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

Friday, July 12, 2013

What make FamilySearch Family Tree Different?

In all of the promotional material concerning the Family Tree, any reference to the "w" word is carefully avoided. Apparently, it would be a huge public relations faux pas to let the public know that the Family Tree is based on a wiki program. If you have worked with a wiki for any period of time you would recognize the fact immediately. Is there something wrong with the fact that the program is a wiki? Not at all. In fact, a wiki is one of the few ways massive amounts of information can be processed. Admitting that the program is wiki-based is apparently a huge issue by reason of the fact that it is never mentioned. Perhaps it is time to point out that the Emperor has no clothes and bring the wiki term out of the back room and put it on the stage.

Now, does the Family Tree program act like Wikipedia or the FamilySearch Research Wiki or any other program based on MediaWiki? Well, yes and no. Some of the main characteristics of the wiki-type program are present, but the type of information collected by the program is specifically limited. However, the main features of a wiki are preserved including:

  • The ability of every registered user to edit data fields
  • The structure of the program showing all of the changes made to entries
  • The ability to attached comments to entries

Is this a bad thing? No. Actually, it is the salvation of the data. One of the most disturbing issues in modern genealogy is the proliferation of copied family trees. Poor research and inaccurate entries can spread almost instantly across the Internet. Before the advent of the FamilySearch Family Tree, there was no major website with a user-correcting family tree. Yes, there are several family tree oriented wiki programs and there are several "one world family trees" but these are all either on commercial, subscription based websites or designed to look like and work like a traditional wiki program.

The advantage of the FamilySearch Family Tree is that it does not walk like or talk like a wiki. Despite its basic structure, the program appears to be a family tree oriented program, with a useful user interface. By avoiding the public perception of a wiki and avoiding the term completely, the few difficult wiki-like issues can be sidestepped and users to not automatically sent into program-shock by confronting a wiki.

The genius of the FamilySearch Family Tree lies in the fact that it models reality. Every person who ever lived occupies a unique position on the over-all human family tree. Every person has a unique set of biological parents and a unique birth order. Family Tree creates a human family tree based model of this reality and allows only one person to occupy each node or location on the tree. So, if I am working on my great-grandfather on FamilySearch Family Tree, I am looking at and sharing that person with all of his descendants. We are all looking at the same ancestors at exactly the same time. If I make a change to an ancestor and you are looking at the same ancestor, you will see my change immediately and I will see any change you make. We are not asked to collaborate, we are forced to collaborate. In the past, there was absolutely no way for me to know if a remote relative was working on the same person I was working on unless I ran across the work by design or chance. In Family Tree, we will be working on the same person at the same time.

Now, the program is not perfect, nor is it even finally implemented. But the promise of the program is there despite its present limitations.

Now, I do not want to minimize the usefulness of the other wiki-based genealogy programs. I am a great fan of sponsored in part by the Allen County Public Library. I am also a fan of But both of these (and most other wiki-based programs) are more wiki-like and obviously wiki structured. FamilySearch has avoided, and I believe successfully, the issue of the wiki-like interface and the need to learn wiki terms and language.

What is the future of FamilySearch Family Tree" That will have to be the subject of another post.

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