Friday, February 11, 2011

RootsTech 2011: It's A Small World After All

The RootsTech conference kicked off yesterday with a solid splash, provided by two keynote speakers; Shane Robison from Hewlett Packard, followed by Jay Verkler from FamilySearch. Mr. Robison offered an exciting glimpse of a future filled with communication and collaboration, and Mr. Verkler provided some genealogical perspective to compliment this anticipated technical explosion. And while both presentations were excellent, I kept feeling something was missing from the equation.

The technologist in me followed along totally in sync with a fully-connected future, information on demand, wherever and whenever. The marketing part of my brain, often the voice of reason when I contemplate launching new projects, was sending out some "hey, slow down cowboy" signals, but I couldn't figure out why. And finally, the genealogist in me wasn't quite sure either. It all sounds great, more handheld devices with greater capabilities, and endless backend server capacity in the cloud, but will the research process itself ever change significantly (and, better yet, do we even want it to).

If the audience had had an opportunity to ask questions after the opening session, I would have liked to know if the crystal ball offered any projection as to the growth of the pool of genealogists. Do we expect the demographic to expand at rates anywhere near the technology explosion Mr. Robison revealled? Does the continuing evolution of technology make genealogical research more appealing to the next generation? As our current demographic embraces this technology, which a percentage surely will, will they look at their multi-function phone and see it as the gateway to genealogical discoveries?

Both speakers shared great insights from their past experiences (at former non-genealogy companies) of how leaps in technology, combined with the ever-shrinking barriers between programmer and end-user, culminated in solving very difficult problems. I'm left wondering, however, how much of the challenge involved in research do genealogists really want to go away.

Perhaps at future RootsTech conferences (for those interested, RootsTech 2012 is already scheduled: February 2-4, 2012 in Salt Lake City), we should conduct some polls of the attendees and find out what really keeps them so passionately engaged in this hobby; is simply knowing about our past ancestors that drives us, or is it that we were the ones to discover them? How many of us would have the same level of interest in family history if future technological wizardry made our "complete" pedigrees accessible at the click of a button? If there was a ski lift on Mt. Everest, would getting to the top still be such a big deal?

Well, I'm ready for Day Two of RootsTech 2011, and am excited to be a part of this conference which will certainly accomplish something unique for the industry by bringing together developer and genealogists, and encouraging them to work together to improve the research process.

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