Modern Software Experience

2011-08-04

Family Tree Maker 2012

There is a public Family Tree Maker 2012 Beta message board on Ancestry.com.

Public Beta

Ancestry.com has released Family Tree Maker 2012 Public Beta.
Ancestry.com is so unfamiliar with Public Betas that they introduced it as a Public Beta with a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which is a contradictio in terminis. This mistake has created confusion.

I've suggested that Ancestry.com should end all confusion by announcing the Public Beta on their Ancestry.com blog, but so far, they haven't done so. That is not very surprising; Ancestry.com did not announce the Public Beta for Family Tree Maker 2008 on their blog either. I seem to recall they announced it on the Family Tree Maker site itself. There is no announcement of Family Tree Maker 2012 on the Family Tree Maker site yet, and that isn't surprising either; Family Tree Maker 2008 was the first version of New Family Tree Maker, poised to replace Family Tree Maker Classic. Family Tree Maker 2012 is merely the next version of New Family Tree Maker.

I still believe the Family Tree Maker section of the Ancestry.com blog is the right place to announce this Public Beta; that blog isn't read by every Family Tree Maker user, but only by the most interested users, including many genealogy bloggers, many of whom are sure to have thoughtful feedback.

reactive featuritis?

Real-Time collaboration used the NGS Conference in Charleston, back in May of this year, to announce AncestorSync. At that same conference, Eric Shoup, Ancestry.com's Senior Vice President of Product, announced that Family Tree Maker 2012 will offer synchronisation between Family Tree Maker desktop databases and online Ancestry.com Family Trees. This new feature is known as TreeSync and it is the new feature of Family Tree Maker 2012; this is the feature that has to work right to make upgrading worthwhile.

Whether you take into account that Ancestry.com probably knew about AncestorSync months before the official announcement or not, the announcement that Family Tree Maker 2012 will feature TreeSync feels like reactive featuritis - they're making this product, therefore we'll make this feature. Then again, perhaps Ancestry.com did not decide to build TreeSync because of AncestorSync, perhaps they finally listened to the Family Tree Maker users, who have been clamouring for this feature for years.

competition

Whatever the reason Ancestry.com decided to do this now, the resulting competition may be a good thing.
AncestorSync and TreeSync aren't direct competitors, but from the viewpoint of Family Tree Maker users they are. Both AncestorSync and TreeSync have been announced, and both are in public beta; the race is on. Which one will be first to market? Which one will work best? Which one will be fastest? Which one will easiest to use?
There is real competition here. Comparisons are inevitable, and both companies will want to make their product look good in those comparisons. That should make the consumer the ultimate winner.

Right now, Ancestry.com seems to be ahead; their TreeSync beta actually syncs between the desktop and the web, while the current AncestorSync Beta only downloads from the web to the desktop. A download-only beta simply isn't a convincing demonstration of sync capabilities. However, the Family Tree Maker beta isn't very convincing yet either; there are many reports of problems and failures on the message board.

message boards

Real-Time collaboration does not offer an AncestorSync message board, but that does not mean there is none. The only AncestorSync product that is in beta right now is Ancestory for Geni, and there is a message board on Geni.com. There is a public Family Tree Maker 2012 Beta message board on Ancestry.com.

The FTM Sync Beta message board so public that it is indexed by Google.

The email in the Family Tree Maker 2012 Public Beta message on the FTM-TECH mailing list includes three obfuscated links. One of those links leads to the FTM 2012 Beta message board.
The unobfuscated link to the message board is in Family Tree Maker 2012 Public Beta already, and is repeated below.

When you visit the message board, the first thing you notice is its name; it is the FTM Sync Beta message board. There is only message board link in that Family Tree Maker 2012 Beta email, and it leads to the FTM Sync Beta message board. This sure seems to confirm that Family Tree Maker 2012 is all about TreeSync.

You should also notice that the FTM Sync Beta message board is public, very public. You do not need some beta password to access it. Anyone can visit it, anyone can read it. You do not have to be logged into Ancestry.com to read it. You do not even have to visit the message board to read it. The FTM Sync Beta message board is so public that it is indexed by Google.com.

FTM Sync Beta

A quick scan through the hundreds of messages threads makes it clear that the TreeSync feature is far from working perfectly yet. There are some messages about problems downloading the Family Tree Maker 2012 Beta itself, but the majority of the messages are about problems trying to use Family Tree Maker 2012 and its TreeSync feature in particular. That few messages are positive and most messages sounds like complaints should not surprise; it is a beta and users have been are asked to report problems.

Previous versions of Family Tree Maker can make copies, Family Tree Maker 2012 can make linked copies.

syncing existing trees

One issue users complain about is that the current beta does not allow them to sync their existing desktop database with their existing online tree.
It is not possible to choose both a desktop database and an online tree, and then let Family Tree Maker sync them. Instead, users have to decide which one they like best, and then perform an upload or download, as the case may be, after which Family Tree Maker will keep these two databases in sync.

That's not surprising. Syncing two nearly identical trees isn't a trivial problem. Keeping a newly created copy in sync is a lot easier. When FTM 2012 makes that copy, it includes synchronisation information that it uses to detect changes and sync the two trees with each other. A copy you made with a previous version of FTM lacks that synchronisation information. Previous versions of Family Tree Maker can make copies, Family Tree Maker 2012 can make linked copies.

problems

Unsurprisingly, users with small data-only databases tend to report success, while users with large databases and lots of media tend to encounter problems. Complaints reported on the message board include slow sync, frozen syncs that need to be restarted, media not syncing, Family Tree Maker producing Unknown Error, FTM crashing during sync and synced trees becoming unsynced for no apparent reason.
That are the kind of issues you have to expect from beta software. Still, the number and nature of the messages make me wonder whether Ancestry.com will manage to get TreeSync working as intended before the year is out. I'm guessing the FTM Development Team will be working overtime.

help file

The Family Tree Maker 2012 Beta installer does not include a special beta guide, but it does include the FTM 2012 help file, which provides a pretty clear description of the TreeSync feature.
Although the sync feature is fairly intuitive, reading it isn't a bad idea. The help file not only explains the icons used, it also notes what item do and what items do not get synced.

Ancestry.com

Reading through the message board, I noticed something was missing, something important. I did not spot anyone from the FTM Development Team members responding to messages. There does not seem to be anyone from Ancestry.com reading and responding to messages at all, it seems to be no more than beta testing users talking to each other.
One can only assume that someone on the FTM Development Team is reading along. It would be nice if Ancestry.com added a bit of feedback from the development team to the message board.

administrator privileges

One beta tester is telling others to run Family Tree Maker 2012 as an administrator. End-user software should not need any Administrator privileges at all, and giving administrator privileges to software that's still in beta isn't a hot idea either.

The Family Tree Maker 2012 Beta should be run without administrator privileges. That FTM 2012's update check requires administrator privileges is a defect that Ancestry.com should fix as quickly as possible. The TreeSync feature does not require administrator privileges.

updates

2011-08-04 TreeSync limitations

TreeSync does not synchronise everything. TreeSync Limitations has the details.

2011-08-05 FTM 2012 Public Beta 2

Duff Wilson, the product manager for Family Tree Maker, has posted a link to FTM 2012 Public Beta 2.

2011-09-21 message board deleted

Ancestry has deleted the FTM Sync Beta message board.

links