The first annual RootsTech conference came to a screeching halt yesterday afternoon at 4:00 pm and left 4,000 people wondering where we go from here. As I keep broadcasting on Twitter and Facebook, this conference marks the start of a shift in perspective in the genealogical world. I'll describe my own experience and hope it helps explain my bold assertion.
Image via CrunchBaseI usually visit Salt Lake City every January during the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy but this year I couldn't, so instead booked my week to coincide with RootsTech. I figured there would still be lots of people I know and I could visit the Exhibit Hall to network. I didn't plan to attend many sessions. I wasn't coming to play: I had real work to do. Besides, I'm already a techy, so I didn't need to be convinced to enter the 21st century. I love the latest gadgets, monitor new developments and keep up to date. I'm already in constant reach via the internet, being a sad, pathetic geek who actually goes to sleep cradling her iPhone whilst listening to audiobooks, and awakens bleary-eyed (sometimes with the cord wrapped around my neck) to check email, FB status and tweets. What could I possibly learn about technology and genealogy? I'm already all over it. HAH! Wrong! Just goes to show, you don't know what you don't know. It's not about the gadgets.
Before the conference even began there was a soft hum developing. The organizers stayed in touch with attendees, keeping us informed of late-breaking developments. Tuesday we heard there were 2,000 attendees. Compare that to the two major national conferences, sponsored by NGS and FGS, which usually attract about 1,500. The night before it began the number ballooned to 3,000!
Patent-Worthy Circuit Design Engineer,
Enabler of Moore's Law
Just hearing Jay Verkler's bio recited was enough to mark him as someone to whom I need to pay particular attention: obvious software genius, having been with several Silicon Valley companies, the most familiar of which to me was Oracle. But here's the sentence that got me: "Mr. Verkler studied electrical engineering, computer science and chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as Japanese and Asian studies at Harvard University." Except I swear they said Japanese and Chinese... Not your average geek. And he pulled this conference together in the maniacally short period of seven months. Unheard of! He bounced onto the stage and won us over with his passion for spreading knowledge.
Have your cake and eat it, too!
Randy Whited consults the Unconferencing Board
So I keep talking about how everything is changing, but what, exactly?? Curt Witcher, Historical Genealogy Department Manager at the Allen County Public Library was instrumental in forcing me to undergo a fundamental shift in perspective. His keynote moved many of us to tears, over and over again. This is not normal for me, to gently weep during keynotes. Curt's message was "just get the story out there." Instead of harping on WDYTYA producers for not ensuring that white gloves be required, for instance, be delighted that our passion is being introduced to more and more people. Find ways to welcome them, encourage them and help them. And that doesn't mean you start by quoting ESM on source citations. Everyone deserves the chance to know the story of their ancestors. It's about our humanity, the essence of life, our shared journey. We can help them to understand professional concepts later––just connect up with then first, and help them connect with others. And above all, share the results of your own research! Don't be afraid of people stealing your work, just disseminate it!
|Nathan FitzGerald Kimmitt|
Official Welcoming Committee
Barnes Family Reunion
June 2010, Scituate, Massachusetts
Once I heard Curt, I gave myself over and just stayed at the conference. Luckily, I had exhausted most of my research leads, so being in SLC and not at the FHL was tolerable. The nagging guilt was soon overcome by the rush of ideas that flowed for the next two days. The floodgates were opened and our imaginations are finally able to go there. Just as Facebook keeps me connected to family, friends and colleagues in a most intimate way, so will technology enhance my ability to serve my clients. I will provide them with a better service because my product will not just be a written report with charts and a gedcom, but I will attempt to bring the passion I feel for their families to them as well. I will encourage newbies and not cringe (much) when they say, "I'll remember where I found that, I don't need to cite my sources." I won't talk about ESM until the third date. And I will be tireless in advocating to local societies the need for them to take their mission online. Otherwise, they will fail. I will help them find a way to bridge the gap between computerless members and the rest, and I will show them that the only way to attract new members, and members in large quantity, is via the internet,
RootsTech 2011 was an amazing accomplishment. The organizers dared to patch this together in a mere seven months, and there were some issues. As I mentioned, registration was jammed. It was hard to find individual lecture notes in the syllabus. They could have used a few traffic monitors. But hese are minor considerations and inconveniences that were easily tolerated by attendees because the reward to being present was so great. Organizers are going to have their hands full preparing for next year's RootsTech. I can't imagine how they will pull it off again, given the exponential nature of the power of technology to atttract attendees apparently, but the innovation in the minds of those planning this event is impressive. I can't wait for RootsTech 2012 (v. 2.0!) and I hope to see you there 2-4 February 2012. We'll have fun!