Tevya’s Experience at RootsTech 2011


The first-ever RootsTech conference, hosted by FamilySearch and sponsored by big names like Microsoft, Ancestry.com, and Dell, was a huge success. It had events live-broadcast online, a huge demo floor with lots of things to do, including ping-pong, X-Boxes with the Kinect attachment, and tons of family history companies with live demos, giveaways and prizes. Over 3,200 people attended.

I was one of those who both presented and attended. I’ll be posting more information from my presentation here, in the near future. I also took most of my notes on MLH’s new twitter account that is for live-micro-blogging events such as RootsTech, so that those unable to attend could get some live info (see those tweets here: @mlh_live). Here’s some of my thoughts from the conference.

Favorite Part

I’ve never been good at picking favorites. For example people would always ask what my favorite movie was. That’s a hard call, there’s a lot of good ones. I have one movie that I’ll watch almost anytime, but I’m not sure its my very most favorite. If I’m in the mood for a great story, I have a couple favorites; if I want action, there are probably 4-8 others… you get the idea. So picking a favorite part of RootsTech is difficult.

I really enjoyed presenting, but could have done without the nervousness beforehand and the fact that the screen was setup poorly so some people couldn’t see very well. I really enjoyed several of the presentations, they were fun, humorous, and just plain enjoyable, but others were either over my head, or a little too basic (my fault, should have chosen something else). The demo floor was impressive, and so was the free stuff, but it was also very busy and sometimes hard to have a good conversation.

My favorite part had to be the people: making connections. Such as meeting Michael, a Product Manager at VeriSign; preparing a presentation with Penney Devey, Technology Manager at FamilySearch; lunch with Jimmy Zimmerman, a developer at Family Search and RootsTech presenter; helping Arie Noot, VP of Business Development at OneGreatFamily.com, with his Android phone; or any number of other people I talked with like Barbara, Ray, and Isabelle, who were interested in working with me on a website for their family or business. The people were what made it great.

Another example is a session of “Unconferencing” I attended. It was supposed to be a structured “lightning round” where a bunch of presenters were each given 5 minutes. As it turned out, there only 3 presenters signed up. So once they finished, another person, said “well can I present then?” and jumped up and did one impromptu. That was followed by another person and another. It was amazing. Though these were mostly programmers talking about stuff that was a little deep for me, it was awesome to see their ideas! Even cooler was the synergy, where the current presenter would remind somebody else of an idea they’d had or worked on, so they would jump up and follow with another great idea that helped advance everyone’s ideas and understanding. The main theme running throughout that particular session, was ways to graphically represent family relationships. It was awesome to be a part of. If the RootsTech planners read this: consider some unconferencing sessions next year that are even more unstructured. When people sign up in advance, they have no idea what the other subjects are, and you may get many completely unrelated presentations. However, if only a few are scheduled in advance, then the audience is allowed to fill the rest of the time, then what is talked about can spark other ideas, or remind audience members of ideas they’ve played around with in the past.

I Learned Twitter

Not literally, I knew how to use hashtags and @replies and the technical aspects, but have been unable to really see the value of Twitter. Now I do. Not only was I sharing what I was learning, live, but at times I was simultaneously reviewing what other people were learning in other presentations. Because you’re forced to be brief, its an incredibly easy way to share thoughts and events as they happen. I’ve also been able to use it to connect and converse with people who were unable to attend, or did attend but I never met.

What I Missed

Elder Scott spoke and I missed it somehow, in spite of knowing about it beforehand. I also wasn’t able to talk to the people at The 10 Generation Project, which believes we can complete US Genealogy from Columbus up through the early 1900’s in a very short time. Nor was I able to find anyone who claimed a good descendancy workflow or even view in their family tree software (if you’re wondering what that is, more coming in a future article).

More Info

Here’s some links to other sources if you want to catch up on RootsTech.

Panorama I Shot of RootsTech Demo Floor

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