Thursday, October 22, 2020

23andMe: Worse and Worse

It's never been a secret that I feel 23andMe is the worst DNA option of the 4 main companies when it comes to using it for genealogical purposes. While they do seem to still have the most reliable ethnicity percentages, and they offer the easiest way to get health reports that may actually be useful, when it comes to using our DNA matches for genealogy research, 23andMe are an epic fail, and over the years it has just become worse and worse. Between not hosting family trees/gedcom uploads, and capping our match list more and more, it's hardly surprising I've gotten very little use out of it and now it's only gotten worse. 

Years ago, back when I originally tested, they hosted uploaded gedcoms (family trees). Anyone who has done DNA based tree research knows this is essential to getting use out of your DNA matches. But not long after, 23andMe obviously decided this was a waste of their server space, but they at least attempted to provide an alternative. They did a deal with MyHeritage (long before MyHeritage got involved in DNA themselves), where gedcoms at 23andMe could be moved to MyHeritage, and a link to your MyHeritage tree would automatically appear in your 23andMe profile. Unfortunately, this didn't last long because at MyHeritage, you have to subscribe to view other people's trees, and probably a lot of 23andMe users weren't going to subscribe just for that reason. So it quickly became apparent that this was rather useless for most people. And of course, MyHeritage eventually began to sell their own DNA test, so they didn't want to be associated with any other DNA company at that point. 

For a while, 23andMe simply didn't host any trees at all. They did offer a spot in your profile to paste a link to an off-site tree. But most people didn't bother, and just like at MyHeritage, viewing trees at also requires a subscription (though they now have a sharing option, they didn't at the time). So unless your tree was available somewhere for free, this was still useless, which is why most people didn't bother. It seemed like 23andMe had abandoned any pretense they ever had at being genealogically useful.

Recently, they did trial an option where you could link your FamilySearch tree to your 23andMe account. This finally seemed like a great solution - it's free, and it's integrated, not just a link to an off-site tree, but something you could view at 23andMe. Sadly, not many people participated in the beta trial, and after months of beta testing, instead of officially adding it as a feature, it disappeared without a word from the company (something that happens a lot). I don't know if it's because not many people tested it out so they thought it wouldn't get used, or if it was something else, but one day it was just gone, so once again we're left with nothing.

Granted, they have recently added a tree feature that let's you add your ancestors and DNA matches to it, which helps visualize how you are related to some of your closest matches. But it only goes back to 2nd great grandparents (3rd cousins), and more importantly, this is for your own private usage only, no one else can see it. If no one else can see it, no one else can make any use of your tree for genealogical purposes. So this is not really what we actually need.

I did also notice they are advertising a "free quote for a genetic genealogy research package offered by Legacy Tree" which I assume includes a family tree. But not only does that cost a lot of money, it's totally unnecessary if you've already build your own tree. And even if you have a tree built at Legacy Tree, it's not integrated into 23andMe.

If that's not disappointing enough, let's talk about our match list, called "DNA Relatives". 23andMe has always capped our match list. At one point, it was capped at 1,000, then they upped it to 2,000, which was great. And more than that, they offered way to search for and find other people you shared DNA with, that you could connect with and add to your match list. But over time, they gradually removed those features, making it harder and harder to expand your match list. Of course, your match list still expanded as more people tested - it's not like people got bumped off the end of the list as new ones came in. Apparently, 23andMe have decided that these essential matches are taking up too much server space and have quietly reduce our match list to just 1,500 people. 

In comparison, I have over 22,000 matches at AncestryDNA, and that's not just because more people have tested there, it's because AncestryDNA's matching threshold is 8 cM. At 23andMe, capping my list at 1,500 people (actually 1,454 for me, whereas previously I had over 1,800) means my most distant matches share 20 cM with me. I regularly point this out, but shared segments of 15+ cM have a 100% chance of being identical by descent. That means 23andMe are excluding thousands and thousands of matches that have a 100% chance of being identical by descent. It's always been a real bummer, and in some ways I'm not sure that losing a mere 400-500 matches is that big of a deal since I never got much use out of 23andMe's matches anyway, thanks to their lack of hosting shareable trees/gedcoms. But here's the worst part about the new changes at 23andMe...

They are offering an option to expand your match list to 4,500... great, right?! Except it's going to cost you. Firstly, if you haven't tested on the V5 chip and/or haven't paid to include Health reports, you'll have to upgrade your test. The expanded service only applies to people with an Ancestry+Health V5 test (because it includes extra health reports too, not just the extended match list, and that requires the raw data in the V5 chip). If you tested previously on an old chip, you can upgrade to V5 Ancestry+Health for $99 (normally $199). If you're already on V5 but don't have Health reports, the upgrade to Health will cost $125.

And on top of that, you will have to pay a yearly subscription of $29. While that is not a huge amount of money, no other DNA company requires a subscription to access extra DNA matches. Especially when you consider that even the expanded match list you have to pay extra for is only a small fraction of what you'd get at AncestryDNA for no extra cost, this offer seems of poor value, unless of course you're actually after the extra health options that come with it, that AncestryDNA doesn't even offer. 

What that tells us, is that just like always, 23andMe are really more about the health and ethnicity side of DNA testing, whereas AncestryDNA are geared more towards genealogy. That's not surprising, since are, after all, a genealogy website, whereas 23andMe are not. But it still means that for us genealogists, 23andMe is not the ideal company to test with. 

For more info, see 23andMe's page on their "23andMe+ Experience".

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for voicing all of my opinions about 23&Me. It is truly my least favorite site. I get no value from it. And it seems to be getting worse. When friends or family ask me where to test I never tell them 23&Me. If someone asks me about it specifically, I explain my reasons.
    I’d like to hold out hope they will improve because it’s where my deceased mother tested. While I have uploaded her data to FtDNA, MyHeritage and Gedmatch, I sadly can't have her info on Ancestry.