Sunday, December 11, 2011

Perspectives: RootsTech 2012


Wow! I LOVE when genealogists get all fired up! We think we librarians can rock the social media outlets with outrage....I'm thinking genealogists may have the upper hand on this! If you don't believe me, just do a Twitter search for 'RootsTech' and watch the feed that has been tearing up the cyber-sphere for the past 24-48 hours! The issue? Conference planners purposely excluding all Book and/or Arts & Crafts vendors in the RootsTech Exhibit Hall. For the blog post that first reported on this amazingly shocking decision, check out Leland and Patty Meitzler's informative post here at: The Genealogy Blog.

I refuse to re-hash what everyone has said. The response posts, comments and various commentaries are so very informative and righteously indignant that I truly encourage everyone to spend some time today just absorbing the controversy first-hand. Even the official RootsTech bloggers are writing up a storm and being 1000% honest about their opposition - which is awesome!

So, as another blogger who also happened to attend last year, what's my take? Ok, they mentioned the Exhibit Hall Coordinator by name and are pretty much vilifying him across the board. Due to our Pastology talks with Family Search, we are personally acquainted with Mr. Clarke and find him to be a very nice and extremely intelligent person - who happens to be passionate about genealogy. And he is much more than the Exhibit Hall Coordinator - his official title is "Web Services Product Manager/ Affiliates Manager" for Family Search. However, he is a self-professed techie - through and through. After talking with Mr. Clarke on many occasions - about technology and genealogy specifically, I think I know where he and the rest of the RootsTech planners were headed, but also where they took a huge wrong turn. There are certain areas of technological development that he would like to see the genealogy field move toward. As a technological field, genealogy is only just now finding its tech wings within the past 15 years or so. We are a little behind in advancing....I think we are advancing fine....but in the developer realm, the hugely talented developers do not flock to genealogy for cutting edge development or large pay checks. So, in a way, I really think he was trying to bring in developer interest that looked more cutting edge and truly techie than anything we had done before. Also, by bringing in the users and developers I think he was also trying to show developers that there is a hungry user market waiting for new advances - and a VERY unique market at that: a group very passionate and devoted to the field, yet very helpful and tech savvy! 

The thing is, I agree with him - to a point. This is a different conference. This is not NGS or FGS, nor any of the other jamborees out there....this is a technology conference....and technology conferences look different. Any attendee from last year can attest that things looked and FELT different - which was why we all loved it! It was NOT the same conference we were all used to. Someone had just combined what we love into something new....something that allowed us to give input into the development of future products.....while adding the fast paced social media interaction....all covered in sparkly gravy!

However, with all of that taken into consideration we all noted a few oddities that just didn't fit our field.

When I spotted the huge area devoted to video games and pool tables, I actually stopped in my tracks with my mouth open. So many little thoughts were bombarding my mind at that moment. 

Here is the train of thought as it happened:

1. Very interesting and a very unique addition.
2. Wow, my 28 year old brother would LOVE this!
3. Oooh, so just like a REAL technology conference - play areas! Cool!
4. Great way to think outside the box!
5. This is WAY different than any other genealogy conference I've ever been to - which is what they promised!
6. Boy, all those young guys are sure having fun!
7. I don't think those are young genealogists hogging all the video games and Foosball tables.
8. (Looking around) Come to think of it, where ARE all the genealogists? Oh there they are! Being interviewed in the sound/video booths and taking up massive space in the media centers to blog their experiences - in other words, working and not playing - being passionate about this conference!

Another area of concern was the mix-mash of sessions that didn't really allow for much developer/user interaction, but fostered birds of a feather learning opportunities. I really felt this could be improved upon for the next year, and I hope they make changes accordingly. For more on my RootsTech hits and misses from last year.....see my previous posts.

A concern that is growing for me since I witnessed it first hand last year and now hear of others complaining about the same issue, is a lack of communication from the RootsTech side. By not responding to exhibitors on a timely basis, they seriously hurt genealogy businesses, and present an unprofessional appearance. After our communication struggles as presenters last year, we thought this would be fixed for year two....but it sounds like the unprofessional qualities are gaining in reputation = bad form guys, you really need to step it up in this area! Especially with a cutting edge popular conference of this magnitude!
"You're taking away the books!? But the children LOVE the books!".....sorry, it's Christmas, I had to quote Elf for this one! Taking away all books and arts/crafts is silly and and a fundamental misunderstanding of your base audience. This is another fundamental flaw in conference planning. You have to UNDERSTAND your audience.....not just the tech developers you've invited, and who may be coming over from California (that's a joke, I know some are travelling great distances)....the real, everyday users who are paying TONS of money to fly out to Salt Lake in February to attend.....and who will ultimately anoint or sink your future developments!

Solution? Simple.....develop your conference exhibit hall policies around technologies and enforce them reasonably, on a case by case basis. I have no problem with them wanting to keep this a technology conference - I like the fact that when I walk into the exhibit hall, it's going to be different. It's not the same as all the other genealogy conferences out there - and it's ok to be that way. However, books are the fundamental basis of learning any new technology anyway. Seriously, I know that most user manuals are electronic these days....but there are still developers who learn new code through print manuals (XML Bible anyone?). And they must remember that THIS audience favors learning about new technologies through print! We love books, it's our nature - don't ask us to just set that aside to fit the developer mold. We will be paying YOU for the products, not the other way around - so accommodating our preferences is a GOOD idea!!!
So.....if we want this conference to look different, how do we compromise? RootsTech needs to tailor the acceptance policy around technology based products - including books! I think it would be acceptable for officials to limit products sold......for instance....someone mentioned Maia's books wanting to exhibit.....I LOVE her stuff and have blogged her praises here before....but require her to bring along a tech heavy inventory to make sure it fits in the atmosphere of the overall conference. Not forbid certain titles, but encourage tech-heavy material. I know most vendors would be happy to comply - and this should apply to tech publishers and arts/crafts people. Make sure they understand that they are exhibiting material that is in some way related to a technology product or process.

Someone commented earlier that it would be beneficial for the developers to be introduced to our reading material to LEARN about what we are passionate about! I wholeheartedly agree with that! How does a developer enter a citation template/format into a genealogy product without having Evidence Explained on hand? They do need our input or they would not be having this type of conference - well this is their turn to show us that they really do value our viewpoint and want to bring both perspectives together, not just bring the genealogists into the tech world. After all, without the Roots in RootsTech, they just have the same old technology conference.....booooring. Oh! And how about, instead of having the huge play area consist of Nintendo and Microsoft games, it is only filled with tech play that is genealogy related!!! Let's make the tech vendors play by the same rules! Genealogy ONLY tech related items allowed on the exhibit hall floor! How awesome would it be to have a line of stations with various genealogy tech products to play with? Roots Magic, Legacy, Flip-Pal, e-publishing/heirloom creation.....ok, that scene gets me really excited! If only.....hope they are listening!

2 comments:

Valerie said...

Cheri,

Loved the post really enjoyed your faith and honest comments. I second your suggestions!

Greta Koehl said...

I think you have really hit the nail on the head with this post. To be more understanding about the mistake that was made, we have to think like a techie. And for RootsTech to make this a conference that will continue to be successful, they have to think like a genealogist. Tech is good. But tech and books are great.

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