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.