Thursday, April 3, 2008

So You Want a Wiki?

Here's the post I promised awhile back on the Technology themed Carnival of Genealogy.

You want a genealogy wiki. What are your options? As I see it, there are two basic options.

Option One: Find a public "Genealogy Wiki"

Is there a "One World Tree"-type website, but in wiki format? There is at least one: FamilyPedia, which is on Wikia. Wikia is a product of the same company that is responsible for WikiPedia. Basically anyone can create a Wiki about anything on Wikia, and someone's already created one for genealogy, so there's no real reason to recreate the wheel.

However - I see serious problems with using a public Wiki for family genealogy. I've seen some of the gross errors in Ancestry's "One World Tree", and I suspect there will be a lot of fighting ultimately between different users over ancestors, as one tells another that they have the wrong "John Smith" married to the wrong "Jane Green"

There is an "Alternate Surname" of "Newmack" on Ancestry for a local relative in a census. That means someone researching a relative with the "Newmack" surname found my family, and decided they were their family, and decided to be "helpful." On a Wiki I certainly could tell them "hey, sorry, you're wrong" and change it back. But what if they don't think they're wrong, and a fight ensues? Who's going to resolve these disputes to the satisfaction of both sides?

Option Two: install a wiki on a private website.

What do you need?

First, and foremost, you need a website where
1) you can install scripts written in languages such as PHP
2) you have access to MySQL databases
3) you can password protect your site

Wait! I don't understand those words!

PHP is a computer programming language. MySQL is a type of database. You don't have to know anything about either, as there are pre-written applications that you can install without knowing the languages themselves.

Every host that provides space for websites will have a list of features that they are able to provide. (Or at least every professionally run one will.) So you will only need to look through the list of features for the words "PHP" and "MySQL".

If you decided to skip #3 - password protection

you will likely find yourself coming back to it. You might not have a problem with anyone seeing the information on your website. However, wiki software allows anyone to modify the information. And while there aren’t going to be a lot of people interested in vandalizing your family history, there are computer-programs scouring the web looking for wiki pages to turn into spam. Think about the emails you receive. If it’s not password protected, you will have to spend some of your time fighting spam. If it is password protected, you will be spending zero time doing this. Password protection also allows you to put “family only” stuff on the site you might not otherwise.

Choosing a Host

To achieve #1 and #2 you are going to need to pay a host, but prices have come down from where they once were. There are a lot of hosts to choose from. I am only going to mention two that I have personal experience with, and feel I can recommend.
$5/month (if you buy 2 years), $10/month if you buy 1 year
1000 GB of storage space
Unlimited bandwidth
Maximum 10 websites per account (maximum increased 1 website per month)
10 MySQL databases
PHP, MySQL, Perl
Lots of Extras
$9/month if you buy 2 years, $10/month if you buy 1 year
500gb of storage space
5TB of monthly bandwidth (increases by 40gb each week)
Unlimited MySQL databases
Unlimited domains
Lots of extras

[Note: You may be familiar with one that has better prices. As I said, there are a lot of hosts competing against each other. I have had several years experience with both Hostrocket and Dreamhost, and have received good customer service from both of them. They have also both been in the business for awhile. Since 1999 for Hostrocket, and 1997 for Dreamhost. They're not likely to disappear tomorrow.]

While some of the figures look different for these two, for 90% of all people, they are the same. You probably know how many gb of space your computer holds. 1000 may be double 500, but both are probably more than you’re going to need. I am currently using about 3 gb of space to host six websites, including two family-wikis, A research site for a 19th century French author, and a literary magazine.

5 TerraBytes of bandwidth isn’t unlimited, technically, but you aren’t likely going to get that much traffic on a family website – no matter how large your family is. Due to its educational nature, my research site actually gets a fair amount of visitors, and it uses about 500 mb of bandwidth a month. (0.5 gb or .0005 tb)

One thing you may notice is that it is possible to host more than one domain ( on one account. It might be possible to find somebody (or multiple somebodies) to split the cost of the account. In that case, Hostrocket’s limit on MySQL databases and on domains might make a difference in favor of Dreamhost at some point.

The domain names themselves cost about $10/year at

Many hosts will have something they call ‘one-click installs’ or something similar, where they have a list of programs that can be installed almost with the click of a button into your account. This list can vary. Both Hostrocket and Dreamhost do have wiki-software in their one-click install list. However, there’s a difference.

Hostrocket lets you choose between PhpWiki and Tiki-Wiki. Both of these work well, but they have a different look-and-feel from the software that is used to run Wikipedia, which more people are familiar with. If you are actually familiar with editing pages on Wikipedia, you will probably want to install the software it uses. There’s nothing stopping you from installing it on HostRocket, but you’re going to have to install it manually (or get HostRocket support to install it for you.)

Dreamhost has MediaWiki (and PhpGEDView - a popular genealogy app) on their one-click installs.

So if the website is going to have a Wiki as one of its requirements, Dreamhost is slightly favorable between these two options, and it is where both of my family wikis are currently hosted. I have never attempted to install MediaWiki manually, so I am unable to give any advice on that, though the instructions are online.

Let me know in the comments if there are other aspects about maintaining a Family Wiki that you are interested in.


David said...

John, you're right about hosting these days, it's very affordable...especially if you opt for a longer plan with an established company.

My host also offers the one-click installs. I didn't like PhpWiki, but Tiki-Wiki is pretty easy to use. There are a few issues that have arisen, but knowledge of HTML provides an easy workaround.

Wm. said...

I have hosting & a domain name & some wiki-admin experience, but I am stuck on one thing: how do I structure the wiki to best suit genealogy?

And is there any way (shell scripting? a export feature?) to get Family Tree data -- perhaps already a GEDCOM file -- into such a Wiki?

Those are the two things stopping me from doing this on my own. But privacy implications scare me away from the free, public sites.

Thank you for any suggestions.

Anonymous said...

There's a good entry at Wikipedia on editing that tells you how to convert word documents to wiki-code.

Using the methods there one could convert text from a Register generated from a genealogy program into Wiki format.

It is probably possible to create a program that directly converted the gedcom to wiki pages, just as there is a program ged2html. As far as I am aware, it hasn't been done yet.

I will write an entry on how I have structured the sites I've created, though I have no idea if it is the best way.

Anonymous said...

However, there are also html to wiki it could be done in a 2 step process.


proving of course that ged2wiki is possible.

Anonymous said...

Imagine that...plug the words into google and what do you find...

someone has created a ged2wiki program...though it converts it to DocuWiki code instead of MediaWiki code. Someone will do it for MediaWiki, I am sure.

Wm. said...

Hah! I love DocuWiki, and I'm fairly sure I can bang together a shell script to do the conversions. May I offer a "w00t" here?

- Will