New to the site, a small concern about ownership

+14 votes

Firstly, let me say that I find the concept of the WikiTree wonderful. Secondly, I have a family tree of over a thousand that I'm interested in porting over to this format and continuing my work here.

Before I do so, I have a concern. Ten years ago, I was a member of a wholly unrelated specialist encyclopedia wiki.  I voluntarily contributed a lot of time, expertise and info, along with thousands of other users. The site was owned by a couple of individuals, however, and in their Ts & Cs, it did state, similarly to this site (Terms section 5), that any content I created could be sold by them license-free.  They did so in 2009 for $200k to Wikia, having had other people do most of their work.  The Wikia experience destroyed the site's userbase due to their desire to monetize it through aggressive advertising pop-ups and videos.

I'm concerned in the same way that in ten years, nothing has changed with regards the wiki format and legality of ownership of content.  Whilst I would have no desire to keep any ancestry private, and I do believe that as much genealogical information as possible should be made freely available to those who seek it, I would rather not see someone else make a hefty sum from selling the results of my hours of research, sourcing, organisation and collaboration with others to, eg, Ancestry or FamilySearch (even Google or Microsoft if they decide to enter the industry).

I was wondering if the community, or staff here, had any thoughts on that?
in The Tree House by Geoff Greenwood G2G Crew (870 points)
I personally feel this to be a legitimate emotion. As per wiki-tree and maybe I slightly biased if you look at its pattern it seems to completely legitimate and the per say "Ownership" has continued to do everything to keep this place where Genealogist can collaborate on information on a free forum with only rules as outlined in the Honor Code.

2 Answers

+9 votes
Best answer
Hi Geoff,

It's a good question to ask.

Kitty mentioned this pledge we have made to keep WikiTree free:

Some security on that promise is that independent developers have copies of all the public tree data. If we are no longer making the content available for free, someone else can.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
selected by Geoff Greenwood
P.S. None of this is a guarantee that we won't "aggressively monetize" the content through obnoxious ads or sell it to someone who would. We can't guarantee that. The ads are as obnoxious as they need to be in order to keep the content and all its features free for everyone. :-)
Thanks for taking the time to the reply Chris, and supplying the link.

I understand and agree with the ethics of the site, and the pledges made display a fine moral stance, but as you say there is no guarantee that, when the site's userbase reaches a size that becomes too tempting for someone to offer you the cash to buy you out, it wouldn't happen (indeed, it may even become necessary as you grow).

My personal feeling is that the admirable ethics you put forth need to be matched with a legal agreement for users that contribution is rewarded with a proportional share in the company itself. That would ensure that if and when the company were sold, significant shareholders would get some return for their time.

Perhaps one day all wikis will be co-operatives as standard. It seems to me to be the best ethical solution. For now, good luck with this impressive site!
+11 votes

Good concern, Geoff, as Ancestry now sells all my Rootsweb research that I did for free.

Our Honor Code page starts, "WikiTree is free, but it's not a free-for-all. Our community is collaborating to create something special: an accurate single family tree that's free and open to the world. This grand project requires mutual trust and a common understanding of how the community works."

And #9 on the code is, "We are united in a mission to increase the world's common store of knowledge. We always respect copyrights and privacy, but we keep information as free and open as possible."

You may not have noticed, but when you first came to WikiTree, there were Google ads along the margins.  After you became a member and signed the Honor Code, the ads should have disappeared.  This is because, though WikiTree is free to use, it is not free to operate and the funds generated by ads to non-members pay the bills.  

Anything more specific about the future of WikiTree would have to be addressed by Chris Whitten, though he has pledged to keep WikiTree free.  Thank you, Chris!  


by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (546k points)

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