Defining collaboration

+4 votes

The not-quite quote offered by Robin Shaules  A thought on collaboration - WikiTree G2G brought to mind my usual impulse to find out what was on google about it so I searched <define collaborate> To: work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something.

Obviously working jointly indicates a two-way exchange of opinions, ideas, and eventually -- one hopes -- agreement on various points or at least a peaceful agreement to disagree on some point. 

Sometimes one party encounters another party who will not or cannot collaborate.  Or who presses on to action without the effort made to collaborate.  In short, collaboration doesn't always occur.  

I suppose the best repair in some cases is to "roll back" the profile to a previous date and to message the one who wrought the unwelcome change(s) about their rudeness and their failure to communicate beforehand? 

So what other avenues are available in these situations where collaboration failed to occur? 

in The Tree House by Susan Smith G2G6 Pilot (178k points)

The problem is that everyone has a different idea for what Collaboration is and the level that it is needed to do. It isn't required that the Wikitreer's involved need to chat on Discord, Google Hangouts, Emails, Profile Comments, Phone, Face to Face before they do an edit on the profile. 

If you are planning on doing something listed or similar to the list at Help:Communication_Before_Editing#Be_Polite:_Make_Contact_First then yes you should contact the profile manager. The things listed in the answer from Steve Harris are the things most often done and then complained about in G2G. So they don't need prior approval for the PM to do. Yes there are some that listed in the link above but a small amount compared to the majority of complaints on G2G about changes. 

If this Question is in response to the G2G post there is likely no prove that collaboration did or did not happen as the example profile the Question maker provided which did have someone other than the profile manager work on it was edited in 2016 and unless the comment option was used the likelyhood of finding the method possibly used is very low. So it is a He said, She said situation with the She most likely not aware of the complaint. 

My personal idea for how Wikitree Collaboration is supposed to be as follows

  • If I create a profile and someone else comes along and adds a source I hadn't found without previously emailing me then I will give a Thanks to them and maybe email to find out where they found the source and what search criteria they used so I can improve my sourcing
  • If I find a source that suggests something different than the current information I comment, wait a couple of days and check contributions then either change if PM not active or wait longer if the are. 
  • If I create a profile and someone else adds information or sources not in the style of the profile I will adjust the information or sources into the style of the profile. Not deleting their work but adjusting to fit. 
  • If I create a profile and someone else comes along and completely rewrites the profile deleting the relevant sources then in that occasion alone I will revert the profile and use the Problems with Members option. (Note the other wikitreer in that occasion deleted a small 2 line biography and link to New Zealand death record and replaced it with a simple source citation for the New Zealand BDM website. Hence I was quite annoyed at that time. )
So in other words If we all work on profiles adding sources that make the profile better then we are collaborating on the profiles even if we don't exchange messages before we edit. 

6 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer

Collaboration has a broad, yet similarly defined meaning on WikiTree. First, see Help:Collaboration, which states in part, that Collaboration means:

  • one profile for every individual;
  • requires communication[1]; and that
  • misunderstandings are inevitable.

[1] One thing is pointed out a lot, is that "I was never contacted" in accordance with Help:Collaboration. But we also have to understand that contacting PM's is not required for every type of edit we make to profiles. This clause is more geared towards general community participation (through projects, G2G, etc.).

This is where we come to Help:Communication Before Editing, which states in part, that communicating with another member is not needed for:

  • Correction of obvious misspellings, or grammatical or typographical errors;
  • Addition of new factual data that is supported by a valid source;
  • Addition of a new source citation that supports existing factual data;
  • Replacement of a small amount of unsourced data (for example, a date or a place name) with different data that is supported by a valid source;
  • Integration of any redundant content that may have resulted from an earlier merge (assuming no data is lost in your edit, just integrated);
  • Non-destructive editing of GEDCOM-created biographies, including deletion of redundant factual data or data that is not meaningful or useful to a casual reader; or
  • Any change to an orphaned profile (where there is no Profile Manager).

So while in Eddie's case below, the change was obviously incorrect, we have to remember that "misunderstandings are inevitable". A simple reversal of the change, and a note to the editor of what was wrong is all that is needed in many cases.

 So what other avenues are available in these situations where collaboration failed to occur? 

When you need help resolving collaboration problems, start at Problems with Members. Remove yourself from the conflict or question, and get the help of an outside perspective (Mentor) who can review the details and provide feedback.

by Steve Harris G2G6 Pilot (339k points)
selected by Susan Smith
+8 votes

When parties come together to collaborate, they make choices that govern a variety of collective action problems implicit in joint decision making — how to collectively develop sets of working rules to determine who will be eligible to make decisions, which actions will be allowed or constrained, what information needs to be provided.

The effectiveness of a collaborative effort is driven by three critical factors:

  • Communication
  • Content Management
  • Workflow
Before you make significant changes !
Especially if the profile has an active manager..
Hopping into someone's work without asking first is rude.
by Eddie King G2G6 Pilot (440k points)
Usually there are preconditions - the parties are both on board with the need for the task to be done, and both their inputs are needed.  They both know they couldn't do it single-handed.

On WikiTree, these conditions don't all exist in about 98% of cases where "collaboration" is enforced by the rules.  Either one party would leave it alone, or they have nothing to add, or they think they could do it themselves and the other party has nothing to add.
I was not aware that collaboration was "enforced by the rules" -- I'm judging by the frequent outcries of rage that come through g2g about someone who did NOT bother to even attempt to collaborate and their sense of helplessness to obtain remedy for the breach
+7 votes
Collaboration, to me, does not mean to just 'roll back' a profile and then send a message to the person that made the change.  Why do you consider a change to be rude?  Many people are adding sources and information to a profile without discussing with the PM.

Collaboration, to me, would be to email the person that made the change to find out why they made the change, did they have sources, were sources or new information added to the profiles BEFORE you roll back the profile.

If a change to a relationship has been made with no sources attached, I would contact the person making the change to inquire about where they got the information Before 'assuming' that it is incorrect, rude, etc and Rolling back a profile.
by Linda Peterson G2G6 Pilot (200k points)
in my own family members profiled here

3 times in 2017 someone has hopped in with their "sources"(without contacting me first !!) that made my ancestors into white people and one of these "collaborators" attached a  white wife detaching the black wife.

No offense intended, Miss Linda, but I don't want to be a white guy LOL

my gramps

white guy

Name: James Edward Crum
[James E Crum 
Gender: Male
Race: White
Birth Date: 5 Feb 1931
Birth Place: Birmingham, Alabama
[Tuscumbia, Alabama 
Death Date: 11 Dec 2006
Father: Earnist H Crum
Mother: Willie J Vinson
SSN: 255468306
Notes: Dec 1948: Name listed as JAMES EDWARD CRUM; 01 Feb 2007: Name listed as JAMES E CRUM

Source Information U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line

LOL Eddie, I can relate to that when a woman insisted her granny was married to a relative by marriage of mine when they had never been married according to the laws of this country extant at the time of their affair.

 Linda, Collaboration does not include imposing upon a profile another wholly different style, arbitrarily -- without asking or "consulting" with the managing PM -- and the imposed style is not favored by the managing PM and not used by them  

And a roll back was in fact suggested by several as the remedy for that Offense. Plus of course most of the people in the discussion felt that it was indeed rude to impose that unappreciated other style. Such an imposition of a different style is not approved by WT

As for myself, if another PM walks in and with sources in hand adds to a profile I manage, or makes a correction, -- without consulting first -- I examine the situation and generally don't freak out.  But they must have that sourcing in hand and display it.  No substantive source, I roll the profile back. 

When another PM walks in and changes my own preferred style to a wholly different style without communicating with me beforehand, I roll back the profile.

Our aim is surely to produce an accurate one world tree. The means to do this is by collaborating within the framework of a wiki.

We don't own profiles because we were first on the scene or happened to create a duplicate,though because of the sensitivity of family history there is some leeway in the form of privacy controls for our nearer relatives.

 Talking about 'offense' and what is favoured by the managing pm surely implies some idea of ownership;one tree of linked separate twigs,  each run and linked  in a manner consistent with the profile manager's own likes and dislikes.

In regard to style, and in particular  adding things using inline citations on a profile that hasn't previously used them ( which appears to have been the original complaint)  the  guide says 

 "As you become more experienced and start to collaborate with other WikiTreers you will need to learn how to create references, i.e. footnotes, endnotes, or citations." 

To me this makes sense.  Changes or additions should be made with appropriate evidence.   If  after adding a fact or changing something you explicitly reference the new information, such a reference allows every reader, including the pm  to see where the new information has come from.  In many cases you can't do that by adding  to a list of 'sources'. The ability to add inline sources is considered a necessary part of every profile and I would suggest that it is the preferred style for referencing.

the <references /> tag should never be removed since references may be added later. Ideally, there should always be individual references but we appreciate that often there are not."

 As for adding things without communicating,    the section Be Bold  shows that it isn't always a prerequisite to  communicate before  some changes .Even after communicating, It also doesn't ask us to wait indefinitely for a reply after leaving a comment (three days  wish I had read that much earlier in my wiki-tree career, when I often waited months before going ahead and adding/changing  long abandoned  or neglected profiles)

 The guide asks us to be aware of the amount of time, work that has gone into a profile before making changes. So if someone has spent ages on a narrative profile or a timeline then just jumping in and adding something without respecting the existing style  might rightly be called impolite. On the other hand if there is no bio and just a couple of sources under the heading then I would think it was acceptable to add a biographic statement, complete with inline reference, or even a  more detailed and again referenced resource note.

smileyHelen, many of those who speak in g2g about someone's changes to a profile they manage often speak in terms of being very upset by the occurrence and especially when they were not contacted beforehand.  

And while the WT policy is that in creating a profile other than your own personal one, that profile becomes the property of the community at WT seems to fairly often elude the newbies.  This is obvious from comments made.  Reared to know and respect (hopefully) property rights, it is their family, their creation and it's been violated and any number of those so upset have said so. 

As to whether anyone is required to learn to use Narrative and inline (per your quote it was "need to") there's going to be a long term time lag before everyone active as a PM is converted and skilled. There will also be a time-lag for individual PM if not resistance by some. 

And of course if  collaboration on a profile includes making changes in profiles which are Open (white padlock) and there are PM who do not respond to that communication, which one hopes occurs before the profile is changed, then what? 

While all your points are cogent, they seem to me to reflect an Ideal that is not yet attained.  

+6 votes
Words have different meanings on WikiTree.  The basic principle is, you have to make friends with somebody before you disagree with them.  This is called "collaborating".

Whereas, if you disagree with somebody without making friends first, this is called "not collaborating".

If you skip the making friends bit, you can get away with it as long as you don't do anything they disagree with.  But there's a risk that they'll invent a synthetic disagreement.
by RJ Horace G2G6 Pilot (522k points)

Yep, RJ, that's a true statement of the condition -- friendly if not friends or at worst a frienemy

"Frenemy" (also spelled "frienemy") is an oxymoron and a portmanteau of "friend" and "enemy" that refers to "a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry" or "a person who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy".

Whenever someone brings up collaboration, I remember a comment that you (RJ) made to a G2G discussion quite awhile ago.  Something along the lines of most invitations or requests to collaborate are really just trying to answer the question who is going to take control, you or me?
+3 votes


To me, the concept and definition of collaboration has been contaminated here. For a portion of (usually very vocal) wikitreer's, the idea that no one OWNS a profile has been taken to a level of zealotry and created an imbalance in our community that has repercussions; it is the root of many of the topics we see here at G2G, why many newbies decide to go elsewhere and why many potential wikitreer's do not join at all. It is why we see topics like this .

I'm an ol' geezer. Today, my wife and I celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. I know many of you are asking "How did that sweet woman put up with that opinionated cantankerous old man all these years?" The answer to that is simple; I've learned to keep life in balance to achieve harmony. The Yin and Yang MUST be observed and addressed every day for a couple (or a community) to be successful long term.

At Wikitree:

the Yin is that a volunteer who spends the time to create and connect a profile does not OWN that profile. 

All of you must remember the Yang; YOU do NOT OWN that profile either!

As a 'golden rule', a minimum amount of respect and deference should be given to your active fellow wikitreer who originated that profile before you make significant changes to it. That likely will include communication with another human PRIOR to the changes. If this seems too high a threshold, then re-consider why you are at a 'collaborative' website at all.

by Nick Andreola G2G6 Mach 3 (31.5k points)

smiley Yang initiates changes, yin is receptive, or not. If receptive, yin will bear fruit. Any action initiated will have an outcome (consequences). 

Your last para is very well stated, Nick. 

As a 'golden rule', a minimum amount of respect and deference should be given to your active fellow wikitreer who originated that profile before you make significant changes to it. That likely will include communication with another human PRIOR to the changes. If this seems too high a threshold, then re-consider why you are at a 'collaborative' website at all.

And yet, Wikipedia is collaborative, and has no such threshold.  If it had, it would have failed.
RJ, I wonder if one of the differences between Wikipedia and WikiTree is that while there are certainly edit wars and territorial feelings at Wikipedia (from what I hear), the ultimate goal is to create something for readers.  I sometimes think that WikiTree is really WikiTreers (our community and playspace) and not a broader audience of readers.
See Dennis' comment. Surely, even crusty old coots like you and I recognize the difference between genealogy/family and the internal dynamics of a combustion engine....
But then it's easy.  Drop the word "accurate" and allow duplicates.

Because if you really want an accurate single tree, you have to try to pretend it is a combustion engine.  Objectivity is needed.  It's not compatible with pandering to sensitivities or being a hosting service for personal vanity projects.

And so we have thousands of duplicates on the blocked-merges lists, and zillions of simple fixes left unfixed.  It only takes a very small obstacle to make people just not bother.

It would be a tragedy indeed if these wonderful brains we were gifted with were only able to see the choices as an either/or binary instead of encompassing the vast range of options and choices that exist in between the two extremes. 

Check your schedule for the Human-to-Human Social Interaction Train. Mine shows quite a number of options leaving from Pandering to Sensitivity Station to arrive at the Objectivity Terminus. 

+7 votes
I think I have seen the argument advanced in this forum that "this is a wiki."  The technology enables us to modify and "improve" content created and entered by others, and that's how this is supposed to work.  The definition of the word in Wikipedia implies that it's inherently "collaborative," and it doesn't say anything about actual human interaction being required.  So we're collaborative by definition, Q.E.D.

The problem I see is that if you are mucking around with "my" profile of "my" direct ancestor, I might be a bit more sensitive than I would be if you were just editing my article in an online encyclopedia.  And the sensitivities of the members here probably cover the whole spectrum, and most likely vary with the nature and the specifics of edits being contemplated or implemented.  And you're certainly more likely to see resistance from active members than you will if you edit profiles that have been entered and then abandoned.  So I'm sort of resigned to accepting that there is no definition of collaboration that is going to satisfy everyone all the time.  The best we can do is treat others as we'd like to be treated, err on the side of politeness, and try not to let the small stuff ruffle our feathers.
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (329k points)

Well said Dennis. Twisting the words of one my favorite minds Common Courtesy goes a very long way.....

My M.O. is to always allow the originator of a post to select best answer...otherwise I would have hit the star....

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