Can we have the profile creation page guess the gender for us?

+5 votes
200 views
(I don't mean "Is this possible at the moment?" - it's a suggestion for a change...)

On the profile creation page, let's have the site take a guess as to the gender of the person. This isn't difficult to do. There is already a system that seems to know the probable gender of a person from a name - it's in the suggestions page 'possible wrong gender' (or something like that). So if the newly created person's name is 'Mary', for example, we shouldn't really need to set the gender in the dropdown box - the site/page (javascript/ajax) should do it for us.  (So many times I've hit the 'Create ~' button and then it's said 'This person has no gender.')  It is possible that we may have a woman named Michael, for example, but if that's the case, we can manually enter that with the dropdown box, but the automatic default option for Michael should be 'male'.  

This isn't a big deal, but it would be a small improvement.
in WikiTree Tech by Ian Beacall G2G6 Mach 7 (75.6k points)
retagged by Ian Beacall
It might be wise to add some tags to your question to attract the correct people. 'improvements', 'tech', 'sysops' might help (or just the Abbie tag).

6 Answers

+5 votes
Becomes complicated the further back you go

Florence, Beverly and Vivian used to be male.  Douglass female, Douglas male.

And what about me? Marion is male in many countries, Marian female but the reverse applies for other countries. I am female but named after a male!
by Marion Poole G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)

I don't think it matters.  At the moment, when you're adding a sibling or a child, you have to select the gender 100% of the time.  The system can choose the gender based on the data.  If more than 50% of the Marions in the system are male, the default for Marion will be 'male'.  The system will be correct a minimum of 50% of the time - probably much more like 85% or higher, considering that most names are not (and historically were not) cross-gender.  That would save my poor little clicking finger (and my brain cells) the trouble of doing that (setting the gender) nearly every time.   In the small percentage of cases in which the system is 'incorrect' (the new person has a name which is more often given to people of a different gender), you set it.  We go from setting the gender 100% of the time to about 15% of the time. smiley

OK... Anticipating the objection that this would increase the number of mistakes... How about if, after the first name is entered and the user has left that field, and the system sets the gender based on that name, a message appears (not one that you have to click to remove) that tells you that the gender has now been set as 'male' or as 'female'?  It could even be more visual - the colour of the page could change to reflect the gender, for example. 

+9 votes
I strongly disagree with that. There are too many names that change gender in different countries. And even in English speaking countries same written names change gender. In the 1700s and early 1800s there was already the name Christian. BUT it was used for women.

In Italy the name Nicola is a male name, in Serbia with a little spelling change (Nikola) as well, but in England Nicola is a female.

In Italy Andrea is a male name, in Germany it's female. Again in Italy Simone is a male name, in Germany it's female.

And these are only some examples that come from the top of my head.
by Jelena Eckstädt G2G6 Pilot (719k points)
What I said up there still stands, though.  If the system sets the gender and gets it wrong even 50% of the time (at most, but as I said, probably much lower than that), then that's at least 50% of the time that we don't have to do that.  It could even take the country into account.  You enter Andrea, and as most Andreas in the database are female (the database being highly Anglo-centric), it sets the gender as 'female'.  For most cases, this works.  But then, you enter the birth location and the system has more information to base its guess on.  It now checks for what percentage of people born in Italy named Andrea are male or female.  It finds that most of them are male and sets the gender to 'male', reducing work for the user (increasing work for the coders, but...). As long as the system's guesses are based on the data, we won't need to set the gender most of the time.  In some cases, we will, but it will be a small minority of cases.
1. For your suggestion of the system "checking if Andrea in Italy is male or female" it needs connection to a searchable corpus. I'm not sure the Team wants to deliver that.

2. The team and many volunteers work hardly on making the site more international. The Help Pages are translated into more languages to attract more people who don't know English. Slowly but surely the site is getting more international and making a move based on "the anglo-saxon majority" would be a huge step backwards.
Ian, you're ignoring a basic fact about data input: Pre-filled fields have a tendency to be overlooked by the operator. If we leave the gender recogniton to a computer algorithm based on fuzzy input data, you can be very sure about one thing: Registered profiles with wrong genders will go way up.

1. For your suggestion of the system "checking if Andrea in Italy is male or female" it needs connection to a searchable corpus. I'm not sure the Team wants to deliver that.

--> The programmers/coders/engineers are working with the database all the time.  The searchable corpus is the WikiTree database.  This would be easy to do. 

2. The team and many volunteers work hardly on making the site more international. The Help Pages are translated into more languages to attract more people who don't know English. Slowly but surely the site is getting more international and making a move based on "the anglo-saxon majority" would be a huge step backwards.

--> No, as I tried to say, it would be based on the available data.  If the majority of [Name] in [Birth location] are male, the system can set the gender to that.  If the individual case is different from the majority, the user should set the gender, but this will always be a minority of cases.

Leif, I tried to address this earlier, but I'll repeat it here:

How about if, after the first name is entered and the user has left that field, and the system sets the gender based on that name, a message appears (not one that you have to click to remove) that tells you that the gender has now been set as 'male' or as 'female'?  It could even be more visual - the colour of the page could change to reflect the gender, for example. 

You can see if it has been set as male/female by color pic at top of profile. 

As it stands, we are asked to nominate male or female as we progress down the creation/edit page. Why change it and then say if the computer gets it wrong we can go back and correct it? Surely as budding genealogists it’s all about checking, checking and checking again. A computer can never do it all because us humans are imperfect wink

"You can see if it has been set as male/female by color pic at top of profile."

--> No, on the page to create a new person, the only indication of gender is in the gender dropdown, there's no image or colour.

"As it stands, we are asked to nominate male or female as we progress down the creation/edit page. Why change it and then say if the computer gets it wrong we can go back and correct it?"

--> If the gender box were below the birth location box (or maybe below the death location box), there'd be no problem here - no going back.  Imagine... The first name has been entered and the system sets the gender based on world data. You keep on filling fields; then you fill the birth location field.  After that, the system does another database call for the best guess based on country and first name; then you look at the gender box as it's your next box to fill, and - as if by magic, it's already done.  Maybe you look at that box and think, "but this Sam that I'm creating now is female, not male".  No problem - you just change it to female.  It's in your natural input flow (now that I've moved it to below the death location), and either it's done correctly already (which I think would be the vast majority of cases) or you set it just as you do now.    

"A computer can never do it all because us humans are imperfect"

--> That's right, but we can have them (computers) help us as much as possible, like when we have the birth location almost autofilling from minimal input.
And a human being has to check if the machine got it right because as I said above sometimes the same name changes gender in the same country over time.

If you consider this it is easier not to computize that step but to keep it completely human. We have to check it anyway, then we can fill it ourselves too.

Discussion is good and healthy.  smiley

"Sometimes the same name changes gender in the same country over time."

--> Even this can be factored in.  The database check can be for the most common usage (male or female) in that country in the few decades before and after that birth year.

"We have to check it anyway, then we can fill it ourselves too."

--> It's much easier to just look at something than to move your mouse to the dropdown box and select the gender from the dropdown.  Even a pair of radio inputs would be a little better (like the many other radio inputs on the page, such as the ones for saying that things are certain, uncertain, etc.).

This seems like it would add a lot of extra processing and complexity with very little benefit (since you need to double-check the data, would it even save the average person any time?). I share Leif's concern that this would introduce errors. You can check if someone forgot to enter a field, but you can't check to see if someone double-checked the automatically generated info.
+5 votes
I've got automatic gender recognition in my own genealogy database. It's working great with the old Norwegian naming custom, as it's got a dedicated field for patronyms. When the patronym ends with "-sen" it's a male, and when it ends with a "-datter" it's a female.

Here on WikiTree we have to enter the patronym as LNAB, and WT makes no inferences about gender based on patronymics. I've got a habit of forgetting to set the gender because it's so obvious to me :)

On the other hand I'm getting a bit perplexed by the software when I add a father to an Andersdatter (literally "Anders' daughter") and the software makes the blind, but preposterous assumption that her father is an Andersdatter too. But I'm getting used to it.
by Leif Biberg Kristensen G2G6 Pilot (109k points)
+2 votes
I like the idea, if it would set the gender uncertain when the system would choose. Estimating the gender is a chance, depending on era and area/language. The more entries you have, the better the guess. As long as it does not use the US standards, but the data available, it should work.

But.... I am not sure this would be high on my list of requests.
by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (216k points)

It was actually number 1 on my list of requests. smiley

The point though is not that we need to make the best guess and enter it in the database.  The user knows the gender and the majority of times, with a little coding, it should be easy for the system to put that in for us.  If the system gets it wrong or just doesn't know because the name is very unusual or unique, the user will enter it as they do now.

+6 votes
Other than all the issues with the ambiguity of names, it destroys my workflow....add all the information for the profile, where leaving gender blank is a sanity check to not save before finished.
by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (412k points)
+2 votes
Update: For anyone who's interested, I've built this into my Chrome extension (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/auto-wikitree-tables-%2B/bldfdpnmijncfmaokfjgdmcjdhafihoh).  After you leave the 'First Name at Birth' box, the gender box is filled in for you with a prediction based on the male/female frequency of about 13,000 names from the WikiTree database. There's also a gendered background colour to draw your attention to it.  I'm guessing that 90% of the time, it will choose the right gender. If it chooses the wrong one or doesn't have a guess, don't worry - just choose the gender from the dropdown box as you do now. It will make some occasional mistakes as people have said here - maybe due to names like Jean or Andrea being for different genders in different countries - but I couldn't really customize this for every country and time period as it would have taken me forever.  It would probably be a lot easier to do this on the server side, but that's not going to happen...

Anyway, I hope some people find this a little bit useful.
by Ian Beacall G2G6 Mach 7 (75.6k points)

Related questions

+5 votes
2 answers
73 views asked Apr 6, 2016 in The Tree House by Bob Jewett G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+11 votes
1 answer
+4 votes
1 answer
120 views asked Jun 11, 2016 in WikiTree Tech by J S G2G6 Mach 1 (14.9k points)
+13 votes
1 answer
239 views asked Jan 2, 2015 in WikiTree Tech by Nan Starjak G2G6 Pilot (267k points)
+7 votes
1 answer
99 views asked Nov 21, 2015 in WikiTree Tech by Vic Watt G2G6 Pilot (330k points)
+4 votes
6 answers
+10 votes
2 answers
685 views asked Dec 20, 2012 in Policy and Style by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (777k points)
+16 votes
1 answer

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright

...