Monday, November 18, 2013

The RootsTech Ripple Effect

It's getting closer!! Before you know it, we'll be reveling in genealogy tech geekdom! No, I'm not talking about Christmas morning in the 21st century genealogist household....just the most tech-fabulous conference of all: RootsTech 2014!

For those of you who have never attended, I know the hype can be a bit overwhelming when this conference rolls around. Social media is the technological life-blood of this event, and I anticipate that increasing, not decreasing. Even though I have never been linked to this conference in an official capacity, RootsTech and I have a long history together, beginning with the very first year in 2011. From its very inception, we knew it would be different....but we had no idea how far it would reach in terms of influence and industry-wide growth. As we prepare for 2014, here are a few of my own observations and reflections:

1. Speakers/Sessions:
From the first year, I was involved pretty closely, as my Pastology business partner, Chris Starr, was invited to give two sessions on applying semantic web principles to online family trees. As an inaugural speaker, we had no idea what to expect. We prepared the presentations, submitted our required content, and flew out to embrace this new conference frontier. From what I remember, the sessions were much smaller, dialogue was flowing from day one, and attendees were sponges! The eagerness to learn and share new ideas was intoxicating and exhilarating. From that first year, everyone knew it was a huge success, and would only get bigger. I can also remember questioning its sustainability in one place (Salt Lake) with the other major conferences each year, and with the economy tanking like it was....but I underestimated the draw of technology in the genealogy field. It may have been slow to start, but once it got a foot-hold, nothing was going to slow the momentum. Here is a link to my first impressions that year:

Ripple effect: I was watching a demonstration recently about the online tree building option from FamilySearch, and the questions/issues raised with this type of interface were shockingly familiar. I remember chewing these questions over with my partner and with FamilySearch developers that first year - and it suddenly hit me - it happened! The semantic web foundations materialized exactly as he had presented that year! Seeing a technology principle applied to a new genealogy product was beyond exciting! It proved very quickly to me that the sessions and developer/user environment fostered at RootsTech is vital to our tech growth in this field. This is only one example among many, I am sure!

For 2014, I have noticed how the sessions may have some of the same intro classes for those new to technology, but the remaining sessions are evolving with our learning and understanding. Be prepared for new topics, advanced elements, and increased conversation. This will be MY first year as a speaker, on a subject gaining in popularity: crowdsourcing. Also new for 2014: satellite locations/streaming! At FGS 2013, I signed up my library (The Kentucky Historical Society) to be one of the satellite locations for the live/taped sessions. We have more to learn about this concept, but while an increased number of sessions will be live this year, we are told that even more will be taped, translated, and shared around the globe at various RootsTech Satellite locations. I was notified that my session may be selected for this type of sharing....gee, no pressure! Sweating a little at the thought....

2. Bloggers:
The official blogger list must be fairly well set at this late date as I am seeing more and more bloggers with their official badge added to their page. Alas, I am always a bridesmaid and never a bride in this category....but I have blogged faithfully every year since its inception. I will include a list of my RootsTech posts from the previous years below. I have to say that last year became a little controversial as the conference organizers chose to branch out to non-genealogy bloggers. This was a great idea in principle, but not successful in application. From what we could tell, only ONE of the non-genealogy bloggers chose to attend RootsTech and blog about it....very sad. Many of us hope they branch out to new or different genealogy bloggers out there this year, or we will have the same problem - repeat list of the same super-popular bloggers - who don't always blog about it throughout the conference.

Ripple effect: The trend of "official bloggers" has taken a firm hold on almost all genealogy conferences, both large and small. Due to some of the things learned at RootsTech over the years, the other conferences have embraced slightly different approaches: allowing bloggers to sign-up instead of appointing them, calling them ambassadors instead of bloggers, experimenting with Twitter users (as micro-bloggers). I hope RootsTech pays attention to the way other conferences are handling this situation - I think the other conferences have adapted and circumnavigated the troubling aspects much quicker.

3. Twitter:
I can't even remember if I was using Twitter in 2011. I don't remember Twitter being as big of an element at RootsTech that first year - but the second year - whoa!! By 2012, Twitter was large and in charge! The giant placards were around reminding people to tweet with the proper hashtag, and the big screens were up, letting us see the live Twitter feed about RootsTech. That was very exciting! I can remember tweeting and engaging with other Twitter users in the main hall during the opening sessions. That really enhanced the experience for me....I loved it, and continue to love that wonderful use of Twitter.

Ripple effect: The other major conferences took note, and now, with each conference I attend, Twitter conversation is lively, engaging, and educational! I am even seeing the large TV screens set to run Twitter highlights or feeds, just like RootsTech. A marvelous addition!

4. Un-Conferencing Sessions:
By far, this was my favorite feature of the new RootsTech concept. Bringing developers and users into the same arena for dialogue and engagement was brilliant! Over the years, I have seen this increase, and hope it continues to play a major roll in what we get out of RootsTech each year. I also hope the trend moves a little bit more centrist in collaboration - not so much developer to developer and user to user, but more developer to user, etc. I think that is vital to developing products that are genealogist/user friendly.

Ripple effect: I have noticed the major conferences trying to implement this feature - but while the opportunity to engage is there, folks have not warmed to this idea outside of the RootsTech arena. I hope people realize its value and participate more, but some things may not convey well outside of RootsTech....or they may just take a little bit more time.

5. Future:
While I am very excited about RootsTech 2014, the big talk on campus is 2015 when FGS and RootsTech converge at the same time, in the same conference venue. The Salt Palace is large enough to accommodate two conferences at once. Each year I have attended, there has been a different type of conference on the other side of the building. Although, I am confused about logistics when it comes to the sessions and exhibit hall contents. FGS already has a tech track, just as NGS does - which is another ripple effect from RootsTech - some of the sessions are FROM RootsTech that year. Plus, the exhibit hall for RootsTech is clearly more tech focused - even booksellers were a big controversy one year. Oh well, I'm sure we will learn more later as the those in charge hammer out the details....but one thing is for certain: I anticipate MORE streaming sessions each year. Perhaps one day, all of RootsTech will have an online only pass....wouldn't THAT be awesome!

For your reading pleasure - My Journeys Past RootsTech Anthology:
RootsTech 2011: My Take

Distinction of Honor @ RootsTech!

RootsTech Rebuttal

Perspectives: RootsTech 2012

RootsTech Bound Kentuckians?

RootsTech Day 1

RootsTech Roundup

RootsTech Virtual Edition

Pandora's Box: Official Bloggers

RootsTech Rowdies in Google+


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