Wiki Thoughts

Today while reading a blog post on the FamilySearch blog, a phrase they used with regard to their Research Wiki caught my eye — the blog post mentions that anyone using the wiki “need look no further” than their Research Wiki.  The Research Wiki, while a great resource, is far from needing to be the last place to look.

But, after reading the post, I did take another look at the site; for I do use it from time to time.   Over the past few months I’ve been thinking about use of Wikis in genealogy and how I’d love to see a site as comprehensive for genealogy as Wikipedia is for general use.  I think the Research Wiki has this kind of potential.

What I Like

  • interface – clean layout,  easy to navigate, easy to browse or search. given the importance of locality searching in genealogy, having an option to browse by country as they do on the front page is important.  also, on any subpage, there is a clear option in the top right corner to either browse by country or browse by topic. very handy indeed.  of course, the search box is always present.  Breadcrumbs are used throughout most of the site so you know where you are.  The icon at the top of the page needs to change though — it should go to the front page of the wiki, not the main FamilySearch page.  Branding the site as one of FamilySearch’s can be done differently.
  • editing – uses a “what you see is what you get” editor — much like using a word processing program.  This feature encourages broad participation since most users will be familiar with how to do edits if they’ve ever used a word processing program..
  • LDS records – the wiki is especially helpful in that they link to available LDS records and we know there is a lot of those! who else to do that better?
  • formatting – each county page, as an example, has a standard format; makes it easy to orient yourself when you move from county to county.  Topic pages are not standardized, but this would be harder to do given their variety.
  • social – each page has links to send a page to your Facebook or Twitter profile.  None of the other genealogy wikis have this feature.
  • registration – is easy. one-step process. see something you want to edit? register and you can start editing immediately.  and of course, anyone can edit.

The competition?

  • Ancestry Wiki – the newest broad-topic genealogy wiki. I like it’s interface too.  Registration capitalizes upon your Ancesty.com account so there is no need to learn a new password.   I like the overall interface of Ancestry Wiki, but without the use of breadcrumbs it is easy to get lost in the site; there is no constant navigation feature to keep you oriented.  Editing also is not truly WYSIWYG — you have to use Wiki syntax which means a steeper learning curve and is a barrier to participation that could be eliminated.  And, the logo on the site does not link back to the homepage – instead it takes you to Ancestry.com.  At this point, I don’t see it as viable yet for being “the Wikipedia” of genealogy.
  • Encyclopedia of Genealogy – this was started by Dick Eastman and is the oldest genealogy wiki of which I’m aware.   Eastman was forward-thinking to create the wiki and offer it as a way to capture the collective’s genealogy knowledge, but the site so far has less content than the Research Wiki and is not as comprehensive.   This is understandable though so I can’t complain too loudly :-)
  • National Archives Wiki – this is new as well, just announced a few weeks ago.  I applaud NARA’s efforts to incorporate more web 2.0 technologies and will keep my eye on this one.  The scope of the site is too narrow to be “the Wikipedia” of genealogy, but could grow to be a great resource.  I don’t find this wiki very easily navigated.   The link to browse by Record Group blends too easily on the right sidebar and should be made more prominent since most researchers will be familiar with the Record Group structure for NARA records.  The front page of the wiki also tries to squeeze in too much content in the space.   Their page editing is WYSIWG and that’s a positive! However, the registration process is cumbersome – it is not a one-step process like the Research Wiki and/or Wikipedia.  When I “create an account” b/c I’m ready to edit something,  I need to be able to edit right away – if I have to wait and come back I may not come back.

Overall, I’m excited by the potential the FamilySearch Research Wiki offers.  Given the long-standing history of LDS and their efforts to promote genealogy research, including their massive indexing project,  the Research Wiki has potential to become a great resource indeed.  The site has come a long way, but still needs work, so I’m going to do my small part this weekend and edit more pages so I can get an even more comprehensive understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

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