The Big Tree is Geni slang for the largest tree on Geni. New users, and even long-time users, are sometimes unsure about the differences between working in the Big Tree versus working in standalone trees.
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Big Tree versus Standalone Trees
The original purpose of Geni was to create a World Tree, connecting everyone on earth. However, some users found that they like the Geni platform but they didn't like having to get along with their relatives.
Geni's policy now is to allow standalone trees for users who want them.
By default, most users start out on Geni in a standalone tree. The exception is a new user who accepts an invitation to join a tree that is already connected to the Big Tree.
Users get connected to the Big Tree when a profile in their standalone tree is merged with a profile in the Big Tree.
Public versus Private
All trees on Geni, both the Big Tree and all standalone trees, can have public profiles and private profiles.
Geni protects the rights of all standalone trees to remain as standalone trees.
A PRO user can merge any two public profiles in the Big Tree, but is blocked if the merge involves a profile in a standalone tree. In order to proceed, you need to get the permission of a manager in that other tree.
A Basic user cannot initiate a merge; for a limited time (currently) a Basic can "accept" a proposed merge.
One way to identify standalone trees is that when you try to merge two profiles, you get a message:
These profiles are in different trees. Caution: Merging these profiles will merge their trees and could require merging other duplicate profiles.
PRO versus Basic
PRO users can add and manage an unlimited number of profiles. Basic users are capped at 100 profiles.
This means that standalone trees are often very small. If they are created by a basic user, they won't have more than 100 profiles. But, if a standalone tree is created by a PRO user, there is no limit to the size.
Collaboration is a tool that has changed over time. In the beginning it was a way for PRO users to give other users the ability to edit profiles they manage. Now, any PRO user can edit any public profile (unless it is a Locked Profile).
Collaboration now benefits primarily basic users. A basic user can edit any profile that is managed by one of their collaborators.
Because basic users cannot initiate or accept merge requests, collaboration is a common workaround. A PRO user can initiate and accept merge requests for a collaborator. Collaborating with the manager of a standalone tree also gives a PRO user the power to merge that standalone tree with the Big Tree.
Collaboration also now functions as a reputation system. Someone with many collaborators is widely trusted by the user community. Someone with few collaborators might be new, might be trying to maintain a standalone tree, or might be distrusted by the user community.
Adding someone to your Family Group will give that person the ability to see your private profiles, as well as permission to do merges and even to merge a standalone tree with the Big Tree.
Because basic users cannot initiate or accept merge requests, family groups are a common workaround. A PRO user can initiate and accept merge requests for family group members. Being in the family group of the manager of a standalone tree also gives a PRO user the power to merge that standalone tree with the Big Tree.
A user in the Big Tree takes a risk, because any PRO user can edit any public profile. In other words, if you disagree with someone the two of you are going to have to work out your differences. Also, it isn't as easy to slip in unproved information and shoddy research. Someone is going to notice eventually and correct your information. In the Big Tree, you benefit from the collective wisdom and collaboration of other users.
A user in a standalone tree can have everything their own way, even if it's wrong.
It's too early to make an absolute statements, but there is growing evidence that Geni users consider it rude to set up a merge between a profile in the Big Tree and a profile in the standalone tree, without first checking with the manager to find out whether the manager intends to maintain a standalone tree.