The Mobile App–What We've Learned

In February 2012, FamilySearch quietly launched a beta (preliminary) test of a FamilySearch indexing mobile app for the iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) platforms. The purpose of the beta test was to gauge overall interest in mobile indexing, get feedback on the product design, and determine the relative effectiveness of the mobile approach vs. the traditional desktop indexing approach.

We could not be more pleased with the response and enthusiasm of those who have downloaded and used the mobile app. So, the first order of business is to thank everyone who participated. Again, you showed what makes indexers such a special and caring group of individuals. Rest assured that any feedback you provide will help us improve the product, and all information indexed on the mobile app will eventually become part of the searchable collection on FamilySearch.org.

At this point, we feel we have enough beta testers and have decided to restrict the app from further downloading. This change will occur on Wednesday, December 19. For those who are currently using the mobile app to index, you may continue doing so if you desire. We will continue to produce a limited number of new record “snippets” to index in order to refine our approach to the kinds of snippets that work best.

For your information, here are some things we have learned from the beta test. • Indexers are genuinely interested in an “on-the-go” indexing tool. To date, the app has been downloaded more than 150,000 times, and more than 21,000 individuals have used it each month since February.

  • The mobile app is a great way to introduce more and different kinds of people to indexing. New users who have never indexed in the desktop system enthusiastically embraced this new way of contributing. On the other hand, we learned that the amount of indexing completed by people on their handheld devices is, on average, far less than most traditional desktop indexers.
  • The mobile app (and the system supporting it) still needs a lot of work. As soon as the downloading started, we began to get feedback. While most users thought it was a fantastic idea, many provided very helpful suggestions for improvements. These suggestions will all be carefully evaluated as we continue developing the mobile indexing solution.
  • Producing one-word or one-name snippets, as opposed to indexing entire images, is still relatively expensive for FamilySearch. It takes time and effort to isolate small pieces of information and then serve them up one at a time to waiting indexers. So far the technology for automating this process is lagging, and additional development will be required to make this method cost-effective and efficient in comparison to traditional indexing.

So what does this all mean for the future of mobile indexing?

  • We know there are people—we believe many—who may never index using the desktop tool, but who will periodically index on a tablet or smartphone. Their collective contribution to making names searchable online could be immense, so it’s important to us to enable and encourage this potentially significant segment of the indexer population.
  • The mobile app beta test is clearly an important stepping stone to the future of mobile indexing, but it also has important implications for future versions of the desktop indexing program. The indexing platform of the future may actually resemble more of a hybrid of the two approaches, rather than the mutually exclusive designs and approaches we see today.

We know the beta test has raised the anticipation level for some, so we ask for patience as we continue to work toward delivering a truly effective mobile solution. FamilySearch is committed to getting this right and we have taken some important steps in that direction. We appreciate your participation in indexing in any of its forms so that searchable names can continue to be made available to anxious researchers. After all, people still need help finding their ancestors, and you can make the difference they need to be successful in their searching!

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