Should constructive feedback be given in public comment or private message?

+16 votes
374 views
As we build our global tree together, we sometimes have feedback for other members. Frequently we ask each other to cite sources, expand place names, merge duplicate profiles even when there are differing theories about parentage, avoid writing in the first person, etc.

I see some members espousing the maxim to praise in public and critique in private. They may feel that a request to change our research process and use of WikiTree could be a source of embarrassment if left for all to see on a member's profile. They instead engage in a private message conversation with the member.

Other members (I am one) prefer to make these comments publicly viewable whenever the topic is not sensitive or personal, so that fellow members (including mentors and leaders) notice that the feedback has been given. This can help us avoid repeated messages on the same topic, which might leave the member feeling pestered rather than encouraged.

Some members combine the two approaches, giving detailed feedback by private message and posting a public comment such as "Gregory is working with Susan on merging duplicate profiles. Thanks!"

What do you think is the best approach? How do you like to give and receive encouragement and constructive criticism here at WikiTree?
in Policy and Style by Karen Lowe G2G6 Pilot (141k points)
retagged by Dorothy Barry
Thanks for thinking about this and bringing it up, Karen.

It can be so hard to give constructive criticism without offending someone. It takes time and thoughtful consideration to do it right. That leads many people to avoid trying, which is terrible for our project.
I use comments for information that is relevant to the profile for future readers to see. Private messages are for a dialogue that does not need to be seen by others.

Also, there are too many long comments left standing that have no relevance to the data in the profile, such as "welcome ..." two or three years after the profile was created. Maybe those messages to newcomers need to be sent as private messages since the new manager receives them by email both ways.
Thanks, Walter, for sharing your approach. The greeter's messages are sent in public so that other greeters can determine if a new member has been welcomed. They could certainly be removed at some point, but not in the first few days, please!

7 Answers

+12 votes

If we don't track research progress/questions on the profile this dialogue will be lost 


1) Add a Research Notes section if there are open issues on a profile or if you dont understand

After the comment add ~~~~

==> You get a timestamp with your signature

2) If some fact has no sources add template {{Citation Needed}}

3) If a profile has no sources add template {{Unsourced}}

by C S G2G6 Pilot (274k points)
Magnus, this is definitely a great approach when working through a single profile. My question is about general research practices. If you were a less meticulous person and I wanted to tell you "Magnus, please cite your sources on the 800 profiles you added last month (and please don't remove the Unsourced template if you are just referencing some tree on FamilySearch or Ancestry), and please don't abbreviate Västernorrland as 'Y' and Jämtland as 'Z' because no one understands that outside of Sweden," I'd rather leave that as a comment on your profile. Some folks would send that to you by private message. Which is best?

Then training people but I don't know how... plus people must be willing to learn.... I have tried have sessions about WikiTree templatesCategories having Google webhangout support for Swedish genealogy 

hm after spending more than a year at WikiTree I believe less in crowd sourced family trees. I believe more that you care about some parts of the tree than trying to get everyone moving in the same direction. 

Its like internet some part you use and care about. I feel WikiTree prefer the welcoming approach ==> its ok to do mistakes and no one blames you for that and if we have rules they are "soft". 

I believe Aleš approach with telling people

  • if you are interested you have profiles were the mother is born after the child and it looks like an error....  

is maybe the correct soft approach....

So if the problem is missing sources

  1. Add templates to sources and start rank profiles if they are well sourced or not could be a way forward....
  2. Add errors for profiles with no sources
  3. Add more information on user profiles
    1. number of profiles created
    2. number of sources added
    3. number of edits done adding sources the last 3 days
    4. number of profiles without sources
    5. last time edit...
+7 votes
I do think it's necessary to give some direction, especially to beginners to help them provide better questions.  Thus asjubg fir adding WikiTree IDs, or information in the title or in the text should be requested, and it doesn't hurt to make it public as you're really helping the questioner.  If you find a profile linked to by a questioner to be inadequate, it's probably best to e-mail or post on the profile.  Complaints or detailed suggestions would definitely be better as e-mials.  (BTW, I'm not talking about complaints like the one a couple of questions earlier on the adoption project as that sort of complaint isn't addressed to a particular person.)
by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (408k points)
+9 votes
If the only advantage to the public approach is that it may avoid repeated critiques on the same topic, then I wonder if it is really effective.  I think I would be more likely to take an issue seriously if I received several private notes in the same vein, as opposed to being called out publicly for it.  "Constructive" is in the eye of the beholder.  If I were called out publicly a few times for breaches of style that I think are mostly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, that would probably be enough to persuade me to pack up my hobby and take it elsewhere.

I do, by the way,  think it's effective, to have these non-personal G2G discussions about common, recurring problems of the kind you cite in the question.  (At least it's effective among those of us who follow G2G.)  Just my $0.02 worth,.your mileage may vary.
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (431k points)
+10 votes
I don't think there is one definitive answer... because it all depends on the individuals.

Some people don't like flooding their inboxes with email.

And private messages will reveal otherwise private email addresses.

Public critiques can be worded positively, and some people are better at that then others.

We all want to fire off a quick instant message, but we need to remember to include the context that is otherwise only in our heads. Use complete sentences and avoid abbreviations.

Whether publicly or privately, state clearly the perceived issue, steps to reproduce, and proposed solution.
by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (537k points)
+7 votes
It all depends on the person receiving the message.  Some people respond to private messages and some people don't, based on my past experience.  I've seen people ignore and then delete posted comments.  I think it depends on the person and how cooperative or responsive they want to be.
by Carol Wilder G2G6 Mach 5 (50.4k points)
+7 votes
I guess I'm one of the ones that errs on the side of minimising public embarrassment whenever possible.  Because no matter how nicely we couch it, the message behind most critique is "you're doing it wrong", and that tends to make people defensive.  Putting it in a place where anyone & everyone can see it only compounds that defensiveness, in my experience.

That said... if it's a problem with a specific profile, I will put a public message on that profile (rather than the PM's personal profile) and try to make it impersonal, e.g. "This profile has X issue" rather than "You did something wrong here".  If it's an overarching style issue or involves multiple profiles, I'll take it to private e-mail and follow up with a public message, e.g. "Hi, I sent you a private message about X.  Did you get it?" - that way, others can see that the issue is being addressed.
by Vicky Majewski G2G6 Mach 7 (77.7k points)
+5 votes
Personally I favour private emails I just feel that it gives it more of a personal touch than a public comment and you can IMHO be more encouraging and supportive in a private email.

A private email also can be more likely to lead to a dialogue between the two parties and you might find out a lot more and be more helpful than you would be from a public comment.

It may just be me but I find most public comments of that nature to be cold and impersonal.
by Melissa McKay G2G6 Mach 3 (34.2k points)

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