Kendall Hulet is Ancestry.com’s senior vice president of product management. He spoke at a Saturday luncheon titled “Things to Look Forward to on Ancestry in 2016.” And to be clear, he was not the elephant in the room. Whoever wrote that headline was… But I digress.
Kendall told us a little about the work he’s done at Ancestry. I (the Insider) was working at Ancestry when they decided to move their strategy away from One World Tree to the present way of doing things: independent trees for each user. I thought it was a big mistake and sat down with Kendall to tell him so. He assured me that he had talked to a lot of genealogists and discovered that they didn’t want to share one tree with other people. He was confident in his decision. I was not. History has proven him to be correct.
At the luncheon Kendall shared a few observations that led to the decision. The first thing he observed is that users would search for the same ancestor over and over, looking for new content. The second thing he noticed is that new users always started by searching for themselves. “That didn’t work out so great,” Kendall said. “We specialize in dead people.” The last thing he saw is that the more information users added to the Ancestry relevance ranked search engine, the better their results.
With Ancestry member trees, the first thing you enter is yourself, which caters to that customer behavior. He added the Shaky Leaf feature so users would not need to search over and over. Users would be notified when new content was added. (If I recall correctly, notification was first rendered as popup toast. Fortunately, that imagery didn’t survive.)
Kendall addressed the New Ancestry Experience. “We rolled this out after receiving lots of customer feedback,” he said. When releasing new products they get lots of user feedback along the way to guide the product. They perform alpha and beta testing. New Ancestry was a two year project. Most customers are happy with the results, although some customers are not. The intention was to allow people to better tell their families’ stories, to make their source citations better, to make the gallery easier to use, and to simplify the user experience.
Ancestry is still trying to address the concerns dissatisfied people have with New Ancestry. There used to be a continue search button and users really want it back. Ancestry has or will soon do so. People have complained about the depressing colors. “We’re rolling out themes, where you will be able to pick your own color scheme to personalize your tree experience so that it will work for you,” he said. (That brought lots of applause.) They are adding the ability to pick standardized dates and places when you enter them. They are adding drag-and-drop support for uploading media. “We’re going to continue to make improvements and we’re still listening to feedback,” Kendall said. “We’re not done.”
Kendall said there’s “another elephant in the room: Family Tree Maker.” When they announced the discontinuation of Family Tree Maker at the end of 2016 “a lot of people felt like they had just lost a good friend,” he said. It was a tough decision, and one that generated a huge response. He received 10,000 comments on the announcement, which spurred the negotiations that were occurring in the background. Just a couple of days before RootsTech, Ancestry announced partnerships with Software MacKiev and RootsMagic. (See http://www.ancestryinsider.org/2016/02/family-tree-maker-to-live-on.html “Family Tree Maker to Live On” on my blog.) Software MacKiev will continue to produce and sell Family Tree Maker. “That best friend that you thought you might have lost will still be with you,” Kendall said. And in addition to Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic will be able to
- integrate with the Ancestry API (although they are going to change how that works, a little bit)
- sync your desktop tree with your Ancestry tree
- search Ancestry content and view Ancestry hints
(I was glad to see Ancestry open up their API to another desktop product. FamilySearch has held the competitive advantage there with dozens and dozens of partners. Come to think of it, date and place standardization has also been a FamilySearch advantage, as well as drag-and-drop media upload and a more sophisticated gallery. I like having two players in competition. It’s improving the user experience on both.)
Stay tuned for information about Germany, new records, mobile apps, better hints, DNA, and New Ancestry.