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Friday, June 18, 2010

Random thoughts on FamilySearch

For the past couple of years, I have been closely following developments made by FamilySearch to a variety of online products, including New FamilySearch, FamilySearch.org, the FamilySearch Wiki and several other websites. For most of that time, FamilySearch has facilitated the observations by making semi-public announcements about its intentions and by posting explanations of changes on its websites. Most recently, that whole system of announcements seems to have disappeared. Here are a few examples:

FamilySearch Record Search aka Record Search Pilot. Since its introduction, new collections and major updates have been announced on the start-up page. However, most recently no announcements have been made of changes at all. If you go to the site today, you will see the simplified search fields and little else. Clicking on an advanced search adds a few more fields but there is nothing telling a user what, if anything, you are searching. If you go to "Search or Browse our record collections" (which is redundant because all you have on the start-up page are search fields) you get a world map and a field that says (as of 18 June 2010) "All Regions (428)." Again, there is nothing to tell you what, if anything, you are searching except a vague statement that you can search millions of indexed records. Finally, if you click on "Browse Collections" you get a list of the collections with red asterisks marking new or updated collections. The first red marker is for "Nova Scotia Antigonish Catholic Diocese 1823-1905." Further clicking shows that the last update was 20 May 2010 almost a month ago. The next red marker is for the Mexico Census of 1930 which was updated yesterday on the 17th of June, 2010 and is now 62% complete. In this case, the description of the records is more informative. Continuing onward, the next red marker is for New Hampshire Death Records, 1654 - 1947 last updated on 10 June 2010.  So, new may mean new, or it may mean relatively new or whatever. If the records show a percentage of completion, that must indicate that some records are missing, but if there is nothing about the level of completion, are we all to assume that the collection is complete?

Moving on to the Family History Archives. This is a collection of digitized published genealogy and family history books. Until somewhat recently, there was a tag line on the start-up page that told how many items were online. As of 18 June 2010, the tag line said, "There are 17751 items in this online collection." Only one problem, this number is much lower that it was in the past and it hasn't changed for about a month or more now. Are they still adding material to the collection? Did they remove a significant number of books and other items? At the bottom of the page it says "Last Modified 06/18/10" so it looks like someone is working, but there is no way to see what has been added.

FamilySearch.org. The start-up page has very few changes. But, if you know, you can look at the Beta site of what FamilySearch.org may look like in the future. Of course, there is nothing on the main FamilySearch.org page telling you that there is a Beta. If you go to the Beta site, you will see another simple page (simple is good, maybe) but nothing telling you anything about the Beta test or even acknowledging what it is a beta test for. Clicking on the Blog link takes you to a number of articles, the last one concerning FamilySearch Indexing on 7 June 2010. Nothing about the Beta site, nothing about why there is a Beta site. In this case, we have a few broadcast E-mails and such to let us know a little about the two websites, but there is almost nothing you could glean from looking at the sites themselves.

We have the same lack of overall information in the FamilySearch Wiki site, and all of the other websites. To the new user and to anyone not watching the pages regularly, these sites would never give anyone the idea that new material was regularly being added. How about a link to "What's New at FamilySearch" on every one of these sites, so that we all know to check back. I realize how hard it is to predict when a software change will be ready in the future, but public relations might be improved if a new user who goes to the Beta site for example, was told that it might replace the old FamilySearch.org website. Or not. Or whatever. When I go to the Record Search site for example, and I see a red marker for new information and find out that it really hasn't changed for a month or more, I might get discouraged and stop looking at the site for new records. By the way, it is my impression that Family History Center volunteers and missionaries in my classes ever check these sites regularly, because they think they know what is already there.

How about some accurate news or communication. Another parting example, the FamilySearch Indexing start-up page says, "The key life events of billions of people are being preserved and shared through the efforts of people like you. Using our online indexing system, volunteers from around the world are able to quickly and easily transcribe the records—all from the convenience of their homes. The indexes are then posted for FREE at familysearch.org." But guess what, THERE IS NOTHING ON EITHER THE FAMILYSEARCH.ORG START-UP PAGE (OR THE BETA) THAT ACKNOWLEDGES WHERE THOSE RECORDS ARE! If you happen to go to Search Records and if you just happen to know that the records are going to Record Search Pilot, then you can find the records, but otherwise, there is nothing telling anybody where the Indexing records are actually going.

I would be glad to help with these challenges and I am sure there are a lot of other people who could help also.

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