Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Comments on FamilySearch: Past, Present and Future

A recent FamilySearch blog post entitled, "FamilySearch: Past, Present and Future," reported on a presentation done by Brian Edwards of FamilySearch at the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History and Genealogy Conference on July 26-29, 2016. Most of the post centered on the "personalized homepage" that appeared some time ago as an option to users of the website. Here is an example from my own page:

This custom-generated homepage focuses on research hint opportunities, educational and inspirational ideas and recently added content. The post also mentions recent updates to the FamilySearch apps for iOS and Android products.

The post goes on to mention Family Discovery Centers. Here is a quote from the post.
The Family Discovery Center located in the Joseph Smith Building on Temple Square has been so popular that it is expanding to other venues—the bottom floor of the Family History Library is being remodeled to create a similar center to provide engaging and interactive experiences to youth and those who are dabbling in, interested in, or slightly curious about their family tree, time periods of their ancestors. People can also learn about new opportunities to contribute to family history work. Smaller discovery units will be placed in various family history centers around the world, and a mobile version is being packaged to take to stake centers for activities.
There has been some discussion recently about the future of the existing Family History Centers. It is interesting to learn that the Family Discovery Center concept is being expanded not only into existing Family History Centers, but also in a "mobile" version that could be used at Stake Family Discovery Days and other conferences and activities. My question is whether or not activity at the existing Family Discovery Centers has been connected to an increase in family history activity overall or even to increased activity at the Family History Center locations where they are now being used? Just a question from the perspective of having recent conversations about the difficulties faced by the existing Family History Centers.

The last part of the post is directed at "Future FamilySearch Innovations." Here are the upcoming innovations with my comments.

FamilySearch is working on a more user-friendly portal to provide step-by-step instructions to assist researchers in finding names for temple ordinances and extending their family trees.

In light of the interest in The Family History Guide and its success in helping people get started and continuing in family history, I would suppose that the need for this type of instruction would become even more apparent. Presently, the website does not provide this kind of entry level assistance in any meaningful way and any improvement in helping people start to do research rather than simply harvest available opportunities would be greatly appreciated.

Tree Buds is a new feature that will reveal problems in Family Trees so families can sort through and help correct data.

This is another area where existing apps such as are so useful and needed. Perhaps rather than develop new features for the Family Tree by copying existing apps and programs, FamilySearch could help the developers of these third party programs to become more available and used by the Family Tree users. 

The FamilySearch website in enhancing the fan chart feature by creating color-coded fan charts by date of birth and place of birth as a guide for users’ research. It will be similar to the Grandma’s Pie app created by BYU Students.

Here the intent to incorporate an existing app is stated. If the app is free and available online like Grandma's Pie, why add those features to the Family Tree. Doesn't this act as a disincentive to the developers of these programs?

The Hints feature on the Family Tree app is becoming more and more precise. Currently, the app is at about 98 percent accuracy according to Edwards. However, the accuracy depends on location, so always check the data before accepting the hints. For example, because of the Scandinavian patronymic naming system, Scandinavian hints are less often correct. International search and hint improvements are underway. Currently, because so much of the information in FamilySearch is for North America and England, most of the hints are for those places.

This statement confirms my own observations of the value of the Record Hints feature which, by the way, I find extremely valuable. This is not a feature available from a third-party app, however, there are several apps and programs that incorporate these hints in innovative ways. I think the concept is a good idea but I also think that FamilySearch needs to be more aware of the damage they might do by undermining a third-party program. 

FamilySearch is also developing methods for attaching unindexed images to the Family Tree app.

This feature is already present and I have written about it previously.

They are also working on more efficient ways for multiple people to work on the same line of ancestors so people can more easily collaborate. “New ways are coming for people to form communities for sharing and collaboration—bit by bit and piece by piece,” Edwards said.

I would very much welcome any innovations that improved our ability to collaborate. This is a really good objective. 

More efficient search methods are also being developed for searches all across the FamilySearch website. Badges at the top of the person pages already show links of the person to sites as the Mormon Pioneer Overland Trail, Mormon Battalion, Pearl Harbor, etc.

Any improvement in the search capabilities of the program would be also appreciated. This is probably the biggest challenge mentioned.

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