When The User Experience Breaks

I had a great weekend in Boston with the men over 5 feet tall in my family.  We watched the Red Sox paste the Braves (13–3) and then watched the Braves paste the Red Sox (14–0).  It was rainy and shitty all weekend, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time.

When reading my blogs this morning as I woke up and prepared for my long run, I came across yet another article on Geni and their $100m valuation.  I’ve never really been into genealogy so I ignored Geni, but after spending a weekend with some genetically linked people, I was inspired to give it a try.

The splash screen was great – it got the info from me that it needed to get started (first name, last name, email address.)  I was ready to roll but then got caught up in the three email “confirm this is you, change your password, confirm that you are really you” loop.  Then – the hell began.  First problem – the Tree screen wasn’t centered properly in Firefox and as a result I couldn’t enter my father’s name.  I fired up IE to try that and had a similar problem, but the formatting was a little better so I was able to pull it off.  I entered my mother and nothing appeared.  I entered her again and it said something like “we found her – is this the one?”  I hit ok and it said “sorry – data problem.”  I then entered my brother and got the “sorry – data problem” error. 

Done.  Less than 10 minutes and Geni lost me, at least for now.  I have no clue what the real problem was and if I’m an isolated case, but it’s bad news when the user experience breaks on a site that demands extreme viralness to succeed.  I’ve written in the past about how all the little things really matter with consumer facing sites.  My experience this morning is yet another example to toss on the pile.

Postscript – after writing this post, I closed my browser and started again from scratch to see what would happen.  The data sort of is there (my dad, mom, and brother appear), but when trying to add Amy I had the same UI problem in Tree view and when I go into List view there doesn’t appear to be a way to add a new person to the tree.  Now I’m really done for now.

Time to go run around the Charles River in the rain and ponder the next generation of user interface paradigms while I’m in the proximity of MIT and the Media Lab.

  • “I have no clue what the real problem was and if I

  • Hmm. That’s too bad, since the major obvious differentiator appears to be UI. I tried a few myself, and ran into a bug (Safari, Mac) pretty quickly myself. Reload seemed to help. It looks like Omnigraffle for family trees. I like the concept of a third leg on the major social network stool (friends = myspace, work = linkedin, family = …) Oddly the most impersonal of the three sites from a UI standpoint is Geni. Who knows, maybe they can get a lot of affiliate marketing revenue out of family reunion bookings at Yosemite and Yellowstone. Cheers.

  • I just tried it with I.E. Kinda a waste of time. The tree does not expand out beyond a couple of children and siblings without lots of clicking and crap.

    They have nice AJAX code going there, and you can see where they are trying to go, but it isnt 30% finished.

    I think this is currently designed for unmarried orphans.

    My valuation 300K

  • Rick

    Timing is everything – I tested the site a couple months ago and it worked fine. I was pleased with how easy and simple it was. Ironic that it isn’t working now when the buzz is high after their $100M valuation hit the wires.

  • Matt Fleckenstein


    Too bad I’ve fallen behind on my blog reading and am just getting to this now. Would’ve loved to have connected for a run on the Charles River…after all, it is a LONG ROAD TO BOSTON.

    Hope all is well.