FTDNA redesign: good, bad and ugly

Family Finder redesign

No, you didn’t sleep through a few days — today isn’t Sunday.

FFnew11And though The Legal Genealogist usually writes about DNA only on Sunday, the brand-spanking-new interface rolled out yesterday by Family Tree DNA for its Family Finder test results can’t wait until Sunday: it’s too different.

As with all redesigns — and particularly all redesigns without involving the bulk of the user community — there are some parts of this redesign that are leaving users baffled: “How do I do that now?” “Where is this feature?”1

In the end, as with all redesigns, folks are likely to come away thinking some of it is good, some bad, and some ugly.

And, as with all redesigns, we can hope that what’s bad and what’s ugly can be fixed, changed or just plain rethought in the days and weeks to come.

The good

First, the good. And there are two really useful elements to the redesign.

• It’s much easier to triangulate with all of your matches. Triangulating is where you see which of your matches not only match you, but match each other. That starts moving you in the direction of identifying common ancestors with groups of matches.

This in-common-with feature (ICW) is one of the most useful features offered by FTDNA, but in the old system, you had to pick some bogus “known relationship” and assign it to a match to begin the process of seeing who else was a match in common with you and a particular match.2

Under the redesign, you can triangulate with all of your matches — see who else in your match list does or does not match you and another match — without having to identify a known relationship. That eliminates all those confusing messages with matches who think you’re holding back on them when they ask you what the known relationship is and you tell them there isn’t one.

You can get step-by-step directions to doing a triangulation with one of your matches in Rebekah Canada’s blog post “FTDNA Family Finder Matches Get a New Look (Part 3).”3

• There’s a new easy way to select people for the chromosome browser. The chromosome browser allows you to see where — in what areas on what chromosome(s) — you match up to five of your matches at a time. It’s an easy visual way to advance that triangulation process and move towards identifying common ancestors with groups of matches.

It has its limits, for sure,4 but it’s a very useful tool, one that is generally considered indispensable by genetic genealogists.

But in the old system it was clunky: you had to identify the people you wanted to compare yourself to on the matches page but then add them to the browser on the browser page. That meant a lot of writing down names or losing your place in what you were doing.

Under the redesign, you can choose the five people to compare in the chromosome browser right from the match list, and when you click on compare, the chromosome browser opens in a new tab or window so you don’t lose your place in the match list.

This feature is in what’s called the advanced view (click on “show advanced” above the match list) on the redesigned results page, and you can get an illustrated overview of advanced view in Rebekah Canada’s blog post “FTDNA Family Finder Matches Get a New Look (Part 2).”5

The bad

There are some aspects to the redesign that are … um … less than really useful at best or just plain not working as designed.

For example, one of the new sort options is the ability to sort by mtDNA or YDNA haplogroup. Right now, there’s no way to ask for a specific haplogroup and the vast majority of Family Finder users haven’t done other tests. So there’s an enormous group that sorts first of people whose haplogroup is “N/A” (not applicable). Finding only people who are, say, haplogroup I or haplogroup J means clicking almost at random through pages of results to find where that haplogroup turns up in the list.

More significantly, people in my family who have done other tests aren’t always showing up with their haplogroup assignments. The profile of one uncle who’s tested at 67 YDNA markers clearly shows that his YDNA haplogroup is R-M269, but his results on the Family Finder advanced view read “N/A.” In fact, most of my closest relatives who have done YDNA testing don’t show a YDNA haplogroup at all. So there’s some repair work needed to that part of the redesign.

Another problem is with triangulation after you find and select a match using name filtering. Say I know I have a match named John Smith. So I use the Name filter to find John Smith. Then I open John’s advanced view, click on “triangulate” and choose “in common with.” There are never any results returned, because the search for matches in common is confounded with the filtering choice to search for people with that name. This isn’t a new issue — the filter overrides were a headache in the old design too. But that really needs work.

And every time you make a change in the filtering, you have to click on apply. Most users will, I think, like the fact that filtering now doesn’t happen automatically (requiring a lot of resets when you made a mistake). But allowing those of us who are keyboard users to just hit the enter key instead of mousing over to a button would be a welcome change.

The ugly

There is one huge negative to the redesign and that’s the lost ability to tell the system to show you matches that are new since a specific date. There are now two options — to show those new in the last three months and those new in the last six months — but no way any more to say you’d like to see only those matches new since, say, last Tuesday.

For those of us who routinely maintain match lists for multiple kits in spreadsheets offline, that’s going to be a major pain. Where we used to be able to filter for and then download only a specific subset of new matches, now, each time there are new results, we’ll be forced to download either the entire match list for each kit or the entire match list for the last three months and then delete the duplicates from the master file.

Feedback

One thing’s for sure: users will have issues with the redesign. There will be things we like and things we don’t. And we need to say so. There’s a big Feedback button at the top of every page. I’ve already used it… and will continue to do so.


SOURCES

  1. Rather than reinvent the wheel here, let me just refer these kinds of questions to the illustrated set of directions as to how to do things and where features are in the trio of blog posts by Rebekah Canada at Haplogroup: Rebekah Canada, “FTDNA Family Finder Matches Get a New Look (Part 1),” Haplogroup, posted 2 Oct 2013 (http://www.haplogroup.org : accessed 3 Oct 2013). Also, ibid., “FTDNA Family Finder Matches Get a New Look (Part 2)” and “FTDNA Family Finder Matches Get a New Look (Part 3).”
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “A common DNA question,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Aug 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 3 Oct 2013).
  3. Rebekah Canada, “FTDNA Family Finder Matches Get a New Look (Part 3),” Haplogroup, posted 2 Oct 2013 (http://www.haplogroup.org : accessed 3 Oct 2013).
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “A relative match… or maybe not,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 22 Jan 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 3 Oct 2013).
  5. Rebekah Canada, “FTDNA Family Finder Matches Get a New Look (Part 2),” Haplogroup, posted 2 Oct 2013 (http://www.haplogroup.org : accessed 3 Oct 2013).
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13 Responses to FTDNA redesign: good, bad and ugly

  1. Linda Deppner says:

    Kinda wish I was having these problems! I paid for my uncle’s y-DNA test several years ago, and so far we have no matches at all.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Linda, it’s really not all that uncommon to have no YDNA matches, and certainly no close ones. My father’s family emigrated from Germany in 1925 and my brother’s YDNA results so far are no help at all. This is where patience comes in… (something I’m not known for…)

  2. Rondina says:

    This seems like the techs did the redesign to use their neat new algorithms without having the changes tested by real users.

  3. Israel P. says:

    The “suggested relationship” seems to have disappeared entirely.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It does seem to have disappeared, but in my experience it was rarely correct anyway. The range is always a safer bet.

  4. Jana Last says:

    Judy,

    Thank you for this post. I’m still waiting for my Family Finder test results. The expected due date is October 23. Yay!

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/10/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-october-4.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  5. Pingback: Friday Finds – 10/04/13

  6. Cyndi says:

    Could you explain exactly what triangulate is and does? My guess is that it’s either a list of people who match both you and the person you’re triangulating with. Or it’s a list of people who match the other person and you with at least one shared segment (though it’s probably the first one). But it’s not clear.

    I did a couple tests. First with my one known relationship match in the bunch, and I match several of her relatives on FTDNA too. But it showed no triangulation matches. Second with someone on my “close and immediate” match list (though we can’t find the paper trail) and I got 118 PAGES of “in common with” matches. Another “close” match has 122 pages of results. Another has 139 pages. Someone related to the known relationship has only 7 triangulation matches, not including the relative. Another relation of the known relationship has 7 matches which *does* include the known relationship of mine (yet he’s not showing up when I triangulate with her).

    This seems pretty random. Is it all supposed to mean something?

    Thanks.

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