User (un)friendly interface of WikiTree

+4 votes

Hello there, first of all, I would like to have this discussion without emotions and objective.

I've came from FamilySearch so I might be little spoiled (from user interface point of view), but it has some limitations (like bad or no possibility to create nonconnected profiles, no option to directly backup your data, ...) so I've moved here. Second reason is that philosophy of this site is closer to my heart than that of commercial sites (MyHeritage / Ancestry) or FamilySearch (it has great resources, it's connected to other services, great UI, but has limitations as I mentioned above).

Currently I'm trying to orient here, but it seem to be quiet difficult - I am not talking about functionality, I'm talking about whole user interface. There is LOT and I mean LOT of informations densely condensed to fit into pages that it's difficult to find informations at the first glance and at the same time very easy to get lost again. The pages are cluttered with text - many times also descriptive text that would better fit in some help / manual.

I'm not first and I'm sure I won't be last, you can take a look at similar posts:

Frequent negatives found at the forum:

  • too much informations on pages (to be exact, somebody written "You added to much junk info to the pages ...")
  • not needed informations (like DNA - it is placed on every profile even if the user doesn't need / use it - could be way to enable it only when needed)
  • not intuitive
  • ancient technology (was meant by markup formatting)
  • targeted mainly on anglo-american cultures

I have no doubts that the site is created with the best intentions by dedicated experts and experienced amateurs. It has lot of great functionality and lot of informations can be found here, but that is maybe the reason of this state. It's typical syndrom of adding layer after layer of functionality to older software and then at some moment, you realize that it's packed with many useful tools, but users find it difficult to orient. (I understand that, I am working on some legacy software at work, so I am fully aware of many difficulties to make upgrade or some major change)

Lets be honest, the most valuable and precisous thing on this colaborative effort are informations voluntarily  inserted by people. WikiTree  is only a tool to work with those data. It has obviously many users, but also lots of new ones get discouraged by confussion (including me) and that's a pity.

I've found also some hints to close an account at WikiTree and quit using it, which is not the best approach and harms this site.

Btw, I've also exchanged some lines with someone of WikitTree team (very kind and nice person) to find out if the site itself could be enhanced or make some widgets to ie visualize family tree. The answer was that the site itself is not opensource (like at some public repository - that is also pity - someone outside of the team could make improvements, which after team agreement could be integrated into site and all could benefit) , but he was willing to provide access to data ( understand public javascript API).

Why not make it more fun to use? 

Is the current state the desired state or is there not enough developers? (I think that they are probably also not payed volunteers, so it's understandable) .

Is there any initiative or at least will to improve the situation?

Thanks for ansvers and constructive discussion.


EDIT: Added tag "tech" to make bait on Chris or any other responsible preson to give some answers from team itself ;-).

in WikiTree Tech by Michal Vašut G2G3 (3.9k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith

You might find it worthwhile to talk with Aleš Trtnik about the potential for technical improvements, both in general and specifically relevant to your region. He's a technical pro on the WikiTree Team, and he is in Slovenia. Also, Helmut Jungschaffer is a long-time WikiTree member who has worked with Czech genealogy and might be a good person for you to connect with.

Michael, you are only allowed 3 tags per question, so if you remove one tag, then add `tech`, you should be able to save it.
You can have as many as 6 tags on a posted question. But the tag "tech" is disallowed. It resolves to "bugs." The tech team follows posts in this forum.

You could add the "improvements" tag to this question. Regardless of the selected tags, though, I've observed that specific requests or recommendations are more effective in getting results than more global remarks like those in this question.
That's interesting, Ellen. I tried to add more than 3 to a post before commenting and it kicked off the 1st when I added the 4th tag. Also, if tech resolves to bugs, why doesn't his post have bugs as a tag?
To answer my own question, Michal, I went back in and was able to add 'bugs' as a 4th tag, so you might try adding 'bugs'.  (I must've tried adding 'tech' as the 4th tag and it was kicked off.)
Currently, if someone tries to add the tag "tech", no tag appears. That's a technical issue separate from anything Michal was talking about. I'll try to get it dealt with...
Thanks for the update, R J!
I wrote that text you cited, RJ. At the time I didn't realize that the tag would become a black hole...
I was assuming the disabling of the tag was a deliberate configuration.

7 Answers

+10 votes
For myself, I think back to the early days of WikiTree...and I am pleased with all the improvements made.  Taking one of the G2G items   That improvement has been made.

If you or anyone has specifics...  is the process and a lot of the recent changes have been the result of user suggested changes.
by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (665k points)

Uff, yet another misunderstanding. I'm not English native speaker, so maybe it's language barrier or I'm lacking some communication skills to make my thoughts understandable. 

Anyway I've read your article and it's perfectly fine, I fully agree with that. Nobody has time or knowledge to do what you've described there. And to be honest, ie I'm Czech and I don't give a damn about some Swahili princess, Pakistani actor or <fill your desired one>. And I believe that lot of people has similar thinking. 

My point, in this matter, was rather about localisation / date formats (ie in my country, we write dates in format of DD. MM. YYYY, and is very unnatural to write month first) /...

Again, I understand that the site is created mainly by Anglo-Americans and those people are volunteets and doing their best without expecting some reward, but I don't even see any possibility to contribute with translation. (ie using PO files

+9 votes
Hi Michal,

I know this site can seem a bit backward after being elsewhere but comparing Wikitree with FamilySearch really is comparing apples and oranges. FS has far more resources than we could ever dream of having.

In any organisation there is a certain amount of resistance to change and, in that regard, Wikitree is no different. Our software is old and clunky but so are many of our users who, like me, are still pounding away on Commodore 64s (settle down folks - just a bit of levity). Many here have spent years struggling to learn this system and quite enjoy the idea of 'coding' their profiles. It's not for everyone, but it does work.

As for the Anglo-American culture I don't think anyone need apologise for that reality. To suggest that is wrong is akin to showing up at a nudist colony and insisting everyone get dressed.

There is no doubt that Wikitree could use some help with software development but that can be very costly and the goal is to keep the site as a free resource.

You've asked if there is a will to improve and honestly that is a question I cannot answer. However, do give Wikitree a chance, it might just grow on you. :)
by Anonymous McCormick G2G6 Mach 5 (55.9k points)

Hi Bill, thanks for your opinion. 

About resources - I am aware of that (and I've mentioned that in an original post: "I think that they are probably also not payed volunteers, so it's understandable") - so I'm wondering why they keep the site source codes closed? Wikipedia itself (which WikiTree take inspiration in)  is opensource and WikiTree in principle is also open (data depends on colaborative effort of volunteers). I don't see any obstacles why would this site source codes be closed. WikiTree developers would have full control over it, but gain possible benefits.

I'm not sure I've got the point about nudists. So you are saying that WikiTree was made by Anglo-americans for Anglo-americans, therefore no other comunity that would like to be part of these has no option to be acknowledged as equal?  Maybe the core of this problem is also underresourced team right? But possible solution could be to be more open, (as I mentioned above).

That is a very valid point. I love open source and often create my own add-ons for various software suites. Doing the same here could open up a world of possibilities.
I just noticed your edit and will say that everyone is welcome and treated as equals inasmuch as I've yet to see anyone accorded any disrespect on the basis of their ethnicity, culture, religion, etc. Indeed, I would not be a part of any site that engaged in that sort of discrimination.
Michal, I think what Bill was saying is that WikiTree was started in the United States and is basically in English (although efforts are being made to add pages and help files in other languages at this time), therefore it attracts a larger than desired group of native English speaking people.  It has ALWAYS (as far as I have known) been a goal to be a truly international site, but the current reality is that it is predominantly English speaking and, within that, predominantly American.  I think Bill's example was intended to suggest that just because bulk of the WikiTree membership happens to currently be native English speakers is not a reason to assume that we don't want and encourage members from the entire world.
Great answer, Bill.

Michael, see for some discussion of open source.

There is quite a bit that can be done open source. See

We are constantly working to make improvements, but keep in mind, this is a community site. The community is why we are successful. Communities don't like rapid changes.
Thanks Chris, the FAQ clarifies lot of things.

About API - yes, I am aware of that and it's great thing you've made those data public, I've also seen some of 3rd party apps that people created, but those are all external tools.

My point and original question is if the site itself could be tweaked somehow from outside ( of course with comprehensive discussion beforehand an approving by WikiTree team) or not (from FAQ I know reasons why it's closed source and that you are running business on that backend ... BTW you are really making some money on it? Or I've got wrong idea?).

Another thing is request some feature and have a faith that this wish will be fulfilled, which is with small team (or team of one? :-D ) quiet heroic dead ;-) and those volunteers have my deepest respect.

The subject of WikiTree being so focused on the USA has come up so frequently that I posted a thread with my answer to that a while ago. I won't repeat myself here.

(And, no, I'm not an American. Nor do I play one on TV.)

+6 votes

This is not an answer to your post per se, but rather some thoughts sparked by one particular comment. They may or may not be helpful to you, but these are some thoughts which have been brewing at the back of my mind for some time.

(I should probably also say that, if you want Chris to see your post, you should add "tech" as a tag so he'll see it. When it comes to changing things on WikiTree, if Chris doesn't make it happen, it doesn't happen.)

  • too much informations on pages (to be exact, somebody written "You added to much junk info to the pages ...")

If you are saying here that the top, right side and bottom of each profile page is cluttered and disorganised, I'm thinking that your point would be better served by giving specific examples of which elements should be moved where, which should be displayed in a different manner, and which should be removed. 

I can't even count the number of projects where everybody in a group agrees, "This is terrible and needs to be fixed," but then when it gets down to it, everybody has their own ideas about what should be changed and what should be left alone, and since nobody agrees, nothing gets done. General complaints aren't actionable. But specific proposals for change are.

On the other hand, if you're complaining that people have put too much information (or, more precisely, information that you don't find useful), that's a whole different topic, and raises two further issues:

The first issue is that WikiTree (and, for that matter, the family trees [not sources] on other sites like FamilySearch, Geni, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, etc.) are all user-generated. Every profile on WikiTree is created and maintained by users, and most users are amateurs. Granted, we do have projects, like the Sourcerers, Connectors, Biography Builders, Profile Improvement, Data Doctors, etc. which encourage people to go through profiles and improve them in various ways, but WikiTree doesn't pay anybody to go through profiles and fix them up.

Not everybody gets that. I've seen any number of posts in G2G by people expecting to be able to log in, say who their parents are, and find their family tree all worked out for them. 

Now, it may be that there's enough demand for this sort of thing that there could be a site where people could enter their information, and be added to a single worldwide tree where every profile and every connection was rigorously sourced, every biography was professionally written, and none of the profiles would be for people who never existed.

But that site wouldn't be WikiTree. In fact, it would have to be a pay site, and the fees would have to be pretty high, because running it would require hiring a bunch of professional genealogists.

by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (397k points)

Second, I have to say that, in my experience, "Too much information" isn't normally the problem on profiles. Far more frequently, I run across profiles where there's no biography at all, and the single source is something like:

  • Personal memories of Ferdinand Grubstake.

(Which strains my credulity when the profile is for a person who died a couple of hundred years ago.)

Or there may be a birth (or christening) record, a burial record, and, if I'm lucky, one or more census records. But for most of the profiles I see, the problem isn't too much information, but rather far too little.

On the other hand, something that I see with distressing regularity on G2G is people complaining that they don't see the use of having this or that item (whether it's DNA test results, or categories, or references to people's occupation, or references to people's religion, or any number of things) on people's profiles, so they argue that it should be removed from all the profiles on WikiTree, whether anybody else cares about (or is even basing their whole research strategy on) that item or not.

I don't understand that thinking. Really, I don't. If somebody's attitude is, "If there's anything on this site that I don't care about, or even understand, I want it removed," then what are they doing on a collaborative site on the first place? If they only want things that they care about or understand on their family tree, then it seems to me that either using genealogy software on their own computer, or using a genealogy site where they can build their own family tree which nobody else can edit would be a happier experience for them.

But quite aside from that, as a database geek, the thought of deleting information of any kind fills me with a kind of horror. I don't mean replacing incorrect information with correct information. That's an obviously good thing. I mean simply deleting information that anybody has taken the trouble to connect, compile, and enter into the system, solely because somebody else doesn't see any point to it.

There is a whole field of work called data mining, where people take collected information, and draw insights from it that nobody could have noticed any other way. Already, WikiTree has a large enough dataset that we could start to do some of that research, but we need to add more information to do it well, not start deleting data that we already have.

To give some examples of what I mean, consider how useful these kinds of studies might be:

  • Average lifespans over time, not just for the United States, or the United Kingdom, or this country, or that country, but for every country in the world, going back centuries.
  • The prevalence of different occupations, in different countries, again over time. And I'm not just talking about, "Wow, there aren't many people making buggy whips anymore!" either. What if such a study could show that, as one industry declines in a particular country, having a large number of people with working experience in that industry would make it easier for that country to develop a specific other industry?
  • The cause of death, or even prevalence of particular ailments, again by place and time. 
  • Even more, combining data of different types to find unsuspected correlations between, say, particular occupations and particular diseases.

But to do those studies takes data. Even data that some people consider "useless".

About tag - I would like to additionaly add that "tech" tag, but I am not able to do so. When I Edit the post and add the tag to those already there and then save changes, nothing happens - the tag is not added,

About the other thing, I understand the point about user generated content, but here are things, that are hardcoded into system like

  • template of profile and how the general things (names, dates, family members, ...) are presented - I think this is greatly done at FamilySearch - well I don't mean to make copy of that, but rather to be able at the first glance see that info
  • also links asking for missing info are not necessary - if someone needs add this info then there is Edit section (or when creating profile)
  • the information about last change - why is it in profile main info? - yes, it's useful info bat could be somewhere aside of the 1st thing user see,  not directly inside that info
  • help (question mark) buttons alongside each filed instead of one help link / button that takes you to help
  • many radiobuttons instead of one combobox with opetions ([certain / uncertain], [about/uncertain, exact/certain, before this date, after this date, blank for extra privacy], )
  • many others

I know there is public / private view and some problems I mentionad above are not present in public one, but I hope, I've got the point.

To conclude this, the cleaner look and feel is on my mind.

About collecting / mining data or / and or removing features - you are perfectly right and I fully agree with that.  What I was talking about is an option to hide it - or eve beter, if it's not used (not filled any data), then don't show it.

You're awesome, Greg.

By the way, I actually don't follow the tag "tech." I do follow "improvements". Though, honestly, if someone makes to sure I see something, they could e-mail me. chris@. :-)
Currently, if a person tries to add the "tech" tag, no tag appears. That's a problem with the way "tag synonyms" are handled -- an issue totally separate from the rest of this discussion.
Thank you, Chris. Your opinion means a lot to me. Sorry about giving outdated information.

Philip's suggestion that you get more into WikiTree and learn how it works has its merits.

For example, your suggestion that the "Changes" tab should be placed under some other menu reflects a lack of experience on WikiTree. Once you have built out your branch far enough that other people start interacting with profiles that you manage, you will eventually start to have instances when well-meaning people make changes to profiles that you manage which are incorrect (such as confusing somebody whose profile you manage with a completely different person who happens to have the same name, and adding spouses or children that the person you added never had). When that happens, you will come to regard the Changes tab and the ability to revert changes as a valuable and precious feature, as many people have done before you. And you, too, will strongly disagree with anybody who suggests that it should be made less prominent in any way.

Hi Greg, you've misundertood me. I wasn't talking about hiding or removing the feature

  • "the information about last change - why is it in profile main info? - yes, it's useful info, but could be somewhere aside of the 1st thing user see,  not directly inside that info"

I was talking about moving this out of center of attention (main info of the page), ie to the side or bottom of the page. Also I think that there is some feed about changes at the main page right? So you are immediatelly aware of those changes. History of changes at each profile is good thing, but it's not necessarily the 1st thing I have to see.

Michal, I appreciate your views, value them as good feedback, but I do disagree with a few points you made.  They aren't bad, just a different preference than mine.  We're all different, and like things done differently, and of course there's no way to please everyone.

You mentioned "the information about last change", and preferred it less visible.  I have to say that when I pull up a profile, that's usually the VERY FIRST thing I check, to see if it has changed since I was there last.  If it has, then I review the Changes tab.  I would hate to see it move anywhere else.  And I suspect that when you have made more changes to profiles, it will be the first or one of the first things you too will check.

You mentioned you don't like all the question marks - that's seems like going backwards, way backwards.  Context-sensitive help is such an improvement over having to search a large help system for the little detail you need.  There's a lot of work goes into context-sensitive help, and absolutely worth it in my opinion.

Again, it's just a preference, but I really like all the radio boxes, much more convenient than comboboxes, helps speed through the entry.  You immediately see all the choices, see not only what's selected, but what could have been selected but wasn't (once in awhile that's helpful).

Whether missing info is prompted for is another preference, could go either way.  But I think a very good case can be made for the way it currently is presented.  As a genealogy site, a collection of genealogical data, we want all the facts possible, so visibly prompting for it might jog someone's memory when they see it, and prompt them to add that info.  We sometimes don't think to add info we aren't proactively reminded about.  We're actively trying to scrape every last fact from every brain that views the page.

Well it's exactly as you said - 100 people, 100 tastes. You never please everyone.

But take a look forexample at Facebook, they also have mechanisms to let you know if somebody mentioned you, liked or shared your post, etc and don't clutter the interface with it. This site is very similar to social network like Facebook - collects data about dead people instead of about living ones. Yes, yes, they have milions of USDs of budget, but that idea is free and can be be modified and applied everywhere.
+12 votes

I actually enjoy the WikiTree interface and find that it's almost perfect.

Do appreciate that if somebody has grown accustomed to another site, they may initially have difficultly with all of the differences.  Professionally, I have worked with many programs over the years and actually consider WikiTree to be highly intuitive.

The amount of information on each page is fine.  It's not especially cluttered and is logically laid out.

Not sure what you mean by ancient technology.  Seriously, I started programming on IBM punch cards and worked for years without a mouse.  The format code is relatively simple to use.  The site does what is needed and loads fast.  It does not have a lot of bloatware.
by Andrew Ross G2G6 Mach 2 (24.7k points)

The thing about ancient technology was no from my head, I've only tried to quote some user opinion found somewhere at forum. Even for me (as for programmer) it's pretty simple, but there are people that like to do genealogy research and those people could be forexample some older people or other that are not so good with computers (or technical types).

EDIT: here is link to ancient technology quote I was talking about

Thanks, Andrew. That's nice to hear. :-)
+2 votes


Yes - much of what you have to say is valid.  Some of your frustrations mirror those of others.  May I suggest that you plan to spend a couple of months leaning the system as it is.  Enter all of your family information with appropriate DNA information, photos, cemeteries and hopefully family bible pages or other unique family sources that you have access to.  Make sure to learn how to use category pages and Free Space pages, (A great place to store family photo albums, special family letters and bible or other family records that are unique.)  Then start with specific suggestions for improvements where you can give detailed examples.  You may find that working with a specific project gives you even greater insight.

Getting changes made is slow BUT and this is critical they are being made and the changes are making significant improvements.  It is necessary to understand that resources are very limited and sometimes legal issues, privacy ones in this past year as a primary example, have to be handled first.

I know you will find that you can do things at Wikitree that you can not even think about doing on other sites and you can create an exceptional family file that you simply can not do on any other public site.

Here are some pages of examples - hopefully they will give you ideas for your own family.

Nathan Baxter and Anna Dodge 1956 Family Reunion

Husser Sisters' Postcards

Loder Bible - Owned by Anna (Loder) (Smith) Stoddard

Mary Jane (Griffin) Smith's Photographic Album - Smith

by Philip Smith G2G6 Pilot (274k points)
edited by Philip Smith
Yes diving deeper into site and its secrets can help me get used to this state. But to describe my feeling when using it, I would use following food analogy: Everybody suggests it's delicious, I know it contains lots of nutrients, but for me, it's smelly thing I'm disgusted to taste.  

But I think I've found the way to go and that's WikiTree Apps Project. I've read through the posts at Google Group and that seems to be great spot for me to look around and make friends.

Good for you, Michal! There is room at WikiTree for all sorts of interests, including making improvements. Best of luck.

And, I think I understand your concern about ancient technology, specifically requiring even the least technical of us to use HTML to create inline citations. I have more than 30 years experience using markup languages and I find it difficult to edit a WikiTree biography having many inline citations.
+4 votes
There's a steep learning curve to become proficient at using Wikitree.  It has infinite clunkiness (e.g., to say that someone is unmarried, you have to click on the "Add Spouse" link and then on the next page, click on "Unmarried."--crazy).  Each of us has different levels of expertise.  I've found that I learn things as I need them. For example, making sortable tables seemed impossible when I started, and now I make them with ease. While there are plenty of built-in shortcuts, to really make Wikitree do what you want, you have to learn more.  As for conventions such as the date format--well, we keep talking about that. Since I spend half of my digital life in the UK, I find myself bopping back and forth between two date systems on a regular basis, which perhaps is good for my frequently-confused brain.  To not have a solution at this moment does not mean that a solution won't be found.  As for the cluttered appearance of pages, I will say that I tuned out a LOT of the information on pages.  What did I care about those little examples of citation on the right side of the page?  But eventually, I did pay attention and I frequently use some of those cluttery things.  The thing is, everyone wants your input, your ideas, your suggestions.  When you're new to something, you see things that we've learned to put up with, or tuned out.  I'll bet I didn't even use the shortcuts that exist on every Wikitree page for at least a year after I joined.  You're right--there was too much to look at and too much to learn.  However, that isn't all a function of the platform.
by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (201k points)
edited by J. Crook
+2 votes
If Wikitree would give me access to the resources, I would like to design an alternative public view. The private view and other interface pages are fine.

Now that I have spent a couple years recording family genealogy, I would now like to browse the information like it was a genealogy book, and not in the format it presently is in. And not just for me. I want my family, who are not at all interested in Wikitree, to be able to see the information as a familiar genealogy publication.

Wikitree has the potential to be a "living book," where the pages look like a book, but the data is continually updated.

Now that my genealogy is in place, I want to read the genealogy as a publication, and without seeing all the stuff currently in the right column. I also want the information presented in a succinct and fluid manner so that my eyes and brain can focus on the story, rather than the "Wikitree experience."

When I am doing the data entry, yes, the Wikitree experience is great. But when it comes to the genealogy experience, I want the page to reflect genealogy, and without distractions.
by David Thomson G2G6 Mach 1 (12.9k points)

Sounds like the Wikitree API is what you're looking for.  See

Kerry Larson - you mean his only option...
Yes, I would also like to change it (and would help with it of course), it's only frontend (basically HTML + CSS + JavaScript ... no big deal), but that would need broader discussion - your or my needs could not necessarily suit needs of other users. But, unfortunately WikiTree team is very close minded (stubborn & scared of something) in this topic and keeps the code secret and unwilling to receive any help from outside. 2nd, I disagree that WikiTree appearance and behavior is great. There is lot to improve. I would imagine WikiTree that would take full width of screen (ie like Google Analytics, WordPress or other dashboard like interface ...) It's more suited for work, because it can display more things on today's wide screen displays. Of course responsiveness is necessary today to comfortable work on small screen (if needed). There is lot of features, that aren't easy to find and would be nice to reorganize menu - but that is understandable - it's consequence of long development and adding many new features. There is more things that are wrong from my point of view, but the thing that pages are crowded with too many thins is the biggest issue, but there is no need to repeat myself.
Hi David. Definitely look into the API and the Apps group. I think this sounds like a wonderful project and we'd like to support you. If there is something you're not able to do through the API make sure you say so in the Apps group and that Jamie knows it. She and I will then get something on the to-do list. Thank you!
Thanks, Chris. I have been looking at the API and it seems like just what I need to start designing. Next I will look for the Apps group and see what is available to get me started.

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