23 August 2012

What's Ahead for FamilySearch Indexing

A few days ago, a look into the future of FamilySearch Indexing was provided in the FamilySearch Blog. The following article was written by Scott Flinders and posted by Jen Anderson on 17 Aug 2012:

The current FamilySearch indexing system has done a remarkable job of supporting a growing workforce of active volunteers and allowing us to index hundreds of millions of records in more than a dozen languages each year. However, the system is due for some major renovations. We are happy to announce that work has begun on a new, more robust system with new architecture and features better suited to handle the continuing growth of our active volunteers and increasing project availability.

A Full Suite of Indexing Tools
The new FamilySearch indexing system will include several different tools to make indexing more convenient and powerful. In the new system, the FamilySearch indexing program will be browser-based, meaning you will simply sign in to the website, select a project to work on, and begin indexing right in your browser—no need to download and install the indexing software on your computer anymore! While most indexers typically have a constant connection to the Internet, the tool will also have an offline feature so you can check out a batch and work on it even if there is no Internet connection.
You asked for the ability to make corrections. You got it! Along with the new tool, you will be able to correct and annotate records already published in our searchable database. If that isn’t exciting enough, indexing on-the-fly will also be available. This means that genealogists will be able to index and add incremental pieces of information to the searchable database as they come across them in their research. Today, records can only be added to the searchable database as part of whole collections.

New Tools for Societies and Archives
The new program will include more of the tools an archive or society needs to set up and manage their own projects, organize groups of volunteers, and perform all of the tasks necessary to create digital browse aids and searchable indexes from collections they control. Additionally, individual users will have the ability to belong to multiple groups, so they won’t have to pick and choose.

Improved Group Administration Tools
Within the new administrator portal (which will be accessible from any computer with Internet access), group administrators will be able to create and manage groups of volunteers. Administrators will be able to set up groups so that any user in the system can see the group and request to join. Or groups can be set up so they are available by invitation only. Group administrators will also be able to associate their group with specific projects.

Group administrators can manage membership in the group, invite other users in the group to be administrators, send messages to group members, and see reports on the work done by members of the group.

New Linking Tool
Sometimes an archive or society may have already created an index of a record collection using some method other than FamilySearch indexing. In many cases, the specific records in those indexes are not linked to the corresponding images in the collection. One of the valuable elements of a searchable index is the ability to quickly jump to the source image once a record is located. The linking tool allows volunteers to link records from previously-indexed sources to the corresponding image in a collection. The volunteer looks at various images from a collection, identifies the records that belong on each image, and links them from the list of records that were previously created.

The original index may have been incomplete for one reason or another, so the linking tool also makes it possible for volunteers to add records and automatically link them to the image during this same process.

Digital Browse Aids
While a searchable index of every record in a collection is the most efficient way for researchers to find records, it is also time consuming to create, since volunteers must transcribe much of the information on each image in the collection. As a result, FamilySearch and some archives choose to publish the images in certain collections online first so genealogists can at least browse them image by image. This process, called “digital browsing” is much like a microfilm reader but occurs from the convenience of any computer with an Internet browser.

For browse-only collections, it is helpful to provide digital browse aids that act like links or pointers to help the researcher quickly jump to the desired part of the collection. The digital browse aids simply allow volunteers to highlight multiple images in the collection and tag them as a subsection of the collection. Typically, these tags represent a period of time, location, etc., depending on the type of records within the collection.

As you can imagine, building out such a powerful and complex system takes significant planning and effort. FamilySearch is well underway on this project and has already begun piloting some of the new functionality with a limited number of projects and volunteers. While the exact dates for rolling out the new system have not been set, we will progressively open up the testing to more users as we move forward.

We are excited about the tremendous work that is being done in making more records searchable online. We also understand how much work is left to do and look forward to the new indexing system coming online to help accelerate that work!

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