Tuesday 27 January 2015

FindmyPast new beta navigation layout

FindmyPast (www.findmypast.co.uk) has announced a new Beta search tool on its site. The full announcement is at http://blog.findmypast.co.uk/2015/your-handy-guide-to-our-new-search-navigation/. The beta search tool for the UK collections is accessible via http://beta.search.findmypast.co.uk/advancedsearch?region=united-kingdom&searchlevel=category&searcharea=records. From what I can see, this is merely a new way to navigate between various collections and regions, rather than any new form of search interface, so it is still reliant on filters and so on.

The company states that "We want to make it easier for you to find your family. Following feedback from our users and in line with our development plans, we’ve redesigned the search pages to make them even easier to navigate. Don’t worry, we haven’t changed any of the pages, just improved the existing search forms and results pages." 

The feedback they refer to follows what was probably one of the biggest PR disasters I've witnessed over the last few years from an online records vendor, when the company launched a new version of its site and then appeared to stick its head in the sand when its users complained that many regularly used functions were now missing or simply did not work at all. Since then, there has been a lot of rowing back to improve what appeared to a site that had been launched far too hastily. The fact that this new interface has been launched in beta mode seems to show evidence of lessons being learned, and kudos to them for that.


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  1. To my eye, at the moment, they seem to have concentrated on what the search pages look like, rather than sorting out some of the more basic problems such as the results' screens and the ability to search using wildcards on place names. I got several months of free subscription extension on the basis that I couldn't use the wildcard search for Place of Birth on the individual Census screens - which I did use quite a lot. (I could have carried on, but didn't feel quite right about it after a while, so re-subscribed on a half price offer.) Instead of there being the full list of every single entry from the Place of Birth field as a Browse option, it appeared that they uploaded a Gazetteer of some sort, which of course only recognises standard spelling. They have reinstated the wildcard search on the 1911 Census, so we can only hope that they do the same on the others.

    The Results screens show some really basic errors in display. At least 4 county names are too long by one letter for the width of the column and wrap the last "e" around onto the next line - just looks sloppy. Also, the columns are supposed to be sortable, but the column headings shown are not all transferred into the Order By field.

    It is to be hoped that they WILL get these things sorted, and soon. They have been brought to their attention on numerous occasions, so they can't plead ignorance.

    It is now almost a full year since the March/April 2014 debacle. At least they are releasing this in Beta - which was their biggest mistake last time in throwing the old search out with no prospect of being able to reinstate it. I do sometimes wonder how much they actually understand about the intricacies of searching and how the records should be catalogued and categorised and sources and the mess of some of the parish records and........ I live in hope though. :)

  2. "At least they are releasing this in Beta" - though that's what they did last time, albeit with a smaller audience. I suspect the reason that the reason the last Beta (or perhaps more accurately, Pilot) failed to find the issues, was that the Pilot audience were so familiar with the final search screens by the end that they failed to understand them in the same way as newbies and similarly just got used to the navigation path to get there. It's rather like a TV audience complaining about mumbling and the sound mixers saying, "Seems alright to us" - yes, that's 'cos you spent months mixing it with a script in front of you, so you already know what they're saying.

    Seems like this time they've got a much wider audience. (FMP, that is, not ITV or BBC!)

    Incidentally, I don't recognise the issue of loading just standard versions of birthplaces in censuses instead of the full list of actual entries. I remember it as being the full list, which is why it was so utterly impractical - do you realise how many variants there were on Liverpool in the 1881? (And most of the weird ones seemed to come from Scottish censuses!) Curious - maybe they were all different!

  3. They don't seem to have published this to fmp account holders.

    I have only just got the hang of the older version and its idiosyncracies. How long will they give us on the beta version. Experience says at least a year to fully test these things eg the National Archives Discovery catalogue version II which is still being sorted out despite user testing beforehand.

    Glad to see they have kept the A-Z as that is the only way you can find databases you are looking for eg India Office Ecclesiastical Returns or Convicts. A good tip though is that where they have used National Archives documents there may be a link direct to that database from the relevant TNA research guide. That has saved me a lot of frustration in the past.

    And good to see we have address search back for the censuses. About time too.

    Source information is still patchy at best.

  4. Chris, I recently mentioned your previous April 2014 post in a blog-post of mine since I'm interested in this general issue with Scottish census references. My view was that findmypast have tried to merge the various countries into a single UK-wide "country" for their searches, despite several criticisms of this on their feedback page. That means they solicit piece/folio/page for *all* census searches. This differs from Ancestry where they at least only solicit them for England & Wales census searches. However, I think you said that even they get it wrong from the point-of-view of citations.

    Have findmypast ever explained what the underlying issue is (I'm assuming there is one rather than it being incompetence)?

  5. They've definitely tried to cram them all into one UK format, which goes to show how little they understand how the United Kingdom works with its different legal bodies and agencies responsible for record gathering. In fact, I noticed on the screengrab on my earlier post on the Scottish census issue that the collection was originally stated as being from 'Great Britain' and not the 'United Kingdom' as it is now - meaning that even that is now more vague, as the former does not include Northern Ireland!

    FindmyPast has never explained what the problem is in correcting this. If I had to guess, I would say they have deleted the original version of their database, which used to have the correct numbering, albeit crammed into wrong headings such as piece, folio etc which do not apply to the Scottish censuses. They've now adopted the version that was originally launched on FindmyPast.com, which used to display the results very differently, with all the nonsensical RG numbers. But I'm afraid your guess is as good as mine as to why their head is so seemingly and firmly ostrich-like in the sand about it. I put an update on the matter yesterday at http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/findmypast-scottish-census-sources-and.html to illustrate the problem.