25 February 2011

RootsTech Two Weeks After

RootsTech from a Distance
I want to follow up with some thoughts about RootsTech after two weeks of beating my skull against the wall as to why it unexpectedly blew me away. There's nothing like stepping back to give you a different perspective.

Movement of Information
Massive tree from very close up
As I keep saying, it's not about the gadgets, but more about a slow but massive shift in how information is processed and disseminated. This is on two fronts: first, it marks the beginning of a stronger demarcation between the amateur and professional genealogist. And second, it is the start of a merging between those who use the information (genealogists) and those who connect it to us (software developers). And let me just clarify that it is not actually the start of these shifts, but just my own awareness of them. That's what blew me away. It has been happening and I wasn't looking beyond the trees to see the forest.

The Newbies are Coming, The Newbies are Coming!
We're all in the same boat
Whilst networking I asked a lot of questions about the process of filming the Who Do You Think You Are episodes, and the responses forced me to rethink some of my previous statements. Last year I mistakenly assumed that the actors were acting. I've been told, however, that they were led along during filming in a manner similar to a true research process (if somewhat facilitated). What I now understand is that most of them actually were quite interested in the process itself, and the details along the way, and were just as vulnerable to the genealogy virus as the rest of humankind. What we saw on film was their first reaction to information, not something contrived. They took notes, even if the final edit didn't show them doing so. They may be famous but they are just as vulnerable on the inside as the rest of us. WDYTYA is helping people understand the mystery of their ancestry and the excitement of the hunt, and it's going to create a huge influx of newbies. Newbies, by the way, only consider themselves "beginners" BEFORE they log on to Ancestry. Once they've messed around on the internet for a bit, most of them promote themselves to intermediate. And that's okay, but they need to realize that they will naturally have gaps in the information they have acquired. I'll leave that to the educators in the field to sort out!

What is Good Enough?
Step back to gain perspective
As the interest in genealogy starts to permeate the culture we can see that it is time to make a pronounced break between amateur and professional genealogists. People are attracted to genealogy because they want to know about their families: they don't want to write academic papers! Rather than dread this and fear the fate of standards, we can simplify the process, possibly with the use of well crafted programs like RootsMagic. Amateurs should not have to maintain the same standards as professionals, rather they can work towards professional citations and proof standards on a continuum. Not everyone is going to be able, or even want to produce the same kind of work as a professional. This does not mean that it cannot be valid research. As long as some kind of minimal source citation is given, it may just have to be up to the professional to validate it. There has to be an acceptable lowest common denominator of source citation. This is very freeing because I always feel like the lone defender of citations. I don't harp on proper format with neophytes, but it's always in the back of my mind that someday they will learn to love them. I do try and make everyone see that they will be a lot happier if they manage to jot down where their information is from. Now I can encourage people to just start in, be aware of the where their information is coming from, and trust that in time they will come to understand how helpful it is to have accurate source citations. That's how I learned the lesson: I hadn't noted where I got a certain document, went back to find it, and realized that it existed in many forms and all iterations were not equal. After you spend a day looking for one tiny lost bit of information you finally realize it's worth writing it down when you first find it. And the more you research, the more you feel the repercussions of not doing so. Let's just help everyone understand a simple way to keep track of their research.

I Loves Me a Good Techie!
Extreme nerdiness incarnate
The most critical issue confronting genealogists and technologists at this time is the gedcom standard. I am currently suffering badly from using one genealogy program on one platform and trying to export it, citations and all, to another program on another platform. Citations don't like this method of travel and are rebelling against it. Come to find out (and I sort of knew this, but conveniently forgot), each genie software program makes enhancements to their programs that allow the user to add much useful data. What we users aren't always aware of is where the line between information and exportable information is drawn. Since genealogy is to be disseminated and shared amongst family members and other interested parties, this presents an enormous obstacle. RootsTech gave us an opportunity to open a critical dialogue between genealogists and programmers which will end decades of frustration of people on both sides of the divide. Boundaries will melt away and that will encourage us all to explore new, shared territory, and in the process become more creative.

New genealogists have a world of information to share with us, so let's welcome them with open arms, help them learn effective techniques and teach them to love software developers! Bring on RootsTech 2012 (v. 2.0)!

4 comments:

Joan Miller said...

Hi Polly,
I enjoyed your perspective on Rootstech and feel much the same way. This was an amazing conference and I too look forward to V 2.0. See you there!

Joan

Becky Jamison said...

What a refreshing post, Polly. Loved it!

Family Curator said...

Thanks for the post-party review. I agree that a bit of time gives perspective and it's interesting to see what has stuck with you most from that week in SLC.

I'm looking forward to meeting you at NERGC and sharing blogger tales.

Lisa Swanson Ellam said...

I’ve awarded you the One Lovely Blog Award! Please visit my blog at http://thefacesofmyfamily.blogspot.com/ to pick up your award!