Review – WikiTree

wikitree

WikiTree is a relatively new genealogy and family history site created by Chris Whitten, who also created the WikiAnswers site.  Built and structured as a wiki (similar to that of Wikipedia), WikiTree is a useful tool for managing your research data and more importantly for collaborating on your research with family members.

Not Freemium Free, but Free Free

While there are several family history and genealogy wikis out there, many of them claiming to be free, WikiTree is real free.  What I mean is there is no “split level” free or freemium concept where you can perform base functions for free but advanced features require a paid membership or subscription.  Also, WikiTree is free from advertising or other “come ons” seen at many sites.  This doesn’t mean there won’t be advertising down the road, but for right now I really appreciate the “zen” of WikiTree in terms of its appearance and formatting.

Inputting and Importing Family History Information

Working with WikiTree was relatively easy after signing up and confirming my email address.  I was able to manually input the information I wanted for each person in my family tree.  In addition, I was able to import a 288 person GEDCOM file which I had exported from Family Tree Maker 2011. The process involves “submitting” your GEDCOM and you receive an email notification once the file has been process.  My GEDCOM took approximately 5 hours.  Also, once the file has been uploaded, you may have to merge some of the profiles if you have already created them on WikiTree.

Privacy Matters

For me, the strongest features of WikiTree lie in its privacy functions and more specifically its concept of Trusted Lists.  Information on living individuals is kept private and if you want to share a specific profile with another family member or researcher, you must add that user to the Trusted List for that profile.  This creates a “permission based” system of profiles where you as the creator are in control.

And because each profile has its own Trusted List, there won’t be any “constantly shifting permissions” as we’ve seen on other genealogy wikis (one day it would be up to 5th cousins, then it was something else). WikiTree so far appears to take privacy seriously judging from its privacy policy and this commitment allows me to take WikiTree seriously as a trusted family history site

Perfect? No Perfecting? Yes

Whitten has stated that he is not a genealogist per se although he has always had a great interest in family history. His strongest skills lie in the architecture of WikiTree, its design and functionality.  That being said, Whitten realizes that WikiTree is not the perfect app for family history but it does strive to be perfect – what I call being in a constant state of “perfecting.” Like any work, there will be changes, tweaks and adjustments.  Whitten is open to new ways of presenting the information (a recent change was the display of a family tree from left to right instead of right to left) and actively seeks feedback from the genealogy community.

Several functions were confusing for me, a genealogy techno geek if only in my own mind.  Some things I’d love to see:

  • A preview or a public view function.  As I entered information such as birth dates, it always appeared for me and I didn’t know what a non-member of WikiTree would see.  I had to log out to understand what this view would look like.
  • Better handling of source citations.  I know this is a concept that is much discussed in the genealogy community but a way to enter a source citation for each data point would be better than creating a separate source page or a source section within a profile. One of the emerging tenets of genealogy education is urging beginners to cite their sources now and to learn the discipline of citing sources which will serve them well in the future.  A better mechanism at WikiTree will help beginners get in the habit of citing those sources. One idea is to have a source citation field right next to the “certain” radio button on a data point.  Better yet, require a source citation if “certain” is selected!
  • Some of the data entry fields are confusing, namely Current Last Name as well as the option of not displaying two people as linked spouses when their marriage has ended.  As has been discussed in-depth in the genealogy blogging world, the concept of “blended families” is one that must be confronted in 21st century genealogy and applications will need to have functions and formats to handle these types of relationships.
  • Deleting profiles is not recommended and I can see why, since doing so can greatly disrupt the wiki architecture.  However, changing the relationship of a person is not easy nor was it intuitive for me.  It is very easy to build some weird, weird relationships if you aren’t paying close attention! Example: I went to enter my brother as a sibling but I entered him as a sibling of my mother. I know – can’t you just hear the banjos in the distance? I had to change his data to that of one of my aunts, my mother’s sister and then re-enter my brother as my sibling. I can only imagine the cast of Sister Wives using WikiTree right now.

Feedback Taken Seriously

I have to hand it to Whitten and his commitment to feedback. While researching information for this review, I had the chance to read some of the reviews that others had done on WikiTree, including Dick Eastman of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.  In each instance, Chris was right there in the comments thanking the reviewer and then making certain that readers felt comfortable giving feedback on WikiTree.  In fact, if you look at the string of comments at Eastman’s review, you’ll see the skill with which Whitten is able to engage the commenters and discuss features and proposed changes.

It appears that Whitten not only talks the talk but walks the walk in terms of the collaborative spirit of the wiki concept.  Wikis are meant for working together, for that “give and take” between contributors, for creating dialog about changes or format.  Whitten has not only built an application that allows collaboration in family history research, but he ramps up the collaboration mechanism by actively seeking out feedback from users and reviewers.

Conclusion

I believe that many genealogists and family historians will appreciate the features in WikiTree especially if they seek a web-based application where they can share and collaborate with family or other researchers. The WikiTree site is easy to use, easy to understand and most importantly, it “gets” concepts that are important to its users such as privacy.  Realize that WikiTree is an evolving application and right now in its youth it will exhibit some growing pains.  But with the active guidance of the family history community, I think WikiTree could grow into an important application in the field of genealogy.

Note: Later today I will be posting an interview with Chris Whitten, creator of WikiTree, here at GeneaBloggers – stay tuned to find out more about Chris and his site.

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Disclosure statement: I have no material contacts with WikiTree or its creator, Chris Whitten. To review the other material connections I have with genealogy vendors, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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About Thomas MacEntee

What happens when a “tech guy” with a love for history gets laid off during The Great Recession of 2008? You get Thomas MacEntee, a genealogy professional who’s also a blogger, educator, author, social media connector, online community builder and more. Thomas was laid off after a 25-year career in the information technology field, so he started his own genealogy-related business called High Definition Genealogy. He also created an online community of over 3,000 family history bloggers known as GeneaBloggers. His most recent endeavor, Hack Genealogy, is an attempt to “re-purpose today’s technology for tomorrow’s genealogy.” Thomas describes himself as a lifelong learner with a background in a multitude of topics who has finally figured out what he does best: teach, inspire, instigate, and serve as a curator and go-to-guy for concept nurturing and inspiration. Thomas is a big believer in success, and that we all succeed when we help each other find success.

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