MacKiev 2 weeks late with Family Tree Maker 2017 release, still “getting close”

MacKiev 2 weeks late with Family Tree Maker 2017 release, still “getting close”

The latest update on the Family Tree Maker 2017 release (Read Here) is very upbeat, and positive…and completely discouraging.

The entire process of this release was not managed in a way to give any of us confidence. There is no excuse for TreeSync not working without a working replacement.

Two things I want to make clear off the bat: First, I think that eventually MacKiev will release a product that satisfies us, and does what we expect from Family Tree Maker. Second, I’ve worked in IT for over 25 years and have been a part of more software development/deployment schedules than I can count. I’ve generally worked on large Enterprise projects, and I currently work for one of America’s largest retail chains managing a group that supports technologies used to deploy over 500 software developments used to generate billions of dollars in annual revenue. So, I feel confident making observations about the process of deploying commercial software.

The entire process of this release was not managed in a way to give any of us confidence. There is no excuse for TreeSync not working without a working replacement. This is a combination of the Private Equity Group that owns Ancestry.com not having a commercial interest in whether FTM lives or dies, and MacKiev not having the team to support a major commercial software package.

PEG’s are known for squeezing blood from stones, for breaking up companies into components that make up more than the whole, while spending as little money as possible doing so. The goal of a PEG is to maximize profit for the short period of time they own the company. They buy a company for $1.6 billion, close the unprofitable ventures (even if they might later generate revenue), spin off the less profitable parts of the company, cut administrative cost-centers to the bone, and funnel all capital funding to areas that will generate the most revenue. You can see this with Permira Advisers LLP’s treatment of Ancestry.com, and while someday they will sell the business for billions more than they paid for it, they saw no value in Family Tree Maker and cut it loose.

As for MacKiev, they knew they had a hard deadline to make this work, they had one duty as a company: make sure FTM worked before that deadline.

They also know they aren’t making much money on the continuing support of FTM, or TreeSync/FamilySync, and so there’s very little incentive for Ancestry.com making it work beyond the bare minimum.

As for MacKiev, they knew they had a hard deadline to make this work, they had one duty as a company: make sure FTM worked before that deadline. It’s easy for me to judge sitting here, but if you work for an Enterprise software company you know that if you have a deadline that’s not negotiable, then you have to be ready by that date. It would require NDA’s to cover any current projects of mine, but we face deadlines set by factors like regulatory compliance, business requirements, customer requests, etc. at any given moment, and we don’t miss those deadlines. I support lines of business that generate 8 figures a day, and there’s no way we’d have a 3 week gap in functionality. A well run organization that’s staffed properly, and that’s managed to support their customers, doesn’t allow a 3 week gap in functionality.

What gives me the most pause, is that the company that’s known for Mavis Beacon’s Typing Tutor and the Stellaluna software now has a major commercial product with a passionate base, and they don’t seem equipped to support it.

I see a lot of red flags with the way this company is approaching this deployment.

Their releases seem defensive (“Urban Myths about FTM – Debunked”), or they are deflecting (“TreeSync which was retired on March 29th. And really, it was supposed to be retired much sooner”), or blaming someone else (“Q: Why did Software MacKiev shut off our syncing? A: Well actually, we didn’t. That would be Ancestry’s TreeSync which was retired on March 29th.”). There’s not much more they can say I suppose, but it would engender more trust and confidence if they were more honest about their misses.

I see a lot of red flags with the way this company is approaching this deployment. It’s clear they didn’t have proper testing setup. They were racing for an April 1st deadline, and after the target ship date their QA team was still finding showstopper bugs. On April 2nd they said they could ship anytime now, but they were just being extra careful. However, it wasn’t until 4 days later they announced they had finally setup a real-world, large-scale testing protocol and figured out how to use SMS to coordinate, and that testing had revealed more showstoppers that prevented the release. In-fact, they were addressing basic architecture and connectivity planning nearly a week after their target production release. This is not normal, this is not expected in the industry, and this is not acceptable on April 6th.

If this was the process on December 1, 2016 for an expected shutdown date of December 31st, I’d say we’re about at where we should be, although it would worry me we’re still dealing with fundamental test protocols and architecture issues this late in the game. But, I’ve seen worse, and given a team I trust I’d be ok…but the risk level would be yellow. However, to be dealing with this 2 weeks after go-live is not just unacceptable, it’s hard to understand how they think this is ok. I get that at some point, what is is, and if you’ve screwed up a deployment you just have to power through to get to the point it’s resolved, but to-date I haven’t seen anything but positive messages on how good it is that they are catching these issues.

And that’s the biggest red flag of them all. They keep hiding behind the “we want to get it right” statement, and I see people in various forums making the same point. Of course, we ALL want this software to be released when it’s right. We don’t want faulty software released early to meet a deadline. But it’s like saying you won’t sell a new car until you’re sure the wheels won’t fall off as you leave the lot. Of course we don’t want the wheels to fall off; it’s just a fundamental assumption, not a selling point!

We care about this because we love this product, we have years invested in it, and this tool is a big part of something important in our lives. When Ancestry.com cut us loose, it led to a lot of soul searching and considering the huge work to move to a new product. I had concerns about a little company like MacKiev taking over a huge project like this, but given Ancestry’s involvement, and a lack of choices, I hoped for the best. But now it seems like MacKiev approached this with little more than hope, and Ancestry’s involvement has limits. Trust is key on something we all care so much about, and these companies have done all they can to minimize that trust.

I think it will all end up ok, and I’m hopeful we’ll look back a couple of years and be happy with where MacKiev advanced Family Tree Maker. But right now it’s little more than hope, and I’ll settle for just syncing a tree.

Product Review: Speechpad.com transcription services

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Note: I receive no financial benefit for reviewing/endorsing any of the products/services on this site. All reviews are based on my experiences and may not apply the same for everyone.

One of the first pieces of advice I received when I started tracking my family history was: stop chasing the pieces of paper, get a tape recorder, and sit down with your family and start recording their recollections of your family’s history. (Thanks Tony Burroughs! Black Roots by Tony Burroughs)

As I talked about in an earlier post (read: How to: Getting started researching your family tree), I bought a Sony digital recorder and I’ve used it to record many conversations. At least two of the people I’ve interviewed are no longer with us, so I have some of the only formal oral history from them on-record. But, if you’ve followed the advice and conducted these recordings, what do you do with them? Transcribing them by hand isn’t practical, and ultimately you won’t get around to it…trust me, I type an accurate 80 wpm and I never could do it for more than a few minutes.

Speechpad.com was super easy and straightforward to use, and the output was exactly what I hoped it would be.

I knew I wanted an online transcription service, and since I’d converted my interviews to .mp3 format I figured it would easy to upload and convert. What I didn’t know was how accurate/useful the output would be. As it turns out Speechpad.com was super easy and straightforward to use, and the output was exactly what I hoped it would be.

Process

I visited the site and setup an account, which was all straightforward. When you login you’re taken to the “Upload” screen, which again was pretty straightforward.

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Once the .mp3 file(s) are uploaded, you’re given the option to select how quickly you want the transcript. The prices go up with the urgency, as you’d expect. When I’ve used the service I’ve always selected the “1 Week” option, and it’s never taken more than 2-3 days to get completed.

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You can add a “verbatim” option for $.25/min. that will display all of the stutters, repeated words, filler words, etc. that the standard transcript will remove. Looking at this option (Verbatim Option) you can get a great picture of what the final results will look like. I’ve never used this option since the standard transcript has always worked for my needs.

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Once the transcript is complete you’ll receive an email, and you can download it in several formats (text/RTF/HTML/Word).

Pricing

Basic transcripts (all I’ve ever ordered) start at about $55/hour, with options such as verbatim or rush delivery available as add-ons.

Results

When you download your transcript, you’ll get a file that looks like this:

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What I’ve found is that the transcript is very accurate, and what’s missing/inaccurate is largely spellings of family names or when someone mumbles. To transform the transcript into a usable form, I will save a copy with “Edited” appended to the file, and listen to the recording while I clean up the file. I often have the kids with me for interviews, so there will be several conversations going on or questions from a 5 year old that get picked up by the microphone. I’ll take out irrelevant portions, correct spellings, add in what I hear from the parts flagged [inaudable], and change the font while also adding line numbers.

 

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I also add an introduction explaining the provenance of the transcript, so that years from now if this document falls in the hands of a researcher, they know some of the history behind it. Finally, I’ll copy my edited version of the transcript with “Public” appended, and remove any private or sensitive information (addresses of living relatives, etc.). I convert that Public file to .pdf, and now I can cite this interview by page and line number, and attach it to my public trees!

My first upload was converted to .mp3 incorrectly, and I had a long set of discussions with the Speechpad.com Customer Support team trying to resolve the issue. Even though it was my fault, despite me arguing that it wasn’t, they were completely helpful and went above and beyond to make me happy. They even refunded the original transcription fee and discounted my resubmission…despite it all being my fault! The number of emails they sent until I was fully satisfied was above-and-beyond, and quite impressive.

All in all this is a great service, a reasonable price, easy to use, great output, and fantastic customer service. I’ve found the last transcription service I’ll ever use!

The sad day most of my Ancestry.com trees went Private/Unsearchable…

The sad day most of my Ancestry.com trees went Private/Unsearchable…

I’m a huge advocate for Public trees in Ancestry.com. Private trees have often been the bane of my existence. I still plan on a post about why I feel we all have a duty to share our research publicly. But, as of today, most of my trees are now private and unsearchable, and it was the right choice.

I wrestled with this for a couple of weeks, but once I found that my trees were getting picked up in Ancestry’s predictive tools (Ben Franklin, and how We’re Related took me from chasing my white whale, to chasing my tail) which ignore all of my warnings about how unreliable my “Working” trees are, I started to understand I probably had to bring these tress undercover.

It’s easy for others to filter out weak research on well documented lines, but on lines with little data, it naturally more likely for undocumented “facts” to get attached to other trees.

This week, I found a new Ancestry tree that contained a bunch of GREAT information on my Leonard line. The user even found my 3x GGF headstone in a little catholic cemetery that my wife and I have been to 3-5 times but we couldn’t find it. It looks like the headstone was dug out of the earth! There was a ton of original research I’d never seen, or had index of, and I was so happy we had a new research expert on this line. Then, I saw that he had relatives past my 2x GGM, who is a major brick wall for me!! This is a well researched tree, great original work…and one of my Working/Uncertified trees was the source of this “breakthrough”. Later, I found that another of my wildly speculative ancestry guesses was in his tree, looking very definitive. One of the comments on my previous post talked about how a reader had their work republished over and over until it became “fact”, and here I could see that happening to mine.

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My warnings/qualifiers on my speculative trees aren’t enough for humans, and useless for automated algorithms

It’s just too easy for my speculative work to get pulled into trees, that feed other trees, that get repeated so often it’s impossible to determine the source. This is especially true for lines where there’s little to no other data…which is why I’m building a speculative tree in the first place. Very quickly my tree becomes the only reference to these undocumented ancestors, which means it gets found as a “breakthrough” by others who are stuck, which makes it more likely to become authoritative. It’s easy for others to filter out weak research on well documented lines, but on lines with little data, it naturally more likely for undocumented “facts” to get attached to other trees.

So, for now, I’ve taken most of my trees out of the mix on Ancestry.com. It’s hard, and I’m not entirely comfortable with this, but for now I think it’s best.