The Nitpicker’s Critique of RootsTech

I had a great time at RootsTech. Besides all the issues that annoyed me, I knew I’d see a lot of people I know and meet a lot of people I previously only knew online. For me, genealogy conferences have really become about seeing the people and not about the conference itself; all the conference does is bring all the people to one place.

That being said, the nitpicker can’t help but critique things. Note that these are not in any kind of order of best to worst or anything, just as I thought of them while typing.

1. For the first keynote, I was delegated to another room because the main ballroom was full. The Salt Palace is a very big building. Couldn’t they have found a part of it big enough for everyone? I was late to the second keynote but got into the main room. I watched the third online from home. Apparently fewer showed up each day, but I did not like the first day being split up. Also, it might have been nice to have the Who Do You Think You Are? viewing there instead of trying to cram everyone in to the FHL. The overcrowding I expected was one reason why I helped arrange for a more private party (which probably turned out multitudes better).

2. The developer’s challenge was greatly improved over last year for a number of reasons. FamilySearch employees were excluded last year, thus limiting the entries. However, one rule this year was vague and not followed by half or possibly more of the participants (and the judges). I spoke to the person in charge and confirmed that I understood the rules as they were meant: create a brand new program, not submit something that’s been in-progress or already completed. He also said they will be more clear next year. I did like the idea that the first place winner was a brand new program, whereas most if not all of the other finalists were in development for much longer. Still, a big improvement over last year, with only three entries.

3. I could count the female developers in the sessions on one hand. Were they in other sessions or were there that few female developers? I wonder if something can be done to attract more. I wonder if the guys in the room were looking at us like we were lost. I did like that many developer sessions were easier to understand and not technically ridiculous, or maybe I chose my topics better this year. I thought some were labeled incorrectly when they said intermediate as they were incredibly beginner for developers, but they would have been advanced for users.

4. One speaker was a no-show. There was no indication that the session was cancelled or that anyone from RootsTech knew he wasn’t there or going to be there. However, it did turn into one of the better conversations at the conference.

5. The mobile app was good and also seriously lacking. It was not created exclusively for RootsTech, but by a company who does this, and some parts still were non-functional. Also, it was released about a week before the conference and should have been tested and released sooner. I got a notification about an additional update that had to be downloaded from the market the day after the conference. (It might have been out the day before, but that’s #7.) Also, notifications about updates took me to the web browser and never to the store to actually update the app, which was wrong. I could go into a lot of details about the app problems, but I’ll skip them and hope the company cleans up their code by next year. The schedule was the best part of it. I could choose the sessions I was most interested in and see them on my schedule.

6. The big white board of unconferencing sessions was labeled as February 3rd and 4th, though it was actually the 2nd and 3rd. I added one session to my schedule and missed it by a day. If the app had been filled in with the sessions (and wifi worked so it updated), I could have just chosen it from the list and it would have landed in the right place.

7. Wifi was abysmal. Even when I was connected, I often couldn’t even send a single tweet. Many times, I wanted to tweet “Hey, this speaker is really great!” By the time I had tried sending for 30 minutes or more, that tweet had always morphed into “The wifi sucks.” Sometimes the tweet never got through. Sometimes I couldn’t even connect to the wifi. Usually, I could find at least a dozen hotspots, so many others were activating those to have access. Please, RootsTECH, get your tech improved. I could stand next to the router and not even see the network in some rooms. Apparently the vendors had to pay dearly for their wired connections and even those were problematic. If the Salt Palace has bad hardware, RootsTech should provide their own. The FHL has good connectivity, so I know that FamilySearch can figure out how to make it work.

8. In 2011, there was a closing session. In 2012, it just kind of ended and everyone had to slink away. I think I preferred the first year for that; gave it closure and gathered everyone together to say goodbye. (In 2011, I was so tired, I just tore out of there after the session to go home to sleep, but still…)

9. Some of the handling of the official bloggers could have been better. Having been (kind of) asked in 2011 to be official in 2012, I was disappointed not to be included. When I asked why, I never received an answer. They asked for more blogger suggestions, then more ethnic bloggers, and still I didn’t even get a response. I had a discussion with Paul Nauta about it, which un-annoyed me a bit. If every conference promotes the same official bloggers every year, the others never have a chance to catch up in popularity and readership. It occurred to me after talking to him that I don’t think they had an official blogger who is a developer, so they had no one reporting from that side of the conference. Maybe they should take that into consideration for next year too, and not just who blogs the most and has the most readers. It doesn’t help if all of the official bloggers are blogging about the same sessions.

10. I had an interesting discussion with two other developers when a speaker didn’t show up where this topic was discussed. One of the goals of RootsTech is to bring together genealogists and technologists to learn the needs of the other. But how does that actually happen when the users are going to the user sessions and the developers are going to the developer sessions? Personally, I can just talk to myself, because I’m a user and a developer, but few people can really say that. Also, I don’t use all the apps, so I don’t know what the genealogists need, and I’ve fallen a bit behind in technologies that the developers would know about — so I really need to talk to both. Instead of separating us out by sessions, there needs to be something that literally brings us together: a social event or maybe some kind of game, or speed “dating” of sorts. Put us in a room, let everyone be labeled user or developer, and force us to talk to people on the opposite side about appropriate topics. I understand the unconferencing was better for this also, but alas, the one I had picked out ended up on my schedule on the wrong day.

Conclusion

So, in order to improve for RootsTech 3.0, I suggest that they be far better about responding to emails, be more clear in the rules about the developer’s challenge (and the judges should follow the rules as they were written and intended and not accept the entries that break the rules just because they’re good), make sure the mobile app creators can create a functional app instead of the partly broken thing they released, possibly try to reach out to more female developers, really bring the genealogists and technologists together (not just by being in the same conference center), and get serious about providing reliable Internet connectivity to everyone everywhere at the conference.

I can’t wait to see everyone again next year. And a few more people who didn’t make it this year. Or at other conferences this year. Who’s going to other conferences? I think I will be.

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