Why did you accept that hint? A new ancestry.com feature.

Will you look at this? Ancestry.com is asking me why I accepted a hint. Or ignored it. Or said “maybe.”

I have the “beta features” flag turned on for ancestry.com. Despite working in the tech sector, I’m not really an early adopter, but I’ve been so frustrated with ancestry’s service (and with all my brick walls) that I figured it was worth getting to the bleeding edge.

I haven’t seen an announcement for this, but this feels huge to me.

My gut is that ancestry.com is evaluating its hint model—which is at least partially driven by one user adding a record to a profile that matches one of the profiles in my tree. That model assumes that all user input is accurate, when we all know that’s not true.

The short-hand for folks like me in the data analytics world is the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” If your dataset is garbage, your analysis will be garbage.

Asking questions such as these might just provide ancestry.com a data source to evaluate user contributions, possibly even use machine learning to assess the validity of hints.

For example, clicking that “I want to save and review later” is an easy indicator for ancestry’s algorithm to say “meh, don’t pay attention to this.”

Not selecting anything at all—which I suspect most ancestry.com users would do—would effectively provide the model the same answer: Don’t pay attention to this user’s input.

Response rate could also give ancestry.com a way to score their users: those that are committed to helping ancestry.com understand their data could potentially be given a higher weighting in a more modern hint algorithm. More important, it could help identify careless researchers, and limit their ability to muddy the waters.

Of course, this begs the question of whether ancestry.com should change their baseline assumption: that the central task in genealogy research is finding someone who’s already researched it.

I’m more intrigued by the behavioral side of it, though: by asking these questions, will users reconsider accepting an ancestry.com hint? Will people ask themselves “Is it just a name? Do that dates really match? Did I check the other people in the record?”

There are drawbacks, of course. Take this photo hint for George Rautzhong. It’s a photo of his tombstone, and I have chosen not to attach these to profiles.

I have two main reasons why I won’t attach a piece of evidence. First is that I don’t like the source—it might be a tertiary source, or just a picture I don’t care about. Second, I just don’t care about the profile: I mean, what do I gain from adding city directory entries for a sibling of my main line? Not much.

Ancestry.com has made an erroneous assumption that people will care equally about all the profiles in their tree.

I’ve been, at best, skeptical of the utility of ancestry.com’s features over the past year. But this tells me that great things could be on the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *