Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Where Keggers and Social Genealogy Intersect

I went to college in southern California in the early 1990's when Pearl Jam Plaid was the accepted flannel shirt pattern and No Doubt was still a local OC band.

The parties at my college went something like this: people showed up at a house (usually rented by a gaggle of college students), there was bad music, then more people showed up, then someone would start fighting, then the cops would show up and everyone would disperse. Lather, rinse, repeat every weekend.

I never liked those big parties, instead preferring the smaller get-togethers with better music and people I actually knew. Still each week I caved to my friends' pleas and promises that *this* party was *the* party. It never was and I always ended up bored and tired. But you know what? I never complained because it was my own dang fault for going to a party in Pomona.

Lately social media has left me feeling the same way. Facebook keeps surprising users with its changes meant to force everyone to share more of their lives. LinkedIn recently did the same, opting everyone in to their new social advertising campaign then facing backlash for doing so. But you know what? I never complained because it was my own dang fault for going to a party in Pomona accepting their terms of service.

Earlier this week, Geni.com announced that Geni Pro Just Got a Whole Lot Better, which in turn angered the users of their free service. In the interest of full disclosure, I received a Geni Pro account from the kind folks at Geni.com. However, I run my account differently than most users. I have no interest in sharing my family, merging profiles or any of that. I created a private space for my family to learn about their ancestors and that's how I want to use Geni.

Reaction from the Geni-sphere was harsh. Just read the comments on the original Geni blog post. Bloggers like Tamura Jones, Randy SeaverDearMYRTLEElizabeth O'Neal and GeneaBloggers also weighed in with their own observations and opinions. My own take is this: I like using social media tools for genealogy, but I am also a private person who wants control over access and online profiles of my ancestors. I've never been a fan of surprises and gravitate toward people, places and things that can give me that assurance, genealogically speaking.

Geni.com's 58+ million profile World Family Tree is a lot like one of my old college parties. There's just too many people and I don't want to be there. I was cool with my small group in the corner, but now I'm being pushed to mingle with people I don't even know. Geni's latest changes are like the right hook that starts the fight that sends everyone scrambling. Suddenly, it's Kegger 101 all over again and I have to step aside from the carnage and decide how to get back to where I want to be.

I'm not uspet about Geni's new plan. They have a product vision and its theirs to initiate. After all, it's my own dang fault for going to a party in Pomona accepting their terms of service.

I've no intention of deleting my Geni account, but I also hesitate to add anything to it right now because my own needs and wishes differ from the path on which the product is heading. It's not a bad path, just one that heads left when I want to turn right. Perhaps that will change in the future, so I will wait and see. No dramatic exit for me.

Many, many people are jumping the Geni ship and going to WikiTree. I have an account there, but I've never developed it. Should I? Or will I be surprised by new developments down the road there, too? Just like I grew tired of the big, lame college parties, I've grown tired of the social media surprises that take away some semblance of privacy and control of my information.

I hesitated commenting on this issue at all, simply because I wasn't outraged enough to garner the necessary emotion for an effective blog post. However, I am a genealogy consumer that places the highest value on social media AND privacy AND control and I figure that vote should be counted somewhere.

Meanwhile, RootsMagic and I are having a small offline shindig this weekend. I know we'll have fun because the entertainment is always solid--no surprises--and I can choose with whom I share my ancestors. That's my idea of a genealogy party.

[Update: Geni CEO statement and my comments.]


  1. I have to subscribe to your blog. The last one I read was so funny and I can't imagine how many I've missed...sorry. I don't know much about all of the things you're talking about so I can't really give a good comment. I use Ancestry and am careful about the lines I link to, but I frequently have to message someone with a "why do you think we share THAT ancestor? Have you done the research?" I know they haven't, and they get quite surprised when they realize their mistake. But it's fun. I don't mind. I really do think that you have to make a personal decision about what you're comfortable with.Everyone's different and shouldn't feel pressured to share.
    Thanks. Great post!

  2. Thanks for subscribing, Betsy!

    The reason I like to keep things private is for that control over what is stated about a particular ancestor. Some of the more social tools we use for sharing (like Geni) are moving toward a model of collaboration, even when you don't want to collaborate. People end up battling over profiles and all the fun and purpose is sucked out of family history. My intent with this post was not to tell developers how to make their tools, but to share how I use them. Maybe others feel the same as me and we can share a common voice.

    Hopefully you find my blog entertaining enough to keep reading. The pressure is on!

  3. Amy, I completely agree. I will not put my genealogy anywhere that I don't have privacy and total control over it. I only have an Ancestry tree and it is private.

  4. My fear is that if I post living relatives, even on a "private" tree that somehow or someway they will be discovered.

    I have trees on Ancestry and I need to combine them by Ancestry will not let you do that.

    I also have a tree on My Heritage Family Tree and so far no problem with that venue.

  5. I like your analogy, and I agree.

  6. Debbie, my Ancestry tree is private, too. I'm jaded enough to know that could change but for now I have trust in the company that it will stay that way.

  7. I think posting family trees online is really important, but I agree that the contributor should be given control over the contents. I've broken so many huge brick walls by random people seeing my tree posted somewhere and emailing me to share information. I try to remember, its not *my* genealogy, it's *OUR* genealogy.

  8. Claudia, I've been known to give living relatives just initials for that reason. I like how WikiTree allows you to have anonymous profiles.

    Thank you for the feedback on MyHeritage. I will check them out as well, when my social media fatigue wears off.

  9. I would love to do more on WikiTree but there is a privacy issue. So I started 200 years back...

  10. Amy, I totally understand where you are coming from. Collaboration can be a beautiful thing when you connect with another researcher who has done the research and has the sources to back up what they say - but it can also be a scary thing when you have a researcher who is more of a "name collector" and you're forced to collaborate with them.

    While WikiTree does encourage collaboration, it also has privacy as a huge priority. There are currently 6 different privacy levels and each profile has it's own privacy settings. If you end up finding a match in the database, both parties must approve the merge. We also have a Cousin Connector (Tami Osmer Glatz) who can help users deal with data disputes and encourages users to use source citations to support their data. But at the end of the day, no one will force you to merge profiles. In short: No one will ever be able to "hijack" your ancestors.

    Another huge thing that separates WikiTree from Geni.com (in my opinion) is the attention and care that Chris Whitten, the creator and webmaster, has for the website. He truly treats WikiTree as his baby and cares about the users. He responds to users ideas, suggestions, and critiques.

    But at the end of the day, I think WikiTree could learn a lot from people who share your views. It is key that we learn how different users would possibly use the website.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I work for WikiTree as the WikiTree Evangelist. But every word I said above is something I believe in 100%. Working for WikiTree isn't just a paycheck (although that certainly is nice) - this is something I believe in.

  11. Elyse, I appreciate your input (and was hoping you'd comment). I L-O-V-E WikiTree's color-coded levels of privacy. I could really lock my profiles up and provide a private place for my family to learn about our ancestors.

    I could turn around and start over at WikiTree. I could talk my non-genealogy family into following me over there. But I'm paused on the trigger because I'm burnt out on surprises/disappointments from all regions of the social media field.

    I'm going to rest for a bit and learn more about WikiTree. Thank you for the info. I appreciate the perspective from inside the company.

  12. Amy, thank you for sharing your views about the need for privacy in posting family trees online. This issue has been a concern of mine for several years. I, too, believe that access to and sharing of my own family tree data is something I prefer to control. Simply adding names to a family tree has never been a personal goal of mine. Instead, I prefer to uncover enough information about my ancestors that will allow me to tell their stories and to make them come alive.

  13. I think were Geni went "wrong" was trying to combine collaboration with privacy. Kinda hard to have both. If I want privacy, I'll keep my tree local. If I want collaboration, I'll go to WeRelate.org. It may not have the 58+ million profiles that Geni claims, but everyone knows up front that the goal is collaboration, not privacy.

  14. I haven't jumped into online family trees much mainly due to time constraints. I'm kinda glad now! And I was just thinking of looking into Geni.com. I shall wait a while.

    Seriously though I'm like you, I want control over information that I post. Events like this remind me to really understand what I am signing up for before signing on.

  15. Amy,
    great post today! Lots of tips and good advice.

  16. This is one reason I handle my own family tree on my own website. I have full control, though it's not very easy to "merge" with other families. I do have a select number of people on Ancestry.com because I like the way I can directly connect the source documents to it.

    I have yet to find a "social" family tree site that I like and trust enough to copy my data over to.

  17. Thanks for this, Amy. I just deleted everyone, except myself, from my very small tree!

  18. Ok, I'll admit that I was a sorority girl in college and went to a lot of frat parties. A lot. Probably more fun than a kegger in Pomona, but I suppose the outcome is eventually the same.

    Thanks for a great post and the link. I haven't yet decided what to do about my Geni tree, and like you, I feel burned on more than one side. I guess I'll just wait for the fallout.

  19. great post and comments, appreciated both.

  20. Amy, great post! I also want to be able to collaborate on MY terms, but since that's not going to happen on Geni anymore, I wanted to delete my tree ... only you can't. You can cancel your account and have the options of (a) "donating" your tree to the Geni community to ravage like a bunch of hungry jackals, or (b) assign management to someone else. No delete. It's a little unsettling.

  21. Jenny, I hadn't planned to delete my Geni.com tree, but am SHOCKED you have only the two options when attempting to cancel one's account. Thanks for reporting on your findings.

    This is not good.

  22. Jenny, I wasn't aware of those limited options but I am very disappointed. Thank you for the information.

  23. Amy, As always thank you for your unique perspective. I learned a bunch from your post and from the many comments here.

    I have wanted to "remove" my Geni account for sometime but have hundreds of family photos on that site. I have never been really happy with it's collaboration even with my own cousins. So for now, I'm stuck. I will be downloading the photos (one by one) and will decide when I'm done what to do with the account.


  24. Just to clarify ... you can delete the individuals, one by excruciating one, from your tree. You CANNOT simply delete your entire tree. I am in the process of deleting the 562 individuals I had in my tree. I'm down to 397 after almost 2 hours.

  25. Well I have to post. I have't read all the posts comments and just know my post will tick off a few people.
    I suppose I am the reason you guys want to keep your tree private.

    BI understand. I have seen mistakes on a tree by a misunderstood email of mine when the guy was sick and he never removed it. And I see people with the wwong addresses born and death, people with four or five wives, because they don't know which one.

    I suppose I misuse ancestry. but it is my workbook. I take any name I want so I can see what is there, I get access to their list and I can find names in locations that would take me forever to find ancestry starts at one think no matter how you alter and starts in california when you plainly tell them Iowa.

    I keep it in case I want to come back and review. Sometimes I will take them back off. It just depends. Just because I have a name on the infomation file does not mean they are related.

    Also like a blog, it attracts the right audience for me. Therefore a possible real connection. I am curently adding all the names from the old books of those villages. Most of them probably are related. Land owners married landowners, etc. I hope to eventually find the descendants of those people.!!!

    I could make it private, but I don't want to. It may be a reason many trees I have to ask to see are private".lol.

    When I find a good place to store my real tree, I'll do it. In the mean time, my relatives have it as it really is.

    So whether it ticks someone off that I have it, I say too bad. Eventually you'll probably find something on my tees accumulation.

    In the mean time I publish sources for ancestry tree info at my blog hopeing to attract the right someones there. And all this leaves out socaialization as much as I would like at genea bloggers and facebook. I have realized a few years down the road I may not have money for ancestry and I need to do my research now while I am paying for it, so yes I too am neglecting my groups. .I will get involved in the genea bloggers activities when I can. { I pulled out of Farmville at face book when it became so slow and am glad I did because of all the socializtion now involved in it.}

    Thanks for the interesting post. Now I will read comments and find out who I probably ticked off.

  26. Rootdigger, you have misinterpreted my post. Do you have a Geni account? The discussion at hand is about how they have changed their policies, not about the general sharing of information over the Internet.

    I don't have anything against collaboration and public genealogy information. I merely use Geni differently than the vast majority of users who do use it for that reason. I want to use Geni for my family only, as a private community where we can enhance the profiles of our ancestors. I don't want to merge profiles or be added to a big tree.

    Also, I don't want to speak for others who have blogged and commented on the subject but I think the main issue everyone has is that their control over their work at Geni has been stripped in many cases, and they were upset by Geni's spin of the changes. People aren't against making things public, they just want the control to determine what is public.

  27. Rootdigger, Amy brings up good points, especially in her last paragraph. I think that's where the main issue is too.

    That aside, I found your post really interesting. I had never thought of using an online tree the way you do: as a workbook. It's a very intriguing concept although I do admit that trees like yours are probably the ones I raise my eyebrows at. You have just given me a completely new way of looking at those trees and the people who post them (in a good way). Thank you! This is one of the things I love about blogging. You get to read differing viewpoints and approaches and it opens your eyes to new possibilities.

  28. I'm with Tami (way up near the top of the comments) and with Rootdigger to some extent. As Tami said, they aren't just MY ancestors, they're OUR ancestors.

    I have a public tree on Ancestry and it's helped me immensely to be able to view others public trees. However, I don't take anything as gospel there - I do my own research to back things up - and I don't publish a source or upload anything (especially photos) unless it's already out there where one could get it for free, and I need it to make a specific point (establishing a relationship, for example) to people viewing my tree. I guess I figure there's some protection with Ancestry's use of "Living" when viewing others public trees for anyone without a death date. I may go back in (if I can find the time!) and use Amy's idea of initials for the given names of living relatives for a little more protection.

    I don't use the other genealogy social media tools you mentioned. I'm burnt out trying to keep up with the ones I need or must learn about in academic library land. :) Finally got into Google+ just in time for some of the privacy issues with that.