Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Learning from the kids' menu

Many restaurants learned a lesson a long time ago. If you want families to eat at your restaurant, you offer a reduced price, simplified kids' menu. In most cases, you also cater to the kids by making the offerings the exact things that they eat most, like macaroni and cheese. Now why haven't the genealogy companies taken a lesson the restaurants? That is a very good question.

For example, FamilySearch is evidently very concerned about attracting and serving entry level genealogists. In their listing of topics for RootsTech 2013 Presenters, they suggest a possible topic as "Reaching and engaging new genealogists through technology." The website, in my opinion, is not particularly "new genealogist" friendly. In fact, it isn't particularly friendly to experienced genealogists. For example, useful tools like the Research Wiki, Forums and the Learning Center are buried in the site. But the dilemma is how do you support the the experienced and highly technical users, while at the same time extending a warm welcome to the newbies? My suggestion. Take a lesson from the restaurants. Have a "newbies" menu that is more attractive, easier to digest and doesn't require understanding "a la carte."

Why does all this have to happen on one website? Here is another example. Adobe Photoshop is easily the most complicated consumer program in the world. It takes a nearly 1000 page manual just to cover the basics. So does Adobe try to "water down" Photoshop to cater to the photo editing beginners? Not on your life. Photoshop just gets more and more complicated with each release. How do they solve the problem of the untutored newbie? They release an entirely separate program that costs a fraction of the price of Photoshop and has only a small number of the features and they call it "Photoshop Elements." Notice, it is not called Photoshop Easy or watered down, it is just the "Elements."

Now, instead of dumbing down, why not have either a kids' menu of basic items in its own area of the website, with links to the meatier portions when the "kids" are ready to move on, or maybe have a different site altogether called FamilySearch Essentials or Elements whatever that has the basics but nothing else and suggestions that the people move on to the main site when they think it appropriate. That way you don't ruin a perfectly good website, you can include intermediate and advanced topics and not "offend" the naive, untutored, new researcher.

Now, I have picked on here, but my comments are equally appropriate to all of the other websites and most of the genealogical database programs. Some of the developers have released "free" versions of their programs with a limited number of features, hoping to capture some of the market when the users move up to the full program. They are missing the point. You have a simplified version at a much reduced price, but have the full version for a full price that reflects its usefulness.

Back to Adobe for an example, you may or may not know that Photoshop Elements retails for around $65 or less while the complete version of Adobe Photoshop Extended CS6 is around $950. Do you get the point? There are people (like me) who use Photoshop nearly every single day. Do I want the kids' watered down version? Not on your life. (I have copy of Photoshop Elements 10 so I can show people how it works, but I use CS6 Extended). Do I advocate that genealogy programs should cost more? Yes, as a matter of fact. But the more expensive programs should be demonstratively more useful than the cheaper programs.

Side note: I realize that genealogists are basically poor and tight wads besides, but that is no reason for them to get a free ride from the developers. 

My concern is that in attempting to dumb down the useful websites, the developers will alienate those who need the industrial strength products. How about some consideration for the seasoned researchers for a change?

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