Sunday, March 27, 2011

RootsTech Rebuttal

Sorry folks, I really need to address a recent post I read out there in the blogosphere - I will try to make this a SHORT treatise. On Monday, the Wandering Genealogist wrote a great post about his lack of interest in RootsTech and wondered if he was alone in his apathy for this seemingly popular new conference. He raised some very practical questions - and answered them with the same well argued practicality. In a nutshell: He tried to get excited about this new conference, read some blog posts about it, watched some videos, etc. - but still wondered what all the hype was about, and how this really affected his research as a genealogist.

My answer to all of this - he's right - in a way.

1. He is soooo correct about the lack of interest most genealogists would have about this one little conference. It was after all extremely tech-centric, which does not apply to everyone. In fact, it only applies to a small proportion of worldwide genealogists - 3000 attendees at one new conference is hardly a pebble in the pond when the total population of genealogists is concerned. Plus, when I think of genealogy as a pursuit or profession, technology is only one very small part of how genealogy is conducted. Online resources and social media are great, but MOST genealogy is conducted via tried and true methods of good old fashioned research - which is not always glamorous - mostly dusty, heavy, eye straining and oftn-times head scratching. Overall, when someone mentions genealogy, I think of photos, records, court clerk offices, libraries, citation format, etc.....which is only assisted by technology.

2. The hype was a little over the top for me too. Yes, I am perpetuating it by even writing about it when I really want to focus on Charleston in May (woo-hoo!), but we have to put the hype into perspective - as a technology conference, it was going to be touted within those technological tools - and it was. The folks at RootsTech wanted the word to get out - encouraging tweeting, etc - in the hopes things would become viral - and they did to a degree. Probably enough to make those who did not attend or who didn't care want to tweet scream in protest. Those who did tweet and write about it were not paid advertisers, just regular genealogists (albeit heavy tech users), and still usually glowing about it - which says something pretty cool was going on.

3. The cool factor of RootsTech was in its uniqueness to our industry. As a librarian, I see the same restrictions that hamper genealogy: funding. The library budget is never huge, and neither are most of our genealogy budgets. Just because Ancestry proved money can be made off of us, does not mean that we are a very lucrative bunch. Therefore, just like library land, genealogy is not an area that is privy to the latest in technological advances. We might eventually get there, but the latest and greatest doesn't visit genealogy land until after several years of conditioning in the mainstream. Which is why RootsTech WAS pretty important. We need opportunities like RootsTech to pool our resources and confer with the programmers that create the tools to make our research lives easier.....which leads into number 4.

4. Collaboration acknowledged - not exactly obtained. Ok, this is where John and I both get stones thrown at us over our naysaying. From my vantage point (mine, not anyone elses), I was still seeing too much flocking together of the same bird species. For the advanced programmer sessions, programmers attended, for the beginning user sessions, beginners attended. RootsTech advertised that its purpose was to bring both programmer and genealogist (neither terms automatically exclusive) together in order to collaborate and develop user friendly programs. Wonderful purpose, but with the exception of the un-scheduled break-out sessions that anyone could utilize and the exhibit hall/social conversations, I didn't see much collaboration going on - at least not in the regular sessions. I think this should still be the goal - but we need more sessions that are joint panel sessions between users and programmers. I know it is extremely tough to get get users and programmers to talk since they generally don't speak the same language - but the programmers need to hear what works best for our research needs BEFORE they build it! Just my two cents in that regard.

5. With the above taken in mind - RootsTech still filled a need in the genealogy industry: tech-centric sessions. We cannot deny that technology has forever changed the landscape of genealogy - even John used a blog to express his apathy towards this tech conference. As technology continues to permeate this industry, there is a shocking lack of tech-centric sessions at the major genealogy conferences (the big ones). Even when perusing the upcoming NGS conference sessions, technology is a very small percentage of the offerings. This is the biggest reason why some people were questioning whether RootsTech would replace one of the big conferences. My opinion on that is: NO WAY. The big conferences are here to stay - but they do need to include bigger percentages of technology based sessions to make the conferences more well rounded and representative of the industry as a whole.

6. Which brings me to the final point: Can RootsTech survive longterm? Maybe. Since it had never been done before, the ideas and enthusiasm were flowing like green ale at a St. Pattty's Day Pub Crawl! And while the need for collaboration will never wane, I suspect that its numbers will dwindle a bit after a few years because adding another major conference to our list of must attends will stretch all of our budgets - and we can only collaborate so much before the results of that collaboration have us busy all over again learning and mastering the newest developments. My suggestion for survival.....either don't have it every year or periodically become a tag along to another conference. Within the next couple of years, I suggest RootsTech be held in conjunction with another of the major conferences (FGS or NGS). We do that quite often in library land, and it draws bigger crowds, and ultimately, more participants in collaboration equals better ideas in the long run.

Sorry, I tried to make it short - but, John started it! :-)


Barbara Poole said...

I'm with you on this. After reading the first 4 blogs on the topic, I stopped. You've said everything I was thinking, so thanks. Now, I'm going to do some research the old fashioned way, and enjoy it 100%, without the fastest this or that (which will change before you blink your eye). Thanks.

Greta Koehl said...

Yeah, I've been to a couple of rah-rah industry conventions and seen some of the same stuff. BTW, hope to see you in Charleston!

Anonymous said...

You make some interesting points Cheri and I am glad we are mainly in agreement.

On reflection I don't think RootsTech will be going away, but I think interest will wane and, as you suggest it should, technology will become more prominent at mainstream conferences.

I guess we will have to wait and see what develops over the coming years.


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