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           January, 2007

      Carol Sanderson, Editor
      Charles Hansen, Advisor

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  Rootsweb Upgrades Software
— Charles Hansen

        Did you get a new computer or software for Christmas? Have you installed the new software, or turned on your new computer? We get real used to the old computers and software and don't want to upgrade, but eventually we néed to do that. My first couple of computers did not even have a modem. When I finally bought a modem, it came with a Prodigy floppy disk, which I sat on the shelf near the computer for a month or so after I put the modem in my computer. I went to a local genealogical society meeting and one of the members was passing out Prodigy floppy disks, but I already had one so I passed it on when it went by me.

        Prodigy had a group of bulletin boards, and the genealogical one was just a topic on another group of bulletin boards. Messages posted would last three days if no one replied, and five days if someone replied. Soon the genealogy board got so busy that it got its own bulletin board. Prodigy upgraded several times, and the bulletin board had more features. Notes lasted a lot longer than before. The genealogy bulletin boards had many very experienced genealogists, and so by reading their notes you could learn from their experience. Prodigy kept upgrading their service, adding chats, internet access, and of course E-Mail. By 1998 the software Prodigy was using had been tweaked and modified so much that it had pretty well came to its limit. Prodigy had lost a lot of members and this software was not ready for the year 2000. Prodigy decided it could not upgrade the old software they had any more, so they came out with completely new software, Prodigy Internet. They were hoping everyone on the old Classic Prodigy would love the new software and join to the new service. That did not happen. Many people did not have a computer that would run the new Prodigy Internet software, a lot hated the new service. The bulletin boards looked like a big step backward. The Genealogy board was not migrated, but finally found a place on the Crafts Bulletin Board.

        What does this have to do with Rootsweb? When Prodigy closed their old bulletin boards, I was asked by the then Genealogy Expert to start a mail list for the Prodigy Genealogy Bulletin Board Orphans. I had already subscribed to several mail lists on Rootsweb so I knew about these mail lists.

        The software Rootsweb was using then for the mail lists was called Smart List. Over the years, Rootsweb did a lot of modifying this software as more and more mail lists were started. Many genealogists joined these lists. I am not sure when Rootsweb added Message Boards, but you could post queries there and even add pictures and GEDCOM files. Over the years, people really got used to these message boards and mail lists, but both were getting old and showing their age.

        Last summer, Rootsweb told us they would be getting new mail list software, called Mail Man, and new Message Board software also. We were to register for the new message boards as soon as possible as you néeded to register to use the new message boards. Late in August, we got a schedule where they would migrate the mail lists to the new software based on the first letter of your list. All the A lists were migrated first, and then the B lists and so on. All my lists start with W so my lists would be near the end. The migration went badly. Subscribers were left off when lists were migrated, lists disappeared, passwords did not work, etc. List owners were complaining about the new software sending out tons of E-Mails to the list owners. Some with many lists were so busy just answering E-Mails they hardly had time to sleep. They stopped the migrations, and did a few tweaks to help the list owners. Then they sent out a new list of migration days. W was still near the end. Migrations went smoothly after that, but much more slowly than the first migration schedule. Is the Mail Man software better than Smart List? It does have a lot of features that Smart List never had, it handles larger number of posts it, is getting better than Smart List, and does not cause the servers to stop working for almost no reason. Smart List did handle spam better, but then Rootsweb had tweaked the spam filters for about ten years, and Mail Man is learning, but a lot of list owners are still angry at the amount of spam messages they get every day.

        Early in December, RootsWeb finally got around to switching the message boards to the new software we had to register for last summer. Wow what a change! I do not administer any message boards, so I was not directly affected by those changes. However, I do answer many queries and the new message boards make it hard to send a private E-Mail to the sender of the query. I finally went to the help section for the boards to read how to even find the E-Mail address of the person who sent the query. Lots of people are very disturbed with Rootsweb, and vowing to leave the message boards for other services.

        Remember what I said about Prodigy changing to the new Prodigy Internet software and how many people did not switch? Would anyone want to go back to the old Prodigy software? Rootsweb had used Smart List and their message boards for years and people got used to these. Change is not easy, but the old Smart List had reached the end of its life and was failing so much they néeded to upgrade to just keep the mail lists working. The new message board software has one feature the old software did not have. This is a better way to hide your E-Mail address from the robots that mine for E-Mail addresses so they can send you spam. I hope that feature works as I get a lot of spam now and I am for anything that makes it harder for the spammers. Will everyone leave Rootsweb because of the new software? I hope not. RootsWeb néeds to do a lot of tweaking of the software, and I hope everyone will read the new help files until the bugs are worked out.

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