Scroll down to see my many pictures of the conference. You can click on any image to view a larger picture.
I never heard the final RootsTech attendance numbers, but I do know that more than 3,000 attendees had registered by Saturday morning. There may have been a few more walk-in registrations later in the day. In addition, admittance to the RootsTech Community Zone Expo Hall was free with no registration required. I did meet a number of people who took advantage of the free admittance offer as well, so the final attendance number, including registered and non-registered attendees, obviously was well above 3,000. I believe this is a record number for a genealogy conference in North America. That's a significant number for a first-ever event!
Conference chair Anne Roach addresses the crowd of 3,000+
My impression of "rock concert" developed at the keynote speech on the first morning of the conference. Shane Robison, Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Technology Officer of Hewlett Packard, was introduced amid a flurry of lights and music. It certainly was "hoopla" but was done in a manner of good taste. Four huge computer screens flanked the stage. These screens were each about ten feet tall and perhaps 12 or 14 feet wide, giving all 3,000 or so attendees in the room an excellent view of the events on stage. That was the first thing that reminded me of a few rock concerts I have attended.
Jay Verkler, CEO of FamilySearch International, also added some welcoming words. It was obvious that Jay was enjoying himself as he already felt confident that his staff had prepared an outstanding event.
After the speeches, 3,000 people exited the room and headed for the RootsTech Community Zone Expo Hall, where they were greeted by several things never seen at a genealogy conference before:
First of all, the RootsTech Community Zone Expo Hall was huge. There was so much room that it was not the least bit crowded as 3,000 people wandered the aisles the first few minutes. The crowd thinned out as presentations and workshops began a bit later but remained uncrowded throughout the event.
A special stage was available on one side of the hall for product demonstrations, shown in the picture to the left.
A family history mini–lab included twenty or thirty computer workstations set up, along with printers. These systems were online and were running the same software as those at the nearby Family History Library. Everyone at the conference could access the FamilySearch databases in exactly the same manner as could visitors to the library, yet they did not have to visit the library in person. (NOTE: The Family History Library also was open for extended hours during the conference.)
The bloggers in attendance enjoyed a media center that included power outlets, hard-wired Internet access, and a relaxation area with couches and soft chairs. Two "fishbowl" glass rooms were available for recording interviews. One of the rooms was equipped with a television camera, and a professional cameraman was available all day to operate it. The other room was designated as the place for recording audio interviews. I spent a lot of time in the media center and hope to post the audio and video interviews I recorded on the www.eogn.com web site in the next few days.
Everyone had access to an Internet Cafe that included computers and Internet access.
Finally, perhaps the most surprising place of all was the RootsTech Playground, sponsored by Microsoft. It was equipped with three Microsoft Xbox 360 systems with Kinect game stations connected to huge video monitors, along with a ping-pong table, a pool table, two chess boards, and other games. This was designated as a relaxation area for all conference attendees and vendors. When was the last time you saw Xbox 360 games, a ping-pong table, or a pool table at a genealogy conference? I was fascinated with the Xbox and Kinect devices. I saw people boxing, bowling, and enjoying other Kinect games all day long for three days.
I was surprised by the absence of several well-known genealogy vendors who offer online databases, software, or DNA products and services. It appears they missed an excellent sales opportunity. However, the vendors who did attend seemed delighted with sales. Late on Saturday, I talked with several of the vendors and asked them about their sales at the conference. Every one of the people I talked with was smiling and reported that sales had been excellent. One vendor unexpectedly sold everything they brought on the first day of the conference and had to have more inventory sent by overnight air freight.
Of course, every conference has presentations and workshops. The RootsTech Conference had the same. Some of the presentations were aimed at newcomers, but many others were aimed at intermediate to advanced users, and some were for software developers. After all, this was billed as the place where "you can connect with others who are interested in finding technological solutions for genealogical problems." Indeed, that billing turned out to be accurate.
I participated in a panel discussion on cloud computing for genealogists. I was surprised by the good questions asked by audience members. Cloud computing is a relatively new concept in the genealogy world, and yet these people understood it well!
There were far too many presentations for me to describe. You can see the complete list of presentations and presenters at the RootsTech Conference at http://rootstech.familysearch.org/sessions.php
In fact, the biggest "complaint" that I heard is that there were too many sessions! Attendees couldn't attend all the sessions they wanted. Of course, that is simultaneously both a complaint and a compliment.
One item that was new to me was the "unconferencing sessions." These unscripted and unplanned sessions were designed to encourage collaboration and discussion about conference topics. Obviously, the "unconferencing sessions" were not listed in the schedule as they all were last-minute sessions conceived and scheduled after the conference had started.
NOTE: There was no high tech here! The picture to the right is of the scheduling board for the "unconference" sessions.
Each day started with a keynote speech. I already mentioned that of Shane Robison, Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Technology Officer of Hewlett Packard, given on Thursday morning. He talked about a number of things, but most of the commentary centered on "cloud computing" and how it solves numerous problems. One thing mentioned in his speech that stuck in my mind is the rapid urbanization of the world. He stated that cities around the world are growing at the equivalent rate of another Beijing being added every two months. I spent a lot of time in Beijing and know it is a big city. Adding that number of people to other cities every two months is a mind-boggling statistic.
Shane went on to describe this new worldwide growing market. Many new Internet users have never used a traditional desktop or laptop computer. Instead, they access their email, the World Wide Web, and other online services with "smartphone" cell phones, handheld tablets, and similar mobile devices. He predicted that, within a few years, the MAJORITY of web usage will be from mobile devices, not from desktop or even laptop computers. This will be true in all markets, not just the third-world countries. While not a genealogist himself, Shane suggested that genealogy providers need to offer their services to mobile and desktop users alike.
Friday's keynote speech was delivered by Curt Witcher, well-known in genealogy circles as the Historical Genealogy Department Manager of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have heard Curt speak perhaps ten times before, but on Friday morning he was "on fire," the best I have ever heard from him. He paced back and forth on stage, his voice quiet at times and elevated at other times. He got the audience fired up. I thoroughly enjoyed his speech.
Curt offered his views on a number of topics, but most of the talk centered on providing enjoyable experiences for all genealogists, newcomers and long-time researchers alike. In short, all family history research needs to be fun. He implored the audience to provide enjoyable experiences for all. He used examples from visitors to his own library of an adolescent with learning disabilities, an elderly lady trying to learn more about her deceased husband's experiences in World War II, and more. Curt pointed out that today's researchers of family history now include everyone, not just the senior citizens that many people traditionally think of when mentioning the word "genealogist."
Saturday morning's keynote speech was given by Brewster Kahle (pronounced "Kale"), Founder of the Internet Archive and of the Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org. I have followed his activities for years and have written about the services he created a number of times. You can read my 2006 article about Brewster Kahle at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2006/06/brewster_kahles.html and a 2009 article at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/10/16-million-ebooks-on-a-laptop.html. In addition, last year I provided a pointer to an article about Brewster Kahle published in USA Today at http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-07-14-InternetArchive14_st_N.htm
In addition, you can read a number of my previous articles about the Internet Archive if you start at http://blog.eogn.com/.services/blog/6a00d8341c767353ef00e55065e13d8833/search?filter.q=%22Internet+Archive%22
I got out of bed early on Saturday just so I could listen to Brewster Kahle's speech. I wasn't disappointed. He talked a lot about making the world's information available to everyone, whether they live in Beverly Hills or in a village without electricity in Uganda. He showed pictures taken in Uganda, India, and other countries. In one case, an eight- or nine-year-old child was standing in front of an Archives.org "bookmobile" in Uganda. The van had a satellite dish on the roof and a high speed printer and paperback book binding machine inside. The van would print public domain books on demand, and then the van's driver would give the books away, free of charge. The youngster was holding such a book, the first book he had ever owned in his life.
Another statistic that Brewster Kahle offered amazed me. He said that the Internet Archive can print and give away a typical book for about one dollar. For a small children's book, the price will be a bit less. For Tolstoy's War and Peace, it will be a bit more, but the average is a dollar a book, even in third-world countries. There is never a charge to the recipient, although donations are accepted. In fact, the Internet Archive operates solely on donations.
Numerous American libraries have performed cost studies of their expenses. Brewster pointed out that the average labor and overhead costs to an American library to issue a book, track it, process it back in when the patron returns it, and then to re-shelve the book is three dollars per book. In other words, it is cheaper to give a book away than it is to return a book, track it, and re-shelve it!
Brewster Kahle wants to give away the world's knowledge, both online and on paper. This is a man who is living his dream to make the world a better place. I admire and envy him.
I had the honor of interviewing Brewster Kahle one-on-one later in the day, and I plan to have a video of the interview available on www.eogn.com within a few days.
Another thing that caught my eye was the average age of the attendees at the conference. Most genealogy conferences attract an older crowd. To be sure, there were many retirees and other grey-haired individuals at RootsTech. However, intermixed with the more mature attendees, I saw many younger people, including several couples pushing baby carriages. The RootsTech Community Zone Expo Hall game area was especially popular with the adolescents.
“After hours” events included a planetarium tour, extended hours at the nearby Family History Library, and a special screening of the “Who Do You Think You Are?” television program, also held at the Library.
The high point of my three days at the RootsTech conference occurred a few hours after the conference ended, when 73 readers of this newsletter met for dinner at a nearby hotel. We played “Genealogy Jeopardy.” I'll write about that experience in a separate article.
All in all, more than three thousand genealogists attended the RootsTech Conference with smiles on their faces. Everyone I talked with reported that they loved the event. I found zero exceptions. You can learn more about this year's event at http://rootstech.familysearch.org/
To program chair Anne Roach, to FamilySearch CEO Jay Verkler, and to the many, many other people who helped produce this great event, I can only say, "Thank you for a job well done."
Now for perhaps the biggest news of all: the organizers are going to repeat the event next year! RootsTech 2012 will be held at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City on February 2 through 4, 2012. Mark your calendars now!
Several major sponsors have already committed to the same levels of support or even more for the 2012 event. I know that at least two exhibitors who were not at this year's event have already reserved booth space for next year, and I suspect there are more. Obviously, the organizers will benefit from the learning experiences of this year. I expect that the next RootsTech will be even bigger and better than this year's record-breaking event. I have already made my reservations for RootsTech 2012.