31 July 2008

Ancesty.com's New Search Webinar

Last night, ancestry.com held a webinar for their new search. They announced this webinar back on 18 July. Although skeptical, I signed up. In my opinion, which I commented on the blogged announcement, 

"Not *trying* to be negative here, but my initial thought is: why do I need a webinar to learn how to use a site that I’ve used for 5+ years? Although it’s always nice to learn new search hints, I’m concerned that perhaps this new search requires too much work.
I think the key problem here is that a transition from an old to new search should be relatively seamless - and this change is not.
But, I’ve signed up for the webinar to see what you guys have to say."

After participating in the hourlong webinar last night, I have a few thoughts.
  1. This was advertised as for "intermediate and advanced researchers." The actual webinar actually seemed to be geared more toward new researchers or, a least, those who had never used the new search (which based on a poll taken during the webinar was about 40% of participants). The webinar took participants through walkthroughs of the new search and explained such exciting things as how to change the font size (heavy sarcasm). They honestly did not go over anything that anyone might learn from a day or two of exploring.
  2. They didn't address any major issues. They noted two "myths" - that they new search and new home page were connected, and that ancestry isn't listening. That's it! They really didn't go much more in depth about the issues raised by their paying customers.
  3. During the web walkthrough, when we were shown example searches, the "most relevant" results that Hulet got seemed to be mainly from his own family tree. Then he had 500,000+ results. This is a major concern brought up by researchers that he really didn't address. Just, "ok, change up your search criteria."
  4. OK, why should I have to keep changing my search criteria. Why should I have to take out the death date in order to get results from databases that don't include the death date (ie census, births, military, etc). Why can't the search just ignore this data if it doesn't apply to that database? The "old" search didn't have this problem. And, though I submitted this question, it was not answered.
  5. And that brings us to the Q&A portion of the webinar. Very weak. Most of the questions were downright easy. Does the new search use soundex, can we still use wildcards, should I put 'born in USA'... The didn't answer any of the in depth questions that have people upset.
  6. One question that was asked, and that I think is very telling (going back to points 4 & 5) was when library editions would be able to access the new search. Hulet responded that, because librarians have to field so many questions about ancestry and how to use it, that ancestry wants to wait to roll out to libraries until they have the new search at a "good point." In other words, until people can use the new search successfully. So, why are they pushing the new search on us when it is not at a "good point?" Why do we have to suffer
So, all in all - the webinar was not effective or useful in any way. They had a survey at the end and I pretty much told them that. I also left a comment on their blog that I would love to see an extended Q&A answer report posted on the blog. Maybe then they could answer some more helpful questions.

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