I had the opportunity during RootsTech to sit down with Tim Sullivan, president and CEO of Ancestry. One of the things we discussed was the dichotomy between giving experienced users powerful tools while giving new users an engaging experience. I’ve always felt they compromised the power of core tools by watering them down to suit the new user.
Tim said the passionate genealogist is still the core of their business. DNA is proving to be a phenomenal way to interest new people. While they will give some thought to making core genealogy tools accessible to new users, they are allowing themselves to shift back, improving tools critical to the experienced user. DNA is expanding massively and it is giving them the opportunity and personnel to do some improvements on functionality for the serious genealogist. He mentioned adding intelligent hint prioritization, and “using our big tree to really improve the quality and relevance of hints.”
Tim went on to explain more about their Big Tree. Big Tree is an internal term they use for an effort they’ve been engaged in for many years to stitch together the millions of member trees on Ancestry.com. They are applying machine learning technologies and authority systems and are getting more accurate every day.
“That has always been a little bit of a holy grail, to find that one tree,” Tim said. They are taking a different approach than FamilySearch, but then again, their purposes are different. The Big Tree is not intended to be a product, but something that allows them to develop “some pretty cool capabilities.” One application is their new We’re Related app.
The We’re Related app is a free, entertaining tool for engaging more people in genealogy. “It’s just another way to get a whole new group of people inspired,” Tim said. “What we hope that does is lead them to want to become serious researchers.” The challenge is getting people connected into the Big Tree. Something like 2/3 of people downloading the app are able to connect to the Big Tree, even though they may not have an Ancestry Tree. This is why a Facebook account is instrumental. It helps Ancestry build out living persons and their relationships. The other necessary step is for Ancestry to add famous living persons to the Big Tree and making certain their branches are correct.
We Remember is another product Ancestry is developing to attract a new audience into genealogy. Just announced at RootsTech, We Remember will allow people to create memorial pages for loved ones. Tim said that We Remember is not a replacement for obituaries. But about the time a loved one passes away there is a lot of energy and motivation to memorialize and capture their life. About a year ago they realized there could be a better experience for doing this, so they built one. It is social and it is free. “Our goal is that this be very, very broadly adopted,” Tim said. I was, unfortunately, not able to attend the class where it was introduced, so I don’t have any details. While he didn’t give a release date, he said it would be soon.