Sunday, February 13, 2011

RootsTech 2011: Breaking the Mold & Exceeding Expectations

Day Three (final day) of the RootsTech conference broke the typical genealogy conference mold. At most national conferences, crowds on the last day tend to dwindle, and the exhibit hall often begins shutting down an hour or more before the scheduled time. Not so for RootsTech, crowds on Saturday were comparable to the prior days, and after the Closing Session (which wrapped up around 3:40 PM), many folks were disappointed that the exhibit hall had closed at 3:00 PM.

One of the most interesting sessions on Saturday was the two-part Genealogical Data Standards discussion hosted by the Ancestry Insider. This was an actual working-session, brainstorming the need for standards for saving and sharing genealogical information. This session brought genealogists and technologists/developers into the same room where, along with a white board, they collaborated on this very important topic. I bumped into a genealogy acquaintance (technical end-user) at the airport who had attended this session and he felt that RootsTech (in particular this session) really exceeded his expectations of the conference.

Several people also made very positive comments to me about the open panel discussion held on Friday, "How Do We Define a Person?" moderated by Phil Windley. Again, this audience was a combination of bloggers, developers and technical end-users. It's really wonderful that RootsTech was able to reach beyond what a typical conference offers and facilitate dialogs between these groups.

It wasn't until the last day of RootsTech that I realized two of the session rooms were setup as labs where attendees were receiving some hands-on training. In fact, when I bumped into Barbara Renick, she shared with me that her two 2-hour labs (she taught along with Gena Philibert Ortega) on Microsoft Powerpoint were both packed. The reason I discovered these two lab rooms was that I attempted to attend a session on Saturday, but was turned away (as were several others). I'm sure we'll see additional (or larger) labs at RootsTech 2012.

Another exciting feature of RootsTech were the daily keynotes, and Saturday's opening session was a definite "must see" for anyone attending. As a plus, the opening sessions were free to anyone (conference registration not required), and some were even streamed online for anyone who couldn't attend to watch. So, after two days of being saturated with ideas and forecasts of the future, Brewster Kahle (Founder, The Internet Archive) takes the stage and blows everyone away with the remarkable progress his project has achieved towards the goal of mounting all books, music, video and software online in this permanent repository. I was particularly moved when Mr. Kahle explained how this project was putting books in the hands of people in countries that otherwise would never have the opportunity to read.

When first learning about RootsTech several months ago, I wasn't sure that it would be much different than other national conferences. On the surface, with an exhibit hall and a bunch of sessions, it would seem to have been just another conference, but Anne Roach (conference chair, FamilySearch) and the many folks involved in planning the conference, really turned RootsTech into something unique and special. Bravo!

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