Friday, July 24, 2015

Advice for As It Evolves reported its quarterly financial results this week. Business is booming. Lots of money poured in with $169.4 million in revenues. Numbers for new users were up 5% over the previous year. The one millionth AncestryDNA test was genotyped.

I'm a fan of the monolithic genealogy provider. Their success means acquisition of new records to research and new users who may be cousins able to help break down my brick walls.

However, as a longtime user of Ancestry - who pays a decent amount to use the site (frankly, more than I pay for any other hobby or recreational activity) - I do have opinions about how it can be a stronger service, particularly as it unveils the "New Ancestry" platform.

It Can Never Go Down
Let's be clear: Ancestry needed an upgrade. The underpinnings of the site were dated and no longer supported the evolution of its many offerings.

Over the past few years, it wasn't uncommon for pages to spool endlessly or for the entire site to go down (don't even get me started on the free access weekends!). Ancestry's Chief Technology Officer acknowledged the "disruptions in service" and said that "current architecture could still use some updates."

I appreciate his honesty (albeit a bit understated). But my response comes from the movie The Social Network that depicted the creation and rise of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg decries an early outage of the site that threatens its reputation:
"Let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we don't crash EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed!"
That mantra was a key to Facebook's success. It was a reliable platform that users could consistently count on to work. Cue their meteoric rise.

As a subscription service, I hold Ancestry to that same mantra simply because I invest more Benjamins in the site than I do Facebook (I invest no Benjamins in Facebook - it's free to me).

The New Ancestry
I'm not opposed to change. I don't subscribe to the adage "If it ain't broke don't fix it." I can roll with a new look and learn to use new features. I'm nimble and have genealogy ninja moves you ain't even seen! (note: I write this from a comfy chair sipping my 2nd cup of coffee - working up to nimble ninja mode)

Of course, I expect that any changes will make my genealogy research experience more efficient and effective. That's why I'm puzzled by some of New Ancestry's tweaks. While there's much to love, I do have a few friendly bits of feedback for the development team, which I'm sure will help mitigate much of the grumpy commentary filling social media.

Facts View
When I use Old Ancestry to research an ancestor, I spend a significant amount of time in the Fact View. It offers a fantastic, clean, simple overview of an ancestor's life. I particularly appreciate the thumbnail images of the documents that evidence that ancestor's life and quickly illustrate research gaps.

New Ancestry has gutted this feature by removing the thumbnails. I can no longer tell at a glance where my research stands for an individual. What documents are missing? Beats me! As a result, I find myself spooling, unsure of how or where to move forward researching ancestors in the new site.

Recently, I've started thinking about alternative platforms that offer me this functionality. It occurred to me that that was probably not what the developers intended and I should share that feedback.

Recommendation: Bring back Fact View's thumbnail images!

Photos and Media
1. Circle profile photos: If a picture is worth a thousand words, why are we only displaying 683 of them? No one takes circle photos. It's a bigger world. Square the circle - let's see the entire photo (and spare me the crop)!'s 683-word profile photos

2. Poor photo quality: Pictures that I upload - especially documents - now look pixelated and blurry. I suspect the file compression technology is working to save bandwidth but at an incredible expense: total lack of readability of my uploads. 

Images that were legible in Old Ancestry are now blurry

Word on the street is that the developers are working on a cropping tool to make the profile images fit the round frames. I worry about what a cropping tool will do to image quality, which is already suffering.

3. Positioning media: For the love, please allow users the ability to position their photos in the order they desire! Trust me, few of us want the ability to position by upload date! A simple drag and drop for photo positioning is what we need. It's not a date or title thing. We're talking about images. It's an aesthetic thing: This picture looks best here...drag...drop. Voila! 

The media library needs to accommodate creativity not sort and filter functionality (is it a photo/media album or an Excel spreadsheet?!).

4. Video and Audio: We must be able to upload all kinds of digital media. There's so much family history that's left out of the experience, including video and audio. Think of the old film reels, VHS tapes, and audio interviews that are missing and not currently supported by the site. How is it that sites like Facebook can so fluidly master video upload and Ancestry seems to still be reinventing the wheel (or ignoring it altogether)? There are lovely models that already exist. Steal smart. Replicate what works. Heck, allow embedding of YouTube videos!

Recommendations: Square profile photos, improve upload image quality, add drag & drop functionality in media library, and allow ability to upload video and audio.

How Many Clicks Does It Take
I've noticed that a lot of go-to links are now buried under more than one click. I thought the interwebs adage was never more than a couple clicks (and not even that many if it can be avoided)?

I find myself having to do a lot more clicking (or touching on my iPad) than I did on the previous site. For example, the View in Family Tree button disappeared from the profile card under a tool box icon. 

The mobile app now requires you to tap the pedigree icon in a person's profile if you want to expand the family tree.

Additional clicks are cumbersome and slow the research process.

Recommendation: Unbury the links! Say no to extra clicks.

I Love You, That's Why I'm Honest
I love Ancestry. I really do. I use it daily and I just hate to see some of these changes hamstring the user experience. 

I share this feedback out of love and in the sincere hope that it's considered in the well-meaning way it's intended. Do you still love me (ahem, my subscription renewal is next month)?

No comments:

Post a Comment