Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Look Back at RootsTech 2012

Sitting at home last year watching live streaming from RootsTech2011 and following along with social media, I was jealous of everyone there. It looked like the most exciting genealogy event ever and the reviews all seemed to be raves. I wasn't going to miss out again so I registered for RootsTech2012 last September and made travel plans to included three extra days for the Family History Library. 

It was probably impossible for RootsTech to live up to my expectations and it didn't quite make it. 

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy RootsTech, I had a great time. I just can’t say that I learned very much that will actually help me with my genealogy research today or tomorrow. I’m not saying I didn’t learn anything because I did. It just wasn’t at that level of head spinning information overload I get from FGS and NGS conferences. I expected to learn about new software, apps and gadgets that would make my genealogy life easier and more productive. I actually learned that I am a more advanced tech user than I ever thought.

Was it too “techie” or perhaps not enough tech? That is one of the questions Thomas MacEntee asked in GeneaBlogger's Open Thread Thursday post "RootsTech 2012 Review: My Perspective" earlier today. 

From my perspective, RootsTech was not techie enough. It seemed to be geared more toward users just beginning to embrace technology rather than the large numbers of us who already use every technology we can find and adapt for genealogy. I heard several explanations of “the cloud.” I’m all for including those just learning to make technology work for their genealogy pursuits but were there actually people attending a tech conference who were not familiar with that concept? 

If that is really the case, maybe a beginner session for the first time slot each year should be a very basic overview of technology buzzwords and concepts rather than having so many speakers repeatedly explaining the same basic processes. Or have a "things you should know before attending RootsTech" cheat sheet available in advance to bring everyone up to speed on the very basics of the topics to be presented.

A quick count shows 30 beginner level, 34 intermediate level and four advanced level user sessions. There were also 18 sessions billed as "all levels." Most of the intermediate sessions I attended seemed pretty basic. There was obviously a need for more advanced user sessions. Some topics should have a separate session for at least two, if not all three, levels of users.   

Several very popular sessions quickly became overcrowded leaving people sitting on the floor, standing in the back or finding a different session. An online process to let registrants select the sessions they plan to attend in advance (like other conferences use) would allow organizers to better plan room sizes or identify the need for multiple presentations of the most wanted sessions.    

One of the best things about any genealogy conference is the opportunity to meet and socialize with other genealogists. With 4,300 attendees (and nearly 100 bloggers), RootsTech definitely delivered on that front. 

Two of RootsTech’s biggest strengths are promoting the spirit of collaboration between vendors and introducing innovative ideas that will make the future of genealogy brighter. Those things alone make it a worthwhile conference. If you have an opportunity to go, you should take it. 


  1. You felt just like I did. A little disappointed but overall ok. See you again soon.

  2. I agree, too basic. The "what you should know before you go" idea is great!

  3. I have to disagree (sorry!). We brought the Directors of our local Family History Center who just got into genealogy 5 yrs ago and had no idea what the "Cloud" was. They learned a lot and there was great value in their attendance. They'd have never gone if they had to be intermediate level prior to attending. The "What you should know before you go" would have eliminated them. They benefited greatly from their attendance so the patrons and staff will now benefit from what they learned and experienced. It was a tremendous value for $89 and that's what I'm going to write about in a couple of days.

  4. Becky, Sorry that came across as wanting to exclude beginners. That really wasn't what I meant at all. Was just thinking of a way to get people actually up to beginner level to start - not saying "you must know these things," instead saying "here are some things to help prepare you to get the most out of the conference." There has to be a way to make RootsTech beginner friendly (which is really seemed to be) but also make it valuable to more advanced users. The advanced users were the ones left out this time.

  5. I shared your experience this time around, Linda. RootsTech just didn't have the wow factor that it did in 2011. I'm hoping they listen to the feedback for next year since it's a great opportunity for us all to get to SLC and see each other, in addition to attending the conference!

    1. I heard a speaker (no one I know) talking about the difference in last year and this year. The statement she made was something to the effect that they made mistakes in year 2 that weren't made in year 1.

  6. Linda, I could tell from the schedule and syllabi before it started that many of the user sessions were not going to be advanced enough for me before I even attended RootsTech. Therefore, I wasn't disappointed. Of course, my plans for sessions were hijacked anyway [for absolute FAN-tabulous reasons], so it really didn't matter anyway.

    I'll be posting on my blog in a couple of days some ideas that I think they should incorporate into next year's RootsTech to make the experience better for all levels of researchers. My ideas are a little outside the box, but that's exactly what this conference is supposed to be, right?

    I think they've already beaten the other conferences in atmosphere and intent ~ extremely welcoming and the focus on technology is awesome. Just think the sessions need a little tweaking.

    I agree with everything you said and what Jenna expressed on her blog. Then I'll link to this post and to Jenna's post from mine because I think y'all have some great ideas.


  7. I thought that some of the sessions marked intermediate developer were really advanced user or at least beginner developer. Because each submitter had to choose, some had different ideas about what level they were really teaching. Maybe RootsTech should put in some extra effort in labeling them to be sure everyone is judging their level similarly.

    Maybe they need a category between the two - something for users who are advanced and want to learn a little developing without going over the top and scaring users away, as developer sessions sometimes do.

    Also, I'd love to see some blog posts about what people want to learn next year before the call for papers is closed. Some of us could probably teach advanced user levels, but don't know what the rest of you users want to learn. ;-)

    1. All good ideas, Banai. It was nice to meet you.

  8. Linda,

    Great Post AND it was nice to meet and spend time around RootsTech with you and the other GeneaBloggers.

    Having only been to a few genealogy conferences, I found that some of the User presentations could be seen at the other genealogy conferences. Like you, I was looking for the Tech Toys that will help with my research. Yes, there were some, but not as many as I had expected.

    For me, the real disappointment was the lack of more User/Developer interaction sessions. Yes, there were some, but the descriptions of some were way over my head.

    I found that I spent a little more time in the exhibit hall talking to the venders, and using that at the developer / user interaction.

    The real question for me, is will I go again next year.


    1. Russ, I agree about the need for more user/developer interaction sessions. The other conferences are offering beginner level tech sessions (I believe NGS calls it the GenTech track) that are very much like many of the RootsTech sessions.

      It was nice to meet you, too.

  9. Amen sister! You are right about this not being techie enough! Yesterday, I was going through the NGS conference booklet and noticed they are including about 10 sessions per day centered on gentech tools or issues - even some from RootsTech. Most of them are the exact same beginner user level that we witnessed at RootsTech. In my opinion, that means RootsTech needs to take this up a notch! If we are going to repeat a lot of the basic sessions at the main conferences, RootsTech should teach us on the next tech level, as well as foster developer/user dialogu. I LOVE the idea of the cheat sheet - know before you go - idea! And thanks for counting the types of session! That was very enlightening!
    Safe travels tomorrow if the snow gets tricky!

    1. Thanks, Cheri. Hope I see you tomorrow. It will depend on what the roads look like about 9 AM.