Saturday was the third and final day of RootsTech 2012. The third day was a continuation of the first and second days. Great presentations were made and the Exhibitors Hall was as busy as ever.
The first session of the morning featured a focus on the RootsTech Contest Winners. The third place winner turned out to be two winners in a tie: the "20 Minute Genealogist" created by a team at the BYU Computer Science Department and "Facetree" by Ellie Rasmus. Second place was awarded to Brooke Schreier Ganz for "LeafSeek."
The grand prize winner was Jimmy Zimmerman with "NoteFuser."
All of these applications qualify as winners. You can view more about the winning applications by clicking on the highlighted terms above.
The keynote speech of the day was delivered by Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry.com, accompanied by four of his colleagues from the company. The phrase that stuck in my mind was near the beginning when Tim referred to "this ridiculously successful conference." Indeed, that was true. Ridiculous or not, RootsTech 2012 was very successful.
I never obtained the final attendance numbers but it probably was about 4,400 to 4,500 attendees. Not bad for a genealogy conference!
Much discussion about the operations of Ancestry.com followed, especially the abnormal load placed on the Ancestry.com servers the previous evening during the first episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"
I have written several times about the growth of mobile applications for use in genealogy. The Ancestry.com executives seemed to verify the predictions:
- The Ancestry.com app for smartphones has been downloaded 2 million times
- Smartphone users have contributed 2 million hints to Ancestry.com
- 1 million photos have been uploaded from mobile devices
- a high percentage of the mobile users do not use traditional access from desktop or laptop computers to access Ancestry.com
- 12% of all visits to Ancestry.com are by mobile devices
- Designing apps to display information on tiny screens forces the web designers to squeeze focused information into a tiny screen. As a result, the designers must focus on what is most important to display on the first screen with supplementary info on secondary screens. As a result, Ancestry.com probably will build many new products on mobile access first, then later expand the products to larger screen devices. The result will be a focus on placing the most important info on a less-cluttered first screen.
- Genealogy has typically been a solitary pursuit within the family. The wave of the future, especially with the use of mobile devices, will encourage collaboration within the family.
- Ancestry. com presently employs about 300 software engineers with plans to add another 80 this year. Recruiting is a major focus of the company.
The Ancestry.com executives also gave a peek into the future:
- City directories with more than 10 million images are now available on Ancestry.com. In the past, these directories have been difficult to find and difficult to search. Semantic extraction has always been a problem in semi-structured content, such as city directories. There has been no easy way to differentiate between names of people, place names, street names, advertisements on the page, and other content. However, the Ancestry.com engineers have found intelligent methods to extract different types of information from the City Directories. The changes are already partially implemented with the remainder of the changes to be added in the coming months.
- Ancestry.com has already indexed half a billion records and those records are already online on Ancestry.com. The list will soon be expanded with obituaries and other content.
- Census records - The engineers at Ancestry.com found that new users had great difficulty understanding the data presented in census records. A high percentage of new users never scrolled to see the right side of the census page where all the details are. The new viewer highlights an individual in one color and all other family members are highlighted in a different color. All other entries on the page remain in monochrome. The software to properly detect the appropriate lines turned out to be rather complex, especially in pages that are faded, torn, or otherwise difficult to read. The new viewer software is presently in use on the 1911 U.K. census and 1930 U.S. census and will be rolled out to all census products. Present implementation is to be considered "version 1.0" with additional improvements to be added in coming months.
Tim Sullivan added some other comments that I thought were worthwhile. This is not an exact quote, as I can't type that fast, but it is close to Tim's words:
Please be patient with us. We are constantly working on improving things. At any given moment, things might be a bit buggy or in change. But give us your feedback and then be patient while we make improvements and add bug fixes and the result will be that we will all benefit.
The goal is to create a frictionless user experience. No online site today is "frictionless" and it will not be easy to do in the near future, but that is always the long-term goal. We want to allow people to ignore the process and to focus on the information instead of the mechanics involved.
All in all, Tim's words made a lot of common sense. The entire keynote session was an interesting insight into the company's plans and motivations.
The remainder of the day continued in much the same manner as the previous two days. One possible exception is that the Exhibits Hall appeared to be a bit busier and noisier than before as most attendees realized it was "today or never." The vendors I talked with all seemed to be happy with sales.
All in all, the final day of RootsTech 2012 seemed to be as successful as the previous two days. I saw a lot of smiling attendees.
One final announcement was made: Next year's RootsTech conference wil b held about a month later in the year: RootsTech 2012 will be held March 21 though 23. If you would like to attend a great conference, mark your calendar now.
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