I agree with your idea in large part, Lois. What I think is needed is a more actionable plan for what it would look like.
The biggest difference between the account types is the permissions which each has. And I think it might be helpful for each member to have a clear little box on his profile and/or navigation home page a little info box which shows his account level and what editing permissions he has.
One could re-factor the current membership levels to a set of permission levels:
|| + G2G
| • Create account.|
|| + edit recent family
(when on trusted list?)
+ Attach DNA info
| • Confirm account.
(Not a bot.)
|| + create profiles
+ other benefits
| • Sign honor code.|
|| + edit pre-1700
|| • Account > 1 week old
• Over 50 contributions
• Take the quiz
|| + edit pre-1500
|| • Zero unsourced profiles
• Join a project
• Get certified.
It is a rather confusing set-up having 3 types of accounts, rather than one type of account with different permissions. As you wrote,
People think they've signed up as members and discover they can't do things members should be able to do, not knowing why.
Switching from "account types" to one with explicit permissions and required steps should solve that. By having a clear progression of permissions, the path to progress is clear to users and would probably streamline things more. And it offers the same functional benefits (restricting those who aren't ready to commit) that having the different account types offers.
I agree that the requirement to "volunteer" is redundant as an expression, however it is useful for two purposes: (1) It engages users with real human greeters who can act as a guide and friendly face to answer further questions and (2) it essentially functions as a check to ensure that a new user is actually a human editor. Since the "Family Member" level is essentially doing the same through a familial relationships with a current user, we could place the confirmation step here. In that way, someone who isn't closely related to a current member can get a basic account to get connected upon being greeted. So perhaps the "volunteering" step could be re-tooled to ask the user, as a 2nd step, "Why are you interested in WikiTree?... or something like that. Ideally I would make this some kind of direct input box, which can be immediately answered, rather than the current semi-vague method of commenting on one's profile.
Changing to a clearer progression of permissions would also address some of the problems in the terminology around users. I'm really uncomfortable with the term "Family Member" as an account type, since that's a real-world term, e.g. my mother is a family member, but she is not a Family Member™, which is creates an inexcusably rude implication that those who are not on WikiTree aren't considered (thought of) as "family members" by a user. (I've addressed some of the issues around account type terminology in my response to Chris Whitten's post, "Should non-wiki genealogists be WikiTree members?" and also my response to "Input on plan for welcoming more genealogists and highlighting genealogical interests?")
And frankly "Wiki Genealogist" just sounds clanky. And technically it applies to those who use WeRelate.org... also a wiki-based genealogy platform. WikiTree is, at its core, not a technology (more like a cartoon snowball of tech, that picks up more disparate pieces as it rolls down the mountainside!) but rather a community, and a community is defined by its membership. Users should just be called "WikiTree members", a term which I hope would encourage them to take pride and contribute in line with that.
There are some real potential benefits to having an easier experience joining and participating in WikiTree. New users might just want to "lurk" for a while, and that's okay. But those users should also be able to connect to the tree in order to get a fuller taste of the benefits. A better user experience helps those lurkers gradually trickle up the ladder to become useful contributors.