Tuesday, December 17, 2013

To Wiki or Not to Wiki - That is the Question

This morning I read a post on the WikiTree forum - a new member decided WikiTree did not meet his needs, so he was saying goodby. Each month a few people who try WikiTree quickly decide it is not for them. Usually it is the same reason: they discover they want absolute control over their own tree.

This led me to ask the Great Genealogy Question of the Internet Age:

To Wiki or Not To Wiki?

In most decisions there is a gain/loss balance to consider: if I do X, what do I gain and what might I lose?

Here is my gain/loss analysis on joining WikiTree:

GAIN - I can freely express my strong opinions on 'how things ought to be'
LOSS - the consensus on any given issue might not agree with my opinion

GAIN - technology supporting WikiTree is constantly improving and making it easier to accommodate our diversity
LOSS - priorities in what improvements should be made first may not always coincide with my own priorities

GAIN - in the future all locations will be mapped modern and old names
LOSS - I'm not in control on how locations will be named, formatted or presented, the community as a whole decides

GAIN- refinements added to the tree multiply with membership growth
LOSS - time lost orienting new members, fixing mistakes by newbies like me

GAIN - challenges of differing opinions sharpen my knowledge and broaden my experience.
LOSS - frustration when the majority does not share my own preferences

GAIN- access to ancestors I would not have found on my own, many 'lost link' ancestors I have found on WikiTree.
LOSS - what if I do not agree on who is is my ancestor? [see note]

GAIN- participating in groups focused on my special interests where other people contribute to my special ancestors
LOSS - my energy and time diverted to people not in my direct ancestor lines

GAIN - learning from generous people sharing their wealth of experience
LOSS - time invested in a learning curve for the Wiki way of doing things

GAIN - building a unique tree for future generations where people can see their heritage, meet cousins
LOSS - what if I don't like the cousins I meet (what if they don't like me?)

GAIN - everyone contributes their valuable data, everyone reaps the rewards of others contributions
LOSS - my data is no longer solely mine - it becomes mutually owned by the community [see note]

It is true that a wiki format is not for everyone; we all give up a certain amount of personal control, in return for what we all have decided is a greater benefit to ourselves and to the community - a tree that grows over time, in scope and in accuracy, from thousands of contributors adding their unique discoveries.

In light of my gain/loss analysis, I believe that the benefits inherent in WikiTree far outweigh the loss of total control over "my" tree.  It is a delusion to think that because I discovered and documented certain of my ancestors, that they are all unique solely to myself. It is a fallacy that I have sole control over how that data is presented - the same data is available publicly and will be used by the thousands of cousins who are also descended from the same people. 'Control' quickly becomes a trap where every mistake I make is affirmed in the echo chamber of only one opinion - mine. I much prefer to have errors discovered and corrected.


Most genealogy websites harbor thousands of family trees which repeat the same individual names and data, often with the same errors, created by thousands of users.

WikiTree is the opposite, thousands of contributors growing a single, connected tree of our mutual ancestors, with short individual branches down to our unique families.

NOTE: strong exception to the 'mutually owned' tree - my own profile and my immediate ancestors remain private
NOTE: these conflicts are worked out by citing sources, and the strongest sources win

2 comments:

LianneLavoie said...

There's also a balance that can be struck here, which is common amongst WikiTreers, and that's contributing to WikiTree while maintaining a private tree on your computer. That gives you the benefits of the collaborative tree, while also knowing you have a tree that no one can mess up. Of course, that means you have to make changes in two places, but for a lot of people it's the right balance.

I love reading your blog! :)

~Lianne

Pandababy said...

Thank you Lianne! I like your idea of maintaining a private tree on my own computer, where perhaps I make notes or show a lineage that is not in consensus on WikiTree. It is a good choice for anyone who feels strongly about keeping their own research, yet wants to reap the benefits of WikiTree. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive:)

It is also good insurance for profiles that are frequently in dispute, gives a backup to restore the profile if an over-enthusiastic newbie 'helps' by changing the data to unsourced, disproved relationships.