Dear Frank, Michael, David, et al.:
Thank you for your comments! I should probably mention a little bit about m background. Like the broad multitudes of people doing genealogical research, I am both new to it and have yet to cross over to non-web sources (although a LDS trip is in my near future). I came to it predominantly because my grandfather had a falling out with his family and refused to speak of any of them in his lifetime. Similarly, my wife's great-grandfather dropped his surname in favor of the generic "Nelson" after arriving in the States. So we're both interested in trying to figure out where we come from. I think this is fairly common for most novices, so I hope I can offer that prospective as we talk about designing a database useful to a wide range of people.
Speaking of the database, not to toot my own horn, but I am something of an amateur Excel ninja as that falls in with my other hobbies of fantasy baseball and political campaigns. So I think I can also offer some perspective on the mechanics of designing an offline databases. Unfortunately, my knowledge of online databases, coding, and general web forms is limited to Google docs, and even for these I lack a thorough knowledge base.
Regarding the surname accents, I can see where this may not be useful. My thinking was that as a novice I often see Stupaks, Sztupaks, Stupakovas, and half a dozen other versions with various accents. Are these people related to my branch of Stupaks? Michael was kind enough to provide me with some insights, but I think this probably trips up many novices. That's where I thought the "proper" accents and surname dates could help one track the changes over time, but this may not work well for a database.
Similarly with dates of residence I was hoping to allow people to track how a surname moves into and out of a village over time. This may also be something that might be a poor use of a general database and better task for individuals to undertake.
As for village names, I think it would be easy enough to add twenty or thirty columns for village names, enabling someone to search for any temporal or linguistic variety of the village name. Then this would be easily searchable by end users (Ctrl-F) or perhaps via sortable tabs along the top header bar. While all this is a time intensive task, we do possess the benefit of having a finite number of villages and a fairly good selection of online resources with which to provide all the prior names. Provided that we agree on a format (e.g. Plavnica (YYYY-YYYY)) then I think this work could be subdivided among a number of volunteers without falling solely on the shoulders of a moderator.
Speaking of moderators ... I have to agree that a solo moderator is better for consistency, but if we are using a drop down scrollable form field then there is little to no opportunity for an end user to input anything into the the database that does not correspond to the conventions we decide to use. That helps eliminate 99% of the consistency issue and enables us to have multiple moderators. Multiple moderators also help extend the longevity of the project as it would not be beholden to the interests and/or time of any one individual, and new moderators can be added as old ones cease participating.
As for hosting, I would recommend trying out Google Docs. It has the capability of creating a form that auto-populates a spreadsheet. Unfortunately, it is not very sophisticated and I doubt that we would be able to continually update the drop down scrollable form fields on the form with new villages added to the database. Further, I think we would have to enter all villages/surnames by hand (and this is not a task that could be outsourced to several volunteers). The other big drawback with Google Docs is that I have never found a way to update the form without screwing everything else up. So perhaps I'm convincing myself not to use Google Docs, but it does have two big benefits: it's free and it's designed for multiple moderators. Perhaps the Google Docs system is a good way to try out some of our ideas while those who know more about online systems investigate possible hosting / coding solutions?
I feel there is more issues people have raised, but I don't want to extend this reply too long lest it diminish it's usefulness.