Ancestry execs say mobile, social are the future of genealogy

Published: Saturday, Feb. 4 2012 2:33 p.m. MST

Tim Sullivan, chief executive officer for Ancestry.com, introduces talks about the future of family history industry at the RootsTech convention in Salt Lake.

Joey Ferguson, Deseret News

Ancestry.com Inc.’s emphasis for the future is mobile and social, according to a panel of the Provo-based family history company’s executives that presented at the RootsTech convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake.

The panel also talked about the future of family history and Ancestry.com, with the growing mobile market becoming an emphasis for the company.

Ancestry’s mobile app has been downloaded 2 million times. A majority of those downloads were in 2011. After adding a feature to the mobile product during Thanksgiving, there have been more than 2 million record “hints” accepted.

The site has also seen mobile access account for 12 percent of all visits, up from 8 percent a few months ago, said Eric Shoup, senior vice president of product for Ancestry.

“We’re going to start building our new products on mobile first because it offers such a great way for us to get real clear about what we’re trying to do for our customers,” Shoup said.

Facebook integration is another focus for the genealogy company.

Ancestry has plans for an app set up on the social networking site with “more visible testing to be seen the next couple of months,” said Tim Sullivan, chief executive officer of Ancestry.

“We think that starting one’s family tree through Facebook ought to be someday the default way to get started with family history,” Sullivan said in an interview with the Deseret News.

The first of two presentations was an enhanced search system that reads digitized documents. The new system uses indexed records to help users better search for records and connect them to their family tree. The indexed records also allow Ancestry to provide more help to users through its “hinting” feature.

“We’ve already launched 500,000 of these records on the site in a beta form,” Shoup said while demonstrating the new tech.

Ancestry executives also demonstrated new software that makes census records easier to read. With the new system on the site, a cell on a census record will display its contents in plain text when clicked on.

“We’re trying to use technology to create value,” Sullivan said. “Clearly these are examples of technology that we hope make the service better and easier.”

The panel also discussed plans to increase its workforce by 80 engineers within the next year.

Ancestry may run into resistance in recruiting, as some perceive family history as boring, said Scott Sorensen, vice president of engineering at Ancestry.

“I’ve found that the easiest way to get people interested in applying technology to genealogy is to talk about the really challenging problems that we have to solve and the scale at which we have to solve them,” Sorensen said.

The company currently has about 300 engineers.

EMAIL: jferguson@desnews.com

TWITTER: @joeyferguson

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