Sunday, February 20, 2011

Say Cheese: Wisconsin Collection Cataloged into Live Roots

Today, I added the University of Wisconsin's "State of Wisconsin Collection," to the Live Roots catalog. This collection of over 800 items includes published material as well as archival materials, digitized from a variety of formats including books, manuscripts, sound recordings, photographs, maps and other resources.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Genealogy News - Monthly Edition (January 2011)

Catch up on the top stories mentioned in The Genealogy News service throughout the month by reading the Monthly Edition! Visit our News Center at to download the PDF for January 2011.

Monday, February 14, 2011

RootsTech 2011: Was it a Smashing Success?

While everyone who attended came with their own expectations, and success can easily be measured as to whether RootsTech met or exceeded them, overall success should be measured in two ways -- how long the buzz lasts and what tangible projects/services launch (and/or are significantly enhanced) as a result.

First, RootsTech has clearly created a buzz in the genealogy industry. On Sunday, I googled "rootstech" and there were 29,600 hits. This morning, I repeated the search and there were 35,400 hits. Right now (3:00 PM EST), there are 37,700 hits. And the amount of chatter on Facebook and Twitter is also remarkable. For RootsTech to be considered a "success", this needs to last for more than a week or so. Most genealogy conference attendees return to their homes with a heightened enthusiasm for researching their family history, but (often) upon returning to reality, life resumes interrupting their genealogy and the buzz fades.

Second, throughout the sessions, and in all corners of the Salt Palace convention center, discussions (some planned, many spontaneous) took place where genealogists and technologists shared ideas and brainstormed on how to resolve problems. A good measure of the impact RootsTech has had on the genealogy industry will be the number of ideas that are implemented and released within the next twelve months. This may include new products/services, enhancements to existing ones and/or partnerships that create synergies that benefit genealogists.

Here are some of the ideas and the resulting enhancements planned for Genealogy Today (in no particular order):

1. "Weekly Buzz" feature for The Genealogy News. Between now and RootsTech 2012, we'll feature one of the top 50 genealogy web sites with a short review each week. Inspired by Kory Meyerink's session.

2. Re-evaluate/Simplify database search forms. Inspired by Ian Tester's session "Future Directions in the Search for Family History."

3. Provide Audio Versions of articles. Inspired by Anne Roach's session "Letting Technology Work for You," where it was mentioned that the current versions of text-2-speech software applications can actually perform text-2-mp3 files!

4. Integration of OneGreatFamily API into Live Roots. The Live Roots search engine also powers the surname & resource searches at Genealogy Today. Inspired by conversation with Rob Armstrong.

5. Integration of API into Live Roots. Inspired by conversation with Christopher and Debora Gill.

6. Expand Free Data Archive at Genealogy Today. Hosting of small collections was consolidated and redesigned in 2010 (check out free genealogy data). Inspired by conversation with Brewster Kahle (The Internet Archive).

7. Implement use of RDF tags throughout Genealogy Today. Inspired by Christopher Starr's session "Semantic Web Meets the Family Social Graph."

8. Minify all Javascript files, and conduct performance review. Inspired by Aaron Barker's session "Creating Faster Websites."

9.  Explore outsourcing document imaging. Inspired by conversation with ReadyMicro Inc.

10. Add QR Codes to business cards & exhibit booth materials. Inspired by conversation with Thomas MacEntee.

11. Evaluate potential sources for addition to The Genealogy News. Inspired by multiple conversations and suggestions.

12. Develop a training course for the Subscription Data area of Genealogy Today. Inspired by conversation with Louise St Denis (The National Institute for Genealogical Studies).

In addition, I've compiled an internal list of objectives to improve how Genealogy Today is marketed, both online and to libraries & societies.

I'd like to challenge everyone who attended RootsTech 2011 to make a list of the ideas generated by your attendance at the conference and/or whenever you release a new feature/product/service in the next twelve months, be sure to mention that it resulted from a conversation(s) held at the show.

It would be interesting if someone at FamilySearch was charged with the task of tracking every new blog (as announced by Thomas MacEntee on Geneabloggers) to see if the blog creator had attended RootsTech 2011. The result would be a very tangible indicator of RootsTech's influence on the blogging sector.

And, finally, an easy measure of the success of RootsTech will be the attendance at the 2012 conference (scheduled for February 2-4 in Salt Lake City). Will you be there?

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!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

RootsTech 2011: The Future of Genealogy Looks Bright

Day Two of the RootsTech conference was equally packed with informative sessions, catering to both the technologists and genealogists in attendance. In the past, FamilySearch has hosted annual developers' conferences, but as isolated events. Bringing these two groups together not only encourages the sharing of information between programmer and end-user, but it should highlight for genealogists that there are a significant number of technologies and technological initiatives that will make online research more productive, while allowing more collaboration and communication.

One of the aspects I am enjoying about the RootsTech sessions is that they offer both guidance (for now) and vision (for later). Kory Meyerink from ProGenealogists/ gave a session on Effective Database Search Tactics (today), while Ian Tester from BrightSolid/ reviewed some of the shortcomings of present day genealogy search tools and a more appropriate mindset developers should be using while the next generation tools are built in his session called Future Directions in the Search for Family History.

Likewise, this dual approach to a genealogy conference offers both groups (genealogists and technologists) an opportunity to learn about the challenges they are each facing. At the past developers' conferences, all of the sessions were focused (as you would expect) on developer issues, and most genealogy conferences cater to the needs of the genealogist. RootsTech lets the two catch of glimpse of the present day struggles and what the future might hold.

Being able to sit in a session such as Anne Roach's Letting Technology Work for You, not only gave me an excellent update on recent improvements in both text-to-speach and voice recognition technology, but based on the audience (primarily genealogists) reactions and questions, helps me validate the value of implementing some of these tools as part of my own existing and future projects. Simple things that will involve minimal costs, might make some of the content I publish regularly more accessible for some genealogists.

As the conference is quickly unfolding, the vibe created by the RootsTech opening session is clearly being carried throughout the session rooms and exhibit hall. Genealogists and technologists are learning about existing solutions and future technology, but more importantly, the two groups are learning about the challenges and successes each other face.

I'm excited not only to see what topics and issues Day Three will address, but how quickly we will be able to see some of the initiatives discussed here at RootsTech implemented after we all head back to our homes. If you weren't sure what RootsTech was going to offer and decided not to attend, take another look at the web site, and consider joining us in 2012 (RootsTech is scheduled for February 2-4, 2012 here in Salt Lake City).

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.