03 June 2013

Beta Testing Ancestry.com's New Shoebox App

     A while ago, Ancestry.com put a notice on their Facebook page, looking for anyone interested in beta testing a new app.  A few days ago, I received an invitation to try out this new app, called Shoebox.

     In the words of Ancestry.com, Shoebox is designed as a way to "quickly scan your paper photos, tag people in your family tree, and add important historical information like dates and places. You can also share your photos with family and friends."

     I downloaded the app to my iPhone, but it's also available for Android phones.  I found the app to be quick, clean, and intuitive, though missing a few features.

     It's easy to figure out: you take a picture of a person, object or old photo, tag it to a person in your family tree, add a few details, and you're done.

     What Works?

  • You can upload photos already on your phone, or take new photos.
  • You can easily switch between multiple trees on your account.
  • The app has an intuitive cropping tool, or you can turn off cropping.
  • You can tag faces in the photo and instantly add the photos to the appropriate people in your tree.
  • Your photos are stored in the app in an attractive scrolling view.
  • I have not experienced any crashes.

     What Doesn't Work?

  • If you don't have an Ancestry.com family tree, there's no point to the app.  This is not a bad thing, but simply something to keep in mind.
  • There is no way to rotate your photo to horizontal if the app sees your photo as being vertical. Suggestion: Add a rotation tool.
  • There is no way to edit photos taken with the app (so you might want to take them with your phone's camera and import them). Suggestion: Add basic photo editing tools such as brightness and contrast
  • There is no way to sort the photos stored in the app. Once you have a few dozen photos, there's no way to find a specific one. Suggestion: Add a search tool, that will search tagged faced and information from the descriptions.
  • Tagging is inconsistant.  I've uploaded three photos, each with two people; only one person ends up with a saved tag. Bug.
  • Once you've saved a photo, you cannot edit it again. 
  • You cannot access any photos in your tree that you did not add using this app.
     The last two bullet points go to my major complaint about this app: it's a one-trick pony and doesn't really stand on its own. I don't know why they created an entirely new app for a feature that should have simply been added to their existing Family Tree app.  For the most part this app does work very well, but then again, it doesn't do much.  It's an upload tool, but I would expect it to also be an editing tool.  I can see myself using it a bit if I have photos on my phone that I want to add to my Ancestry.com tree, but I can also see myself forgetting that it exists.  

     Here's a scenario that I'd love to see with an app like this.  You're visiting a relative and taking photos of old photos that they own using this app.  You upload them to your Ancestry.com tree and tag the appropriate ancestors.  You then review other photos already on your tree.  Your relative provides additional information, maybe identifies an unknown person in a group photo, and you can then edit the photo to add this information.  Right now you can't do all of that with this app.

     The Shoebox app is brand new and still in beta, so there's hope yet.  I hope that Ancestry.com takes the suggestions of its testers and adds more features or even combines it with their Family Tree app.

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