The following article was written by and is copyright by Dick Eastman.You or your local genealogy society might find great satisfaction - not to mention accomplishing a lot with minimal resources - by creating a wiki. This is a great way to let people collaborate on a project. That project might be the creation of listings of old tax records, transcriptions from census records, or perhaps a written history of a town or county. Perhaps you want to create “the Old Mill Wiki” giving the history of a historical landmark in your town.
Another great use of wikis is when you and a few cousins create a wiki to help facilitate group research on a particular family or surname. This could be “the Kawasaki Family Wiki” providing all the known information about that family's ancestors.
These are just a few of the possible applications for wikis. A wiki is a great tool for almost any form of documentation that is created as a group effort where multiple people wish to “pool” their knowledge for the benefit of everyone. Wikis can be private where only members of the group can see the information or they can be public, available to everyone on the World Wide Web. In fact, I use wikis both for group efforts and for one "solo project" of my own.
According to Wikipedia.org, a wiki is defined as follows:
… a website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content, typically without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring. The term wiki also can refer to the collaborative software itself (wiki engine) that facilitates the operation of such a Web site, or to certain specific wiki sites, including the computer science site (the original wiki) WikiWikiWeb and on-line encyclopedias such as Wikipedia.I might shorten Wikipedia's description to say that a wiki is a website where users can add, remove, and edit any page by using a web browser. It's also easy to use. In fact, wikis are becoming known as the tool of choice for large, multiple-participant documentation projects. Many software products now use a wiki for the user’s manuals, often with information provided by company employees and customers alike.
NOTE: The name "wiki" is derived from wiki-wiki, a Polynesian word that means to go quickly. The free shuttle buses at the Honolulu Airport are called the wiki-wiki. Likewise, wiki software is designed to be used quickly and easily to accomplish a task.Wikipedia.org is the best-known and most successful wiki to date. It is an online encyclopedia that has now grown to contain ten or twenty times the information found in traditional encyclopedias, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wikipedia has thousands of authors with each contributing whatever knowledge he or she wishes to share. A study produced by Nature Magazine found that Wikipedia.org is very accurate, at least as accurate as Encyclopaedia Britannica. The study shows that Wikipedia has roughly the same number of errors per article as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Of course, Wikipedia.org is free, whereas many other encyclopedias charge for access.
The wiki software is a natural application for almost any large collection of reference material, especially for information collected by multiple people. An encyclopedia is a natural application, as is a dictionary, thesaurus, a user’s manual, or most any other reference work. In fact, wiki software works well for dictionaries, users' manuals, as well as for encyclopedias. A wiki also works well for almost any project where multiple people wish to share ideas and information.
How could you use a wiki for your next project? Here are some examples that come to mind:
- Creating a town or county history with input from multiple authors. Each author contributes his or her own latest pages and also can easily see the pages written by others. The group collaboration can be much easier than sending pages by e-mail.
- A group effort of transcribing old records with everyone contributing their extractions to the master copy, again with multiple transcribers.
- Publishing a society's newsletters, including back issues.
- Creating a book of "all the descendants of person X" or republishing an existing family history book. Each person listed in the book would receive a separate page on the wiki and could have more data contributed by others as time goes by.
- Creating a users manual for a genealogy program or for a web site.
A wiki is a great tool because:
- It is accessible from anyplace with a web connection.
- It is an archive, as every page revision is saved and is available at any time.
- It is exciting, immediate, and empowering--everyone has a say.
- Access to the information is easily controlled: it can be public or private, as the wiki creators wish.
- I can contain text, pictures, videos, sound, or any other multimedia content.
- It is easily updated (by anyone) as new information becomes available.
Another is the Encyclopedia of Genealogy at http://www.eogen.com. I "seeded" the Encyclopedia of Genealogy with perhaps fifty pages of information about various genealogy-related topics, available to everyone on the World Wide Web. Since then, several hundred other genealogists have added an additional 900+ pages of information or have updated, corrected, and expanded the information that I originally posted. Perhaps the best example of this collaboration is the list of local, regional, and state libraries that offer free, in-home access to the records found on HeritageQuest Online. That page at http://www.eogen.com/HeritageQuestOnline has been updated hundreds of times by many different people, each one adding whatever information he or she could add about a local library.
Other pages on the Encyclopedia of Genealogy describe local societies, give definitions of terms found in old documents, tell where to download free genealogy charts, and more. The result is a collection of information that can benefit thousands of genealogists.
If you have not yet seen the Encyclopedia of Genealogy, I would suggest that you go there now to see what a wiki can do for genealogists. Point your browser to http://www.eogen.com. While there, you might want to add a page or two of information that you wish to share. If you find it helpful, you might want to bookmark it in your browser as a “favorite” destination for later reference.
The third wiki that I have created is a personal one for my own use. In fact, I use it just like a huge stack of yellow "sticky notes." It is protected by a user name and password, and I am the only person with full access to the contents. All the user names and passwords I use for various web sites are recorded in this wiki, along with my to-do list, my travel schedule, ideas for upcoming newsletter articles, and much, much more. If I suddenly think of something that needs to be done or some idea I need to remember, I write it in the “to do” page of my personal wiki. If I see a web site that I'd like to investigate in the future, I copy-and-paste the more relevant information into the wiki. If I see an on-line reference to one of my ancestors, I copy-and-paste the information to the wiki. The VIN number of my automobiles, the combination lock numbers for my luggage, my driver’s license number, my credit card numbers and the customer support phone numbers for those cards, the phone numbers of most of my friends, and much more information is all in my personal wiki. If I need to find any information in the future, I can do so within seconds by entering my user name and password, then enter a search word(s) or phrase. Despite the 2,000+ pages in my personal wiki, I can find any snippet of information within a few seconds. Just try that with a huge stack of yellow "sticky notes!"
I keep most of the pages in my personal wiki as "private pages," visible only to me. My family members do have read-only access to my travel schedule and a few other wiki pages, however. I control their access by user names and passwords. I can also grant them full read/write access, if I wish to.
I would also suggest that your local genealogical society could use a wiki as a publishing tool for the local history book that the society wishes to create some day. A group effort with input from multiple people could easily become more complete and detailed than any such effort conducted by one person.
Almost all wikis are built on group collaboration; my personal wiki is an obvious exception. Most of the wikis I have seen allow new information to replace or update previously-entered information. Indeed, since I created the Encyclopedia of Genealogy, many of the paragraphs that I originally created have been replaced with newer, more complete information written by other genealogists.
This week I decided to share my experiences at building the wikis. You may be surprised at just how easy such a task is. You also may be surprised at the cost: two of my wikis cost zero while the third costs nineteen dollars per month.
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