Thursday, February 03, 2011

New FamilySearch

For the last couple of weeks, every time I've gone to look up something on FamilySearch I've been taken to the new site. And almost invariably, after getting the first result from the new site, I scroll down to the bottom of the screen and look for the old version.

Why is that?

The main reason I prefer the old version is that it permits me to download a GEDCOM file of what I find, which can save an awful lot of typing, if the record is one that I was actually looking for.

The second reason is that, for all its faults, the old version was easier to search than the newer one.

On the old one, you could enter a person's name, and the date of an event, which you could specify. If you specified "Birth/Christening" it would find people in the 1881 census of the UK if they were born at roughly the right time. You could narrow it to search in only one country, or in all countries.

The new FamilySearch is far vaguer, and asks for a beginning date and an ending date, without specifying the kind of event. This is too vague, and it's not clear what you should put in the dates - the person's lifespan? Or something narrower? If someone was 50 in the 1851 census, do you specify the dates as 1851, or 1800-1851? If you say 1851, won't you get all the wrong people -- not just people who were around 50 years old, but all people with that name, not matter what their age?

Another problem with it is that it seems to follow the currently fashionable web-design princible of making the screen as difficult to read as possible. Readability must be sacrificed to eyestrain. Use pale grey text on a white background, to make it easy to miss the fact that the text is there at all. FamilySearch is not the only site that has this problem. In one of my WordPress blogs, I'm always editing peoples comments when I want to reply to them. That is because the "Edit" option is legible, but the "Reply" option is only discernible when one peers very closely at the screen.

The advantage of the new FamilySearch is that you can specify not only a country, but a particular place, whether town or province, in the country. This makes it possible to narrow the search, and eliminate some less-likely results, or at least push them down the probability list. But the vagueness of the date/age question seems to undermine this advantage.

Another advantage of the new FamilySearch is that it covers a greater variety of records, but this is vitiated by the fact that there is less that you can do with them when you find them.

I'm all in favour of new and improved versions, but though this one is new, it isn't improved. For every useful new feature added, there is an old useful feature that has been taken away.


Anonymous said...

Compared to my view of the site this reads as a favourable review.

In addition to all the shortcomings mentioned there are a couple of others.

Firstly, as part of the "design" it simply doesn't work with some browsers. Good designers work on the KISS principle. Cool designers try to micro-manage the display and don't care if what they use to do that is browser-specific. The original site was put together by a good designer. The new one is very cool. As a result not only does it have the readability issues you mentioned, it also, on my preferred browser, just doesn't work at all.

Secondly there is little or no traceability in the results. On the old system you could click through the batch and/or film data to see what the source was. Now we're given such meaningless junk as "England-EASy".

And just so we don't really miss the old Gedcom download when the old site is finally withdrawn they've broken it so that an attempt to prepare more than a few records for download provokes an error that you can't get rid of except by closing your browser session completely.

Richard Ball said...

Yes, I too prefer the old version - I hope they don't do away with it eventually - for a start you can specify that you want to search in the IGI only - where you do specify a place and date.

The new site, however, carries images (many not indexed) which are not on the old site. Check out under 'Browse by Location' -> England, Norfolk, parish records, etc.

These are useful, although I understand by hearsay that the Norfolk Record Office is not pleased at their records having been made available without their permission - although you don't always find the same records there every day!!

John Brown said...

While there's a huge number of new records, I find searching to be very problematic and the overall design is confusing.

The old site allows searching by specific datasets, which the new site does not. Astonishingly, I found the trial 'Pilot' site far better and was not pleased when they moved everything to this new permanent site. The way that results are displayed is unhelpful, with no dates or other details shown until you access the record - the old site is much more user friendly in this respect.

Put quite simply, I don't like it.

hummer said...

To temper the challenges, I usually have both sites up and search first on the old, then the new. I have also been known to browse the images only and found a whole family in PEI records. The searches can be tedious, but I have found not as bad as the old method of one frame after another on a film that may not have anything on it from your family.