Forums: Index > Watercooler > Improving the "people-page start page"

Most of us active talkers here agree that the "people-page start page" needs improving. At least three of us have said so, this month, on Help talk:Starting pages for people, places, or surnames. As it has several sub-subjects, a series of headings here may be useful.

A newbie speaks[]

How did I get here? My parents had some old boxes of photos and letters from the 1800s... eventually I decided to scan them and put them on the web, and I chose wikia to do so.. .But when it came to writing in information about the geneaological line and tree... i was hoping for something else already being out there.

I have looked at sites like rootsweb, and others. They are cool but they lack the wiki spirit.. which is that joe blow in his underwear eating cheetos on the couch can have something important to contribute to world knowledge.

The whole Surname mess could be better done by a robot, like what wikipedia uses to clean up articles or tag files without licenses. It is no wonder that people get it wrong... the instructions are confusing and clutter up the site with impenetrable techno jargon.

Another example is Childbox... it is a classic example of worrying too much about making things pretty, and not enough about making them simple to use.

I wish you all best of luck with this wiki, there are many wonderful things about it. Thank you for reading. Sorry if this is the wrong place to write this. 23:29, 20 January 2009 (UTC)~--Decora 23:31, 20 January 2009 (UTC)

Hi! (And congratulations on the WHvE wiki, which I have just looked at.) Some of the above would be better on separate forums with more appropriate names, but there's no harm having a few paragraphs here so that we can look at them and see where they might be better expanded and replied to. What do you mean by "Surname mess"? Quick templates letting people fill in facts that can't be filled in by robot? If you have concrete ideas for improvement, please start a new forum. — Robin Patterson (Talk) 00:34, 21 January 2009 (UTC)

Overall matters[]

We should be talking about Help:Model page for person rather than the page that was renamed more broadly to cover surnames and places and still has value for directing readers to whichever of those they really want. I still notice newbies using quite the wrong model for a surname page, for example. Robin Patterson 23:25, 20 October 2007 (UTC)

I agree on having fewer options; and I approve of the idea of having one or more contain infoboxes now that the infobox system is working well. Robin Patterson 23:25, 20 October 2007 (UTC)

Comments on each of the current inputboxes (copying their headings)[]

Comments on each suggests a premise that what is needed is a winnowing down of many templates to few templates. Given that the target audience is a newcomer, that premise is false. There should be one template. No more. Don't barrage the newcomer with choices. ~ Phlox 16:32, 22 October 2007 (UTC)

That premise is a straw man. Other users are entitled to comment on some of these with a view to having one or more available on other pages for experts to use. All should result in the same page format; just differing in the way of constructing it. And some of these may have good points that can be copied to the eventual "beginners model". Robin Patterson 00:31, 23 October 2007 (UTC)

Blank Format (When you just need a blank "piece of paper")[]

I agree that we don't need this. Robin Patterson 23:25, 20 October 2007 (UTC)

I agree too. Basically this creates a problem in which categories may not be added. -AMK152(TalkContributions 23:42, 20 October 2007 (UTC)
I understand the reasoning here, but in truth, I don't agree. That "Blank" template is fairly useful. In fact I do use it all of the time. Many of the articles I'm creating do not involve a "Person layout". I would like to see this retained. Bill 23:31, 24 October 2007 (UTC)

Simple Format (When all you want is to jot down basic data, with little or no extras)[]

Merged at Genealogy:People Template

  • Links to:Genealogy:People Simple Template
  • Calls as preload:Genealogy:People Simple Template

Standard Format (When you want something more than just basic stuff, plus an explanation)[]

Boxed Format (When you want something more than just basic stuff, plus an explanation, and like some of it in boxes)[]

  • Links to:Genealogy:Person Template
  • Calls as preload:Genealogy:Person Template
  • Phlox's comment below notes with disapproval: "1. Use of fully saturated colors, 2. use of thick borders, 3. lack of simplicity." It's not one I've ever felt like using. Robin Patterson 09:57, 21 October 2007 (UTC)

Research Format (When you want the full research layout, but none of the explanation)[]

Merged at Genealogy:People Template

  • Links to: Genealogy:People Research Template
  • Calls as preload: Genealogy:People Research Template

Infobox Layout (When you want a page layout similar to the Wikipedia biography infobox style)[]

This template is the only viable template to build on. The child section can be simplified with another sub template and I'd be happy to do that. ~ Phlox 16:34, 22 October 2007 (UTC)

Target Audience identification[]

It seems to me that one of our central goals is building the number of contributors here. The page linked to from the sidebar "Create a page", should have a target audience of folks that know little about genealogy but want to put some material up on the web having to do with their ancestors. We should adapt as we learn what is useful to these folks and what isn't.

It's fine to have other pages that target serious genealogists or other audiences, but we need to recognize we cannot a page that tries to be all things to all people.

Whether or not we all agree that we should be targetting potential new contributors with this page, I would think that we all agree that we need to have a crisp identification of the audience we intend to serve with this page. ~ Phlox 06:27, 21 October 2007 (UTC)

I think I agree with most of that. If we want the whole human race listed here eventually, most of the contributors will have to be hundreds of thousands of "folks that know little about genealogy but want to put some material up on the web having to do with their ancestors" because a few thousand serious genealogists can't do it all. Targetting the mass of slightly interested people with this inputbox page is sensible; that's what Bill was tending towards in his last comment above the "Overhaul" heading on the other talk page. Robin Patterson 09:57, 21 October 2007 (UTC)
OK, our target audience is a newcomer who knows nothing/ very little about genealogy, and our goal for the interface is to make it as easy as possible for them to get an attractive page. ~ Phlox 23:41, 21 October 2007 (UTC)

When the Create Page was created, the reasons for doing so were simply to make things easier for people. That is, for people currently using the site, and for newcomers. At the time there were repeated comments from users that it was difficult to create a page. That led to a set of instructions for various approaches, with a lot of explanatory material. I franky felt that the explanatory material pretty much got in the way of using the page effectively, but I also undestood the need for having that explanatory material on hand.

Recently, the explanatory material was moved off the front page leaving just the input boxes, and directions to read the explanatory material first. This, I think, substantially improved the effectiveness of the create page, but retained the guidance in an easily accessible manner. (The guidance page is still being developed, and does need considerably more work.)

From that perspective the target audience for the create page is indeed partly the novice user of the wiki, its also true that the input box approach is very useful for others as well. I personally have no need for most of these layouts. I believe that at least some of them are being used by others to quickly create articles. Most are here because a) they were grandfathered in, or b) someone wanted a particular layout for their convenience. While we can't really include every concievable layout, a selection of useful ones seems appropriate. As circumstances dictate, I'm sure some changes might be made to what layouts are made available, probably based on active needs. Some of the current templates, for which there is no real audience might indeed be deleted with no loss to anyone. However, narrowing it to a single layout, is probably not necessary, and probably not helpful.

In any case, I believe we need to leave in some alternatives. I see no need to standardize the wiki on a particular format, and that, of course, is exactly what placeing a single template in the Create Page link would do.

Another approach that might be taken would be to include templates for different types of articles altogether. For example, in addition to a person template, a template for references could be crafted; there might also be a need for a "place" type of template, though I think the need for that is more limited.

Yet another approach would be to create two separate create page links, one for the "new to the wiki" crowd", with few if any choices in templates, and another for the more experienced user. For example, the "New to the wiki" page might include something akin to AMK147's preferred layout, and/or something closer to the "standard" layout. Then the "experienced user" layout could have something a bit more sophisticated, and might include templates such as "references" etc.

Also, with regard to the "Blank" format. That has proven quite useful, and is something I use on a daily basis. And contrary to some views of this, it's not something being acually used by newbies. Usually (and I say this after months of monitoring this) they use something like the "Standard" layout. The reason for that should be fairly obvious---they're looking for something to help them create an article, and a "blank piece of paper" is the LAST thing they want. Probably they will never create an article EXCEPT using one of the templates offered. And once they have experience enough at doing this they'll figure out what it is that they need, and make a template to meet their own needs. Which is what AMK152 did, and that template now resides on the create page

In anycase, if it is a group concensus that there be a single format for person articles, then that can be done, of course. If that's the decision reached, then I believe the person to do that should be someone who has shown on this site significant experience with genealogical research, and clearly understands the needs of a person article. I believe the persons I would recommend for that are AMK152, Richard Norton and Chad Lupkes. All of whom are actively creating person articles, clearly have broad experience and understanding of what's needed here, and have created a substantial corpus of work here. AMK152 also brings demonstrated experience in inforbox layouts. Richard brings to the table a real knack for creating interesting family history articles, and Chad has more experience here than any of the rest of us, except Robin. Bill 00:39, 25 October 2007 (UTC)

This is a wiki, not the loyal order of water buffalo where folks know whether they are junior buffalo of the third or fourth degree or not. Anyone is entitled to change pages. There is no pecking order, and no selection for who the best editor is. Everyone is an editor. You either have a good idea for a page or you don't. That is the wiki way.
The page should be unlocked, no one should assume that they own the page. No editorial elite needs to be annointed- the normal wiki process should be trusted. ~ Phlox 04:06, 25 October 2007 (UTC)

Color language[]

Of course users may do anything they like on their pages. However we are discussing what assistance we will give to help people produce good looking articles. If followed, our guidelines and templates should produce professional looking articles. The only template that comes anywhere close to doing that is currently AMK's "infobox" template.

There are visual design principles, and we should not feel that we have to reinvent the wheel. There is such a thing as using a consistent colour palette, and a reason behind the statements made in wikipedia:Wikipedia:WikiProject Usability/Color#Improper use of color.

The introductory page needs to employ a simple and consistent color palette. The current version uses a mixture of oversaturated browns, greens and purples for background colors. It lacks visual harmony, is jarring, and violates simple color design principles. The Wikipedia project article noted some of these fundamentals and I quote them here:

*Simplicity - some users advocate the abolition of color altogether. We disagree with this, but we do acknowledge their point: do not employ anything that does not serve a purpose. (There is, however, a clear need for color: the main page uses it to allow the user to focus onto one aspect of a relatively "busy" space, and notices use it to bring attention to themselves.)

With regard to notices, tables, and similar elements:

  • A very light background - many of the most popular websites on the internet use this, and with good reason. Dark backgrounds look inactive ("dead"), brightly-colored backgrounds cause eye-strain, and both are generally unpleasant.
  • A thin and slightly darker border - One very good looking use of colors is a light colored background, with a 1px border that is a darker version of that same color.

Genealogy:Person Template violates all of these principles. 1. Use of fully saturated colors, 2. use of thick borders, 3. lack of simplicity.

How to fix? As one of Clint Eastwood's character's had a habit of observing, "A man has got to know his limitations". The simplest thing is to copy a visual style used by some professionally created web site and change the hue- instead of very light pastel green make it very light pastel brown- then copy everything about it, including the thinness of the lines around table. You want even simpler? Copy the visual style of WP main articles, WP help or one of the wiki projects. We are already doing this by default, we are using infobox templates that use the wikipedia very light blue bars.

The "branding" thing to do is to shift that- pick a shade that is genealogy's signature color. WP's is that powder blue you see everywhere. It doesn't really matter what shade we pick. It does matters that it be extremely "unsaturated"/ achromatic/ pastel/ "light". It also does matter that we use it consistently everywhere.

I refuse to engage in a debate on web page design. There is an art to visual design, and it isn't learned overnight or through acquisition of facts. Solicit opinions from design professionals whose opinion you value, and I am confident you will find universal agreement that the above mentioned pages have visual styles that drive users away from sites.

Let's do the right thing visually and not have a web site that looks unprofessional. ~ Phlox 06:27, 21 October 2007 (UTC)

I believe that it is best to have a single color scheme. If there are a bunch of different colors out there some geneaologists might disagree on what color scheme to do on one person's article. Also, if so many people will soon be connected, it will look messy having, for example, John Smith with a sort of green scheme and his 2nd cousin, Joe Smith with a red scheme. Then his uncle with a brown sheme and perhaps his aunt with a blue scheme. Or even his great grandmother having 4 different colors that don't go well together. I think it would look too messy. That's my opinion. -AMK152(TalkContributions 19:13, 21 October 2007 (UTC)
Makes sense to me. Previously, I added color options on all the tabs and other infobox type templates I made, but I'll gladly rip them out. When we flip a coin and decide the basic hue, then I'll go back in and can set everything to conform to that colour scheme. ~ Phlox 23:09, 21 October 2007 (UTC)
Thank you, Phlox, for the detailed paragraphs introducing this section. Single color scheme would suit me fine. Do as little work as necessary, maybe, which could mean leaving all Wikipedia material with its WP colors. If you want a departure from that, for a branding statement, I guess something matching part of the logo would be best. Robin Patterson 11:46, 22 October 2007 (UTC)
Robin, it's a rainbow of hues. Ancestry has the light brown, which would have been my first choice (that kind of old photo look). How about very light green to set ourselves apart from Brand X, or should we do the same for the same reason (the vintage look) ~ Phlox 02:02, 23 October 2007 (UTC)
I don't know who that Phlox guy thinks he is, but Ancestry's color hue is green, not light brown. This is excellent for us, because photos with flesh tone borders is going to liven them, whereas green/blue move in the cadaverish direction. Folks don't need to be reminded that their dearly departed are dead. ~ Phlox 16:12, 23 October 2007 (UTC)


  • A mockup using the parchment light brown "vintage" look for all genealogy tables and infoboxes is now on William I, King of England (1027-1087). Comments welcome. ~ Phlox 16:12, 23 October 2007 (UTC)
    • Please note: This is only a mockup of colors. It is my belief that Info Pages impose way to high a learning curve to be useful for newcomers at this stage. I am not proposing that any of the info page based elements be used- the page merely demostrates the two colors used- parchment for the tabs as well as the header, and a darker shade of the same for border. ~ Phlox 02:53, 24 October 2007 (UTC)


I have added siblings to some of the articles I have worked on, based on the fact that other people did this. But now I am thinking it may be unnecessary. If one really wanted to know a person's siblings I believe it would be best to go just to their parents' page. Otherwise we're going to have a whole bunch of half siblings, step siblings, etc. lists and I think it will look messy. -AMK152(TalkContributions 20:17, 23 October 2007 (UTC)

I usually don't either unless there is some analysis where it is important to see the sibling list right there to help the reader keep things straight. I strongly agree with you that there is no place for it in a simple infobox template.~ Phlox 22:43, 23 October 2007 (UTC)
That's three of us in agreement there. Robin Patterson 02:19, 24 October 2007 (UTC)
That of course, is a left over from an earlier day. Never understood the need myself, but there it was. So most of the early articles (half of this site) include this list, but its certainly an idiosyncratic item. I'm wondering if this is something that the founder wanted for inscrutible reasons related to his particular interests. Nonetheless, don't think its ever been needed. Bill 00:56, 25 October 2007 (UTC)

Draft outline of way forward[]

Sifting and synthesising much of what is above, I suggest our structure be as follows.

Create a page (the current sidebar link)[]

No change to what it says or its destination - Help:Starting pages for people, places, or surnames is the name that covers the three types of page we have most of (and can be extended for references or whatever if Bill or others are keen), so it's the proper target for a broad "Create a page" link. In case it becomes broader than the current three types, or if we want it simpler anyway, we can revert to its earlier name Help:Starting pages.

First target page[]

Help:Starting pages for people, places, or surnames as mentioned above, bringing back the gist of what got moved to the Guidance subpage, with clear brief directions (aimed at newbies but usable by anyone) sending readers to specific help pages:

  1. Individuals, with simple standard layout: Go to Help:Model page for person (which will have just the one inputbox option, using an infobox and other tidy standardizing as discussed at length above - and at some length in the future because we haven't firmed it up yet)
  2. Individuals, with specialized layouts: Go to Help:Alternative types of page for individual (which will have all or most of the inputboxes, including the "blank")
  3. Places: Go to Genealogy:Place Template (as is now a target of the relevant line; possibly much revised and/or renamed)
  4. Surnames: Go to Genealogy:Surname category template (as is now a target of the relevant line; possibly much revised and/or renamed)

Guidance subpage for individuals and other types of page[]

Keep it as a subpage of Help:Starting pages. Link to it from several pages, including the four targeted above.

Most of its intro will have gone back to the first target page, but can be summarized here.

The rest of it already includes most of what it should have. Here's my summary of how it should be (but anything else that's on it now could be retained).

  1. The real help paragraphs can start with help for newbies who are not quite up to handling the few complexities of Help:Model page for person. Maybe a link to an "extra help" subpage of that.
  2. It can then go on to emphasize the value of non-duplication, standardization, and Google-compatibility.
  3. Finally - at the bottom so that newbies don't feel obliged to read all the way but interested people can find stuff - it can explain some of the more specialized pages that users with a bit more experience may have found or may want to try: Help:Alternative types of page for individual and the place and surname and reference etc etc pages.

Robin Patterson 03:02, 25 October 2007 (UTC)

Don't we want just one template?[]

If the target audience for Create a Page is (as agreed) newcomers, then we must be fierce in the defence of the naive, and the complexity of the page must be attacked savagely. If a grandmother can't figure it out, we have failed. Not 3 templates, not 2. Just one. Other more experienced folks can be sent elsewhere.

My view is that the template must be an ultra simple fill in the blanks type page that would ideally require little or no explanation of anything, but would produce a nice looking article- something that AMD's infobox currently produces, with wikitext simplified as much as possible. No jargon. No techno considerations (google etc). Zero learning curve. Just do anything to get them to take the plunge and get comfortable banging out pages on their relatives.

There are enough of us to guide newcomers along on how they can improve things- if they are seeing some results on the site, they will be more willing to invest some time learning First steps to created a great article. In that series we can introduce a little more complexity. But we don't hit them with any of that stuff on whatever article gets linked to when the newcomer hits the "create a page" link on the sidebar. ~ Phlox 06:44, 25 October 2007 (UTC)

Of course we want just one easy-to-use template for beginners to put their individual relatives on. Nothing I said above suggests anything else, despite Phlox's various turns of phrase, including the heading, that could be taken to be disagreements with some of what I said. However, I too intend to continue to "be fierce in the defence of the naive" - I have seen more than one newbie here using a person template to write an article about a surname. That's why we need the short primary target page to tell people (in about five easy-to-read lines) that this site is necessarily a teeny bit complex and to point people to where they really want to go. We need to direct those minority "surname-oriented" people to the model-surname-page page and direct the writers about individuals to the model page for individuals. Robin Patterson 00:32, 27 October 2007 (UTC)
Let's get concrete. Does the sidebar's Create a page button link to a page that has 1 or 3 templates on it? ~ Phlox 01:26, 27 October 2007 (UTC)
No. (Well, it currently has six infoboxes that use "preloads", some of which are templates, but I'm sure you're not meaning to ask about what it does now.) I suggest that you read more carefully everything that I said above. Robin Patterson 01:50, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
I will reword the query:
Let's get concrete. Are you proposing that the sidebar's Create a page button link to a page that has 1 <inputbox>preloaded article template on it or are you proposing that Create a page link to a page with 3 inputboxes? ~ Phlox 02:02, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
No. Robin Patterson 03:27, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
It's not a Yes/No question. It's an either/or question of clarification. Answers would be numeric. ~ Phlox 05:17, 28 October 2007 (UTC)
Phlox, you must have reread my proposal too fast. Please slow down and reread thoughtfully. If necessary, reread the paragraph that precedes it. Robin Patterson 14:21, 29 October 2007 (UTC)
You are correct. I read too fast. Thank you for the pointer. What you are proposing is a redirection page that fans out to multiple pages requiring the user to classify themselves as well as their job task (person or place type article). You have loaded them with multiple cognitive tasks from the get go.
My proposal is to bury that complexity. By default, the "first target page" is the page for naive users, then you bury the redirections with a very brief "Advanced page creation" link or "for experienced genealogists/users.." type phrase. Just like what you get with google- you go to the simple page by default. ~ Phlox 16:37, 29 October 2007 (UTC)

Making "Create a page" as easy as humanly possible[]

Our target audience for this page is naive newcomers. Period. The People-page start page is useful for experienced users, but not a new contributor.

We can keep the current page, but that "Create a page" link should be reserved for our most valuable contributors- the multitude of contributors who aren't contributors yet. So we need a new start page with a single template that will present a visually attractive article with a minimum of complexity for the user. Although I definately have opinions on which template is best (as expressed above), it is most important that the process be simple for a newcomer to fathom. That means lots of effort on the template along with help and possibly a special forum just for newcomers.

I propose again a start page employing AMK's template. This is visually attractive, and is simple enough to fill in the blanks for.

There has been no movement on this for a month, and the high barrier to entry for newcomers is simply unacceptable. I propose that if there is no dissent is made on this by 12/5, that create a page be directed to a new page with a single template as discussed above. The current people page start page will continue to be available for experienced users.

Anyone that wants to take that on- please do. I have a ton of technical stuff that needs doing. The main issues I care about is that:

  1. The resulting start page not turn off newcomers
  2. New pages created not be super hard to up-convert.

~ Phlox 19:20, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

I think I can manage to produce something like that, with only a small modification to my earlier misunderstood proposal. Robin Patterson 23:41, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

More standard[]

It has been discussed before in various ways, to standardize the person template. At one point we had 7 different "starter templates" to choose from, which is far from standardization. Not too long ago, I took similar templates and merged them, and now we have 5.

The info page system, although it still is being worked on, has many benefits to it. However, its complexity may be too complex for some contributors. A less complicated template, the Infobox template, appears similar to the Info page system, but with less complexity, although it wastes time in the long run.

This leaves us with 3 templates. The blank one, the boxed one, and the "standard" one that was merged with other templates.

I propose we retire the "standard" template, and make the Infobox the official standard. The boxed template I have only seen being used by Elrondlair, so perhaps it should be a subpage of his. As far as the blank one is concerned, I don't know what we should do with it.

I would like to see both the Infobox format and the Info page format right on this page: Help:Starting pages for people, places, or surnames, right where someone can directly see it.

On the sidebar, it says "Create a page." I'd like to see something there where it directly says to create a person page. We could also have this sort of thing right on the main page so more people can see it. -AMK152(talkcontribs) 03:20, 1 November 2008 (UTC)

On the whole I agree with all of that.
The bit about "Infobox template, appears similar to the Info page system, but with less complexity, although it wastes time in the long run" could do with clarification. I asked about that exact question nearly two months ago, on Help talk:Model page for person. That's the talk page for the current recommended option, that option being reached in two clicks from "Create a page". I suggest that discussion of its detail continue there.
Having two sidebar links, as AMK suggests, would be fine with me:
  1. a new one above "Create a page": "Create page for person" (going straight to Help:Model page for person)
  2. replacing the name "Create a page" with "Create other pages"
Robin Patterson 00:41, 6 November 2008 (UTC)
How about this? Genealogy:Info pages/Tutorial‎ -AMK152(talkcontribs) 01:34, 8 November 2008 (UTC)
Sorry, wasn't aware my pages were not appropriately decolored. I have changed my template I use to a more subtle color/border type (also removed "siblings"). Hopefully that will work. Fraid I have no knowledge of these info page types you guys like to use. Will 20:03, 1 January 2009 (UTC)