Nearly everyone will have heard of Wikipedia. It began as a project and a software product. The concept was that an encyclopedia could be created online in a collaborative fashion. Wikipedia grew out of an online encyclopedia written by experts, but community content rapidly outpaced the expert contributions. In the first year only 20,000 entries were created. Wikipedia now boasts more than 3.6 million articles. Studies of accuracy have been done and place Wikipedia at an accuracy rate comparable to expert authored encyclopedias. It is the best case, worldwide, of community collaboration creating wide content, high quality content at a very low cost.
About two years ago FamilySearch decided to begin work on a genealogically specific wiki. The design is to bring together all knowledge about how to research ancestors. More than 15,000 articles written by FamilySearch genealogical experts were contributed as seed content. This body of information began to draw users and contributors to the site. Today the FamilySearch wiki is the largest genealogical wiki in the world with more than 64,000 pages. The wiki has had more than 800,000 edits since it was created. Many of the most experienced genealogists in the world have contributed their knowledge to its pages.
“Information wants to be free,” is a statement often quoted by those who study the Internet. This seems a good description. Information has value, as any news or other intelligence gathering organization will tell you. The Internet has put much of this information at our fingertips for free. The FamilySearch wiki is just the latest of many projects that help to make the world’s information available for free.
When the wiki began, I forecasted that we would need approximately 100,000 pages to cover the information necessary for research. I now believe that we may need more than a million pages to do so.
The software that runs the FamilySearch wiki is MediaWiki, the same software that powers Wikipedia. The information is licensed under a Creative Commons share and share alike license. It is not copyrighted and may be used by anyone so long as they attribute the information to its source. I believe by the end of next year that the wiki will be at more than 100,000 pages.
If you are looking for answers on how to research in a particular area, what records are available to search, search strategies, or information on how to use records the FamilySearch wiki is the best place to start. If while you are using the information you find missing facts that you know, or facts that have changed since the article was written I encourage you to add your knowledge to the effort.
FamilySearch is investing heavily in collaborative technologies. Whether it is their online collaborative tree, the FamilySearch wiki, forums, community created training courses, indexing, or any of several other projects there is a pattern at FamilySearch that facilitates service from individuals to benefit the world. Nearly always for free.
If you have not visited the wiki, I encourage you to do so. Search for an area where you are researching and see what you can learn and share. The wiki can be found at: