it! I absolutely loathe it.


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