Friday, February 3, 2012

My First Day at the RootsTech Conference

Elizabeth Clark, Geoff Rasmussen & Elyse Doerflinger
Photo courtesy of Randy Seaver
Yesterday I spent the better part of the day attending the RootsTech Conference. I can hear most of you saying, "I thought she was skipping the conference and staying in Boston." Yes, I did stay in Boston but I absolutely did not skip the conference! And what a busy day I had. I think the only difference for me was that I didn't get to bump into lots of friends and colleagues.

A Virtual Point of View

I started my RootsTech day off at 10:30am EST. That was 8:30am MST when the conference got started. I attended the keynote session presented by Jay Verkler, President and CEO of FamilySearch.

I was most impressed by the accessibility and video and sound quality of the live-streamed presentation. The presentation was viewable by simple going to the main url for the RootsTech Conference. The video quality made me feel like I had a front row seat to the keynote session. The sound came through clearly with no blips. The only bump was when they showed videos on a screen. This occurred twice. My internet bandwith couldn't keep up with live-streaming that included an extra video presentation within and at times it got blurry.

Verkler talked about the future of genealogy in his presentation "Inventing the Future, as a Community." At various points during the presentation Verkler brought on stage folks from Google, brightsolid and one other company (regrettably I am forgetting the name). He clearly demonstrated not only a vision for the future but productive outreach to mainstream technology developers who are creating the future of software, the internet and services on the cloud.

RootsTech is seeking to harness mainstream technology to push genealogy forward. This was shown by the demonstration of behind the scenes innovations that we every-day genealogists don't normally see. These include schema to tag genealogical records for easier delivery on search engines, improving the gedcom protocol and an innovative electronic way for compiling and sharing genealogical information on individual ancestors.

The keynote session brought home why RootsTech truly is different from other conferences. It is one thing to share technology tips and completely another to embrace mainstream developers like Google and contribute to shaping the future of technology that will benefit genealogists as a whole. RootsTech should not suffer from an identity crisis about whether they are techy enough (as exemplified by their early denial of booksellers in the exhibitor hall).  They clearly have technology covered and are providing a greater service by bringing all the technology partners to the table.  This really is not your grandma's genealogy conference.

Josh Taylor Selling the Cloud

At 1:00pm I snuggled up to my laptop to watch Josh Taylor present "Do I Trust the Cloud." I have to admit that Josh Taylor is one of my favorite presenters and I would be completely biased reviewing his talk. Josh tried to sell the audience on the concept of using the cloud for file backup and collaborating with other users. I think he succeeded in presenting a convincing argument all the while providing an interesting and entertaining talk. I strongly believe is using the cloud. I'm just not sure exactly how much information I want to put out there. As far as genealogy files are concerned, yes, they should definitely be on the cloud. Josh's talk was educational and reinforced the overall high level technology aura of the conference.

Genealogy Idol

I had to miss the third live-streamed presentation in order to give one of my own! Not only I am attending RootsTech virtually but I also participated virtually.  At 3:45pm I was one of four contestants who competed for the ever title of Genealogy Idol sponsored by Legacy Family Tree Software. The hour was like 12 rapid fire webinars all in one. The other contestants included Elyse Doerflinger and Elizabeth Clark live at RootsTech and Michael Hait presenting virtually from Delaware. In three rounds the contestants had three minutes apiece to present their best technology tip, a serendipity story and their favorite genealogy or technology website.

Although I was participating, I learned so much from the other presenters. The tech tip round was my favorite. Michael demonstrated a great tip on how to automate the creation of citations. I hope he will write it up as a blog post and share it with everyone. Elyse convinced me that I should give OneNote a try. Since I have the software already on my computer I really have no excuse for not trying it out.  And Elizabeth gave a wonderful presentation on DeedMapper. Makes me want to call her after the conference to see if I can get a personal tutorial.

In the end the audience voted via the survey question function in the webinar software. To my great surprise I was conferred with the title of Genealogy Idol. But all around I think all the contestants won and it was a resounding success. Thanks to Legacy for putting on the competition.

Not Over Yet

I thought I had a fairly complete day after the Genealogy Idol competition but my first conference day wasn't over yet.  I soon tuned in to Thomas MacEntee's presentation "Twitter - It's Not Just "What I Had for Breakfast" Anymore." While I know a lot about Twitter (being a social media junkie) I was very interested to hear the questions from the audience about what they wanted to know about Twitter. It helped me gauge how people are embracing social media and what their concerns are.

I wrapped up the day watching a presentation by Barbara Renick. It was a bit of a sentimental journey for me because the first genealogy book I ever read was Renick's Genealogy 101.  She presented a topic with an intriguing title "Eleven Layers of Online Searches." Her talk went into great detail about how to get the most out of FamilySearch and online research. I learned quite a few things that I was previously unfamiliar with.

Virtual Attendance

I was tired come the end of the day. It was a full day even for a virtual attendee. But perhaps not so exhausting for me as the in-person attendees. I was able to sneak into the kitchen for food whenever I got hungry instead of being left to find something from a vendor or restaurant. Bathrooms breaks were no problem and my walking was limited. But I did miss out on the excitement and networking that all the attendees in Salt Lake City are enjoying. However, given the circumstances I was pretty satisfied with my first day.


  1. I'm hoping to catch some of it today as well. Thanks for the info about yesterday's sessions.

  2. I was glued to the computer all day, too. Wonderful opportunity!

  3. Excellent recap, Marian. I too was impressed by the quality of the streaming and the feeling of being connected to RootsTech from afar. Congratulations on being named Genealogy Idol and thanks for the great tips you presented!

  4. Great post, Marian. I also attended some of the virtual sessions.

  5. Congratulations on your win. I was also glued to the live feed and terribly impressed with the quality and content. When RootsTech is over, I'll watch the Genealogy Idol webinar, even though I already know the winner! Debbie