From the office: A meeting with findmypast

By Editor, 24 April 2014 - 11:29am

Following major issues over its recent redesign, editor Sarah Williams travelled to London to meet the findmypast team and get answers to your questions

Thursday 24 April 2014

Sarah Williams, editor
Read more blogs from the magazine team

 

I’ll never make it onto telly. Talking in front of a camera for me is like having a go on a trapeze without a safety net. Yesterday I went down to London to meet up with findmypast and talk to them about the recent debacle regarding the launch of their new website.

I had a good hour with Paul Nixon and Myko Clelland before we headed into a studio to make a 10-minute video covering some of the main issues that readers have voiced to me. Ten minutes is never going to cover all of the ground that needed covering, but you can watch it here.

Believe you me, it’s much harder to talk in front of a camera than you would think. That video took one-and-a-half hours to make! I reached a point where I couldn’t remember what we had covered and what we hadn’t. My mind went blank every time I had to open my mouth. You can see I couldn’t even look at the camera at the beginning!

The important discussion, to be honest, was what we had in the hour beforehand. It was good to meet up with them and talk face-to-face (not in front of a camera) and find out why this happened and what is going to be done about it. It seems that they really did have a pool of website users who came and tested the site (I notice that those testers are now keeping a low profile) and, when they launched the new site on the first tranche of users, they got very little negative feedback. They certainly weren’t prepared for the tsunami of complaints that followed.

They also admitted that they probably hadn’t done enough load testing of the site before launch and that there were areas of the site that didn’t work properly (and some that still don’t). I pushed them to talk about universal compensation on the grounds that the site was pretty unusable for a large number of people on launch but Paul and Myko weren’t the right people to make that call. 

I also talked about communication. Why were people being banned from their Facebook page for speaking out? Why were the phones shut down? Why didn’t they send an email out to all of their users explaining what was happening? Why didn’t they keep people informed on their website?

They were pretty honest that communication was something they struggled with. They argued that banning Facebook users who repeatedly promoted competitors and criticised their brand was a commercial decision that any business would make and that their customers have many other avenues to promote competitors. I must say, we would not welcome someone coming onto our Facebook page and promoting a competitor family history magazine.

However, I got a very strong impression from them that they are logging every improvement that is being suggested and that they are working through them one by one. In fact, I’ve seen improvements since the launch. I mentioned a couple of things that annoy me about the design and their response was very much ‘tell us on the feedback forum and we’ll work on it’. Let's hope they do.

Paul and Myko came across as having a real passion for family history (and they hated the cameras as much as I did). They know that if their customers aren’t happy and if the website isn’t easy to use and doesn’t help people discover the records they hold, then their business will not succeed.

I got a genuine feeling from them that findmypast is listening and pulling out all the stops and that the end result will be a better website. Of course, those who disagree can vote with their feet (or whatever the online equivalent is), or you can input into the feedback forum and give them a chance.

All I can say, from our point of view, is that we are going to test all of the main subscription sites with an independent panel of readers. Our testers will be looking at usability among other aspects and we’ll be publishing the results in a future issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

 

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From the office: The collective passion of family historians
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