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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Understanding the FamilySearch Wiki -- Introduction to wikis

Wikis can be amazingly valuable tools for compiling huge amounts of shared information and experience, but other than in an entirely superficial way, they can also be very intimidating. The essence of the idea of a wiki is to collaborate in sharing knowledge. From one aspect, it is fairly easy to add information, but once you enter the world of the wiki, you may find the experience very daunting. In my own experience with wikis, I liken the experience to learning a new language in a difficult graduate level course at a major university.

The FamilySearch Research Wiki is a hugely successful and valuable tool for genealogical research. As of the date of the post, it has 58,441 articles with approximately 1000 being added every week. The startup page has been accessed more than 253 million times.

I am presently working on adding a substantial amount of information to the FamilySearch Research Wiki, particularly in conjunction with Indians of Arizona. I am also a moderator for Arizona and one of the overall volunteer support Team Members for the entire Wiki. The Research Wiki has two substantially different levels of support. First, and foremost, it is sponsored by FamilySearch. So there are a number of FamilySearch employees and volunteers that are involved directly in the programming, engineering and maintenance of the Research Wiki. The Wiki is also supported by a number of employees and volunteers from the Family History Library. In addition, there are the contributors and volunteers from around the world who are not directly connected with FamilySearch.

One of the first questions that always come up in conjunction with discussions about wikis is how they keep from degenerating into piles of junk. The answer to this question is not simple. At the most basic level, wikis are collaborative, so anyone can correct inaccurate or inappropriate information. But in the case of the Research Wiki, the answer involves the various higher levels of support. The Research Wiki contains its own policies, procedures and instructions. For a current listing of all of the policy related articles go to the Category:FamilySearch Wiki policy page. This page connects to more specific topics from arbitration to neutral point of view and everything in between. Here are some representative samples of the types of policy pages that help establish the Wiki community:

FamilySearch Wiki:Arbitration
FamilySearch Wiki:Attack pages
FamilySearch Wiki:Avoid Edit Wars
FamilySearch Wiki:Avoid legal threats
FamilySearch Wiki:Blocking and Banning
FamilySearch Wiki:Civility and Polite Discourse
FamilySearch Wiki:Conditions of Use
FamilySearch Wiki:Copyright, Copyleft, and Intellectual Property
FamilySearch Wiki:Copyrights
FamilySearch Wiki:Neutral point of view
FamilySearch Wiki:No personal attacks
FamilySearch Wiki:Ownership of articles

 The list goes on and on. The effect of having a collaborative policy structure is that the Wiki becomes a community with a shared sense of values and goals. Actions taken by individuals that are not consistent with this shared community are dealt with by those community members who are interested in preserving the community. For example, if inappropriate material is posted to the Wiki, anyone can flag the material with a template marker advising the poster to remove the material. If the material is not removed then there is a procedure for deleting the improper information. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, the material can be removed summarily or over time, allowing the poster to edit or remove the information.

In addition, the Research Wiki is part of the larger world of WikiMedia and the Creative Commons.

This is just the beginning. The goal of the WikiMedia Foundation is to "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment." I suggest that the goal of the Research Wiki is to imagine a world where all of the combined knowledge and experience about genealogy is freely available in one resource. That is the Research Wiki.

During the next few posts, I will be discussing the function and structure of the Research Wiki in more detail. Stay tuned.

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