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Monday, February 22, 2010

Additional thoughts on the revolutionary challenge of New FamilySearch

New FamilySearch (NFS) is much more than a simple database of names, it is a revolutionary way of presenting genealogical information that has far reaching and even revolutionary consequences to the way family information is stored, displayed and maintained. One aspect of the program (if you can call it that) is the extensive help system. The NFS Help Center is interactive in the sense that any question the user wishes to ask will be answered either through the existing accumulation of previously answered questions, E-mail support or in person telephonic support. Because FamilySearch has trained volunteers answering questions from all around the world, support is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

At the time NFS was first released, there were a few volunteers and many of the most common questions had yet to be answered. Over the past two years the reserve of answered questions has become monumental, there is practically no question about the program, the data or any other special circumstance that cannot be answered through the Help Center. In talking to many users, the biggest problem is not a lack of information to answer questions, but the fact that many users have no idea that the Help Center even exists. To my knowledge, there is no other online program that even approaches the amount of support offered to the users of NFS.

In addition to the Help Center, FamilySearch also has online Forums for each of its support areas. A NFS user can sign into the FamilySearch Forums and ask questions of the FamilySearch community and also receive answers in real time. This support system extends to all of the aspects of NFS including the Indexing program and all of the other products. The Forum includes geographical sections where anyone can seek help on specific genealogical research issues. Unlike NFS, the Forum is open to everyone who wishes to register.

The revolutionary aspect of the Help Center and the Forum is that users will become accustomed to having this extensive help system and will be able to easily compare that level of support to other programs and products online. How will third party programs compete with a world wide system of trained volunteers? Especially if NFS develops more extensive capabilities to store individual information such as media and/or sources?

In addition, FamilySearch is being taught and supported by the thousands of Family History Centers around the world. In each Ward and Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are people who are supposed to teach and answer questions about NFS. By the end of 2010 it is predicted that NFS will be open to all genealogists, not just members of the LDS Church. This event alone will exponentially expand the influence of the program.

As can be seen from the FamilySearch Affiliates and Product Certification program, there are also many aspects of the program that benefit third-party developers. FamilySearch also continues to accelerate its efforts to expand online resources through Record Search and the Indexing program. Presently, compared to the larger subscription Websites, FamilySearch does not seem have that many resources, but goal of digitizing approximately 2.5 million rolls of microfilm could easily put FamilySearch in a dominant position in the genealogical community.

Just an additional small example of the extensive development of NFS, is support for blind patrons using the JAWS screen reader from Freedom Scientific. JAWS (an acronym for Job Access With Speech) is a screen reader, a software program for visually impaired users, produced by the Blind and Low Vision Group at Freedom Scientific of St. Petersburg, Florida, USA. Think about it. Have you ever seen anything from any other genealogy program aimed at helping blind users?

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