The RootsTech conference kicked off this morning in Salt Lake City with more than 4,100 attendees. No, that number is not a misprint. More than four thousand one hundred genealogists pre-registered. However, when I walked past the registration desk in mid-morning, I saw a long line of people waiting to purchase tickets at the door. Unofficially, I was told that the number of attendees had risen to more than 4,400 by late afternoon. That number certainly will rise further during the next two days of the conference.
RootsTech is now by far the most popular genealogy conference in North America.
At last year's RootsTech, I wrote that the opening session was like a rock concert with noise, hubbub, and excitement. This year's event struck me as more like a country and western performance: loud and exciting, but not quite as raucous as last year. Nonetheless, this year's session felt very comfortable, as you would expect at a country and western concert.
After introductory remarks by several people, today's keynote speech was given by Jay Verkler, past CEO of FamilySearch. Jay talked quite a bit about the genealogy audience, especially changes expected in that audience in the future. Of course, FamilySearch wishes to serve that audience well.
Jay painted an interesting picture of genealogy in the year 2060. World population will increase from today's 7 billion to approximately 9.5 billion people. Most families can learn about individuals born in the 1900s without visiting libraries and archives; all they have to do is ask older family members. Individuals born in the 1600s or earlier are often difficult to locate, due to a lack of records. As a result, most of today's genealogists spend the majority of their time researching a relatively small number of ancestors born in the 1700s and 1800s.
Statistics from Jay's talk include:
- Roughly 6 billion people were born between 1750 and 1900
- Roughly 14 billion people have been born since 1900
- By 2060, about 20 billion will have been born since 1900
- Most of us already have personal memory, records, and even photos of most of these later individuals.
This focus on ancestors born in the 1700s and 1800s will continue, even as the population increases and as the Internet makes records available to more people. We will continue to focus on the 1700s and 1800s, with occasional research on earlier or later generations. While the number of genealogists will increase with the growth of our population, they will all be studying the same rather small set of ancestors from the 1700s and 1800s.
Jay made a comment that sticks in my mind: "Genealogy must be a collaborative experience." After all, our ever-expanding number of genealogists is focusing on the ame pool of ancestors. FamilySearch is developing new software tools and methodologies to assist in this collaboration. One change is that genealogy is changing from an activity done by individuals to a group collaborative effort.
Some other announcements made in the keynote speech include:
- A second archive location is to be built to create a digital duplicate of the records presently stored in the Granite Mountain near Salt Lake City. The new location has not yet been announced.
- A new GEDCOM is being developed by FamilySearch. The new GEDCOM standard is being called GedcomX.
GEDCOM already is a multi-usage standard:
- It is an exchange standard to exchange data between different computer programs
- GedcomX will have an API
- GEDCOM is also a reposotory of sorts, data is often stored in GEDCOM format
Today's GEDCOM is a repository for conclusion sharing, not a research tool
The new GedcomX will have:
- Links to external information as well as embedded information
- Ease import and export
- Importance of semantics (what is the behavior of a given word?)
Robert Gardner and Dave Barney, software engineers from Google, have been working on improving Google products for genealogical research. The two were introduced to the RootsTech audience and they gave a very brief description of their projects:
- A large amount of genealogy information is available online today but little of it is findable by search engines
- Microdata is an HTML5 standard mechanism for embedding machine-readable data in a web page
- Schema.org provides a collection of schemas but doesn't work well with genealogy data
- Historical-data.org extends Schema.org to preserve historical information
- Historical-data.org provides clear labels and semantic information
The two then went on to describe a Chrome web browser extension that displays pedigree information in an easy-to-understand format, readable by the human eye, complete with links to the sources. The browser extension is available today.
At the end of the keynote session, roughly 4,000 genealogists descended on the exhibits hall simultaneously. It was very crowded. I couldn't get much accomplished in that crowd so I left for mor than an hour. When I returned, things had settled down and I started talking with many of the vendors.
I saw a number of new vendors at RootsTech 2012 that I had not seen at conferences before, although perhaps not as many new vendors as at last year's event. I'll include pictures in a separate article.
Of course, one of the major attractions of RootsTech is all the presentations on technology-related topics. Today was full of such presentations. I cannot list them all here but you can find them at http://rootstech.org/. You can also see videos of many of today's events at the same web site.
I'll be back at RootsTech tomorrow for Day #2 and hope to write about the things I see and hear there.
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