February 10, 2012

A Freeloader's View of RootsTech

Last week, it seemed like all eyes of the genealogy community turned to Salt Lake City. With over 4000 conference attendees and countless numbers watching via live streaming, RootsTech 2012 arguably had the biggest audience of any genealogical event to date.

As the first keynote session was about to start on Thursday, I had the RootsTech site up in one window and my Twitter feed buzzing away in another. Those of us planning to watch from afar were excited to be part of the action. I joked with Tina Lyons of Gen Wish List that maybe we could find some seats in the front row. When the program began a few minutes later, I stared transfixed at the screen, captivated by the flawless quality of the feed. It seemed my wish for a front row vantage point had been granted.

Jay Verkler laid out a fascinating vision for the future with a number of “wow” moments right off the bat. I’ll leave it to others to analyze the feasibility of his proposals for new ways of presenting, sharing, and collaborating genealogy data. Suffice it to say I was impressed—and not only by his hair. By the end of that first session, I was hooked by the passion and extent of his message and the technology that allowed me to watch it from my kitchen counter, 1700 miles away.

I continued to tune in to RootsTech whenever my schedule allowed until the conference ended Saturday. That sense of marvel never diminished. Sure, I wished at times I could see sessions other than the one being streamed. I wished I could browse through the exhibit hall. And above all, I wished that I could meet and socialize with people at the conference. But even from a distance, I felt surprisingly engaged with RootsTech.

Yesterday, Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers asked, “What Did You Think of RootsTech?” Since I had few preconceptions—let’s face it, I was a freeloader, grateful for whatever was offered—my expectations were quickly exceeded. Some of the things I appreciated most were:
  • Full, downloadable syllabi for all sessions, not only those being streamed, free of charge (these are still available under the Schedule tab)
  • A consistently smooth, high quality live feed
  • A good cross-section of topics and presenters on the live stage
  • Nice background music in-between sessions
  • A high-energy, feel-good quality to the home page that was the “face” of the conference for home viewers
  • The promise that the taped sessions will be available on the website soon, because I missed some (daily recap videos are already up)

Is there anything I would change, from the vantage point of a virtual participant? Well, it’s a rare event that couldn’t benefit from some improvement. My main suggestion is to choose the live streaming sessions carefully for their appeal to a relatively tech-savvy crowd. I think most people who watch from home are already using a fair amount of technology, so they appreciate in-depth presentations rather than general overviews (that’s probably true of most people who pay to go to RootsTech, too). Personally, I would willing to pay a small amount to download some of the other sessions, had they been taped.

The final word? Thanks. Thanks to FamilySearch as well as the speakers who agreed to share their syllabi and presentations, the participants who tweeted and messaged their way through the conference, and the unseen technicians who brought live coverage to those of us at home. From this freeloader’s perspective, it was a job well done.

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  1. You've communicated my feelings exactly, Shelley. Now I don't need to write about my RootsTech experience (love the freeloader reference). I can just point to this!

  2. I agree with you completely. I'm in Australia so I watched most of the presentations later in the day, and I was a bit disappointed with the beginners' level of some of the chosen sessions. I realise that it was all the sessions in one room that were streamed, and that it is notoriously difficult to know how many will want to see a presentation ahead of time and so I was grateful to see two Google presentations even though one of them was clearly nearly empty.

  3. I will probably be a freeloader next year! :) It seemed like the audience at home (from tweets and posts) were enjoying the conference more than I was! I also saw many people mention the music, I didn't hear it but it certainly left an impression with people.

  4. I loved the "freeloader" experience. I found that if I needed a potty break or to grab a snack, I could just hit pause and not miss a word. I too would be willing to pay a bit for online viewing later of other sessions that were not in the live stream. I was able to take notes AND capture screen shots to go along with the syllabus for each session. I am grateful to RootsTech for thinking of those who can't make the trip!

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone. Susan, Carole, and Lisa, it sounds like your experiences were very similar to mine, so I'm glad I posted this. Jenna, I saw your RootsTech Hits and Misses, and thought you made some great points. Hopefully they will take these things into consideration when planning for next year. One thing the online experience couldn't capture was the networking and experience of meeting people at the conference. It's a long way to travel just for that, though :)


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