Modern Software Experience

2008-09-19

free upgrade

When Ancestry.com’s Russell Hannig announced the availability of FTM 2009 on 2008 Aug 28, he immediately followed that with another post reminding owners of FTM 2008 that their upgrade to FTM 2009 is free. A reminder, despite a lack of an earlier post on that subject.

The earliest post mentioning the free upgrade were emails sent to registered users of FTM 2008, and it soon became clear that the upgrade would only be free to registered users. Hence the genea tech tip to register FTM 2008.

However, although the product was out, even the FTM 2008 users who bothered to register were not getting the freshly released FTM 2009 just yet. Instead, users had to wait a few weeks to receive a one-time coupon in their mail.

upgrade mail

mail

coupon code

Ancestry.com kept everyone waiting until late 2008 Sep 9. The upgrade email arrived half an hour before midnight, when it was already 2008 Sep 10 in more than half of the world, including my time zone. The mail contains a unique coupon code that you must use during checkout.

That mail wasn’t much good. Ancestry had sent it out to all impatient FTM 2008 users at once. Although Ancestry.com took its sweet time getting those mails out, and knows exactly how many mails they sent out, they apparently still forgot to prepare for a surge in traffic.

unable

When I received the mail and followed the link, I got to see a simple white page with a text stating "Due to the high popularity of our FTM 2009 free upgrade offer, we are unable to fulfill [sic] your order at this time. Please check back later. Thank you, The Generations Network, Inc.".

Ancestry.com kept displaying that message throughout the entire day. Now, most FTM users are Americans, so I tried connecting in the morning when most of them are asleep, but the server kept giving that message. It did that so fast, and so consistently, that I wondered whether it was even attempting to present a download page. If it worked at all, some people should have gotten through, but it seems no one did.

Like many other uses, I expected Ancestry.com to offer a free download, and thought the high number of large downloads might be too much for them to handle. It later became clear that Ancestry.com was not offering downloads at all, but only had to handle orders, to send a CD.

Ancestry Store

By the way, the predictable rush on the download order page had not brought down the store. When you visited the store directly, the store just worked. So I decided to try something. What if I just surfed to the FTM 2009 page and then took it from there?

not found

I went to the store and entered "Family Tree Maker 2009" in the search box. The result: "Sorry, your search - family tree maker 2009 - did not match any products. You can use fewer search terms to broaden your results.". Product not found? But it was announced as available on 2008 Aug 28 and it is 2008 Aug 11, so that is two weeks ago.

I don’t know why Ancestry.com’s search can’t even find it "flagship product". Judging by many complaints about Ancestry.com on their own blog, search just isn’t Ancestry.com’s strongest feature.

Google

Anyway, if you Google "Family Tree Maker 2009 site:store.ancestry.com", Google returns the FTM 2009 page as it first results. I had almost clicked the "ADD TO CART" button on that page already, to try and see how far I would get, when I noticed the "Other products you might be interested in" column along the left side of the page. The top item: "Family Tree Maker 2009 Upgrade". Aha!

upgrade

The "Family Tree Maker 2009 Upgrade" has the same retail price as FTM 2009, so this does not seem to be an upgrade offer for owners of FTM 16, this must be the special upgrade offer for FTM 2008 owners, which displays the normal price in the store, but will then respond to the coupon code.

shopping cart

I clicked "ADD TO CART". Somehow, that accidentally added the product twice, so I removed one first, and then entered my coupon code. As soon as I did that, the store presented a login screen. You can create an Ancestry account right there, but the mail that confirmed your FTM 2008 registration, titled "Registration Confirmation" contains a user name and password already. Once logged in, I got to see the cart again, and nothing seemed to have changed. It was listing the full retail price plus shipping & handling. I clicked the "APPLY" button to try and apply the coupon code again. Nothing changed. The coupon code did not work.

I removed the "Family Tree Maker 2009 Upgrade" from my cart and added "Family Tree Maker 2009" to try the coupon code again. The results were identical. The coupon code they sent me does not work for either one. My visit did not overwhelm the Ancestry Store, it kept working just fine, but the coupon code just does not work. Obviously then, whatever they were doing was not really a coupon code for the products in the store, but something else.

new mail

Late on 2008 Sep 10, Ancestry.com sent out a second email titled "Important - How to get Family Tree Maker 2009".

Dear valued customer,

Yesterday, we provided you with an email offer for a free Family Tree Maker upgrade. So many people have tried to upgrade to Family Tree Maker 2009 that it overwhelmed our online store site. We’re very sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

In the next few days we’ll send you an email with a new link and coupon code, plus instructions for getting your free upgrade before October 15th. Please note that we can only process upgrades through this link and not our call center.

Thanks for your patience. We’ll send you that email soon.

Yes, Ancestry.com uses Amglish instead of English, even for international emails. That’s rude, but more important is that this email they send is lacking information that had been posted on their blog already.

try again

The new mail told people to wait but it was morning again, so surely my chances for connecting to the Ancestry.com Store and obtaining FTM 2009 were excellent now. I used the special link in the email they had sent me and connected, but it still did not lead to the promised FTM 2009 download order page. I got to see this message instead:

It's a jungle in here

It’s a jungle in here

So many people have tried to upgrade to Family Tree Maker 2009 that it’s temporarily overwhelmed our web site. We’re very sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you.

In the next few days we’ll send you an email with a new link and coupon code, plus instructions for getting your free upgrade before October 15th. Please note that we can only process upgrades through this link and not our call center.

Thanks for your patience. We’ll send you that email soon.

site overwhelmed?

I understand replacing the short text with a longer, more informative one, but the store should only show that message when it’s too busy. I connected when most Americans are asleep, and I still got to see this, and that was not because the store was down. The store worked fine, and its response time was fine too, so it was not overwhelmed at all.

Yet instead of letting me download order FTM 2009, I get a message that the "web site" (not just the store, but the entire site? That’s ancestry.com… is overwhelmed. That’s less than satisfactory service, and an obviously less than an accurate, open and honest explanation. I have not heard about one single user who was able to get the FTM 2009 this way. It thus seems that the ostensible download order page never worked, not even for the very first visitors.

blog remark

There was no new blog post about this massive fail, but if you scroll through the existing replies, mostly about not having received an email at all (!), you can find this remark by Michelle Pfister, posted on 2008 Sep 17:39 (the 10:39 it shows there is incorrect, that is not Internet time, but their local time):

We sent you an email yesterday with an offer for a free Family Tree Maker upgrade. Because of the enthusiastic response, our site went down and many users were either unable to access the site, or their codes did not work properly. To resolve the site issues caused by this overwhelming response and to minimize wait time, we are sending a new email with instructions that will remedy the problem. This email will be sent out in a tiered fashion to smaller groups, but all should receive the email in the next few days. We apologize for this inconvenience.

The new email will provide a new link and a new coupon code. Please use the new email instructions when requesting your free upgrade. We want to make sure you have an opportunity to receive the free offer you were promised so the new coupon code will be valid through October 15th.

Because of the nature of this offer, the coupon code is designed to work only in the online store through the special link provided in the email. Our Call Center cannot process Family Tree Maker 2009 Free upgrades.

Again, we apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your patience as we resolve these issues. Thank you.

promise

Note that this email, the blog remark and the message you get instead of the download order page all represent a fundamental change from the offer Ancestry made in Russell Hannig’s "Message to Family Tree Maker 2008 Owners" and the emails that were sent out.

Ancestry.com made noise about FTM 2009 being free for FTM 2008 owners, but once the media attention for this offer was over, the reality suddenly turned out to be considerably less favourable.

reality

First, it turns out you have to register your copy, but the many complaints on the Ancestry blog make it clear that many users who did register, did still not receive an email. Those who did receive the email find that the link they received leads to a failure page instead of an order page (while all other order pages of the web store work just fine), and then Ancestry.com suddenly decides to redo the emails, and make FTM 2008 owners wait even longer.

Their promise and their press release was a free upgrade for FTM 2008 users. It did not mention the need to register and it did not mention a cut-off date either. All Ancestry.com needed to do to keep their promise was to make FTM 2009 available to any FTM 2008 user through FTM update capabilities (Help | Check for Update...).

It sure seems like some marketroid decided that they needed to make good cheer with a broad promise, but then minimise the number of users that can and does take advantage of it by creating a needlessly complex procedure with time limits. 

backfire

Whatever the misguided reasons for Ancestry.com’s backtracking on its promise and delaying the delivery really are, it sure backfired on them. The Ancestry.com blog is filled with complaints from angry and disappointed users.

FTM 2008 users are frustrated that they had to keep waiting and fed up with of all the hoops they have to jump through. This rather rough treatment of often loyal customers that stuck with FTM through many versions but who were unpleasant surprised by the extremely poor FTM 2008 product is going to backfire.

Customers that paid for and suffered a product as poor as FTM 2008 and somehow do not get the free upgrade are not likely to go and pay for FTM 2009; they are likely to switch to a competing product. Many FTM 2008 uses will take the free upgrade, but are unlikely to pay for FTM 2010 if FTM 2009 does not wow them, if it isn’t more than what FTM 2008 should have been in the first place. Loads of FTM users, including loyal FTM users of many years, are considering alternatives.

new email

coupon code

I received a new email late in the afternoon of 2009 Sep 16 (early evening local time). It had a new link and a new coupon code. The coupon code seemed to work fine; the price of the Family Tree Maker 2009 Upgrade is listed as US$ 39,95 (slightly less than 30 Euri), but as soon as I entered and applied the code, the price, taxes and Shipping & Handling charges all reduced to zero.

no download

It was rather disappointing to note that I could still not download FTM 2009. I had to provide full address information instead and await arrival of a package with a CD-ROM. Ancestry.com is obviously decided to use the upgrade to farm addresses of FTM users. The store desired a full mailing address, email address and phone number, and would not take an order without all of that. Once the store was satisfied with the address information, it showed a confirmation page. I noticed a typo in the postal code, but there was no way to correct it. I decide to mail a reply to the email I had received to provide a correction.

package

I received a full-colour Family Tree Maker 2009 envelope on 2008 Sep 30. That envelope is the sleeve for the CD-ROM in it.
There is a United States Postal Service Customs Declaration sticker slapped onto it, which states that the value of this package is US$ 10.00 (about € 7.00). That sticker is dated (in antilogical format) 2008 Sep 23, so it apparently took a week to here by International Priority Airmail.

The package used the uncorrected address. That isn’t a big problem for the way the postal services work here, especially not if the postal code is for the right city anyway, but it remains disappointing that the correction I sent apparently disappeared into their local black hole.

There is no printed manual, so a digital download would have done just as well. The only piece of paper besides the envelope / sleeve is a flyer that encourages you to subscribe to Ancestry Magazine on one side and offers a 50 % discount on Ancestry.com DNA Test through a coupon code on the other side. The sleeve itself contains a coupon code for a 20 % discount on The Official Guide to Family Tree Maker 2009, which puts it at about the same price as many third webstores sell it for.

why?

The free offer was not really free, they wanted your email address in return. Then, on the day they announce the immediate availability of the new version to the world, they tell you to wait a few weeks for an email. As Ancestry.com is notorious for "promotional email", there is a good chance that their email will wind up in your spam box. After all, that is where good spam filters tend to put "promotional email".

Ancestry.com could just have given the upgrade to all FTM 2008 as an automatic update.
Why did they make it so complex? The fairly obvious theory that they wanted to limit the upgrade offer to as few FTM 2008 users as possible for financial reasons does not make much sense.

Perhaps a few low-level marketroids whose bonuses are tied to the number of sales think that way, but if Ancestry.com managers have even the slightest understanding of how damaging the FTM 2008 product is for the heavily advertised FTM brand and Ancestry.com’s already less than stellar reputation, they’d want every copy replaced, no strings attached - and will keep replacing it for free until the quality has become acceptable, until the quality is line with the sticker price and the expectations their marketing builds, even if that means giving away FTM 2010 and FTM 2011 as well. And if they have a bonus system, they’d tie the bonus to replacement of FTM 2008 by the improved successor, not FTM 2009 sales.

wanted

The real answer is probably that they wanted a few things from you, the FTM 2008 user. They wanted your email address, and hoped you would sign up for Ancestry.com while registering FTM 2008. They wanted you to green-light their domain, so that Ancestry.com emails would not end up in your spam box again. They wanted you to agree to Ancestry.com conditions, so that they can keep your database if you accidentally upload it. They wanted your home address. They got all of that, in return for a late upgrade on disc that should have been immediately available as an automatic update to all FTM 2008 users.

conclusion

What should have been handled as an immediate automatic free upgrade with a public letter of apology, was handled like a marketing campaign to harvest addresses of potential Ancestry.com subscribers instead. FTM 2009 was for sale immediately to new users, but existing FTM 2008 users had to wait. The users that had suffered FTM 2008 had to provide way too much data about themselves, and had to jump through way too many hoops. Needlessly complex procedures and insufficient testing ensured failure and further delays. Ancestry.com got addresses of customers it disappointed with FTM 2008, but the completely superfluous procedures, the failures and the delays managed ensured that many of these FTM users are seriously annoyed by it all.

links