Daphne said, "Less effort should be spent encouraging contributions (esp of the gedcom sort, which is the primary source of train wrecks) and more effort should be spent encouraging quality."
I am all for encouraging quality, but I don't agree that it should be an either/or thing. (As in, "either we have a lot of junk profiles, or we have a few high quality profiles".) I think we should encourage both improving the quality of profiles and adding as many more to the site as we can.
The pro-quality people have pretty much had things all their own way in the discussion, so here is my argument for being pro-quantity as well:
It took me forever to build out my tree until I got my first connection with the wider family tree. And I see a bunch of people in the forum who are clearly frustrated that they haven't been able to link up their own families yet. Plus, I see plenty of evidence (since I've been working on orphaned profiles) of people who entered what they knew, still couldn't make a connection to the wider family tree, got frustrated, and quit.
So I got curious as to just what percentage of the people in our "target" date range (1 AD to 2003, excluding those under 13) are on WikiTree. Here's what I found out:
First, I needed an estimate of the people in the target range. I found a page on the Population Reference Bureau site called "How Many People Have Ever Lived On Earth?" From that, I extracted an estimate of 60,439,585,668 people who have been born since 1 AD. As of a few minutes ago, there were 11,200,619 profiles on WikiTree. That means that, currently, there are WikiTree profiles for approximately 0.02% (0.185319255%, as long as I didn't forget to carry a 2 or anything...) of the people in the target range. Or, to put it another way, there is one WikiTree profile for every 5,000+ people in the target range (5,396).
Now, granted, we don't see unconnected trees with thousands of people, but I assume that that is partly due to the fact that the vast majority of profiles date from the last 200 years, which happens to be where most newbies are going to be putting in information for parents, grandparents, and so on. But even so, the odds of finding a match already on WikiTree are pretty small, and I assume that most people, like me, have to get their tree up to a couple of hundred people before they can make a connection. No wonder they get frustrated.
There's another factor to consider, too:
Currently, there are piles of genealogy sites on the internet. That reflects both large numbers of people who are interested in the topic, and also large numbers of companies who figure that there is money to be made from that interest.
The situation kind of reminds me of the situation with social networks a few years ago. When the internet is in the picture, markets tend to become "Winner takes (almost) all." Yes, there are other social networks besides Facebook out there, but most of them are tiny in comparison. I will cheerfully admit that Facebook isn't particularly good in terms of features or the way they treat their users, but at least for now, Facebook has one huge advantage: it's where people are. With social networking, people go where their friends are. Features are nice and everything, but the point of a social network is to connect with your friends, so the most amazing social network in terms of features is pointless if your friends aren't there.
I think the market for genealogy web sites is going to shake out the same way. The market is due for a consolidation down the road, as companies which assumed that there was pots of money to be made from this sort of thing run out of money because they don't attract enough users to make the kind of profits they need to keep their systems up. And the site which ends up on the top of the pile will be the site where people's ancestors are.
That's not to say that people don't care about the quality of the data. But given a choice between a site with really high quality data about people they've never heard of, and another site which actually has their own family on it, I think the huge majority is going to opt for the second site, even if it has errors in it. Errors can be fixed, and are being fixed all the time.
Personally, I would prefer that WikiTree end up being the site at the top of the heap. Most of the other sites I've used have been really annoying for one reason or another. I would love to see a situation where other sites realise that they have to become more like WikiTree if they're going to survive. But if WikiTree is going to be at the top of the heap, or anywhere near it, it needs to have a lot more profiles. And for that to happen, we have to stop viewing quantity as the enemy of quality.