What Was Different About RootsTech?

What Was Different About RootsTech?

by Kerry Scott on 16 February 2011

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Reader JL commented in yesterday’s post that she wanted to hear specifics instead of “wowie-kazowie” about RootsTech.  There are folks who have done a great job at that (James Tanner from Genealogy’s Star has some particularly good posts), but these are the specific things I thought made RootsTech different:

  • The sessions weren’t run by the same people we always see at genealogy conferences. There were fresh faces.  There are a lot of fantastic presenters at NGS every year, but I don’t necessarily want to hear from them over and over.  I liked hearing from people I’d never heard from before.  This field isn’t actually all that small, and variety is good.
  • Bloggers were part of the show. There was a blogger’s area right in the middle of the exhibit hall.  This allowed bloggers to connect with each other, with vendors, and with readers.  It also allowed cluefree attendees to stop and ask what why we were there and what a blog was.  I had some great conversations with random strangers who are now discovering the world of genealogy blogs.  I really enjoyed that.
  • Tweeting was encouraged. I had intended to do some tweeting, but I figured I’d get some huffiness and maybe some glaring.  There was none of that at all.  In fact, some sessions were opened with, “Please feel free to live-tweet this session.”  Hello, 2011!  (I’m going to do a whole post on why Twitter and conferences go together like peanut butter and jelly…so watch for that.  Also, I feel like I need to say this:  I’m a fan of tweeting, but if your phone actually rings or makes any sort of loud noise during a session, that is NOT OKAY.  And if you actually take the call and start talking in the middle of a session, you are a weenie.  Period.  That’s rude.  Stop doing that.)
  • People felt comfortable saying things that you’d never hear at a more traditional conference. Maybe this is just my experience, but at every other conference I’ve been to, if you even dared to breathe the idea that maybe we beat newbies over the head a little too much in terms of the mechanics of source citations, a mob would hold you down and write “DILETTANTE” on your forehead with a Sharpie.  Here, I heard lots and lots of conversations about how to get newbies to understand the importance of source citations without turning them off completely.  It was refreshing to be able to have out-loud conversations about this, because it’s a topic we need to address (and I’m working on a post about that too).
  • People were positive. I heard no smack-talking or tongue-clucking.  At other conferences, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the people who are doing it wrong, the people who suck, the people who are polluting the water.  Those people are out there, but I’m kind of sick of talking about them.  Every conversation I had at RootsTech was about positive stuff and moving forward.  Again, maybe this was just my experience…but I’ve talked to quite a few others who made the same observation, so if it was luck, we all should have bought lottery tickets (well, except we were in Utah, and I’m pretty sure there’s no lottery there, so never mind).
  • Software developers were there. Have you ever had a real face-to-face conversation with the people who write (not sell, but write) the software you use?  I hadn’t.  Now I have.  That was a tremendous opportunity.  In fact, my #1 goal for next year is to spend more time talking to the software geeks.  We’re all going to benefit from those conversations.
  • It looked different. There was a big area in near the middle of the exhibit hall with pool tables, air hockey, Wii/Kinect games, and other cool stuff.  It just felt…different.  It felt comfortable and upbeat and fun and not at all stuffy.  I wish I could find a way to explain exactly why the climate felt so different, because I’d love to be able to give that feedback to the organizers.  I can’t.  But it felt hip and cool, and that was different than my experience elsewhere (and while it’s certainly not necessary for every genealogy conference to be hip and cool, I think the fact that this one was allowed the conversations to be more relaxed, which lead to more learning and more light-bulb moments…for me, at least).
  • People were participating from all over. I couldn’t always tell who was physically there and who wasn’t, because people were watching the sessions live from their own homes and participating in the discussions live on Twitter.  I’ve never experienced a conference in any field that so effectively included people who weren’t there.

I’m not sure that’s the level of specificity JL was looking for, and I wish I could provide more.  I can’t fully articulate why it was so different and so cool.  I can tell you that even though I hate conferences and my husband has to take off of work to be with the kids when I go to them and I had to sell a couple of things on eBay to pay for this one, I absolutely plan to be there next year.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Missy February 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

Well said, yet again! I would add that for those who wondered what actually happened, the RootsTech folks do hope to post the links to the videotaped talks that were streamed live during the event. I highly recommend that those who missed those talks take a peek when these are available — and to participate along with the event next year, if you can’t attend in person, by watching those online presentations as they happen and following the Twitter stream as well. I’d also like to reiterate that many bloggers have written in-depth posts about all of the sessions and these can be accessed here: http://www.geneabloggers.com/latest-news-rootstech-2011/


Ginger Smith February 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

Hi Kerry, thanks so much for this personal and in-depth look at your experience of the Rootstech conference. I’m looking forward to reading your post about the ongoing discussion about how to entice/teach/instill in newbies the importance of citing your sources as I’ve heard this mentioned several times throughout the conference discussions. I think it’s really great that there was such a positive attitude throughout the conference as well. Thanks again for sharing.


Tessa February 16, 2011 at 11:49 am

Thank you for posting about RootsTech and for your comments today. I agree with you completely about the need for genealogy conferences to make more and better use of interaction rather than lectures only – it can be dry at times and by the end of the week, overwhelming.

We need to be aware that technology is changing genealogy in a good way and be in the forefront – developers need to hear how we use programs, what we want, what we don’t want or need, and how to teach it for general consumption.

We need lots of new faces and new ways of learning – most people like “hands on” and SLC and the FHL have the ability to use the computer rooms and make use of sections of their library to “show and tell.” I commented on how the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy could improve on my blog (as well as posted summaries of the lectures for Irish Family History Research). I do think it is imperative to “keep things moving” and not just give lectures.

I have really changed my mind about tweeting – after seeing the tweets from rootstech – it was useful and showed me sites to check things out in greater detail. We need to understand and embrace several types of technology – as it meets our needs.

We really need to get local and state genealogy societies into a “comfort zone” for webinars and/or other types of virtual meetings. It will only increase interest and “attendance.” I would happily pay for and/or join societies that are historically important to my research and would love to virtually attend a meeting – but I don’t think they are there yet. Perhaps rootstech can be helpful in moving and assisting with the move to this brave new world. I really don’t think everyone has to physically be there. A good example is the Legacy Family Tree webinars – they are on a variety of topics (not just their program) that are useful to the genealogy community as a whole and they provide for real time questions and answers. Perhaps if more folks used this format the price would come down?

Most importantly at these conferences, there needs to be a way to get folks to interact more (and it seems the rootstech folks approached it the right way – have fun!). Sometimes these conferences are so over-scheduled that the interaction can’t take place because there is no time, sometimes some preplanning needs to take place – for instance – database tips and tricks, using spreadsheets, localities research, surname research – you can have people from all over who don’t get a chance to connect because they don’t know what they might have in common with others.

I would have liked to hear more about the Challenge – and for next year why not set that up earlier with different groupings?

This was the first year and I did not attend because I went to SLIG but next year it is definitely on my radar.

Thanks again for your posts and sorry this is so long.


Susan Tiner February 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm

What’s interesting to me is that most of what you’re describing could apply to any conference, not just a genealogy conference. So maybe this RootsTech conference is pointing the way to how conferences should be run in general.

I would definitely have fun at a conference like this.


Linda McCauley February 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm

As someone who was at home I can tell you that the feeling of “this is different” came through loud and clear in all 5 of the presentations that I was able to watch. The Virtual Presentation Roundtable session that took place on Saturday was something you had to experience to understand. The interaction on Twitter between people in the audience, people watching online and even some of the panelists was simply amazing.


JL February 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Nope, still not getting it. I’ve never been to a genealogy conference so perhaps my expectations are out of line. What I’m waiting to hear is:

What the speakers spoke about
What you learned from them
What new technologies are coming down the pike
What about them interests you particularly
How you see what you learned affecting your personal experience of genealogy

Maybe a blogger somewhere has written about these things but I’m still looking for it. I followed as many live Tweets and blog posts coming from SLC as I could. I made it to one and half live broadcasts. I’ve tried following the links from one blogger to another since it ended, but I haven’t seen anything anywhere except people whooping up variations on the theme of I-met-lots-of-friends-there-I-had-a-really-fab-time-there-was-partial-wireless-connection-in-the-conference-center.


Kerry Scott February 17, 2011 at 8:13 am

It sounds like you’re looking for feedback on the sessions (rather than the conference in general). I didn’t attend all of the sessions, and those I did attend I mostly chose so that I could hear the audience response rather than the speaker itself (I’m not an auditory learner so I probably use sessions differently than most people).

Missy Corley did a great job of talking about the sessions she attended, and she has a roundup here: http://baysideblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/rootstech-redux/

Geneabloggers also has a roundup on a much larger scale, and that’s here: http://www.geneabloggers.com/latest-news-rootstech-2011/

I do know that I noticed a lot more posts about the general vibe during and immediately after the conference itself…probably because it’s so hard to blog about specifics when you’re running around at the conference or exhausted afterward. Now that everyone’s been home for a couple of days and had a chance to catch their breath, you might see more of the type of posts you’re looking for (although you won’t see a lot regarding the actual content of speakers’ lectures, because blogging the actual contents of a speaker’s presentation is generally not done in genealogical circles).


JL February 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm

… “generally not done in genealogical circles” … another one of those. I’m just getting killed with that lately.

Thank-you for the links.


@recordswiki February 18, 2011 at 11:05 am

What a wonderful article and such positive feedback!! We loved it so much we retweeted it. Thank you for pointing out the highlights for you. =)


Joan Miller (Luxegen) February 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Hi Kerry,
Great article! We bloggers were busy weren’t we? I’m still playing catch up on my Rootstech blog articles and hope to get more articles with my “Takeaways” published this weekend. I learned from this conference that if I want to get news out fast it had to be twitter and video.

It was so nice to meet you! See you again at another conference.


Kerry Scott February 19, 2011 at 11:31 am

It was great meeting you too!

One thing I might try next year is vlogging (i.e. video posts instead of written ones). I thought I’d get a chance to blog during the conference this year, but by the time I got back to my room every night I was to exhausted to write. Maybe if I just have to talk to a camera I’ll be better able to keep up.


Susan February 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I’ve been enjoying your articles about Roots Tech. Also read the comments posted here. While I consider myself on the techie side of genealogy, I can empathize with the comments made here by JL.

I’ve attended a conference where tweeting was encouraged, but with the caveat to not steal the presenter’s content. I interpret this as “You can tweet during the session, but not too much.” I don’t quite get the point of tweeting during a session if you’re not tweeting about the content. If someone could enlighten me on that, I’d appreciate it.

And when I’m Queen of the World ALL ring tones will be banished from my Queendom.


Kerry Scott February 21, 2011 at 11:02 am

I am not a member of the Concerned About Twitter club, but my understanding of the issue is this:

Let’s say I’m giving a talk that’s called ” Things You Need to Know About Starting a Genealogy Blog.” I have a Powerpoint presentation, and it lists these seven things, along with some sub-bullets. If someone were to tweet the seven things, along with each of my sub-bullets…well, that would be tacky. Speakers work hard to put together their talks, and tweeting all of the content is poor form (and in my opinion, it also completely misses the point of live-tweeting an event or conference).

What IS meaningful is tweeting the points that particularly resonate with you, or your reaction (or the audience’s reaction) to the content. I think the goal (or at least, my goal) is to share the experience, not to record the contents of the talk. I closely followed tweets during RootsTech, and I thought that was one of the things that made it great. People at home and at the conference were sharing the experience and their reaction to the speakers and the events. I enjoyed that, and it definitely added to the experience for me.


Susan February 21, 2011 at 11:10 am

Thanks for your take on this, Kerry. I appreciate that. Since I am apparently not interested in how people feel about a presentation or their experience of it . . . that’s probably why I still don’t know what was actually SAID at Roots Tech that made it so wonderful. :-)


Kerry Scott February 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

I think that for me at least, there was nothing in particular that was said that made it wonderful. It was the general attitude of conference-goers and presenters/organizers, the opportunity to hear from new people (including some outside of genealogy), and the feeling of being at the start of something new and different and fresh.

It’s kind of like going to your favorite restaurant for your favorite dish and finding something new on the menu. You like your favorite restaurant, and you like your favorite dish. There’s nothing wrong with them. But if you go there and unexpectedly find that they have another dish you like, one you didn’t even know you were craving…well, that’s good. And it’s not so much that the new dish is so excellent, or that the old dish wasn’t…it’s the fact that you were pleasantly surprised by something new and delicious. You’re probably going to rave about that new dish for a lot longer than you would have if you’d had your same old favorite.


Joan Miller (Luxegen) February 21, 2011 at 11:21 am

I think it is important for conferences to have social media policies in place. Family History Expos is an example of a conference that has a well established social media policy outlining what people can and can not share via social media.
Myrt wrote about prior to one of the FHexpos.


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