Tuesday, February 7, 2012

RootsTech Round-Up

I know it's pretty odd to skip posts from RootsTech Day 1 to a final Round-Up, but I have an explanation. I'm totally frazzled after this trip! After the Day 1 post, I had every intention of completing a Day 2 and Day 3, but if you have never been to RootsTech, you must understand that the schedule is intense! Besides, not only did I get sick during the conference and am trying to recover, but I have taken so many notes about the sessions themselves that I want to devote single posts to some of the issues brought up during each one. This post will include some of the highlights, my experiences and a brief review of how things went.

For those of you who were not able to attend, and for those of you who did, but could not get to every session (ie: you are not a super hero able to be in 13 places at once), be sure to check into the main RootsTech web site and view the recorded sessions that are available, as well as searching for RootsTech on YouTube.

For now, let me give you my top 10 highlights of RootsTech 2012:

1. Keynotes: Fantastic this year and really put what we learned into a future-minded perspective! They were energetic, informative and reminded us all of why we were there! It also helped us see where we were headed as an industry!
2. Unconferencing Sessions: The TRUE way to collaborate with each other on the varying levels. These sessions are greatly needed to work through issues that hamper us all.
3. The Mobile App: I LOVED this feature! Despite its bugginess at times, it really helped me keep on track and let me quickly review other sessions on the fly! Awesome addition!
4. Twitter Feed: Again, one of my favorite features from last year. This year it was made even better with more attendees, integration into the Mobile App, and big screens throughout the conference halls that let us watch the Twitter stream! It is a communication tool that lets us quickly view the impressions of fellow attendees, and lets us share our impressions with the rest of the genealogy community!
5. Meeting and collaborating with fellow genealogists/bloggers! This was great fun! Made new friends, enjoyed wonderful social events and laughed til my sides hurt! The pics below are from the Kentuckian dinner and the WDYTYA viewing event at the Peery Hotel Bar. Notice all the bloggers tweeting when the commercials came on!

6. Metadata and GedcomX: If you do not know what these are, review the recorded sessions and syllabus material. These were two major issues that were addressed this year - and in my opinion, the two most important issues in the industry today. Great sessions and plans for future discussions! I will post more about these later!

7. Live streaming and recorded sessions: I didn't get to take part in these, but knowing the rest of the genealogy world could enjoy some of these wonderful sessions, the more I felt comfortable with the overall conference. A must for all future RootsTech conferences!
8. 1940 Census: The hype was great and the explanations about the community indexing projects were very helpful. The information learned at the various census partners booths will be invaluable as I relay some of the info to my local genealogist groups.
9. Exhibit Hall: Much improved and a hot-bed of activity. I loved the energy here, the celebrity watching, the interviews, the info, and the swag that went with the whole experience!
10. Late night at the LDS Library: Always one of my favorite things! Despite my exhaustion and sensory overload, the energy at this event always brings me back to what all of this is about - genealogy and finding our ancestors. As I search through the records, it always makes me wonder what they would have thought about all of these advances and products designed to help us find and document their existence!
Overall, I would readily consider this year's RootsTech to be a success. Compared to last year, it has expanded and made some improvements that gave the conference a lighter and more vibrant feel. The increased number of attendees was evident, and greatly enhanced the knowledge base! There are a few things they improved upon and a few things they should have improved upon:

Win: More couches/seating in the Exhibit Hall - great improvement! They had several sections of long comfortable couches and benches around the Cyber Cafe and Playground areas. As a testament to these being a great addition, they were ALWAYS in use, no matter what time of day!
Fail: Too many sessions going on at once. We complained about this last year. On average there were 13 sessions going on at once, and that did NOT include the number of unconferencing sessions that were scheduled concurrently. This was soooo frustrating since many of the unconferencing sessions sounded just as awesome as the regular sessions! "Too much input!", not enough time! Since they haven't developed cloning yet, they may want to examine this issue...please!!
Win: Larger Exhibit Hall area. Last year, the Exhibit Hall was sectioned off and not quite as fluid. The flow was much better this year which also allowed for more exhibitors - always a win! Oh, and I noticed the book seller booths were always busy...just sayin!
Fail: Divided sessions. This was a huge complaint of mine last year, and I didn't see too much of a difference this year. The sessions were divided between user and developer. Not many users attended developer sessions and not too many developers attended user sessions. We still had a large segment flocking together per their species. The exception has always been the unconferencing sessions. There were some larger unconferencing sessions that fit EXACTLY my idea of collaboration effectiveness! I attended one that covered metadata, which consisted of a panel of developers, that was bombarded with user questions from the audience. This type of interaction answered questions for both sides, and sent both groups away thinking about some new approaches. In my perfect RootsTech experience, they would significantly reduce the number of regular, BASIC user level sessions, and make one whole day full of nothing but unconferencing sessions. THIS is the only way to ensure wide-spread collaboration and really get a conference that brings the users and developers together in a manner that impacts the industry to the levels we are seeking!

Win: Syllabus material. MUCH better than last year! More complete, and readily available online instead of just on a CD. My only area for improvement here would have been including it in the App somehow, but I know the files were large, so they get a pass on that one.

Fail: Hands-on Workshops. Ok, so I attended three of these, and from beginning to end, they were awkward. The initial sign-up for these before the conference filled seats up within 3 hours - please get larger labs for these! They are in high demand and very helpful! One hands-on workshop was not hands-on at all. This was one of the most highly anticipated workshops - the 1940 census indexing sneak peek - only it wasn't. Once we got in there, it was just a presentation about Family Search Indexing in general, how the 1940 census would go live, timelines about indexing, and a history of the 1940 census. This one could have been presented in the main large hall as a lecture/presentation and they would have filled up the place! There was NO hands-on portion - so why limit this when it was a main theme of the conference and could have been given a standard lecture room?! The other hands-on workshops were fine and instructional, but with the varying skill levels of participants, it slows things down and makes the flow hard for the presenter.
Big WIN: The live streaming and recorded sessions to allow for industry-wide participation! This is a must for any tech conference in my opinion. I know some non-genealogists would see this and think they are being silly for live streaming or providing sessions for free to those who could not attend, but if they ever want to charge for the live stream/recorded session access at some point - I would be fine with that. They have to earn money to continue this type of conference, and a pay option for home attendance would be a great option to maintain the impact level of this conference industry-wide!

Fail: Session quality. I know this is a controversial opinion, but I just have to say that the amount of basic user level sessions was disappointing. Some of the sessions presented were on the same level as intro tech sessions seen at NGS or FGS. This is THE tech conference for the industry. I would have much rather seen some serious instructional sessions on the advanced user levels, rather than overviews or lists of what can be used. I attended one of the few sessions on e-book publication and was disappointed to learn it was a session on how to publish through one company - no, I want to learn best practices, review of the various ways to do this, and who has the best interface, etc. We really need to step up the level of some of the sessions for next year. After talking with several attendees, I was not alone in this feeling.

Well, that's it for this year! I will be creating individual posts later to discuss various tech issues and things learned during the conference, but as so many of us have declared - RootsTech takes a lot of post-processing time! I'm not sure I will be attending next year, but this second year has confirmed for me that this conference is on a strong ride with no signs of diminishing anytime soon. However, with the live streaming, Twitter feeds, Blogs, syllabi and recorded sessions, none of us have to miss out if we can't make it every year! Despite any criticisms above, it was a great conference this year and we all thank the organizers for a great time! It was a HUGE success!!


Linda McCauley said...

My RootsTech post is still floating around in my head but you have covered most of my thoughts.

Margie said...

I agree, good overview of the good and not-so-good. I, too, was looking for more advanced classes. Guess I need to think about institute in the future.

Nancy said...

Well, I wasn't there so felt the energy only 2nd-hand. Still strong energy, though.

I wonder if the reason for their session choices was based on responses from last year's conference. I wonder if fewer people would have come if they'd had fewer sessions each "hour" (and fewer choices) or if just as many people had come, perhaps the sessions would have been fuller -- and too crowded.

I can't imagine trying to plan an event like this and having enough of everything for everyone at every level of interest and ability. I hope the people who planned it have this week off!

I feel like I'm still on overload and I wasn't even there!

I hope you're feeling better. Thanks for posting. I'm looking forward to your individual posts about sessions and things you learned.

Agnes Gradwell said...

I agree with your Win/Fail comments in particular. Too many basic sessions, and not enough togetherness with developers. As a user at a tech conference, I want to stretch and learn and be exposed to challenging concepts.

Cheri Daniels said...

Nancy, you are right, some space issues do exist. Although, they seemed to use some of the expandable classrooms for lunches on the third floor, instead of using for sessions that spilled out into the hallway. Many people complained about the number of sessions going on at the same time for 2011, but they didn't make any changes at all in this area for 2012. Just as a comparison, they are running about 2 regular sessions concurrently more than NGS runs, plus, they then add 2-4 additional unconferencing sessions per hour on top of that - so it gets overwhelming pretty quick.

I am encouraged by next year's move to late March. We have heard part of the reason is to accomodate more people by taking more of the facility. If they can snag bigger rooms, reduce the overall number of offerings - with a few other adjustments - they may improve greatly and therefore allow the conference to make an even bigger impact.


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