From the Editor:
Curious about WikiTree? Now is your chance to ask the people behind the tree all of your questions. Share them with us in the comments below, and we’ll share WikiTree’s answers with you in an upcoming post. Don’t hold anything back. Chris and company are here to answer the questions that may help you use WikiTree more efficiently (or even those that are keeping you from using WikiTree currently!) Do you have a particularly heavy-hitting question that you’d prefer to email us privately? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to Chris Whitten and the team of WikiTree for being the IDG guest post this week! Visit them at www.WikiTree.com.
The Challenge of Growing One World Tree
WikiTree’s mission is to grow a single, worldwide family tree.
It’s designed to connect us all under one canopy, in one family forest. Rather than a collection of unconnected trees, WikiTree is a single tree where every ancestor has one profile that all the descendants and researchers share.
Is this a realistic goal?
One world trees have been tried before on various websites and there have been issues with the concept. Many people’s trees include unreliable information. When these trees are put together on a shared website, the mistakes get perpetuated. The incorrect information gets redistributed and the mistakes never get corrected.
How Mistakes Get Corrected on a Wiki
Mistakes happen on WikiTree too. All the time. The difference here is that mistakes can easily be corrected.
This is what being a wiki is all about. Wikis are a special type of website designed to make it possible for a community to productively collaborate on a common goal.
The most famous wiki is, of course, Wikipedia. Misinformation and mistakes do get published on Wikipedia. But they don’t get perpetuated. As easily as one contributor can add incorrect information, another contributor can correct it. Over time the good content drives out the bad.
Why isn’t it the other way around? Why doesn’t the bad content drive out the good, like how some shared tree projects have devolved into jumbles of misinformation?
In addition to the most basic feature of a wiki—that mistakes can be easily corrected by others—another essential feature of a wiki is activity tracking. You can see who changed what. You’re alerted when someone makes a change, and you can see exactly what was changed. On WikiTree we have activity feeds and e-mail updates that show you recent changes to your family members’ profiles. From these you can dig deeper and see all the details.
The Wiki Genealogy Community
Another essential feature of a successful wiki, a much less concrete one, is having a good community of contributors.
Despite the features of a wiki that allow for productive collaboration, it’s still possible for bad contributors to drive out
good ones. If you have too many of the former repeatedly making mistakes, the latter get discouraged and stop correcting them.
This is a challenge for all wikis, WikiTree included.
The foundation for productive, positive, enjoyable collaboration on WikiTree is our “Wiki Genealogy Honor Code“. We require all active members to digitally sign it, explicitly saying that they agree with its nine simple principles. It includes points about citing sources, crediting other researchers, and respecting copyrights and privacy. Click here to read the Honor Code.
Experienced genealogists know how important it is to cite sources. Disagreements about facts are common; most of these disagreements can be resolved by saying where you got your information.
If a disagreement can’t be resolved because one party doesn’t care about fixing a mistake (sometimes it’s hard to let go of a family myth), refuses to cite sources, or otherwise won’t communicate or collaborate with their cousins, they’re in open violation of the Honor Code and can be kicked off WikiTree.
We know that the goal of creating one worldwide family tree is ambitious. We have a long road ahead of us. But I hope you’ll agree that we’re headed in the right direction, thanks to a solid set of collaboration tools and a generous, positive community of wiki genealogists.
© Chris Whitten / WikiTree.com