Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ancestry.com Old Search vs. New Search Update

Ancestry.com continues to impress me and frustrate me. As an Ancestry.com user, I really appreciate the available databases, the search algorithms, and the communication efforts of Ancestry.com staff. I just wish that there would be more consistency with the Search tables and help functions.

At the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Little Rock, the Ancestry.com team said that they want one search experience, but that they are not satisfied with the New Search screen yet, and will work with it some more, and that about 70% of searches are done in New Search now (paraphrased in my notes here).

Experienced users of Ancestry.com understand that there are four available Search screens from the Home Page at http://www.ancestry.com/:

1) "Old" Search -- basic search (from Home Page, has Exact Match check box)):




2) "Old" Search - advanced search (link from Home Page, has Exact Match check boxes):



3) "New" Search - Basic Search (from Home Page, has no Exact Match check box):


4) "New" Search - Advanced Search (link from home page, has Exact Match check boxes):


Shouldn't all of the available Search tables have a check box for Exact Matches? No wonder users of "New" Search are often confused (believe me, when I help my society colleagues, they are really confused sometimes! They are using New Search because it is the default when they log in to Ancestry.com, and they have no clue as to how to change it, or even that there is an "Old" Search).

There is a link to "Advanced Search" on the "Old" Search Home Page down in the right-hand corner of the Search table.

In "New" Search from the Home Page, the Basic Search table says "Advanced" in the upper right-hand corner, but it isn't the Advanced Search table. If you click on the "Advanced" link, then you get the "New" Search Advanced Search table, which includes the "Match all Terms Exactly"check boxes for each item.

The "Old" Search table has a link for "Search Tips" that produces a page with four line items (you have to click on each item to see the content):

Here is a screen shot of the top part of these Search Tips:


However, the "New" Search tables on the Home Page do not provide a link for these "Search Tips." Shouldn't these Search Tips be offered on the Home Page Search table for "New" Search users?

I continue to be frustrated by "New" Search every time I try it. It just seems like it is more "work" than "Old" Search, probably because I always use Exact Matches for my searches (and have to click to "Advanced Search" to use it). I much prefer having the current Search table at the bottom of the Search Matches page in "Old" Search, although the "Hot Key" feature in "New" Search provides an equivalent capability (but my guess is that only a few users actually know about it).

Perhaps my frustration above stems from using the Ancestry.com Home Page (http://www.ancestry.com/) when I go to the web site. Using the "Search" tab in Ancestry.com (http://search.ancestry.com/search/) provides a somewhat different presentation of the Search table, including a "Learning Resources" box on the right of the screen. There is a link for "Show Advanced" on the Basic Search box to go to the Advanced Search box, and "Hide Advanced" on the Advanced Search box. There are also links to "Old Search" and "New Search" on these pages, which are helpful.

How many users click on the "Search" tab when they go into Ancestry.com? Why should they? There is a Search field right on the Home Page screen (assuming that the user has customized their home page to put it at the top - I have, because it's what I want to use first on Ancestry.com).

My recommendations for Ancestry.com (not requested, but offered freely here!) are:

* Make the Search Tables on the Home Page and Search tab similar
* Include an "Exact Matches only" check box on all Search Tables
* Put "Old Search" and "New Search" links on all Search Table pages
* Add the "Search Tips" link to all Search Table pages.

Along these lines, I noted that there will be a Webinar on 14 October for Best Strategies for Searching Ancestry.com on Ancestry.com.

Full disclosure: I am not an employee, contractor or affiliate of Ancestry.com. I am a paid subscriber with a U.S. Deluxe subscription.

5 comments:

gtownma said...

Currently I am using the older version search engine. I am not one for change. I am use to it and know where everything is. I will read other recommendations such as yours and then maybe try the newer versions once they've worked out the kinks. I appreciate your doing the "leg work" on this. Tina

M. Diane Rogers said...

I am using the new search, probably usually from the home page. I still find it frustrating sometimes too and go back to the old - I was wondering how long it would be there - but sounds as if the Ancestry people don't know themselves.
One other thing I'd like to see is a prominent link to the card catalog on all the search forms.

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Geolover said...

Thanks Randy for the new look at the Old and New Search User Interfaces.

I strongly support your suggestions, especially making the link to switch to Old Search available on all search pages.

I use Old Search exclusively. I do not do global searches across the Ancestry platform; rather I search specific databases. I find New Search UI takes too many clicks to get to a specific database, and has too many hidden foibles (such as if you specify a place, and NewSearchUI finds something that matches several other factors in your search parameters, it will exclude the result that does not have a place-field. Hunhhh?). Not to mention the illogical order in which search results are presented, and illogical retrieval of results that is the fault of the many basic indexing methods of the past.

For example, want results regarding State of Delaware? You get databases regarding the Minisink region settlements on the Delaware River (mainly PA and NJ), items on the Lenni-Lenape, the Cumberland River settlements in Tennessee, Ohio land records, pictures of late 19th- to 20th-century NY passenger ships, and myriad other inexplicable 'hits' that may have the first name of the target person.

The core problem is the lack of adequate indexing in many databases (such as key-word rather than surname/firstname). If Ancestry.com were to install a boolean-capable search engine, it would help to exclude the nuttier search-results components.

genealogygal said...

Hi Randy,

Thanks for posting the old vs. new problems. I assume you will tell us more about it on Tuesday at COG in N. county? See you then.