Searching Historical Records on beta.familysearch.org -- One user's experience

KathrynGZ
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Searching Historical Records on beta.familysearch.org -- One user's experience

Postby KathrynGZ » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:12 pm

First, the new page is absolutely beautiful! Someone put a lot of care into the design.

Second, as I've tried to use the new page for real-world research, I've come across some usability issues, particularly compared to Record Search. I know it's time to move on and let Record Search be retired :) But I hope we can keep the best functionality of Record Search on the new site.

I'm going to start posting issues here as I encounter them. I'm grateful the FamilySearch team continually invites feedback, and I hope these posts are helpful!

Kathryn

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aebrown
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Postby aebrown » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:23 pm

Kathryn wrote:I'm grateful the FamilySearch team continually invites feedback, and I hope these posts are helpful!


Although I'm sure there are people here on the LDSTech forums who appreciate your posts, I would doubt that anyone from the FamilySearch team dependably monitors these forums.

If you want to be sure that the FamilySearch team actually sees your posts, I would recommend that you use the Feedback mechanism that is on each FamilySearch page. For the page you linked, use this feedback page.
Questions that can benefit the larger community should be asked in a public forum, not a private message.

KathrynGZ
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Advanced Search awkward with too much scrolling, can't see all search fields at once

Postby KathrynGZ » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:27 pm

I have a fairly large (19") monitor set at 1280 x 1024. Even so, when using Advance Search (which I almost always need), I have to scroll down to complete the form. Two usability issues here:


  1. It probably doubles or triples the time required to fill out the form as I have to take the time to scroll and visually scan for the fields I need.
  2. I can't see the whole form at once. That's a problem when I want to refine the search. Also, frankly, after doing dozens of searches I find they start blending together. :) I need to see the whole form at once.
Suggestions for improvement: I would much rather have the Search form at the top of the screen, where I can easily refine searches, than have to keep scrolling up and down. I would like the ability to show or hide the search form as needed. Another idea might be to put the Exact checkboxes on the same line as the field labels.

Realizing that white space is generally a positive thing for readability, I think white space (or green space :) ) on the search form could be reduced without a negative impact. And it could improve usability markedly if it improved visibility (i.e., seeing the whole search form at once) and reduced scrolling.

KathrynGZ
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Feedback

Postby KathrynGZ » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:29 pm

Alan_Brown wrote:Although I'm sure there are people here on the LDSTech forums who appreciate your posts, I would doubt that anyone from the FamilySearch team dependably monitors these forums.

If you want to be sure that the FamilySearch team actually sees your posts, I would recommend that you use the Feedback mechanism that is on each FamilySearch page. For the page you linked, use this feedback page.


I was wondering about that, Alan--thanks! I'll probably send them a link to this thread.

Kathryn

KathrynGZ
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Lower priority results are shown first

Postby KathrynGZ » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:35 pm

This seems to happen frequently. Several examples:

1. Using Advanced Search, I typed the follwoing:

First & Middle Name(s): h c
Last Name: evans
Residence Location: Montgomery, Alabama

The first three results were for C H Evans rather than H C evans. After these first three non-matches, several H C Evans entries appeared. I thought the place might be an issue, but none were in Montgomery and all were in Alabama.

2. This time, using Basic Search, I typed the following:

First & Middle Names(s): Annamma
Last Name: Lukose
Birth Year: 1910
Birth Location: Kerala, India

These were the first three (odd) results:

Annamaaria Pucina Luccia, b. 1894. (New York Births and Christenings, 1640-1962)
B A Lucas, b. 1909 (Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957)
Davis A. Lucas, b. 1911 (Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922)

The rest of the results on the page were equally disconnected from my original search parameters. Well, I thought, maybe there were no records for India. But I scrolled down to the filter choices, and India Births and Baptisms 1786 - 1947 was one of the included collections. Filtering by that collection resulted in 7 records.

Why wouldn't India Births and Baptisms be highest priority for someone born in India? Or put another way, why would records with no connection at all to India be displayed first?

The suggestion for improvement in this case is probably obvious: give highest priority to records which match the search parameters most closely. Another option would be to let users specify the collection priority for searches (like Ancestry does).

KathrynGZ
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Filtering has lost visibility and functionality

Postby KathrynGZ » Thu Oct 28, 2010 2:11 pm

It would be hard to overstate the importance of filtering when doing searches. This is an area where Record Search shined, and I'm puzzled as to why filtering on the beta site is so much less robust. For example:

1. In beta, filtering options are almost always off the screen, whereas in Record Search they were always visible at the top of the screen. Inexperienced users may not realize they're available in beta; experienced users will find them less accessible. The bottom of the screen isn't a good place for such a useful feature.

2. In beta, when you click on a filtering option, the page autoscrolls back to the top without giving you the chance to choose subordinate filters. So if you want a subordinate filter, you have to scroll back down again. If you didn't want a subordinate filter, it's nice that the page autoscrolls--but it would be better if autoscrolling weren't necessary at all.

3. In beta, you can't select multiple filters. This was probably the most powerful feature of Record Search and one I used constantly. Examples:

  • I'm doing a lot of research in Michigan and Alabama. Both states have birth, marriage, and death collections. It saves time and can reveal unexpected patterns when you can search all of a states' collections at once instead of having to search them each individually.
  • I'm working with some names that tend to be frequently misspelled and/or mistranscribed--e.g., Keyes, which has ended up as Reyes and Kyler, among others :) Another is Kingsland, which was transcribed as Hingsland (the loopy K on the original image did look rather like an H :) ) In Record Search, I could ask for all last names starting with K and R, or K and H. In beta, there is no ability to filter by letter.
  • I also found it helpful to filter by gender in a large result set. But that functionality is also absent from beta.
  • I would often combine filters: i.e., not only would I specify several collections to search, but I would also filter by alphabet, date, gender, etc. This made it possible to hone in quickly and easily on the desired record. But it's not possible on beta.
4. Long lists of filter options were more manageable in Record Search. For example, the list of collections was displayed in two columns in a dropdown box. It was easy to view and use. But in beta, all filter options are shown in a long list (sometimes a very long list :) ) Visibility again is a problem, as I can only see a limited portion of the filter options at once; finding options is also challenging in a long, long list. And the problem will only get worse as more collections are added.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" may apply here. I hope the entire filtering functionality can be moved from Record Search to beta, and finally to the live site. It's too valuable to lose.

KathrynGZ
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Missing mouseoversl on search results

Postby KathrynGZ » Fri Oct 29, 2010 4:52 am

In Record Search, you could mouse over any item in a list of search results and get more detail immediately to determine if the record was relevant.

However, on the new beta site, that functionality has been removed. Instead, there's a little arrow on the far right side of the screen that you click to expand the detail. When you want to close the detail, you have to click the arrow again.

Several usability issues here:

1. It's much slower. (The impact on one record is not significant, but the impact on many records is--in other words, it wouldn't be a big deal if I only needed to expand one record, but it is when I need to expand dozens of records.)

2. When users are presented with a list of results, they've usually just clicked something on the left side of the screen--the Search button or a filter. But the expansion arrows are tiny and on the right side of the screen. Fitts' law says that the further away and smaller a target is, the more time it takes to acquire due to distance and movement error (see Universal Principles of Design by Lidwall et al.). So if the arrow is kept, it would make more sense to have it on the left side of the screen.

3. The detail from clicking the arrow isn't significantly different from the detail on the full-screen view. If I have to click to open a detailed view, I may as well click and go straight to the full-screen view.

Recommendation: I don't find the new functionality helpful, but if some people do, why not keep it and put the mouseovers back for those who prefer the quicker method of viewing the information?

KathrynGZ
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Posts: 111
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2007 8:59 pm
Location: Draper, Utah, USA
Contact:

Missing mouseovers on search results

Postby KathrynGZ » Fri Oct 29, 2010 4:52 am

In Record Search, you could mouse over any item in a list of search results and get more detail immediately to determine if the record was relevant.

However, on the new beta site, that functionality has been removed. Instead, there's a little arrow on the far right side of the screen that you click to expand the detail. When you want to close the detail, you have to click the arrow again.

Several usability issues here:

1. It's much slower. (The impact on one record is not significant, but the impact on many records is--in other words, it wouldn't be a big deal if I only needed to expand one record, but it is when I need to expand dozens of records.)

2. When users are presented with a list of results, they've usually just clicked something on the left side of the screen--the Search button or a filter. But the expansion arrows are tiny and on the right side of the screen. Fitts' law says that the further away and smaller a target is, the more time it takes to acquire due to distance and movement error (see Universal Principles of Design by Lidwall et al.). So if the arrow is kept, it would make more sense to have it on the left side of the screen.

3. The detail from clicking the arrow isn't significantly different from the detail on the full-screen view. If I have to click to open a detailed view, I may as well click and go straight to the full-screen view.

Recommendation: I don't find the new functionality helpful, but if some people do, why not keep it and put the mouseovers back for those who prefer the quicker method of viewing the information?

KathrynGZ
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Posts: 111
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2007 8:59 pm
Location: Draper, Utah, USA
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Can't see search results from full detail screen

Postby KathrynGZ » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:23 am

In Record Search, when I click on an item in search results to see full details, the search results remain visible in a narrow panel on the left side of the screen, and the detail is shown in a wider panel on the right.

As I click on different records in the left panel, the appropriate detail is shown on the right. It's an ingenious design that makes it simple and quick to switch between records, and it makes great use of screen real estate.

On beta when I click to see full details, I can no longer see the search results. So I lose context. (Incidentally, the full detail view on beta has a lot of empty space--less effective use of screen real estate.)

And it's slower to switch between records: to see details for another result, I have to close the detail view, return to the list of results, figure out where I am in the list, and click to see detail for another record.

Which brings up another point... in Record Search, the current record was highlighted in the left panel, which made it easy to see where I was. In beta, the current record doesn't appear highlighted in the list, making it harder to orient myself when I return to the search results.

The new screen is absolutely beautiful, but if the choice is between beauty and functionality... I'd rather have the functionality. The beauty becomes less important when I can't find the results I'm looking for quickly and efficiently.


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