Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dear Randy: Geni.com's Shared Family Tree

While I'm still enjoying my holidays with the grandchildren, I've been getting lots of email. Here is one from Geni.com:

Dear Randall,

Geni’s mission is to create a shared family tree that connects all of our users. We wanted to share a little bit more about what this vision means and how we are going to get there.

For centuries, people have studied their family history in order to document their ancestors and find new relatives. However, there has never been a great way to share the results of this research with relatives, or collaborate together with others researching common relatives. As a result, the same ancestors are researched over and over again, often from scratch. By combining this research into a single tree that everyone can work on together, users can focus on verifying information and on new avenues of research, rather than spend their time duplicating research that somebody else has already done.

Because users start with their own tree when they first join Geni, they often add relatives that are already part of other Geni trees. All of these duplicates must be merged together to create the one shared tree that we are working towards. Over 45 million profiles have already been linked together on Geni into what is known as the "Big Tree".

In order to help accomplish this goal, Geni Curators can now merge together duplicate public profiles that are in different trees. Public profiles are distant relatives and ancestors (your third great grandparents and beyond) that may be shared by many other users. As public profiles you’re connected to are merged with their duplicates, you’ll instantly benefit from other users’ research, and maybe even meet some new distant cousins.

As always, we take the privacy of your close relatives very seriously. Profiles for close relatives that you’ve added to Geni are private, which means that only you and your family can view these profiles. Only your close relatives can merge your private profiles, and even if your tree is merged with another tree, your close relatives will remain private to you and your family.

A few more things: 
  • You can always export your tree as a GEDCOM file if you’d like to keep a local copy
  • For more on profile privacy, see our Understanding Privacy on Geni page
  • If you have any other questions or concerns about this, please let us know at help@geni.com
 - The Geni Team


The "big" news in this announcement seems to be that the "Geni Curators" can combine "?older" ancestors (third great-grandparents or older, how do they know?) into a large shared "Big Tree."  Theoretically, this helps Geni members find more ancestors based on what other Geni members have submitted.  The questions I have include:

*  If there is a conflict of information, which data is selected for display, and how is the decision made?
*  Is there a discussion process involved - does the curator collaborate or consult with the submitters?
*  Is there an appeal process for curator's decisions?
*  Can a submitter remove his online tree or make it a private tree after it has been shared?

This is the first mention I've seen of something like a "Curator" or "Arbitrator" or "Decider" in a genealogy database.  What other online family tree databases have them?  Is this the future for online shared databases?


Disclosure:  I have a free Geni account, and have a relatively small database on Geni.com but have not updated it recently or invited family members to join. 

13 comments:

kinfolknews said...

Randy,

I received the same letter from Geni.com and like you had many of the same questions. I hope you can get some answers.

Happy New Year!

Regina

Anonymous said...

Really enjoy your blog. I'm new to genealogy and I appreciate all the helpful information.

Keep it up!

Katie O. said...

I had the exact same thoughts when I got that e-mail recently. I wonder if you'll get a response!

dee-burris said...

I think everyone is wondering the same things.

Maybe Geni would have too, if they had proofed the email before they sent it...

bgwiehle said...

Tamura Jones wrote about Geni.com's profile merging in the scathing 2010-11-24 post "Geniology: Geni of Borg". Some excerpts, necessarily taken out of context:
"Geni.com now supports so-called linked profiles; multiple profiles are linked together, one profile is the main profile, the other profiles contain alternative data. Users cannot not only resolve the conflict, but also undo the merge."
"When profiles are merged, it is the most complete profile that becomes the main profile."
"This year, Geni added support for sources, but it seems too little, too late."
Read the whole article at http://www.tamurajones.net/ for all the points covered, including comparisons to other sites that have merged trees.

Geni George said...

Hi Randy!

First, let me clarify a little bit about the Curators. First, here's a link to read more about them. When we decided to create Curators, we modeled them closely after Wikipedia Administrators. They have access to a few tools that other users cannot access, but their primary role is to guide and assist the community, and to establish best practices for collaboration on Geni. We work very closely with the Curators, and many tweaks and small features (including our API that we recently released) are driven by the demand of Curators and some of our other power users.

I don't know if any other genealogy sites have roles like Curators or Administrators. I'm not familiar with any that do.

* If there is a conflict of information, which data is selected for display, and how is the decision made?

We have a fairly advanced system in place for determining which data is selected by default, but the important thing is that data is never lost on Geni. After two profiles are merged together, our users can always select the alternate data after the merge.

* Is there a discussion process involved - does the curator collaborate or consult with the submitters?

Short answer: yes :)

Users can create a discussion for every profile on Geni. All managers/editors of a given profile are notified when someone creates a discussion for that profile.

Discussions aren't required, and they aren't used in every case that a Curator merges profiles or makes adjustments in the tree. But they are common; both public and private discussions are a very significant part of Geni, and our users are very active and quick to respond.

* Is there an appeal process for curator's decisions?

There isn't a formal appeals process, but there are a lot of informal ones. Curators follow a pretty standard code of conduct (see the first link at the top of my comment), so appeals don't actually happen that often.

There is also a lengthy public discussion that users and Curators use as a hub for these types of conversations.

And there are a lot of private messages that flow back and forth with the Curators and other users.

Most importantly, our engineers have been working really hard for the past year to create a data structure that will make the appeals process "insignificant", for lack of a better word. We have already released the ability for users to see revisions for many text fields on Geni, and our users have the ability to revert to an older/different version of a text field.

Over the next few months, we will be releasing additional versioning features that allow users to revert complex things such as a merge that a Curator performed. With these new features, every action performed to publicly accessible data on Geni will be completely transparent, and completely reversible.

* Can a submitter remove his online tree or make it a private tree after it has been shared?

You can make any of your "close" relatives private at any time (we define "close" as 4th cousins or closer, as well as 3rd great grandparents and closer).

You can also make any living person private if you have permission to edit their profile.

.....

I hope this answers any questions that you and your readers have about the email we sent.

Best,
-George

Geni George said...

Hi Randy!

First, let me clarify a little bit about the Curators. First, here's a link to read more about them. When we decided to create Curators, we modeled them closely after Wikipedia Administrators. They have access to a few tools that other users cannot access, but their primary role is to guide and assist the community, and to establish best practices for collaboration on Geni. We work very closely with the Curators, and many tweaks and small features (including our API that we recently released) are driven by the demand of Curators and some of our other power users.

I don't know if any other genealogy sites have roles like Curators or Administrators. I'm not familiar with any that do.

* If there is a conflict of information, which data is selected for display, and how is the decision made?

We have a fairly advanced system in place for determining which data is selected by default, but the important thing is that data is never lost on Geni. After two profiles are merged together, our users can always select the alternate data after the merge.

* Is there a discussion process involved - does the curator collaborate or consult with the submitters?

Short answer: yes :)

Users can create a discussion for every profile on Geni. All managers/editors of a given profile are notified when someone creates a discussion for that profile.

Discussions aren't required, and they aren't used in every case that a Curator merges profiles or makes adjustments in the tree. But they are common; both public and private discussions are a very significant part of Geni, and our users are very active and quick to respond.

* Is there an appeal process for curator's decisions?

There isn't a formal appeals process, but there are a lot of informal ones. Curators follow a pretty standard code of conduct (see the first link at the top of my comment), so appeals don't actually happen that often.

There is also a lengthy public discussion that users and Curators use as a hub for these types of conversations.

And there are a lot of private messages that flow back and forth with the Curators and other users.

Most importantly, our engineers have been working really hard for the past year to create a data structure that will make the appeals process "insignificant", for lack of a better word. We have already released the ability for users to see revisions for many text fields on Geni, and our users have the ability to revert to an older/different version of a text field.

Over the next few months, we will be releasing additional versioning features that allow users to revert complex things such as a merge that a Curator performed. With these new features, every action performed to publicly accessible data on Geni will be completely transparent, and completely reversible.

* Can a submitter remove his online tree or make it a private tree after it has been shared?

You can make any of your "close" relatives private at any time (we define "close" as 4th cousins or closer, as well as 3rd great grandparents and closer).

You can also make any living person private if you have permission to edit their profile.

.....

I hope this answers any questions that you and your readers have about the email we sent.

Best,
-George

Geni George said...

Hi Randy!

note: it's not allowing me to post the full response at once, so I'm going to break it into parts

First, let me clarify a little bit about the Curators. First, here's a link to read more about them. When we decided to create Curators, we modeled them closely after Wikipedia Administrators. They have access to a few tools that other users cannot access, but their primary role is to guide and assist the community, and to establish best practices for collaboration on Geni. We work very closely with the Curators, and many tweaks and small features (including our API that we recently released) are driven by the demand of Curators and some of our other power users.

I don't know if any other genealogy sites have roles like Curators or Administrators. I'm not familiar with any that do.

Geni George said...

part 2


* If there is a conflict of information, which data is selected for display, and how is the decision made?

We have a fairly advanced system in place for determining which data is selected by default, but the important thing is that data is never lost on Geni. After two profiles are merged together, our users can always select the alternate data after the merge.

* Is there a discussion process involved - does the curator collaborate or consult with the submitters?

Short answer: yes :)

Users can create a discussion for every profile on Geni. All managers/editors of a given profile are notified when someone creates a discussion for that profile.

Discussions aren't required, and they aren't used in every case that a Curator merges profiles or makes adjustments in the tree. But they are common; both public and private discussions are a very significant part of Geni, and our users are very active and quick to respond.

* Is there an appeal process for curator's decisions?

There isn't a formal appeals process, but there are a lot of informal ones. Curators follow a pretty standard code of conduct (see the first link at the top of my comment), so appeals don't actually happen that often.

There is also a lengthy public discussion that users and Curators use as a hub for these types of conversations.

And there are a lot of private messages that flow back and forth with the Curators and other users.

Geni George said...

part 3

Most importantly, our engineers have been working really hard for the past year to create a data structure that will make the appeals process "insignificant", for lack of a better word. We have already released the ability for users to see revisions for many text fields on Geni, and our users have the ability to revert to an older/different version of a text field.

Over the next few months, we will be releasing additional versioning features that allow users to revert complex things such as a merge that a Curator performed. With these new features, every action performed to publicly accessible data on Geni will be completely transparent, and completely reversible.

* Can a submitter remove his online tree or make it a private tree after it has been shared?

You can make any of your "close" relatives private at any time (we define "close" as 4th cousins or closer, as well as 3rd great grandparents and closer).

You can also make any living person private if you have permission to edit their profile.

.....

I hope this answers any questions that you and your readers have about the email we sent.

Best,
-George

Hot Dog The Rapper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George said...

Man, I'm having no luck with the comments on your blog, Randy.

I wrote a very lengthy response and couldn't figure out how to post it all, so I basically gave up on Blogger and posted our response on Geni's blog. You and your readers can view it here:

http://www.geni.com/blog/response-to-randy-seaver-12-29-2010/

(You may want to delete any of my previous comments, they're probably quite confusing for your readers).

I'll follow the comments on this post in case there are follow up questions.

Thanks!
-George

Anonymous said...

Randy,

I have heard rumors that there will be some kind of arbitration group (or whatever they decide to call it) to make decisions in case of disputes for the Family Search site. Don't know when it will come, or how it will work.

We need something now, based on the stuff I see in my recent ancestry.

David