Irish Roots

February 8th, 2010

John Grenham


Last week I wrote about some of the changes taking place in on-line collaborative databases. At the root of their value is the “network effect”. The example generally used to explain this is the adoption of fax machines in the 1970s and 1980s. If only 10 people have fax machines, the usefulness of each machine is very limited. If 10,000 have machines, they become extremely useful. The more people have a machine, the more useful it becomes, which increases the incentive to have a machine, which increases the number of machines, which … At some point, the positive feedback creates such exponential growth that a fax machine becomes as essential a business tool as the paper clip.

Something similar is finally beginning to happen with on-line family histories. In the past databases such as the International Genealogy Index, Ancestral File, and World Family Tree allowed users to add whatever information they wanted and then distributed the information either free or for profit. Quality control was sketchy, to say the least. In effect, there was little to prevent someone claiming Mickey Mouse as a grandparent and inventing a pedigree linking him back to Conan the Barbarian. The next wave of services allow much more sophisticated fact-checking and source citations, often based on public or semi-public corrections. This is in turn made possible by much more nuanced control of access.

Examples of these products are New FamilySearch, WeRelate.org, www.tribalpages.com, The Next Generation and FamilyTreeexplorer.com (available at www.findmypast.co.uk). New FamilySearch, yet another initiative of the Mormon Church, seems likely to become the de facto standard: most of the stand-alone programs currently used by researchers to store and sort their information are adding the capability to exchange data with its huge online database. By choosing to join in, you can append, correct and collaborate..


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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