I am really amazed at the level of antagonism towards a program on the Web. It is just a program and a very well designed program at that. Some of the comments I have read over the past few days would make FamilySearch.org Family Tree to be something threatening and dangerous. Some even suggest that the program be abandoned. I guess that this comes from the fact that it is basically revolutionary and outside of the normal boundaries of genealogical experience. It appears that at least some of the comments were made in response to my previous posts discussing whether or not you can own your genealogy.
Just to give some idea of the level of antagonism to the program, here are some of the types of words used to describe it: dysfunctional, a mess, inaccurate, and unworkable.
FamilySearch Family Tree is exactly what it is claimed to be: an analog of the real world human family tree. Each node on the Family Tree is a place holder for information about a real person. Whether or not such a program is "possible" is a moot point. It is not only possible, it is operational and functioning very well. I believe the reason it is revolutionary and threatening to the status quo in genealogy is complex. In a real sense, Family Tree, will ultimately destroy most of the historic isolationism of the genealogical community. Additionally, the program threatens the control of the traditional genealogist over the data they claim to own by virtue of their research efforts. Traditional existing family trees are not a threat because we all know that they are unreliable and, for the most part, unsourced. But here is the FamilySearch Family Tree with hundreds of thousands of sources going online to support its conclusions concerning relationships. Why do genealogists feel threatened and antagonistic towards a program that promotes the inclusion of tens of thousands of sources every day?
I think that at least part of the answer is that previously, genealogists could be secure in the their conclusions, essentially because there was no one to confront them with alternative solutions to the ancestral problems. Their security lay in isolation from other competent researchers. The chance of meeting someone else who was even moderately competent on any given ancestral line was remote. There was no way for anyone to find another researcher working on the same remote line. Family Tree changes that paradigm and substitutes one where confrontation between the researchers is inevitable. Recognizing this either consciously or unconsciously, the traditional researcher feels threatened by the prospect of finding out that their conclusions are challenged at the least and possibly wrong. It is much easier to stand on the sidelines and claim that the Family Tree won't work. The irony of this attitude is that the possibility of actual confrontations are extremely remote, no less remote than they have been historically. Even in the most throughly researched lines, the number of researching genealogists is vanishingly small. The traditionalist's fear is misplaced and inappropriate, but real none-the-less.
For my part, as soon as I understood the nature and operation of a wiki-based program, I was convinced that it would work to untangle the most complex relationship issues imaginable. There may be limitations to the effectiveness of the program, but there is no doubt that it will do what it is supposed to do as long as it follows an open access pattern. The years of bad genealogy cannot be erased in a day, but over time, if allowed to do so, the Family Tree will become as accurate as it is humanly possible to be. Will this lead to acceptance? Not likely. There will always be detractors who will disagree and continue to claim that a unified family tree is impossible.
The real question is whether or not any particular researcher will accept the challenge of Family Tree or turn away and refuse to take advantage of its inherent strengths. Despite its current limitations, which I am quick to point out, by the way, fundamentally, it does what is designed to do. I am not singling out any one commentator or researcher, I am merely expressing my conclusions and my own opinion about the FamilySearch Family Tree. My comments are aimed at the detractors as a whole, not at any one person. If anyone person decides to take my comments personally, I cannot prevent that from happening. In reading long exchanges of comments, I find few, if any, writing in defense of the Family Tree. Why is that? I have been working steadily with the Family Tree now for going on two years. Yes, I find problems with the data. Yes, I have found changes made that were unsupported. But in this whole time, I have yet to feel threatened by anyone changing "my data." In fact, some of the errors that needed correcting were my own from previous submissions. I speak from experience and I am not standing on the outside refusing to put "my data" into the FamilySearch Family Tree. I must also mention again, that I have been working on a similar program, the FamilySearch Research Wiki, since 2008 and yes, there have been problems, but I feel sorry for anyone who does not appreciate the vast amount of useful information that has already been accumulated.
Interestingly, much of what I put into the Family Tree is used as the basis for demos about the program. If there is some flaw or problem with the basic concept of the program, I would expect the researchers to come forward and express their concerns in terms of reasoned criticism, not simple name calling and expressions of genealogical ownership. I say: good job FamilySearch and thanks for a wonderful opportunity to break out of the narrow isolationism of the past.