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

Friday, March 4, 2011

The good, the bad and the wiki

It is difficult to understand how any aspect of genealogy could be in the least bit controversial. The subject matter yes, the discipline, not so easy. But notwithstanding the non-controversial nature of genealogy as a discipline, the FamilySearch Research Wiki is loaded with controversy.  I teach classes many times a week and the classes where we discuss the Wiki are always the most lively. There is a huge amount of skepticism that anything like a "wiki" could possibly work.

All wikis are to a major degree collaborative and despite the huge amount of media emphasis on collaborative interaction on the Internet, I feel that most people do not believe that collaboration works. It may be one thing to accept input on a document from peers or superiors in a commercial work group, but the average computer user is not used to being corrected. In one instance on the FamilySearch Research Wiki, one of my associates made a contribution to the Wiki. Unfortunately, he did not identify himself by entering any information into his User page, so I did not know who he was. The information entered needed to be altered slightly. When I mentioned the change later, he admitted that he had entered the information but since then he has not contributed to the Wiki. No one likes to be told they are wrong and correcting entries is a form of telling people they are wrong.

 So if this is the mind set, how can a wiki possibly work? The idea of collaborative documents, including wikis, only work when the individuals involved turn over "ownership" of the document (or wiki page) to the community and stop thinking in terms of personal ownership.

Cooperatives, such as buying co-ops, farm co-ops in some form or another have an extremely long and involved history in our society. Co-ops where people pool their resources to obtain certain communal advantages are very viable and long-living entities. If you think of a wiki as a type of co-op, the idea becomes less foreign and more viable. A wiki is an information co-op.

The fact is that wikis do work. The concern that the information will ultimately be corrupted or inaccurate is not realized in practice. Wikis, for the most part, are self correcting. Where they do not work well is with information dealing with issues with a significant amount of controversy. If the Research Wiki dealt with family and individual information there would be much more difficulty in coming to a consensus. But if the topic is cemeteries in Ohio, there will not be a lot of disagreement over the content. But this non-controversial nature of the content does not diminish the overall controversy of the wiki idea itself.

If you have concerns about the viability of the wiki idea, I suggest you get involved in the wiki community. Try making some changes and see what happens. With the FamilySearch Research Wiki, you just might get a comment or two, but nothing else.


  1. I've been very involved in the wiki and besides the comments I've received, I've also gained a lot of new friends. As we work together to build and improve the content, we really get to know each other. It's actually very fun!!!

  2. Great post. I have been edited on the FamilySearch wiki. Everytime it has been a legitimate correction. But I agree there is a pervasive defensive attitude that takes us two steps back.

  3. Excellent post! I agree completely. Genealogy can be a giant collaboration if done right. Verifying research helps everyone. If someone told me that one of my conclusions were wrong and could provide the information to show me my error, I wouldn't be upset, I'd probably be delighted and dancing around!