FamilySearch Working to Avoid ‘Success Disaster’

April 19, 2016  - by 

By Craig Miller, director of Product Engineering

The late Cambridge computer scientist Roger Needham coined the term “Success Disaster” to describe a product or service that is so successful it overwhelms the organization that created it. Business journals are filled with horror stories of tech companies that have undergone hyper-growth and mismanaged it.


Over the past two years, FamilySearch has experienced faster-than-anticipated growth due to the phenomenal success of our marketing, genealogical-record acquisitions, partner development, and product-software improvements. In 2015, 1.6 million members visited FamilySearch Family Tree, and nearly 430,000 submitted names for temple work—approximately 27 percent growth over 2014. This growth pattern has continued into 2016. Since 2015, we have seen Family Tree database transactions increase from less than 200 million to more than 630 million a day on Sundays. Records are also being viewed and attached at ever-increasing rates. The number of names being added to the tree each week has nearly doubled when compared to a year ago. This success has placed a strain on the performance and stability of the FamilySearch database and network infrastructure, and has prompted product engineering staff to implement costly workarounds and expedite its growth-management plans.

How We Plan to Avoid “Success Disaster”

At the core of the FamilySearch growth-management plan are Cassandra and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Cassandra is the name of an open-source noSQL database designed for high performance, availability, and scalability. AWS is a highly secure and reliable cloud-computing platform that will grow as we do. Moving to Cassandra and AWS will give FamilySearch a scalable foundation that effectively removes the threat of future growth-related success disasters.

Although many of our great software engineers are consumed with our growth-management plan, Product Engineering continues to release innovative new features to our patrons. Recent advancements include (1) the ability to print temple ordinance cards from home, (2) improvements in contextual help, and (3) the generation of new hints within 10 minutes of a name being added.

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  1. Whatever you are doing with regards to scaling up operations while maintaining reliability and functionality, please keep doing it. It’s nice to get a glimpse of the diligent work that is going on behind the curtain.

  2. How many of those names that are submitted are what I term re-submissions? By that I mean that I submit a name from my direct line with ALL of its correct details but someone else who is distantly related decides that although the Christian name of my is entry is recorded as Henry, they knew him as Harry so they decide to input the name again. This is a recurring thing. People often resubmit names with just a year and no other info just to get the name put through. Corrections to other peoples work is also a nightmare.

    1. That is the nature of a wiki platform. Over time new users will get the skills and understanding to be more accurate. I also spend a good deal of my time in Family Tree doing clean up, but I feel that if a new user is learning then it is worth my time.

  3. To avoid what Craig Miller describes, Google’s CEO Larry Page created a new company – Alphabet,- and is proceeding to split various sections of Google products into separate businesses and organizations. “A company of companies can innovate faster than a single large beast.” See article “Search for the Future” by Austin Carr, Davi Lidsky, JJ MCorvey, Harry McCracken, and Mark Wilson in the magazine FastCompany. Good luck to FamilySearch.

  4. Personally I would appreciate the ability to print a range of names in my tree. F’S does not have this feature.

  5. So, Cassandra is to remove the threat of future success disasters. Tongue in cheek, may I say that is a little ironic, as, according to Greek mythology, Cassandra is somebody whose warnings of impending disaster are always ignored.

    Seriously, it’s good to see that FamilySearch has the expertise to forestall “success disaster”. Thank you.

  6. The products discussed above are part of what the IT industry labels “Big Data”. I personally feel that the only way that we’ll be able to collect all of the data we need to accomplish the Family History effort is to leverage tools such as these. There is just too much data to be collected to be able to accomplish it with old technologies. Kudos to the Church for recognizing this.