Sunday, September 10, 2023

Beta Bait


It was the indefatigable Debbie Kennett who first brought my attention to it: beta tests are's way of gauging customer response to their changes. On her, ahem, not-Twitter account, she shared a link to an article describing the technology behind the inquiries behind the beta tests.

Yes, I know that's a mouthful. But here are a few takeaways I gleaned from the linked article. Posted on the website of Statsig, a feature management and experimentation platform now being used by Ancestry, the article explained, "Ancestry's roadmap includes a mandate that every new feature has to be delivered via experimentation."

Thus, perhaps, the explanation regarding the multiple beta offerings appearing in the last several months, as the article itself indicated. The Statsig tools help the Ancestry team analyze how each beta offering functions and, bottom line, is received, even by sub-segments of their customer base.

Perhaps hidden within all that analysis is the reason why some beta offerings seem to simply disappear. That was apparent when I first read articles about the latest offering I've mentioned—that of the Fan View options—where the array of features shrunk from several to just one in a matter of days.

Then, too, bloggers have shown signs that multiple beta offerings are swirling about at the same time. Just when I spotted Marian Wood's recent post—and thinking it was yet another dissection of the Fan View beta—I realized Ancestry's beta world is operating on multiple planes of digital existence: you may receive one beta while I get to check out another.

Just as quickly as the Fan View beta morphed from one multi-faceted version to a single option—choose it or don't—I realized I better not bank on having that option around for the long term. Though it isn't anytime near my year-end reverie on my Twelve Most Wanted for next year's research plans, I figured I better jump on the chance to capture the visuals I think will help me in planning, in case that chance disappears entirely.

Today, I took a snapshot of the Fan View for each of my sixteen second great-grandparents. The idea is to spot at a glance where I need to focus future research efforts. Of those sixteen, some pictures produced painfully obvious diagrams, like this one for Sarah Catherine Laws, from my maternal grandfather's family.

Each of the sixteen snapshots show the work I have cut out for future research projects. Each diagram looks different. Take, for instance, this Fan View for Mary Elizabeth Rainey, from my grandmother's heritage, pointing out a quite lopsided research path.

Now that I have each of the sixteen views laid out—and preserved on my own system, just in case this beta test doesn't seem to resonate with Ancestry subscribers or the company's management—I have a clearer picture of just where I need to apply future work. My next step will be to employ this same routine to capture similar views for each of my husband's second great-grandparents, as well.

Then, hopefully, I'll be better equipped to decide where to apply my research efforts for the upcoming year. And if any further beta tests come my way with complementary tools and resources, I'll be thrilled to explore just how they might amplify my efforts.

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