Glad Scientists

Glad Scientists

FamilySearch Indexing, an application volunteers use to index records, escapes the lab.

 
In the tradition of Google labs <labs.google.com>, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ FamilySearch Web site started its own idea incubator called FamilySearch Labs <familysearchlabs.org> last year. Users can visit the labs’ site to preview still-in-the-works genealogy tools and leave feedback.

FamilySearch Indexing, an application volunteers all over the world use to index records, is the labs’ first graduate. The staff is polishing up a Pedigree Viewer – akin to an ancestor chart on steroids – and getting giddy over Life Browser, which lets you incorporate images and sound into an illustrated narrative. “It’s adding the capability not only to extend your family tree but also enhance and share it,” says product manager Dan Lawyer. Here are the top six things you should know about his team:

6. They’re raising the bar. Pedigree Viewer and LifeBrowser eventually will become part of New FamilySearch. But Lawyer also hopes the projects will encourage other developers to be innovative with their own genealogy products.

5. They’re quick. It might sound like too many cooks in the kitchen, but creating applications with input from hundreds of users actually speeds up the process. Traditionally, developers have put out a close-to-finished product, then wait for beta testing. FamilySearch Labs unveiled a version of the Pedigree Viewer after just two weeks of coding. “It’s a little bit unnerving to put something out there before you know it’s ready for prime time, but we’ve gotten terrific results,” Lawyer says. “We knew very fast if we were making mistakes, so we spent less time going down the wrong path.”

4. They’ve done contextual inquiries. Huh? “We sent research teams around the world to observe people doing genealogy and, as strange as it sounds, not doing genealogy.” To understand problems family historians face, they watched how people used – or avoided using – search engines, software, databases and other tools.

3. They appreciate differences. Your culture colors your approach to genealogy, a discovery that surprised Lawyer. “In the Western world, we think of a family tree as starting with me, and try to work back. In the East, you think of an honored ancestor and how you’re descended from that person.”

2. They have fun at work. The Pedigree Viewer started life as the Super Duper Zim Zam Zoom Pedigree Viewer. Lawyer has bestowed nicknames such as Running Man (for an ultra-marathoner) and Mini (a MINI Cooper fiend) upon his half-dozen or so colleagues. (The number fluctuates, says Lawyer, because “we beg, borrow and steal people from other areas.”)

l. They want to hear from you. The site gets an average of 200 hits daily, though it has spiked to 2,000 on occasion. “We feel an amazing sense of gratitude to all these people who give feedback,” Lawyer says. “They’re as passionate as we are, and based on their e-mails, they’d do whatever they can to help us.”
 
From the September 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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