Mackiev’s latest update engenders even less confidence, puts 2017 release 3 weeks behind with no firm date for release

Mackiev’s latest update engenders even less confidence, puts 2017 release 3 weeks behind with no firm date for release

I’m not even sure where to start with this to be honest…I’ve never been a part of anything like this. Looking back a week ago (MacKiev 2 weeks late with Family Tree Maker 2017 release, still “getting close”) I think everyone expected a quick release, as Mackiev got closer. Instead we had a week of silence, followed by a new plan to use pre-release purchasers to expand the Beta test process, in the hope that they finally have enough resources to finish their software Mackiev FTM Update.

I could write about ridiculous it is to only allow 48-hours of Beta testing, and how poorly prepared for this they were (example: they scramble to create a test plan/group/protocol a week after their target go-live, cheer that they were able have 5,000 Beta testers a week after that, but another week later they need 25,000 Beta testers to finish the effort), but I’m just about beyond words. This is not normal, it’s not to be expected, this is NOT how commercial/enterprise software is developed/deployed, this is not the mark of a company you can trust to continue to manage, support, and grow a product. This is as close to a disaster as I can envision.

In my post last week I prefaced it by saying that I felt confident we’d eventually be satisfied with the product, that they would release it, and it would all be ok. Most of that is gone today, and I have little confidence that Mackiev will be able to deliver a viable commercial software product going forward. Even if they eventually complete this release, there should be no faith they can do it again in the future. I will be test driving the product when they finally release it Monday (and Monday?!?!?! why release an update on Thursday, but not release the product until 4 days later??), and blogging about it, and Family Tree Maker will continue to be my genealogy software for the short term…but the clock is ticking before it’s time to migrate to the next product.

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!

Ben Franklin, and how We’re Related took me from chasing my white whale, to chasing my tail

Ben Franklin, and how We’re Related took me from chasing my white whale, to chasing my tail

If you haven’t used the “We’re Related” app from Ancestry, you should give it a try. It seems a little silly to begin with, but there’s some value to it (a previous post: We’re Related app is a lot less frivolous than it first appears). But a recent tip from the app seemed to lead me to breaking down a major brick wall, before I realized I was fooled by my own published research.

First, a little background on my brick wall. The Tradewell (it was actually Treadwell prior to ~1840) line is one of the trunks of my family tree growing up. We all have those, the handful of family lines that dominate our history and identity when we’re growing up, despite having 8 Great-Grandparents, the Tradewell line was one I knew a lot about growing up. Its also the line that has a lot of genealogical significance, because my Great-Grandmother Myra (Tradewell) Morse submitted her first DAR application in 1907 and that not only gives me a lot of information on this line, subsequent cousins and relatives who applied attached sworn copies of family bibles to their applications, which preserved a great deal of info that otherwise would be long lost to history.

But Myra’s line ends with her Grandfather, and he is only one of two 3x GGP’s in my line that end so early. James Bennet Tradewell died in my hometown of Racine, WI in 1885, moving here just after 1840 from Schoharie County, NY. The 1830 Census includes an older Rueben Treadwell living in Schohaire County along with two younger Treadwells, Ephriam and James B. In 1840, Rueben is no longer listed but James and and Ephriam are. By 1850, from my research and from census records, there are two men in South East Wisconsin named James and Ephriam Tradewell who were born in New York, and those two names are also not present in New York for the 1850 Census. So even making a guess that Rueben is James and Ephriam’s father, and that James and Ephriam moved to Wisconsin Territory around 1843, I can go no further. I have very little evidence of even those links, and the line beyond Reuben goes dead.

I’ve also done research on the broader Treadwell line, which is largely threaded through Thomas and Edward Treadwell who arrived from England in the 1630’s and their decedents settled mostly in Connecticut and New York. My current working theory is that Jacob Treadwell and Hannah (Trowbridge) Treadwell are the parents of Reuben, but I have no proof whatsoever that this is true.

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I created a “Working/Uncertified” for the Tradewell tree, to match these two half into a theoretical whole that I hoped would spawn some “shakey leaf” hints on Ancestry.com, and to further my research. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. I still have no clue as to the names of Jacob and Hannah’s children, nor who Reuben’s parents might be, so it’s one big brick wall.

Until, as I was waiting in line at the grocery store and scrolled through my latest We’re Related matches and I see Ben Franklin. When I expanded the link, I almost fell over when I saw Hannah Trowbridge connected to Reuben Tradewell who was in-turn connected to James Bennet Tradewell! I was stunned…this app that links me mostly to celebrities I couldn’t care less about had just broken down one of my top-5 brick walls!!!

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I was giddy as I got home, made dinner, begrudgingly hung out with my family, until I was finally free to do a little research. I did a search on Public Trees for Hannah Trowbridge, with her husband’s last name set to Treadwell and I hit pay dirt! Right away I see that all of the children I’d guess were theirs were also listed. I looked at the attached facts, and didn’t see anything that linked the children to the parents, so I decided to review the Ancestry Family Trees to see if the trees that were sourcing this tree had more facts than this.

And that’s when I realized I wasn’t harpooning my white whale today, and wasn’t related to Benjamin Franklin. My Working/Uncertified tree was the source of the link!

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The We’re Related app had built a link between myself and our common ancestor using the data available, and it turns out that my test tree was the only link. And since the algorithm doesn’t read the titles of trees, or the description that I attached to the tree, it treated it as a valid, proved link.

I’m starting to re-think my strategy of keeping my Working/Uncertified trees Public. I’m a big supporter of keeping our trees Public, but in this case not only did my strategy fool the app, there are several user trees that now have this link shared as a fact. As time goes on, and these electronic records are shared, and re-shared, and memorialized outside of Ancestry.com, I’m afraid I’ve introduced misinformation into this family line.