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275Re: [gensoft] new member self-intro --> tools and philosophy, genealogy, community history etc.

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  • Henry Neugass
    Oct 8, 2012
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      Kerry:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply on this thread:

      On Oct 8, 2012, at 1:57 PM, Kerry Raymond wrote:

      Hi, Henry!
       
      Howdy!

      Although the early days of the Web 2.0 hype suggested that we were entering a phase when everyone would be a producer of content, time would suggest that this isn’t so. Blog posts appear to be waning in popularity, Wikipedia active editors are declining although the “micro blogs” (Facebook, Twitter) appear to be on the rise, but in all cases, the ratios of readers to writers is still very much on the side of the readers. 

      Actually, I hadn't given any thought at all to those trends.   I'm in Silicon Valley, so I'm as aware of them as anyone can be, I guess.  But this is  a narrow-interest project, while the hype over the years has been on growth business propositions. This one just didn't seem to have any connection to all that.

      While it is now possible for “everyone” to contribute to a range of projects and conversations, the majority of folk do not choose to do so. Most “crowd source” or “open source” projects are sustained by a relatively small core of very active participants.

      In my experience most non-commercial projects of any kind are sustained by one or two main financial donors.   

      For this reason, I am dubious that the descendants of your particular ancestral village are going to get on board with your plan – a few will contribute directly through your UI, others will contribute if they can email/mail you the information for you to enter (do not underestimate the reluctance of folk to directly engage with even the most intuitive of UIs), a larger number will be happy to occasionally look at what you’ve produced (and probably criticise it), but most won’t be at all interested.
      Right, agreed, it seems so.   In something like 5 years I've received no spontaneous, solid offers of any help whatsoever, so it isn't a surprise that people wouldn't step up to a rather difficult and likely thankless task.  

      I can still dream, though!   

      Finding a really super-user-friendly UI would definitely help me, if/when I do the task alone.   
      On the question of security/privacy, there is something of a two-edge sword here. If some/all of the content is to be kept “private”, then I am not sure why people would bother to contribute it in the first place. They either wish to share it or they don’t (or are you talking about private until death or some embargo date?). You say you don’t trust some of the public genealogy sites, but equally if you run your own site, you are asking people to trust you. I presume your reasoning here is that you have no commercial motivation to exploit the material whereas a public genealogy site might do so, but how will it look to your potential contributors?

      Right.  That's always the problem.   I have another, related project that I inherited by being stupid/crazy enough to volunteer to take over from a guy who could no longer maintain the site.  Someday, that guy will be me.  Will someone volunteer to replace me?  

      In fact, none of the descendants have ever shown any bit of worry about the long-term issue.  They are generally very glad I'm doing the work -- just not glad enough to offer any kind of support.   Oh, well...

      I'm totally committed to privacy for living persons, of which there will be none.  In this project so far, I've seen some strange, extreme demands by potential contributors regarding privacy of people who are long-dead.   I accept that some people are traumatized by their family tragedies, and if necessary to get contributions of  source materials, I'm willing to lock more doors than I ordinarily would.   Perhaps demonstrating the care to provide locks will be sufficient in most cases.

      I've heard horror stories about some public sites, for example, that there's more mis-information than accurate data on some of them.

      Here's a completely different concern:  this project will require combing through a number of  institutional web resources located in multiple countries.   In some cases there may be pertinent data about hundreds of  individuals on a given site --  lots of data which I'll more or less be vacuuming up.    Each site has different terms of use, most of which seem to leave lots of room for republishing for non-commercial, educational, or "scholarly"  purposes.  But parsing all those Terms is difficult.    By limiting access to qualified people -- descendants--  I might not be re-"publishing". Either way, restricted, the work will be far less visible to those institutions.    So ... restricting access seems like a practical expedient.  I'm not an international copyright attorney nor do I have access to one, I'm just a layperson, and I'm a bit cautious. 
      Also shared genealogies don’t seem to work very well in practice. There are three versions of anything, yours, mine and the “truth” (which we can never really know). Just because Betty believes that the father of an illegitimate child “must have been SoAndSo” doesn’t mean another relative believes it. We can all look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions and a genealogical database is just that, a set of conclusions, not a body of evidence.

      It is fundamentally hard to get a good collaboration going between just two individuals, in my experience, let alone some larger number.   That software tools have built with a strong value on collaboration doesn't mean people will use the tools.   

      A lot of people in the genealogy space have been a bit burned by crowd-sourced projects. Many get started with grand ambitions and solicit contributions, but the project falters and the contributions are never made available/integrated (or whatever) as promised, or the site exists for a while and then disappears. The return-on-investment for contributors in many such projects is often low to non-existent and certainly I am now much less likely to contribute to a project unless I can see the clear path to a long-lived site/resource.

      Yeah, I know what you mean. That's why I pick my main collaborators very careful, and there are very few of them.

      What commitment will you be able to give to contributors as to the longevity of the site/resource created?

      As above:  no one has ever come close to asking me about the long-term sustainability.  I'd answer:  Rationally, this project shouldn't even be attempted in the first place.  It doesn't make sense to put in so much work on documenting an obscure Eastern European village!      I can only promise that I'll do the work as well as I can for as long as I can.

      Note:  large size (of an institution) implies longevity, but I think that's something of an illusion --  one that  is sometimes actively promoted by the institutions themselves.   In my experience, institutions tend to be territorial and acquisitive, the larger the more.  But, even in a virtual world, there just isn't room for displaying all the acquisitions, and some less interesting material may disappear into the storeroom.  Maybe a lot.  Will it ever be brought out again?    
      Is software-enabled collaboration really possible? Well, yes, Wikipedia demonstrates this is possible. Wikipedia is not perfect – there isn’t much you can really do if two people want to edit exactly the same bit of text at the same time – one set of edits wins and the other has to be refused but most of the time it works out OK.

      Agreed. 

      Given that the material you are trying to collect is only partially genealogical in nature, you might do better with a Wiki of some kind. While you are interested in families and individuals, there are also likely to be a wealth of other information: maps, photos, histories, farms, businesses, churches etc that does not neatly fit into a genealogical framework – to which family/individual do you link the photo of the village hall in 1900?

      I don't know.  I've pressed very hard to collect and use maps and photos.    There simply aren't any maps sufficiently detailed to help much.  Photos are trickling in, but the coverage is really spotty.  (For a completely different discussion:  I'm very skeptical of the the usefulness of photos without substantial context and explanation.)

      Whatever information framework I use, it is going to be sparsely populated.    

      It might be easier to not have a genealogical structure but instead focus on providing source material from which you or others could construct genealogies, which, as GEDCOMs or as PDF/Word reports/trees produced by conventional family history software, could be uploaded and made available from the wiki too. That way you have the family history according to you and the one according to Aunt Betty co-existing even if they disagree.

      I've got stuff on the web.   At the moment I'm posting content on custom pages using a randomly ordered topic list  --outline-form table-of-contents navigation on each page-- reflecting nothing more than the order in which I have develop publishable content from raw source material.  For a while I tried to be systematic, but the raw material arrives randomly -- when it is available at all.  I was making myself crazy trying to organize, and my productivity was badly reduced.
      I would say grab some open source Wiki software (e.g. MediaWiki which underpins Wikipedia) and start gathering material. This is minimum investment to test the enthusiasm of others to contribute. If you can attract contributions, you can gradually configure/tweak/re-write the code as you go if required (take an agile approach). I think building your own software suite first is pretty much dooming your project from the outset.

      Actually I was able to borrow a passable web look-and-feel from another project of mine.  After seeing the  site, such as it is, people do contribute raw material, so I guess it is sufficient.   I'll feel better when I reach critical mass for imposing some kind of systematic order.     Imagine if you were trying to tell a stranger about your home town (if small) or neighborhood. Where would you start?   In what order would you arrange the material?   Yes, of course, with hyperlinking, each reader will define their own path, but I think there's value in having an overall, systematic organization. 
      Our genealogy software forums are littered with “grand plans” to build the ultimate family history software, but very few ever produce even version 1, let alone something others would use.
      Yep, as we used to say in the heyday of the valley:  Every tekkie has a scheme for getting rich that won't work.

      I'll settle for finding --or developing-- some efficient data entry/transfer techniques for myself.  And finding some folks who have experience doing roughly the same kind of projects from whom I can learn.

      And: I'll still dream of getting some actual help from my co-descendants.  

      Thanks,

      Henry


       
      Kerry
       

      From: gensoft@yahoogroups.com [mailto:gensoft@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Henry Neugass
      Sent: Monday, 8 October 2012 6:12 AM
      To: gensoft@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [gensoft] new member self-intro
       
       

      Hello,

       
      Hello, I'm a old-time s/w (and h/w) engineer working on my eastern European family history with a small group of my co-descendants.  I have a theory that if I can just find a super-user-friendly genealogy CMS, all my colleagues will join in enthusiastically to enter data. So far... nada.
       
      Seems like I've been looking for about 5 years now. Near the start I found PhpGedView.  Long story short:  I couldn't figure out how to use it and get reliable results. Fail.  Fast forward:  At the moment I'm evaluating a PhpGedView fork/descendant, webtrees 1.3.1, on a fairly narrow collaborative project with a cousin.
       
      I'm aiming  towards (or: dreaming of) a comprehensive record of all the people who lived in my ancestral village up until 1 September 1939, the start of WWII, including 1st and 2nd generations of those who emigrated before that time. (There were probably around 3000 people in the village in 1939.)  Basic genealogical data plus photos, stories, ...whatever can be found to recall that community as it was before 1939.
       
      It is obviously a tough job:  due to multiple waves of destruction of that region over the last century or so, records are fragmentary, there are multiple languages to deal with, the emigrants are scattered world-wide, and there's frequently a strong reluctance of the emigrant families to recall the old country.
       
      Most of the people in my little group of co-descendants are not technical at all, many are elderly, so whatever I use needs to have a very clear and streamlined UI, and the security/privacy provisions need to be equally clear and strong -- without getting in the way.  
       
      The point is to have multiple people adding data to the same database, potentially at the same time. But does that ever, ever happen? (Am I dreaming?)  Is software-enabled collaboration really practical?  (Am I dreaming?)   For that matter, does anyone even try to do a comprehensive population database?   Well, sure, in places where there are longtime religious/civil records, unbroken by war or systematic destruction, right?   I should have picked a family who came from one of those places. <sad grin>.
       
      - - -
       
      Some of you may be itching to respond, "Why not use one of the free genealogical web sites such as geni.com?"  Yes, I've seen some very reasonable UI's on such sites.  But, on the other hand, I'm not so reassured by the privacy and security measures - and my standards in this regard are fairly relaxed compared to some of my co-descendants.  I also have some doubts about the flexibility of such sites, say, to accept any kind and length of relevant material.  
       
      Admittedly, I can't say this opinion is based on much actual experience.  And I'll admit I feel a strong desire to have full control of the project, which makes me reluctant to trust public genealogy sites.  What is their accountability?
       
      - - -
       
      Or, how about buying the best genealogy app my own computer will support --I'm on a Mac-- give up the dream of direct collaboration, do the work myself, and upload the results to, say, webtrees for viewing?   I must admit this alternative is looking better and better over the years.
       
      But I'm not ready to give up finding a really super-user-friendly genealogy CMS, even if I end up writing some of it.   What's going on in this area?   I haven't found much of anything, though these days, "not finding" can mean "slightly wrong search terms".   
       
      There's yet another point of view: a genealogical approach simply isn't suitable for my purpose.   Maybe not, but at the moment, I can't think of any better organizing framework.  
       
      Thanks,
       
      Henry
       
      Northern California



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