Thursday, 8 May 2014

FindmyPast creates customer participation group

On Saturday 2nd May I took part in an international panel discussion in Ontario concerning social media and its use within family history (it's online at One of the questions asked by John Reid was how we saw the next five years panning out in terms of online developments. I commented on the growing and positive use of DNA and on crowd sourcing, but also made a point that there was one thing that I specifically did not want to see continue as a trend over the next five years - the efforts of many major websites to reinvent themselves without taking their customer base's support with them, and without treating their user base with any form of respect (you'll find it at 21 mins 50 secs in on the recording).

Several vendors and projects in the last couple of years have produced new platforms that seemingly only work half as well as their predecessors, or don't work in any meaningful sense, despite constant assurances at how much 'better' they are, as if the user base is somehow stupid, and as if all it takes is a good bit of patronising to bring us into line to see the inspired ways of suited up management over such sites. There are a whole host of examples on this of sites that have done just that, but most recently, and perhaps most spectacularly, the biggest PR disaster on that front must surely have been the attitude of FindmyPast to its customer base when it launched its new platform - apparent arrogance does not even begin to start covering it. And in return, they well and truly got the backlash they seemingly deserved from that same user base, with customers venting their fury on FindmyPast's own feedback site, and on other forums, including in the comments section of posts I have written on this blog.

FindmyPast is now in humble pie mode. Another apology issued on Saturday by new CEO Annelies van den Belt, has included details of a new user group being created by the company:

I know that as well as being hugely passionate about family history, you, our members are the experts. We really do value your judgment, and we care about your opinion. I am pleased to announce the creation of our ‘customer participation group’ to help us better understand your needs and your ideas for future development. If you would like to be part of this group, to attend future online and offline events, and help us shape the future of findmypast, please sign up by emailing I believe that together, we can continue to improve findmypast and make it the resource you need for your family history journey.

The full apology is available at, and there will now apparently be weekly updates from Annelies van den Belt, which I am sure readers will be looking forward to for more positive developments, but certainly not for any corporate spin. How sincere the intent is within this apology, and how useful the support group will be, will only be known in the weeks and months ahead.

FindmyPast continues to add datasets to its new platform - but if it does not get this right, it may find itself all dressed up with no-one coming to visit. There are other data sites, and whilst we want FindmyPast to succeed, as a user base, many of us no longer wish to be treated like idiots.

UPDATE: I added a suggestion to the new feedback forum last night, to reinstate the proper census citations for the Scottish censuses - it's at if you are as bugged by the appalling citations currently on the site as I am, and want to vote for them to address it!

(With thanks to Peter Calver's latest LostCousins newsletter at


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians. And for those wishing to take Scottish ancestral research a bit further, my next Pharos course, Scotland 1750-1850: Beyond the Old Parish Records, commences May 14th 2014.


  1. Well said, hear hear, I second that, etc etc

  2. the biggest PR disaster on that front must surely have been the attitude of FindmyPast to its customer base when it launched its new platform - apparent arrogance does not even begin to start covering it. THIS is what annoyed me more than the awful, so called new FMP itself. It didn't matter how you contacted FMP - through Help, Facebook page etc. The replies were never 'we are sorry' and you were treated with contempt. My auto renewal is OFF.

  3. Perfect precis of events. I hope they read and digest - then act, fast!
    I had a telephone conversation with Annelies vd Belt and Paul Yates, they listened and agreed with most of my points. They could give me no time frames for when issues will be corrected. Whilst they are rebuilding and tweaking, subscriptions are fast running out. They have given some users, me included, two month extensions and this offer should extend to all who subscribed to the old platform not just those who rattle cages. Two months probably won't be enough though and it no major improvements have been made, I'll be asking for further extensions. It's going to cost them but that's their own fault.

  4. Many thanks for raising this Chris. Not "contraversial" at all, given the subject of the discussion. I still have a month on my FMP subscription and am struggling to squeeze out even the basic information from their "improved" site. Written in Klingon just about sums it up . . .

  5. Excellent article. This summarises exactly what I feel about the whole debacle - we could have ridden out the changes and worked with FMP towards developing a more user-friendly site, BUT, their response to customers' queries and frustration was so appalling and dismissive. I have previously described it as disregard, disrespect, and disdain. It ranged from condescending emails saying that the changes may be hard to understand, to switching off their phone lines, to ignoring (or failing to respond to) customers' submissions on the Feedback Forum of their own website, to banning subscribers from their Facebook pages and lying about doing it.

    I have no doubt that they knew the new site was problematic before it was rolled out, but that they also thought those problems could be "tweaked" or "patched" within a couple of months - hence giving people the 2 month subscription extension. We are now 8 weeks on from the new site being rolled out, and things are still poor. For a simple example, they amended the search boxes on the GRO Births search page. It ended up with a box for When Born, and another for Year of Birth. What sort of understanding/mentality does that and doesn't see the obvious error? And what sort of company does not have the checks and balances in place so that it is picked up BEFORE it goes live? I have found results that come back so poorly laid out that you have no option but to trawl through every one of them to try to find the person you are looking for - no other information shown (although it is in the record and transcription) to help narrow things down. They are doing themselves no favours with a lot of what they are doing, and I do wonder if the system redesign / reprogramming is beyond the capabilities of their existing staff. It is only recently that they advertised for more high-end programmer/developer type posts.

    At present, it appears to be mainly on hold. This new Customer Participation Group is conspicuous by its absence, but tomorrow IS another day, and tomorrow is the day when Annelies van den Belt releases her weekly statement. (The cynic in me wonders how many more weeks this will go on for before they decide to drop it, or it slips to fortnightly.)

  6. Strikes me FindmyPast has become a huge brick wall in itself, plastered over with a daily 100 dosage of frills and furbelows with no-one left traceable upon whom to bestow.