Saturday, August 25, 2007

WeRelate and the Allen County Public Library

Promise? Yes, I promise! This will be my last post on the 2007 FGS Conference ;-) . . . in one of my previous posts I mentioned that one of the sessions I attended at the FGS Conference was "Working on Tomorrow's Virtual Community Today" with Curt Witcher in which he talked a bit about the relationship that the Allen County Public Library has established with the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy and WeRelate. Curt didn't really say much about the specific role that the ACPL is playing in the partnership but we did learn a little about the philosophy behind the relationship and the goals they want to achieve.

As Curt said "these are challengingly interesting times for researchers. The available electronic data is immense and growing exponentially. Along with this, the challenge of finding relevant data is also growing exponentially." Nothing new there, right? He continued "there is a growing need for collaboration - to avoid duplication of effort, to have the ability to have your data online on a site that has no affiliations and at no cost to the users."

Curt continued to emphasize that use of the site and data would be free to users. Call me a skeptic, but as Dear Myrtle (and Jasia) brought up just this week, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone, somewhere has to pay for the costs for this "free" online data including server space, bandwidth, obtaining the data, etc. So, how are they going to finance this free resource? Curt didn't get into that aspect but currently WeRelate is being funded by tax-deductible donations. In the "Watercooler" I found a comment regarding the recent design change of having the data being on the left side of the screen with notes in a larger "open" space on the right: "It's in preparation for putting genealogy ads on the right, which we need to do to pay for hosting costs." I'm wondering if maybe for an annual fee you could have the ads removed like they do for some other sites? I don't have a problem with ads, the expenses have to be covered somehow.

Why is the ACPL associated with WeRelate? Well, the way that Curt put it is that he wants "to let everyone play in the sandbox" by making genealogy accessible to more people. Essentially, the more players there are the better it will be for everyone. He also wants it to be a site that has no affiliations so that people will feel more "comfortable" with contributing their family data and to make it easier to collaborate with other researchers. The use of the wiki platform should encourage that collaboration by making it easier for information to be updated while maintaining a record of changes that were made and by whom. In order to edit any page on the site the user must be registered and logged in to WeRelate.

The bottom line is that WeRelate is all about collaboration, getting more people involved in genealogy, and free access to information and records.

Now, I've played around a bit with WeRelate but haven't yet uploaded a GedCom or created any people pages or anything else. I am working on a small file for testing purposes. I do want to see how it will handle the data as it is entered into my database and what kind of adjustments I may need to make in my data entry to conform to the site and how it displays information. I do think the site has great potential and I especially like the idea of collaboration with other researchers. So why haven't I contributed to it yet? Mostly inertia, but also a bit of skepticism, and the fact that I really haven't found the site to be all that intuitive to use. In my opinion, navigation of the site and the search feature both leave a lot to be desired. I got frustrated when doing a search on one of my surnames that is also a place name: a search for the "Berlin" in the Surname field and with "Person (and Family)" selected as the Namespace to search returned 578 items. On the 15th page of results it finally displayed a couple of entries for people. That's as far as I went. It wasn't giving me what I thought it should.

One thing to keep in mind is that WeRelate is a Beta site, it is under development, they are still learning what it is the users want and need. They are open to suggestions and want to improve the site. I encourage you to investigate WeRelate, take the 10-minute video tour and check out the other help features they have.

I highly recommend the series of posts that Denise Olson at Family Matters has on using WeRelate. She has tips and screen shots as well as some step-by-step instructions. She'll also be writing additional posts on using the site:
Also, Randy Seaver had an interesting and informative post on Testing the WeRelate.org Wiki/Genea-Networking site wherein he describes uploading a GedCom and using some of the features. He also lists what he likes and what he dislikes about WeRelate.

Additional Links:

2 comments:

  1. Great article, Becky!

    I'm fascinated with the platform - the same software that runs Wikipedia - and the concept. Yes, it's new and very different from the things we've been used to in the genealogy/family history arena, but its potential is enormous.

    WeRelate has come a long way in the last few weeks. It's worth some investment in time to experiment and offer suggestions to help improve the platform, but the real value will be the contribution of information.

    For those of us that remember the early days of GenWeb, the early stages of WeRelate seems quite familiar. One big difference here is that there is no gatekeeper - you don't have to go through anyone to contribute to the collection.

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  2. Thank you for the comments Denise, and also for your series of posts on using WeRelate. I've been 'watching' the site since they announced their alliance with the ACPL earlier this year and agree that they have come a long way since then. I do plan on uploading a GedCom file and 'playing' with the site. I think the collaboration aspect will probably be its strong point.

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