Modern Software Experience

2010-11-24

Geni.com Logo: everyone's related

Geniology: Geni of Borg

mission

Geni.com was introduced early in 2007, with the mission to create a family tree of the entire world. David Sacks, the CEO of Geni.com gushed Mass collaboration via the internet finally puts us in a position to understand how every human being on earth is related. Not only can we learn who our ancestors are, we can create a living family network of all our relatives. That is our goal.

Geni.com guest post

This article was originally written on Geni.com's request, as a guest post for their Geni.com blog, but Geni.com did not publish it. See Geni.com Guest Post for that story.

growth

That almost sounds like he wanted to create FaceBook. FamilyLink tried to create a family network on top of FaceBook with their We're Related application, and their initial growth seemed impressive. However, back in 2009, I created social genealogy metrics, and noticed that Geni.com's Profiles per User (P/U) ratio was about three times that of We're Related. The most important difference between Geni.com and We're Related is that Geni.com supports GEDCOM import. Apparently, GEDCOM support makes a social genealogy site grow three times as fast.

Many social genealogy sites allow collaboration on a tree but keep all family trees separate from each other. Geni.com does not keep all family trees separate from each other. On the contrary, like OneGreatFamily, Geni.com aims to combine all trees into one large one. An important difference between OneGreatFamily and Geni.com is that you can join Geni.com for free. As a result, Geni.com has been growing much faster than OneGreatFamily.

conflict resolution

Initially, Geni.com had just one profile for each ancestor. With just one profile, each profile has just one birth date and all users see the same one. Conflicts between two trees being merged were resolved by one tree overwriting the other; the last update wins. Geni.com now supports so-called linked profiles; multiple profiles are linked together, one profile is the main profile, the other profiles contain alternative data. Users cannot not only resolve the conflict, but also undo the merge.

main profile

When profiles are merged, it is the most complete profile that becomes the main profile. That sounds like a reasonable thing to do, it even seems a smart thing to do, but quality merging is not that straightforward. Always opting for the most complete profiles means that your carefully researched genealogy, in which you conscientiously refrained from jumping to conclusions, will be reduced to being alternate data as soon as it is merged with a tree created by someone who cares more about filling out every field than the quality of the data they enter. So, Geni.com's merging system has improved, but it is not perfect.

merging

Geni.com had to improve the primitive merging system it introduced in 2008, and will probably continue to improve it further, because in some sense, merging profiles and thus merging trees is what Geni.com is all about.
That isn't some deep insight distilled from years of Geni.com watching, that is their public mission statement; to create one family tree. Geni does not want you to join to their site to build your family tree, like you can do on other sites such as Ancestry.com's Mundia, Geni wants you to contribute your family tree to their big tree. You start your tree in isolation, but as you continue to add ancestors your tree will eventually overlap with another user's tree, and you will merge your trees. The combined tree will overlap with yet another tree managed by a few other users, and you will merge your trees. Soon, the tree you are in will merge with The Big Tree.

I am Geni of Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. We will add your distinctive data to our own. Your tree as it has been - is over. From this time forward, you will service us. Resistance is futile.

The Borg Tree

Some marketing people at Geni prefer to call it the Big Tree. Anyone with a minimal knowledge of popular culture and some sense of drama calls its the Borg Tree.

I am Geni of Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. We will add your distinctive data to our own. Your tree as it has been - is over. From this time forward, you will service us. Resistance is futile.

dateBorg TreeGeni.com
2010-01-0131,1 M74,3 M
2010-07-0141,4 M88,7 M
2010-10-0147,0 M97,0 M

Around the beginning of 2009, the Borg Tree contained more than 7 million profiles, mid 2009 it passed 20 million profiles. Right now, Geni.com is close to 100 million profiles, and the Borg Tree is approaching 50 million profiles. Close to half the Geni.com profiles are in the Borg Tree.

Largest Geniology

Borg Tree

The Borg Tree is the largest family tree on geni.com. It isn't a proper family tree, it is not shaped like a tree at all, but it does consist of millions of profiles that are all directly or indirectly connected to each other. It is large, but is it the largest family tree there is? Several companies have made such claims.

Kindred Konnections MyTrees.com

Kindred Konnections MyTrees.com claims to have the world largest family tree database. Their Ancestry Archive contains more than half a billion profiles. That is a lot, but it is a family tree database, not a single family tree.

Ancestry.com OneWorldTree

Ancestry.com has issued press releases that describe their OneWorldTree as the world's largest family tree. In fact, they used it and still use it as OneWorldTree's tag line. OneWorldTree is one big lineage-linked database containing millions of individuals. That sounds promising, but how did Ancestry.com this tree?

The OneWorldTree about page explains how Ancestry.com created OneWorldTree.

OneWorldTree takes family trees submitted by Ancestry members that were "stitched" together with family trees and historical records from other sources. OneWorldTree identified probable name matches between these sources and now displays consolidated results in a worldwide family tree that can help you with your family history research.

You cannot help but wonder about the quality of the various trees stitched together, as well as the reliability of the stitching itself. The OneWorldTree about page admits that neither holds up to close scrutiny.

OneWorldTree can give you hints about your family history but not necessarily facts. There are a number of sources consolidated in OneWorldTree and its impossible to know if there were errors in member-submitted family trees. Also, occasionally the computer algorithms in OneWorldTree incorrectly linked people with similar names.

After reading that, Ancestry.com's world's largest family tree claim seems no more than just another marketing fact; the about page uses many words to essentially admit that their largest family tree claim is quite literally a fabrication.

OneGreatFamily

OneGreatFamily advertises themselves as the world's largest online family tree. The addition of the qualifier online is a bit odd; is there a reason to suspect any offline tree is larger?
OneGreatFamily claims a database of more than 190 million lineage-linked profiles. That is bigger than the Borg Tree, but the Borg Tree is growing faster and likely to pass 200 million profiles before OneGreatFamily does. OneGreatFamily's matching technology may be better, their handling of conflicting information may be superior, but OneGreatFamily does not have the visibility that Geni.com has.

Roy Blackmore

Despite the millions of connected profiles in the Borg Tree, Geni has nothing on Roy Blackmore. In 2008, Roy Blackmore claimed to have the world largest documented family tree. With just 9.390 individuals, Blackmore's tree may not seem particularly large, but he focussed on his ancestry and spent years collecting documentation to back each connection up. Even more impressive is that he gathered most of the evidence before the advent of online genealogy sites.

Confucius

The largest known proper family tree is considerably larger than that; the family tree for Confucius counts more than 2 million individuals as his descendants. That is not even the total number of descendants, it is merely how many the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee (CGCC) has collected in the genealogy so far. They believe the actual number of descendants to be closer to 3 million individuals.

sources

The Borg Tree is large, but it is undocumented. This year, Geni added support for sources, but it seems too little, too late. Since its introduction, Geni.com has grown into a huge collection of unsourced profiles, and that is what it is today.

In some sense, the Geni.com sourcing feature works just right; you provide a document first and then note which facts that document supports. You do not need to upload the document, you can also create one online. However, you cannot simply provide a title and be done with it, Geni.com forces you to make an empty document instead. That is annoying and inconvenient. You can add metadata, such as the repository where the original is kept, but Geni.com does not prompt you to do so. It isn't easy to find sources on geni.com, but with these barriers to fully documenting sources, it is not likely that many sources are up to modern standards.

The Borg Tree is an accursed accumulation of arguable ancestral assumptions amalgamated into an abhorrently aberrant abundance of abysmal axioms, an appalling amorphous agglomeration of alarmingly arbitrary assertions, an alcoholic algebra of astonishing anomalies, an awkward, abominable attempt at accelerated accretion of abundant ambiguity and absurdity.

Borg Geniology

quality

Geni.com's Borg Tree is large, and of roughly the same quality as Ancestry.com's OneWorldTree; The Borg Tree is an accursed accumulation of arguable ancestral assumptions amalgamated into an abhorrently aberrant abundance of abysmal axioms, an appalling amorphous agglomeration of alarmingly arbitrary assertions, an alcoholic algebra of astonishing anomalies, an awkward, abominable attempt at accelerated accretion of abundant ambiguity and absurdity.

Don't think of it as the awful apex of amateurish genealogy, don't think of it as genealogy at all. This is so far removed from genealogy, so fundamentally different from genealogy, that it needs its own word. This is geni-ology.

The Borg Tree is the largest geniology, but has little in common with genealogy.

Borg Tree

The Borg Tree is the largest geniology, but has little in common with genealogy. There is so much wrong with it. The Borg Tree came into existence before geni.com added support for sources. For most of the individuals in Borg Tree, there are no sources at all. To say that adding these sources is going to take some time is not even an understatement, the truth is much worse. For many alleged individuals in the Borg Tree, there are no reliable sources at all.

geniology

Geni.com's biggest strength, crowdsourcing geniology (sourcing pun intended) is also its biggest weakness. You can crowdsource geniology, but can you crowdsource genealogy? FamilySearch is trying with their New FamilySearch (NFS) system, but after more than a decade, they are still not ready to introduce NFS to the world.

Geni.com's biggest strength, crowdsourcing geniology (sourcing pun intended) is also its biggest weakness. You can crowdsource geniology, but can you crowdsource genealogy?

assimilation

Geni.com does not support scientific genealogy, but so far, no vendor does. Suppose you are a relatively serious traditional genealogist who uses geni.com to keep your research. Right now, that is a very odd assumption, most self-described professional genealogists look down on all social genealogy sites, but let's assume that for a moment. Your carefully researched and meticulously sourced genealogy is on Geni.com. It will only be a matter of time before your tree makes contact with the Borg Tree and is assimilated into it.

There may be Geni.com users that look forward to being assimilated, that magical moment on which the number of their geni.com relatives jumps from a few dozen to many millions.
However, as a serious genealogist, even as a somewhat serious genealogist, you should be horrified at the prospect of joining the Geni.com Collective. One obvious issue is that you do not know whether the data added by other is correct, but that is not your only concern. A lot of the data on the alleged ancestors your work suddenly connects to might very well be correct, but those profiles were not added by you, and aren't under your control. Others can and will change those profiles when they see fit, without bothering to consult you about it. There's no use complaining about it, that's how geniology works. Individuals become part of the collective to serve the system, and the system serves that collective.

Individuals become part of the collective to serve the system, and the system serves that collective.

mythology

To make matters worse, there even is a small group of geniologists who deliberately add fantastical lines for which expressions such as highly doubtful are utterly insufficient, they do thing so far beyond the genealogical pale that we need to resort to allusions such as The Da Vinci Code. It is a great novel, based on intriguing theories, but the fantastical lines presented in it have nothing to do with sound genealogical research.

This particular group of Geni.com users is hell-bent on connecting everyone to the families of christian mythology. They don't care the lines were made up. They don't care that mythology isn't genealogy. They don't care that most users do not share their religion. They do not care that even those who do share their religion generally do not share their belief in those lines. They don't care that no church agrees with them. They don't care that professional genealogists don't agree with what they are doing. They desire to prove that everyone is connected to Adam, and Geni.com lets them do it.

No matter how good your own research is, the moment your research is assimilated into the Borg Tree, your geniology becomes the laughing stock of your genealogical friends.

When your tree is assimilated into the Borg Tree, you are likely to find several fantastical lines that connect to christian mythology, and you will be unable to either remove those lines or disconnect your genealogical research from it. No matter how good your own research is, the moment your research is assimilated into the Borg Tree, your geniology becomes the laughing stock of your genealogical friends.

consistency

Another major problem with geniology is that isn't consistent. Geni.com does offer some consistency checks. Add a birth date that is before the death date, and geni.com will show a question mark inside a circle on top of the bottom left corner of the record - but having question marks in your geniology does not stop it from being assimilated into the Borg Tree. Geni.com does offer some consistency checks, but consistency check aren't Geni.com strongest feature. Geni.com does not complain about children born after their parents died. Geni.com does not even complain about parents that were born after their children died.  Here's an idea for a Geni.com quiz: the Borg Tree consists of millions of profiles, guess how many inconsistencies it contains…

Geni.com is a web site where everyone can be a geniologist, but no one is allowed to be a genealogist. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

geniology

Geni.com is all about geniology. Geni.com is a web site where everyone can be a geniologist, but no one is allowed to be a genealogist. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

updates

2010-12-02 Borg Tree statistics

Geni has introduced a page displaying Borg Tree assimilation statistics.

links

Geniology: Geni of Borg

Largest Geniology

Borg Genealogy