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Mocavo

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Response to comments on Do I need a local database program?

Commentator ACProctor made the following comment in response to the post on whether or not a local database was necessary?:
Ignoring the fact that the models used for shared/collaborative trees demonstrably do not work, there are some important questions regarding use of cloud storage:
1) Who owns the data and what use will it be put to?
2) How public will it be and what about maintaining senstive information?
3) When a work involves significant investment, what about copyright?
4) What happens to the data when I become a leaf on my own tree?
5) When you're still working on a hypothesis, how do you prevent it being prematurely copied all over the place and becoming a "de facto truth"?
I think that I would like to respond to each of the issues raised. This might take me some time, but here it goes.

The commentator makes the statement that "the models used for shared/collaborative trees demonstrably do not work..." I am not certain what he refers to with this statement. I am only aware of a very few "shared/collaborative trees." For example, Geni.com has what they call " the definitive online family tree" which is designed to be collaborative and presently has over 70 million people. There are other online family trees that are inherently collaborative such as WeRelate.org and FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. It seems to me that all three of these different approaches to an online collaborative family tree seem to work very well. Since that is the case, I am not sure in what way they do not "work."

The basic issue is whether or not it is feasible to have the sole repository of your genealogical research online and publicly available? By my question in my previous post, I did not wish to imply that you could not keep your own data off the main computer and on a desktop or some other location apart from the public member trees.

Now to the questions.

No. 1: Who owns the data and what use will it be put to?
In the ideal model of an online collaborative family tree, no one owns the data. That is what is meant by the term collaborative. The tree is the sum total of all of the contributions made from all of the users. As long as there are mechanisms in place to assure the integrity of the data and provisions for sources, notes, additional documents and other supporting information, the existence of collaboration alone does not negate accuracy. If this question refers to a use of the data by others than the primary contributors of the data, the question presupposes an agenda by the host of the online tree to use the data for some purpose other than that imposed on the data by the users. I am not sure again how this would be accomplished.

No. 2: How public will it be and what about maintaining sensitive information?
This is a real concern if the only copy of the data is online. However, realistically, this only applies to living individuals who may be incorporated into the online tree. I would assume, as is the case with nearly all online family trees, that information about any living people would be blocked to anyone except the originator. I have a rather liberal view of need to consider any information about remote ancestors as "sensitive." Any information that directly impacts a living person would fall into this category, but there is no reason to include personal or sensitive information about living people. Even in collaborative trees, there is often a way to mark information private and restrict access.

No. 3: When a work involves significant investment, what about copyright?
No one should add any information to an online collaborative family tree that they wish to maintain was subject to a claim of copyright. Any copyrighted information should be immediately removed at the author's request. Just because the public tree exists does not mean that copyrighted information needs to be included. No matter whether or not the program itself is entirely online, private and owned files will always be necessary.

No. 4: What happens to the data when I become a leaf on my own tree?
This is a serious question that has no present satisfactory answer. I have written several blog posts about the disposition of online data upon the death of the "owner." I will continue to comment on this issue in subsequent posts.

No. 5: When you're still working on a hypothesis, how do you prevent it being prematurely copied all over the place and becoming a "de facto truth"?
This is likely one of the better arguments for a local database and may very well tip the scale against a totally public, and thereby copiable, database.

These are very perceptive questions in a very good comment. Thanks for the response. The topics are not exhausted and I would welcome further comments.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting ACProctor's questions and your comments.

    Re #5: As we know, Facts aren't copyrightable, but our research notes, person notes, hypotheses, etc. are. If you don't want them put out there, don't put them in your database. I also note that only the Ancestry Member Tree Owner or editors can read or edit the Person notes, so non-Owner/Editors cannot see the Notes. Unless someone put them in a Story, of course!

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  2. My list was obviously not very clear James. Let me just add a little more context to 1-3

    1) Who owns the data and what use will it be put to?

    I was thinking more of the content provider rather than other contributors. anyone who thinks they won't use your data in ways you do not wish have probably not used facebook much.

    2) How public will it be and what about maintaining senstive information?

    This is definitely not related soley to living individuals. That is a very Western viewpoint. Information uncovered about long-dead ancestors in other cultures could be very sensitive.

    3) When a work involves significant investment, what about copyright?

    Any work of research and academic investment can be copyrightable. Unless your tree only contains vital-statistic facts gleaned from evidence then it should be a concern. For instance, all your reasoning, hypotheses, and conclusions constitute such a work. Do you publish them for anyone to lay claim to, or under some special licensing agreement?

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  3. Re "the models used for shared/collaborative trees demonstrably do not work...".
    I would agree with the original comment that they do not work, as in no case that I've seen, do they cater for _collaboration_ between different people with differing views. Rather, they admit of one truth only, with whoever updates it last, winning. Adding a few tweaks like discussions and curators simply don't seem to work. Some laud curators / arbitrators / whatever - some regard them as part of the problem.

    To have genuinely collaborative facilities, I need to have my own tree (somewhere), which cannot be updated by anyone else, but is visible by others. That way I can propose my view of a family. Also we need to have a separate collaborative tree, visible to anyone and updatable by (presumably) anyone.

    The process side of it, would be a mechanism to "reconcile" the collaborative tree with the individual trees (presumably on request) since only that way do we assist a collaboration between people. I guess that reconciliation mechanism would need to allow updating in both directions.

    Without all this, we don't actually facilitate collaboration as my own view is lost as soon as it's updated.

    You very rightly state that you "did not wish to imply that you could not keep your own data off the main computer and on a desktop or some other location apart from the public member trees". Unfortunately, that message simply isn't getting through to people and all too often the collaboration tree is depicted as "the only tree you'll ever need".

    Picking up on 2 of the 5 points:
    1. "I would assume ... that information about any living people would be blocked to anyone except the originator." It needs to go further than this. It is absurdly easy to work out the hidden names and dates on many Ancestry trees, simply from the shape of the tree, names of deceased parents and public records. And given the number of times I've been asked for my mother's maiden name as a security measure, that is not good.

    5. Premature copying: Interesting - not really thought of this - presumably I need to be able set a "Publish yes/no" flag? Which could also help with (1) above. Probably absurdly simplistic but it's something like that...



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