Category Archives: RootsTech

RootsTech 2017 Wrap-Up

I have attended every RootsTech conference. For the past couple years, I’ve mostly spent my time in the Expo Hall at the IAJGS booth. This year’s RootsTech experience was quite different for me than all other years.

This year, I was a semifinalist in the Innovator Showdown for CSI: Crowd Sourced Indexing.

I spent much of Tuesday in Provo at BYU for the Family History Technology Workshop. It was my first time attending that one-day workshop and I spoke about CSI. That evening was the RootsTech Media Dinner. I’d never been invited before. The semifinalists were set up around the room to demonstrate our entries, but I didn’t feel like a lot of people were interested in that. We had some showdown rehearsal time afterwards.

The next morning, we started at 7am. I was joking about being up at the crack of dawn, but it was actually before dawn. And just for fun, I ended up on the red train and got my morning exercise, running around in the dark to get to the convention center. We received a schedule that morning which filled the entire day.

The semifinalist showdown was at noon. While it seemed like they were hyping it up to make us more nervous, I was only worried about going over my two minute time limit. I put my entire script right into the Powerpoint and just read it. If I started improvising, I always went well over the time. When I finished, I finally looked down at the clock and it was at 0:00. I have no idea how long I may have gone over, but judging by my practice runs, it was probably only seconds at most.

The finalists were to be officially announced at the party that night, but we had a secret meeting at 2:30. Where I previously had the entire afternoon full, I was suddenly free, as I was not chosen as a finalist. It was good that I had another booth to help with to get me out of the convention center; I only had to deal with a couple people who asked me what was next for the showdown, when I knew it was already over for me.

I spent the next three days at my table in the Innovator’s Alley talking about CSI. I had a lot of comments from people saying I should have been in the finals. I agreed with them. :-) Many asked about the program and if it could do certain things. I already had a lot in mind to add to the program and they gave me so many more ideas.

I went to the showdown finals but just long enough to vote for the People’s Choice. I heard who won a little later. I think it says something when the People’s Choice did not win any other prize. The people and the judges were not judging by the same rules. The questions from most of the judges were about business structures and money, and some really basic things about the genealogy industry that they didn’t understand, but the contest is called Innovator’s Showdown. I think FamilySearch needs more genealogists among the judges and fewer random entrepreneurs who know nothing about what is innovative in genealogy.

I enjoyed the evening events, the Wednesday night party, the Thursday night music event at the Conference Center, the MyHeritage party Friday night, and the blogger dinner hosted by DearMyrtle to finish off the week on Saturday.

All in all, even though I didn’t win, it was a good experience. I got some good exposure for CSI and a lot of people are interested in using it. That said, I have a lot of programming to do.

Introducing CSI: Crowd Sourced Indexing

CSIL Crowd Sourced IndexingI’d like to introduce my readers to, well, part of the reason I haven’t been blogging much for the past couple of months. I’ve been programming instead. In fact, this was also my NaNoWriMo project, where I rebelled.

CSI: Crowd Sourced Indexing is written for genealogy societies, special interest groups, and other smaller research groups to manage their indexing projects.

It’s great for indexers because anyone can sign up to index and log in any time they feel like indexing. It puts the record image and the fields for indexing in the same window and it’s a pleasure to not have to juggle the image and Excel to get that done. There’s no sending or downloading of images from the project administrator or waiting for the next batch when you’ve completed the last one. Everything is on the web site waiting for the indexers. When they finish an image, they can do the next one. Tired of the project? Try another project instead.

CSI: Crowd Sourced IndexingBut CSI is especially built for project management. The project administrator can set up a project by providing basic information, uploading the files to be indexed, choosing the fields to be indexed, and then they can invite members of their society or group to index. CSI takes care of most of the administrative work of running the project from that point on. Just as the indexers don’t have to wait for new batches, the admin doesn’t have to send them out, track who has which images, keep track of which are yet to be indexed and which are completed, or determine when to give up on an indexer and send the same images to another indexer. Just keeping up with the indexers is most of the work.

CSI is written in UTF-8 so it’s compatible with every language. Right now, there are several projects going on in Hebrew, thanks to my collaborator bringing projects from IGRA. And the entire site is translatable (the code is in place, translations are coming soon).

And to top it off, I submitted CSI to the 2017 RootsTech Innovator Showdown and I have been named a semifinalist! There were 41 entries and only 10 are semifinalists, so I’m honored to be among them.

RootsTech Innovator Showdown 2017

Would you like to try it out? Visit http://csi.idogenealogy.com/ to sign up and index a little. The easiest project is the NYC Staten Island Marriage Index, downloaded from the Internet Archive, provided by Reclaim the Records. The images are easy to read and generally don’t have too many records per page. Similarly the Queens Marriage Index is available, but that one is a little harder to read the handwriting and the pages are generally longer, some with 100 names. For these particular indexes, when they’re complete, they’ll be made available just like the images.

You can read more about CSI on Devpost where the official entry took place, along with watching my commercial. (Check out those older screenshots. It has already changed a little.)

So give it a try because indexing with CSI is fun and easy.

I’m programming more for CSI every day, so there are more features still to come. Let me know what you think of CSI. And don’t forget to vote for me for the People’s Choice award during the Innovator’s Showdown.

The URL of this post is: http://idogenealogy.com/2016/12/16/introducing-csi-crowd-sourced-indexing/.

RootsTech 2015 Review

So I guess this is my annual rant about RootsTech.

The Fun

I had a great time last week. I spent a lot of time in the IAJGS booth with the IAJGS folks. Mark was always there, Marlis, Garri, Michael, Barbara, and Emily were around a lot. I finally met Debbie in person. Schelly and Pamela came over many times. And I shudder to think I’m missing someone who I saw a lot of. Of course Daniel was in his own booth, but I saw him quite a bit too. I went out to eat with some of them and many others not listed here, sometimes in large groups, every day. I really enjoy the company of these people, who I usually only see once a year, and RootsTech gives me a second opportunity now to see a bunch of them.

I enjoy saying hello and chatting a bit with some of the other bloggers and Twitterers as I see them. The media center was on the opposite side of the expo hall from my booth, so it was a trek to get over there. I talk to random people who I just happen to be sitting next to sometimes, and obviously the ones who come to the booth.

Some of my local Utah JGS folks came around, some more than others, like Beth, Marelynn, Rochelle, Gary, and Barry.

It was fun.

The Conference

But then there’s the conference. It’s not supposed to be just a social event. It’s supposed to be educational, and as it started but has since left behind, all about genealogy and technology. That’s not genealogy or technology, but genealogy and technology. It’s a big difference. And ironically, RootsTech has forgotten it’s roots.

How Many Sessions?

When signing up, I noticed that RootsTech claimed to include 200+ sessions. The web site listed 128. I was told later that there were more sessions not listed on the web site. Why not? Are they not technologically capable of including all the sessions in the schedule? They included FGS on their site. How would I know that there are more session and how do I review them to choose what I want to do? I went very carefully through the web site listings to look at the skill levels, but the book received at registration nor the app had those levels listed. So I ended up adding a few sessions after registering only to walk out within minutes because of their simplicity level.

I happened to pop into one session, that was a late addition to my schedule, just as the presenter got to the “who this session is for” part. The options were things like, and I paraphrase, non-coders who are curious about the topic, code-dabblers, programmers who want to know how to explain this to non-techies, etc. And back to the exhibit hall I went in under a minute.

Where’s The Non-Beginner Tech?

Again, the Innovator’s Summit segregated the programmers from the genealogists. It’s a separate ticket that costs more in order to go to sessions focused on creating technology. And very few of those even appealed to me this year. Only three of all the sessions were marked as advanced skill level, two at the Innovator’s Summit and one at RootsTech. What kind of programmers did they attract this year if nothing was advanced? And what is there for genealogy tech users who aren’t total beginners at using computers?

The one session I went to on Wednesday had no tech in it at all. It was supposed to be about what was needed in genealogy technology. I recall something similar last year or the previous one too. I admit that I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but while I was there, it was droning about… work flows? I don’t even know. So I still don’t know what other people think needs to be programmed. I guess they won’t be getting it from me.

There are plenty of beginner level tech courses in genealogy in webinars, at society meetings, at other conferences. Why do we need them at RootsTech now? So many sessions had titles that sounded interesting and only got rejected by me for their beginner level tech skill listing.

Where Is The Tech?

And then there were the sessions that had absolutely nothing to do with technology, save for the fact that it is the 21st century and we all use computers to do things. RootsTech included two sessions on Jewish genealogy, both presented by friends of mine. Even those friends admitted there was nothing tech about their lectures. So what were they doing at RootsTech? They should have been at FGS. And there were a plethora of other sessions about genealogy that had nothing to do with tech. French, Irish, and Italian were included, as I recall, among others. The only tech in any of those sessions was when they admitted they were simply teaching how to use a single web site.

Where’s The Streaming?

For the first time in RootsTech history, one of the keynotes was not live streamed. Did they tell us this in advance to give people like me a chance to try to get there early enough to see it in person?

No.

The schedule clearly showed they would live stream from 8:30-10am, but they cut off the feed at 8:50 after the initial speaker. And it wasn’t a technical glitch, it was deliberate.

So what did the Bushes have to do with genealogy and technology? Who knows? Not me. I was livid.

Fifteen minutes after cutting off the stream, the conference Twitter account finally announced the stream would return at 10:30. Nice timing. At least they were on the ball that night, being very clear that the next day’s keynote would be streamed in full, but only after I asked. I guess everyone’s angry tweets wasn’t enough for them to volunteer that information.

Sessions I Stayed For

I did go to a few sessions where I didn’t leave immediately. I listened to one person with OCD tell me how to organize my files and some other things… the way I already do because I have OCD. So that didn’t help me. The RPAC session just informed me that everyone else in the room was on the same page as me. It was interesting, but not educational. Another session posed a question in its description but never answered it. I waited it out and didn’t learn anything except the thought processes that one company used to develop their own product, without sharing the actual solutions.

Non-Innovation In The Challenge

I’m not entirely sure what the Innovator’s Challenge is for anymore. They’ve reversed the original rules, which was to program something new. Now they want something that is ready to launch. So instead of programmers beginning a new project, they have to be finishing it.

So third place was GenMarketplace. How is that innovative? There are several genealogy marketplaces now, including one that’s been around since 2008 that I use regularly. The intro video on their site begins with presenting a listing of what documents are missing from your genealogy, but I could find nothing on their site that analyzes your database to find what’s missing. It’s just a rent-a-genealogist site and it devalues the skill or even just the time needed to do anything by starting the jobs at 10 cents.

Second place was ArgusSearch. Their site gets very technical with the description and skimming the content doesn’t explain it. Are they indexing and searching handwritten records? And that wasn’t the winner?

No, the winner was StoryWorth, a site that emails a question then either receives an email answer or records a phone call. Seriously. This is what FamilySearch thought was the most innovative entry. Recording a phone call. As someone else was tweeting, I don’t think innovation means what they think it means.

Next Year

I’m sure I’ll be in the IAJGS booth again next year. I see no reason why we would stop having the booth. I’m sure I’ll enjoy my time and socializing with the folks who come to town. I doubt I’ll register for RootsTech though. I almost didn’t this year and should not have bothered.

I will probably enter the Innovator’s Challenge with something I started working on last month. It won’t win because it’s not mainstream enough for everyone to use it, but it’s for genealogy and it will be more polished after I’ve worked on it for a year. I may even submit some papers again, but not expect to be accepted, as usual. I’ll probably send in something that’s too techie for them.

Conclusion

I go to IAJGS conferences to socialize, sometimes learn new things, attend SIG and BOF meetings to meet other people in the field and with the same interests, present my own sessions, and to network myself to promote my business. IAJGS stays on topic and everything is related to Jewish genealogy.

So thank you FamilySearch for bringing this conference year after year, which brings some of my non-Utah friends to Utah so I can see them just a little more often. But you’re not giving me any new knowledge about genealogy or technology. There are no meetings of like-minded people, outside of the dinners I attend outside of the schedule. You have so far rejected all of my papers to speak. I promote my society rather than my business. And you definitely don’t stay on topic of technology in genealogy.

RootsTech is just a social gathering for me. And a week when the FHL is too busy to get any work done. If it wasn’t local, I wouldn’t bother at all.

Rootstech 2014, My Thoughts

RootsTech just finished it’s fourth year. I’ve gone to the conference every year. This year, I had a different perspective. So here are my critiques.

Hal Bookbinder in the IAJGS booth

1. I went over to the media center a few times to pick up my blogger beads and chat with a few bloggers. I didn’t see RootsTech doing anything different with their official bloggers than any other year, nor was there a noticeable change in who was chosen.

2. Security was kind of iffy. I went to a session on the first day before registering and nobody cared about my lack of a badge. (Apparently, registration wasn’t even open for most hours of that day anyway, so maybe they knew that and thus didn’t care.) I was only registered for the Expo Hall, but nobody checked my badge other days either. I only went to one or two sessions a day, but I shouldn’t have been allowed. The only time someone checked was when I was going back to the Expo Hall the first evening to continue setting up the booth, with bags of supplies in hand.

3. The app went downhill. RootsTech used another vendor. Now, that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But now, it required a login to add items to the schedule, so I couldn’t even speculate, via the app, what sessions I might go to. That sure discouraged me from upgrading my registration. I don’t know what else changed, since I didn’t bother much with it after that.

4. RootsTech’s theme has definitely switched to storytelling. How to use technology to tell stories, rather than technology’s use in genealogy. But I knew that last year. Maybe they should change the name. StoryRoots?

5. IAJGS had a table in the Expo Hall. This was a first. I was there to help set it up and man the booth during the conference. I was not impressed with RootsTech’s inability to spell “genealogical” on our sign. Good thing we had a banner to replace it. But it was an interesting experience overall, talking to so many people who came by to tell us there was a Jew somewhere in their family. We gave out an awful lot of flyers about our UJGS meeting the next week. I was pretty disappointed at the turn-out; only two new people attended. (I was glad to have them, but we gave out about 150 flyers…)

Thanks RootsTech

And thus concludes another year of RootsTech. Back to working on this year’s IAJGS conference.

RootsTech 2013 – The Nitpicker’s Critique, Part 2

And to conclude my nitpicking of RootsTech 2013, I have some things to say about the official bloggers.

What’s an Official Blogger?

According to RootsTech, “In addition to providing updates prior to the conference the Official Bloggers will give you all the inside happenings onsite during the conference.” (RootsTech Official Bloggers)

I also caught a great quote from James Tanner, where he says that the bloggers “are an institution and the main method of reporting the events of the Conference.” (Assessment of RootsTech 2013)

So their job is to advertise the conference beforehand and to report more during the conference. I tried not to spend too long analyzing all the official bloggers, so I did not verify that they all advertised leading up the conference, but I did notice that some of them did. The minimal postings were usually one to announce they were official bloggers, one to give away a free registration, and possibly a press release or two. Several of them blogged the press release about the keynote speakers that were first announced, the first three who all spoke on the first day. And there were several blog posts about the official conference app.

Now, as I analyze these bloggers, let it be known that I consider some of them to be my genea-friends. I converse with many of them of Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and I usually spend some time with them at conferences when I see them. With this analysis, I’m not knocking the bloggers. Everyone blogs what they want, when they want. This is about the choices made by RootsTech to make them the official bloggers.

What was missing?

Once again, there were no Jewish bloggers. And no developers. RootsTech doesn’t seem to find the developers to be very important anymore, limiting the sessions available, not making the Developer’s Challenge more well known, and of course, never having a  developer as an official blogger.

What did I learn?

One thing that became clear was that the search function on Blogger blogs is terrible. Each search only gave four results per page, and was listed above other content. Interestingly enough, sometimes that content fit my search result and didn’t show up in the results. So, for the Blogger blogs, I may have missed some posts. Many blogs did not have a search function at all. Some had categories where I could find RootsTech listed. But some had no categories and no search. Kind of defeats some of the purpose of the blog, if no one will ever find an older entry; might as well just delete them.

And just in case anything here isn’t true anymore, I did all of my blog searching the week before completing this blog post. So if anyone wrote any more about the conference, or I mention a “most recent” post and it isn’t, that would be why. I also didn’t read every post by these bloggers, but I read some of them.

Who made the cut?

Comparing over the three years of RootsTech, the official bloggers list is virtually the same every year with additional names added, and a few removed when they don’t attend. This year, they went especially crazy with adding new people, many of whom are not genealogy bloggers at all, but are just locals.

The usual suspects

Several bloggers do a good job every year. Unless mentioned, everyone in this group has been an official blogger every year. They are all very visible geneablogs.

Jill Ball, Geniaus, uses her media center access for lots of interviews, posting them slowly every couple of days during and following the conference, but admits that she barely went to any sessions. She also had at least one blog post mentioning RootsTech every month in advance of the conference, usually more than one.

Amy Coffin, We Tree, did a little less conference blogging this year. She had a “Day 1, Part 1″ post, and no others like it. A tour of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir followed, and then a wrap-up post.

Dear Myrtle only showed RootsTech in four blog posts in 2013 when I searched. I was sure she had done more than that. However, looking at the all-important 25 March posting, I find that she spent her “blogging” doing video interviews.

The Ancestry Insider, well, he always writes about Ancestry and FamilySearch, so this was common ground for him. His latest post mentions RootsTech in the title, but it doesn’t show up in the search. He’s still kicking out articles derived from and about RootsTech.

Sue Maxwell, Granite Genealogy, just posted a great article about her “pendulum ride” just before and during RootsTech. But besides that post, she only posted pictures from the conference. She did post quite a bit in the months before RootsTech, including a list of tips from other blogs, to prepare for a visit to SLC, the FHL, and RootsTech. She also admitted to barely going to any sessions.

Randy Seaver, Genea-Musings, has a blog I don’t even have to check. He blogs the heck out of everything genealogy. He also admitted to not attending many sessions. A search didn’t show a lot of results, but I know they’re in there somewhere. Not only am I sure he blogged more than is showing, he also read other blogs about RootsTech and posted links to them.

James Tanner, Genealogy’s Star. The search on this site searches Google, and not just his own site. He has a lot of blog posts, and it took searching many pages to get to the bulk of his RootsTech entries. His most recent post from RootsTech is a 22 minute interview with Yuval Ben-Galim of MyHeritage; seems appropriate given that he did most of their keynote.

Renee Zamora, Renee’s Genealogy Blog, has a pretty useless search. It didn’t find me any RootsTech articles in 2013 and I know she’s written some. Using her labels, I found three blog posts since the conference began. Before the conference, I think she blogged every press release they sent out.

Nancy Shively, Gathering Stories, is a second year official blogger. I didn’t even have to search her blog. Every blog post in March is about RootsTech.

More usual suspects

Some other bloggers have been official for either two or three years, but I don’t think they did as well as the first group. I think that some are invited to be official bloggers by some kind of obligation.

Lisa Louise Cooke had a couple of lead-up blog posts, and basically just one about the conference itself. I don’t know how much she may have mentioned RootsTech in her podcast, but the search didn’t show anything.

Dick Eastman, EOGN, did a bit of pre-blogging, but not so much about the conference itself. He basically did one video interview and a long wrap-up blog post. When did MyHeritage start sponsoring his newsletter? I guess he didn’t publicize that very much either. If he put more in his paid newsletter, only his paying subscribers see that, which kind of defeats the purpose of the free advertising the official bloggers are supposed to do.

Holly Hansen, Family History Expos, has been an official blogger for two years. As many others did, one pre-conference post was about the keynote speakers for the first day. Another early post includes a partial list of family history fairs held at LDS Stake Centers in conjunction with RootsTech. I only knew about something in Kansas City. Her one after-conference post begins with being grateful she could attend classes. So was this the only official blogger who made it to more than one session? Of course, this is the blog for another genealogy conference, so making it an official blog seems kind of weird to me anyway.

Thomas MacEntee, head cat herder of the Geneabloggers, was naturally an official blogger. He only has two blog posts that mention RootsTech since the conference, and one is just mentioning a vendor. The other post mentions RootsTech but isn’t about the conference. I expected better from this one. Did I miss something?

[Added note: The following bloggers did not belong in this category, which I only discovered after publishing this blog post.]

Lorine McGinnis Schulze, Olive Tree Genealogy. All of her posts in March are about the live streaming sessions. Wait, was Lorine even at the conference? I don’t remember seeing her, but I didn’t really hang out with the bloggers this year. If she wasn’t there, then she did incredibly well at blogging for the conference. [Note: Lorine clarified that she was not able to attend in person, so she really belongs somewhere else in this blog post. Her own category maybe.]

Julie Cahill Tarr, GenBlog, uses a different search on her Blogger blog, but if it’s to be trusted, she hasn’t mentioned RootsTech since posting tips for attending before the conference and listings about the streaming sessions. [Note: I was wrong about this blog as well. Julie did have a recap post, which did not appear in my previous search of her site, in which she mentioned not attending the conference due to her health. She also had many posts before the conference, but her search results were not sorted by date and I did not realize.]

New additions

A couple new people joined on as official bloggers this year. This group, I think did pretty well. I’m sure, in part, some of these were added for variety.

Sonia Meza, Red de Antepasados, is a new official blogger, from Spain, blogging in Spanish. Her latest blog post is about Day 1. Day 0 was posted after the conference, so maybe there’s more to come from her.

Rosemary Morgan, London Roots Research, is the new London representative. She posted highlights from each day with pictures. Her RootsTech entries basically begin in February when she was chosen as an official blogger.

Drew Smith, half of The Genealogy Guys Podcast, podcasted about RootsTech in most of the latest entries. He also did some interviews, which were included. [Note: Drew notes that he has been an official blogger for all three years, and that he podcasted a lot about RootsTech leading up to it. I must not have seen the “final” list of official bloggers each year when I was researching.]

Dirk Weissleder, Forum FamilienGeschichte, was a late addition official blogger, from what I remember. He writes in German and has five posts that mention RootsTech since the conference began.

And the outliers

They tried something new at RootsTech this year with official bloggers. They found local bloggers who don’t usually write about genealogy. How did they do? Well, basically, it was pitiful. Did any of them even go to the conference? It doesn’t seem that way on their blogs.

Kathy Dalton provides no way to search her blog, but looking through the March entries, she didn’t mention RootsTech at all, unless it was some half-mention in another article. Finally finding her Family History category, there were only two posts that were about RootsTech, from February.

Jenny Eckton has another blog that is not searchable, she has one blog post about RootsTech/Story@Home, which she uses entirely to sell her 365 Days of Story Prompts book.

Emily Hill does not have one single blog entry that mentions RootsTech.

Veronica Johnson appears to blog less often than I do. The only RootsTech post on her main page is from February.

Kim Orlandini, according to her blog, is mainly a photographer. Her blog has no search function. The RootsTech page says she is a “blogger extraordinaire”, but hasn’t blogged since 11 March. Nothing about RootsTech.

Rhonna Designs got a link to her store on the official blogger page. Did they not look at what they were posting? Another blog with no search, blog posts jump from 21 March to 25 March with no mention of RootsTech anywhere.

Summer Rumsey, a scrapbooker, sounded excited for RootsTech in her profile. The search on her blog shows the last mention of RootsTech in February when she gave away a free registration.

Sistas in Zion is another new official blogger, or rather, bloggers. They have only one blog post about RootsTech on 17 March. [Note: Cheri Daniels said that they “rocked it” with their Twitter feed. Good to know at least one of this group showed up to the conference, apparently enjoyed it, and posted about it. I just didn’t see the evidence on their blog.]

Conclusion

Clearly, I’m still a little miffed at being passed over for the last two years. I’ve heard some interesting stories from RootsTech, like how they analyze blog readership. Why do they spend the time and how do they even know the traffic I get? You can’t expect my blog, focused more on one ethnic group, to get as much traffic as some of these others. Don’t they want more variety? Don’t they want someone to blog towards those smaller groups? Do they not want anyone to write from a developer’s perspective? Do they want nothing written about the sessions that most of the bloggers keep missing?

They tried some new techniques this year by inviting locals to get different perspectives, but my analysis makes that look like a failure.

I know that they want the bloggers with the most readers to be official, but if every conference keeps promoting the same bloggers, it makes it that much harder for other bloggers to get noticed.

I don’t think of social media and blogging as a popularity contest. Do I want people to read what I write? Of course I do! Do I care that I don’t have as many readers as other bloggers? No. I write for myself. I write because I want to and I write about what I want to write about. And as long as some of the blog posts take me, especially these Nitpicker posts, I have to care about what I’m writing.

What do you think? Think RootsTech should have an official Jewish blogger? A developer blogger? Someone who would rather attend sessions than do interviews all week?

(Think I should change the title of my blog to The Genealogy Nitpicker?)

The URL of the blog post is http://idogenealogy.com/2013/04/16/rootstech-2013-critique-part-2/.

RootsTech 2013 – The Nitpicker’s Critique, Part 1

This blog post has a bit of a delay in it, but RootsTech 2013 recently ended. It was the third year of the genealogy and technology conference and I have attended each year.

I had fun at RootsTech. I get to see my genea-friends that I only see once or twice a year, and I try to spend some time with many of them. I usually meet a few new people that I might know online or not and improve on our friendships.

I had considered not buying a ticket and just hanging out in the exhibitor hall. I could have done that and had almost the exact same experience. I went to few sessions and wasn’t impressed with many. Here are my critiques, in no particular order.

1. Developer Day. I am both a developer and a genealogist, so I get the feeling that my experience is a little different than the average attendee. Last year, some people (on Twitter and on blogs that I read) said there wasn’t enough interaction between the two groups, the users and developers. So how did RootsTech “improve” on that? They condensed all the developer sessions down to one day so they wouldn’t be around as long to interact. As someone who sticks around for the whole conference and tends to go to developer sessions more than user sessions, this was disappointing. I had less to choose from during the week, and more that overlapped each other. Did others interact more? Did any of the official bloggers talk to developers other than the challenge winners?

2. Advanced User Sessions. Another complaint from last year was the lack of advanced user sessions. Not everyone needs to be taught basic computer skills, but they’re not quite up there with the developers, nor do they want to develop. I am also interested in these more advanced sessions sometimes, as the others are too simplistic for me. This year, the schedule explicitly listed sessions as either everyone, beginner, or intermediate. There was a distinct omission of advanced sessions. RootsTech seems to have changed direction to cater to beginners, and that’s a huge disappointment to me.

3. The Developer’s Challenge. I was wildly disappointed last year to enter the challenge after programming for a couple months to be judged against multiple people that had not only programmed longer than the challenge took place, but at least four of the entries were already in the schedule to be spoken about. This year, I only knew about one submission/finalist in advance, and she had been working on her entry for a year. I’m thrilled for her, and for most other winners both years, but it was a lot harder to take last year. Now that I know the rules as they are interpreted instead of how they are intended, things may be different in the future.

Additionally, the Challenge is almost invisible to the conference. Even now, in April, the winners are not listed on the web site; just the finalists. And there’s no way to get to the Challenge except by clicking through to Developer Day. Why would I assume that it’s on that page? And you can’t tell what the entries are. What makes these submissions innovative? With no description, it’s impossible to tell for some of them. One appears to search FindaGrave. How is that innovative if FaG already has a search function?

4. The Exhibitor Hall. I don’t know if it was just me, but I felt lost in that room when I wasn’t using the map. The conference guide was too difficult, but the one in the app was labeled instead of numbered with a separate listing. Even after finding a booth, sometimes I couldn’t find it again without looking it up. They really can’t improve on that except to have only maps with labels instead of numbers that have to be cross-referenced to a long list.

Also, they closed before the last sessions got out, so even if you learned about something in that session, you couldn’t visit the vendor anymore. I heard that those 2000 kids on the last day exited one lecture hall and headed for the exhibitor hall, only to find the doors closed.

5. The App. This was an improvement. Bump was gone and a list of attendees and friends were added, though I don’t know if anyone found any use out of it, other than seeing who else was going. And there was a very long list of blanks at the beginning. The Unconferencing sessions were not added into the schedule. We did get a notice at least one day that the schedule was online, taking us to a web page to see it. After I downloaded the app, when it told me to re-download, it took me to the web browser instead of the app store where I could get it. There was a constant stream of updates, which was good, but sometimes they seemed excessive. It worked out better than last year, but can’t they get it set up how they want before making it available instead of changing it so much so soon?

6. Unconferencing. I made it to one session this year. I was at the FGS societies meeting, where I did hear about one thing that I wanted to look into for my own society, so it was useful. Any other sessions that sounded interesting were at conflicting times with other things.

7. Scheduling. There were a few places in my schedule where I had marked four or five sessions at once, and some where I had none. Upon reading the syllabus notes, I easily dismissed some as too simple for me. After all, it wasn’t until I registered and got the conference guide in my bag that I saw there were no advanced user sessions.

The real eye-opener was in the after-conference survey, when they asked for comments about each session. The first one they asked for had 15 sessions happening at once. If I was interested in attending those, there is no way I could do so, and there are no recordings. Other time slots had only five sessions in the survey. The schedule didn’t look that lopsided to me in the book.

8. The Keynotes. The first day was a fantastic keynote. All three speakers were good. I wasn’t impressed by the second day’s speakers. The third day was half good. Sorry, but I see no reason why two keynote speakers just gave commercials for web sites that I already know about. Do they think some people still don’t know them? They might be right, seeing as how this conference is now geared towards beginners. I preferred it when RootsTech was for technology users and developers, and not wannabe users.

9. Wi-fi. Their ability to provide tech at this conference is not improving. I tried to connect to the wi-fi briefly a couple of times and I could not get on. I heard others had the same problem, which is the same as previous years. The Salt Palace can hold an awful lot of people, but they aren’t equipped for that number of connections to their system. Others complained about the total lack of wi-fi in the exhibitor hall, same as in previous years. I finally avoided my dependency on the wi-fi this year by having a 4G phone, which I used for the app, occasional tweeting, and other random bits of online access. It seems that they will never improve on this since they keep relying on the Salt Palace to provide it.

10. Evening Events. The evening events were announced very late, and were not so impressive. The only official event I attended was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance. I avoided the social at The Leonardo; it was sponsored but not free. As Jenna, aka @SeekingSurnames, put it, “discount sponsorship”. I avoided going to the Family History Library with 1700 of my closest genea-friends and opted for Thomas MacEntee’s birthday bash instead.

11. No Closing Event. Again. I still prefer an ending, like we had the first year.

12. So Many People. I knew people who were supposed to be there, but it’s hard to find someone among 7000 people. And missing most of the third day was probably good for me, knowing there were another 2000 kids showing up. I saw some of them, but thankfully must have missed the bulk. And next year, we’re moving to a larger part of the conference center.

13. No T-Shirts. I thought that, since I paid for my registration, I’d at least get another shirt out of the deal. But they were selling them this year and I didn’t even know where. I found out after that it was at registration and not in the exhibitor hall. I did get a MyHeritage shirt, but only because I know the people. I also could have gotten a ReelGenie shirt, but never went back to sign up and get one. I was expecting one from RootsTech after the precedent of the first two years.

14. Official Bloggers. For anyone keeping score, I was once again not asked to be an official blogger. In response to the reasons that I was rejected last year, I have another blog post coming about those who were asked. It was too much for this article.

As I said at the beginning, I had fun. Not because of the conference itself, but because it brought some of the right people together. The more that RootsTech strays from its tech roots, the less I’m going to like about it.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/2013/04/12/rootstech-2013-critique-part-1/.

RootsTech 2013, Day 3

Keynote

The keynote was quite the spectacle. David Pogue spoke about his family, and technology, and then gave us a musical performance. He did trip up a couple of times, first referring to his children’s doctor as a vet where his subsequent reaction just made it funnier, and then referring to James K. Polk as his descendent when he should have said ancestor (he didn’t notice that mistake).

David gave us a comedy routine based on technology, music parodies, and it was great entertainment. I was totally enthralled.

Sadly, it was followed by a commercial from MyHeritage. Much like Ancestry’s keynote that I didn’t pay attention to, the MyHeritage keynote was also not as engaging. It had a little more of my attention, but probably only because of the preceding speaker. (Also, I have many friends among the MyH people, so they get a little more attention from me anyway.)

I was likely one of the first people in SLC besides the RootsTech organizers to hear that Gilad Japhet would not be at RootsTech, so I wondered what they would do. Ori Soen began by explaining Gilad’s absence, then introduced James Tanner to the stage, who gave the bulk of the address. And then we got a long commercial, but instead of hearing it from the CEO, it was given by a user, so it was slightly better in that respect. I thought we were also getting a big announcement from MyHeritage, but there wasn’t one.

A few points of contention about James was that he mispronounced Gilad’s name a few times. They couldn’t make sure he was saying it correctly? Anyone who knows me knows that I will interrupt the middle of a conversation to correct someone on the pronunciation of my name. Because it is important. He also spoke about the SmartMatches, or maybe it was the Record Matches, and said “It was exactly the same person, but it wasn’t the same person.” Well, it can’t be both.

MyHeritage Record Matches

MyHeritage offered six months of access for free to the first 500 visitors to the booth after the keynote, but they actually gave more than that. (An employee told me that the CEO is generous. Nice.) Anyone who signed up at the conference would be emailed a code anyway, and if you had an account already, they had extra codes to hand out. Even I got one several hours later.

And thus, I sat at one of their computers and checked out my account for the first time in months. I did not have the code right away, so I was still restricted. I do not have the data plan and I’m well over the 250 maximum people allowed for free.

I took a look at my records matches. It found four matches in Find A Grave. I didn’t know about them. One was a living person who’s stone is ready for her next to her husband. They found six matches in the 1940 US Census. Only six for a database of almost 3,000? I found more than that on the first day when there was no index. (Or the first week, at least.) The 174 matches in newspapers looked interesting. Most of those hits that I saw were not my family but collateral lines, so I’ll have to go through them.

Daniel Horowitz joked with me that I was persona non grata in their booth after my comment on Twitter that morning about not wanting the elves to do my research for me, but I’ll take the newspaper hits on the collateral people happily; I would never try to research any of them so much. (If I didn’t like doing the research so much myself, why would I ever do this professionally?)

Lunch

I finally found Hal Bookbinder at RootsTech, one of my IAJGS 2014 co-chairs, and we had a very long lunch, about three hours long. And we barely discussed the conference. So I essentially missed the last day of RootsTech, save for the keynote, visiting the exhibit hall again, and finding/visiting with a few more people.

Dinner

I had dinner with the Developer’s Challenge winner, Tammy Hepps, a winner from last year, Brooke Ganz, and other friends. Now we have a plan. ;-)

Conclusion

All in all, the conference was a lot of fun. I saw a few friends, many genea-friends, made some new friends, and met a few new people. I attended some sessions that I was rarely impressed with, and spent lots of time in the exhibit hall, often visiting with people rather than visiting “exhibitors”.

A critique of the conference overall will follow. My daily posts have been upbeat because I enjoy the social aspect of genealogy conferences, but my overall impression of the conference itself won’t be so much.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/2013/03/25/rootstech-2013-day-3/.

RootsTech 2013, Day 2 – Development

Keynote

I was not impressed with the keynote today and they didn’t hold my attention to really say much about them.

Jyl Pattee was talking about story telling. This seems to be the theme this year, except that it’s developer day. They must have been even more bored than me. She asked us to think about “wow” moments, then expected those to be major life events. She didn’t know her audience very well because I wasn’t the only person to think about a genealogy find. Even though it sounded off topic from the previous day, which was about telling stories about every day life, she did kind of turn every moment into a “wow” moment, which really didn’t appeal to me.

Then Tim Sullivan spoke about Ancestry.com, beginner research, and collaboration. He announced a new Ancestry/FamilySearch collaboration of probate records. As he did the lead-up, I was expecting a different announcement, due to things I’ve been told. While it sounds like a perfectly decent project, I was hoping for something better; it’s likely not to affect my research at all. I may have missed something, but the whole thing felt a little like a commercial about his site.

As the Developer’s Challenge winners were announced, I paid attention because I knew a finalist. I didn’t even look up if the finalists were listed anywhere on the web site. As the description of the third winner barely began, I could tell Tammy Hepps had won for TreeLines.

 

Dear Myrtle Interviews Tammy Hepps after her Developer’s Challenge win.

It snowed on the drive, but the traffic problems of yesterday did not repeat. I even had time for breakfast before my first session.

Developer Sessions

The Genealogy Workflow Model was about how FamilySearch graphed the genealogy research process. I thought it was supposed to explain how they programmed based on that model, but not so much. It was still kind of interesting but not what I was expecting.

After lunch, there was Modern Databases for Genealogy. We heard about various databases, then focused on MongoDB. I remember this one mentioned from last year. The code looked clear enough to me. I couldn’t figure out how to get it on my shared web server last year, so that’s likely to be an impediment this year too. It was interesting to get a taste of it, but I still don’t know if I’ll ever get to use it for a long time.

A Graph Based Family Tree was a disappointment. I couldn’t follow what he was talking about and he couldn’t hold my interest enough to figure it out, so I left early.

I ended the day listening to Crowdsourcing: When the Power of Many Benefits All. It didn’t sound technical enough for the developer track, and it really wasn’t. It attracted a lot of users. But it was interesting to learn how MyHeritage was handling its translations with crowd sourcing. I had no idea. I didn’t originally have it chosen to attend, but the speaker, Daniel Horowitz, is a good friend, a good speaker, and I had nothing else to do anyway.

Thomas MacEntee threw a big party in honor of his birthday in the evening. It was loud and a little crazy and fun. I was already exhausted but still enjoyed it. I finally drove home late and in the snow.

Thomas MacEntee chats with someone at his party.

Communication

As a user and a developer, I am in a unique position at this conference. There are some other people who are both, but I only know a couple of them. I know the bloggers, the Twitterers, and the Jewish genealogists. My experience is a little different because I don’t talk to the developers as a user, and I can go to the developer sessions without getting in so far over my head.

Even so, I didn’t really talk to any developers (except when they were selling to me as vendors) and I only went to developer sessions all day. What did everyone else do? Did the bloggers speak to anyone besides the developer’s challenge winners? Last year, it was a point of contention that there was little interaction between the two groups, and this year could only have made it worse.

And tomorrow, they have invited about 2,000 children to attend, as if 7,000 people didn’t already feel like a madhouse sometimes. One more day left of this.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/2013/03/23/rootstech-2013-day-2-development/.

RootsTech 2013, Day 1 – Gaming

A Bad Start to the Day

I got almost no sleep, but I was expecting that. No, I wasn’t overly excited. I just haven’t been sleeping well lately. Or at night.

So I watched the keynote from home, and I already blogged about those. They were good. Then I headed downtown. The snow had stopped and the sun was shining. Until I was partway there on 201 and, to the right in my forward view, were the Wasatch mountains. To the left, gray. Just gray. I saw the snow storm I was driving into before I got there.

To make matters worse, I realized that even with everything I grabbed on the way out, I left my conference badge at home. I was not in a position to turn around for a long time, so I decided to just go. Then I got stuck in traffic just on a couple of streets downtown which doubled my commute time. I was not a happy camper.

Arrival and Things Improve

Registration was great, they gave me a new badge, and I headed to the exhibitor hall. I was just in time to hear the quick overview of Janet Hovorka’s Zap the Grandma Gap presentation, so I got some popcorn and sat down for a bit to hear her top tips of getting kids involved in genealogy.

Exhibitors

I then wandered around the exhibit hall, just in time for the lunch break, so I had quite a bit of time. I visited the media center and chatted with the bloggers a couple of times, and collected my beads and ribbons. I stopped at several other booths to get chocolate, or pick up goodies, or to talk to the vendors. Yes, I actually did talk and not just go for stuff and food.

I always visit my friends at MyHeritage, many times, I chatted with Dean at Genlighten (I’ve been a provider on his site for years), found out what ReelGenie is about, asked why the FHL doesn’t yet have Newspapers.com, chatted with someone at the FamilySearch Indexing booth, found out that APG ran out of ribbons yesterday, and plenty of others.

FamilySearch Indexing Counters. But… they don’t match.

I headed out for a session, but couldn’t find the room. My alternate had a crowd around the door, so it was back to the exhibitor hall for me.

I was already pretty disappointed after reading the syllabus this morning. I didn’t do that last year. This year, I saw that all sessions were marked either everyone, beginner, or intermediate. I thought the users complained last year that there were no or too few advanced sessions for them, and this year there are none? So I didn’t think I was really missing anything anyway, since just about everything I read for the day looked too simple to keep my interest for long.

Gaming Genealogy

I did eventually make it to a session, where I listened to Joshua Taylor again, one of the keynote speakers, talk about Gaming and Virtual Realities: Attracting the Next Generation of Genealogists. He said some things that got me thinking about how genealogy could be gamified, but I doubt I have the programming skills to write a serious game on my own. He did a lot of comparing between genealogy and games, and genealogists and gamers: we are both geeks, form communities, are easily distracted by our obsessions (eg. skipping dinner), we have conferences, and he even compared cosplay to reenactments. We both work on strategies to succeed; we track, hidden features of games vs. research logs; both are very addicted; we love gadgets; we’re quick to adopt new technologies; and more.

He continued to give small examples of gaming ideas that were very specific to his family or other ideas he had, but I think a game would have to be quite a bit more generic. But he compared parts of games to researching genealogy in ways that gave me some interesting ideas. I’ll have to let my brain simmer on them for a while.

It seemed to him that one of the trickiest parts is that a game should have an ending and genealogy never ends. To that, he joked that the ending just might be: “Now you’re completely addicted to family history. Good luck!”

We then had a preview of a game that findmypast has been working on. He logged in to Facebook to access it, and almost immediately someone started chatting with him. The game loaded very slowly, but he did show us just a bit, repeating a few times that his game family was so hungry because he hadn’t fed them in a week.

I’ve heard Josh speak before, even before the keynote. He is a great speaker, comfortable behind the podium, and humorous. I talked to him just after and told him he should give that presentation to the developers, because they are the ones who would have to write it. He was planning on it, just not at RootsTech.

Societies

I continued the day with an unconferencing session for genealogy societies. It was an interesting discussion between a small group of society leaders about using technology. I really have to look into one of the things we discussed, for UJGS.

Evening Special Event

Exiting that room, I saw a gathering of people, some of whom I knew, joined them for dinner, then for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Miscellaneous

Tomorrow is developer day, another downgrade from last year, in my opinion. Along with the the lack of advanced user sessions, there was a lack of interaction between users and developers. This year, the advanced sessions don’t exist, and the interaction might not either, with developers only around for one day. I’ll read through the syllabus again before I get there and see which sessions I’ve marked that really sound interesting. Hopefully they won’t all be at the same time, with nothing else the rest of the day.

One more critique about the app. Trying to find the name of a vendor for this post, I found a handful of vendors bookmarked that I never bookmarked. What is going on now? And as I type this, there’s another update. Is that maybe 20 today? At least three since I got home.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/2013/03/22/rootstech-2013-day-1-gaming/.

RootsTech 2013, Day 1 – Keynotes

I can save this for a full day’s blog post or put something out that’s shorter and quicker. I’m opting for the latter.

I thought I’d go to the keynote in person; what was I thinking? But I was just out of the shower as it began and I listened to all three speakers.

I have a few whisper to my neighbor comments about the keynote speakers.

Dennis Brimhall had some staggering facts and great stories. He said, “People don’t really exist until we know their story.” Also, “If there is no record, they don’t exist,” when talking about the 40% of people in the world today that will be born, live, and die, and leave no documentation. Well, actually, they will still exist, they just won’t exist in the future for anyone to find them. Just like those stillbirths buried in the cemetery behind my great-grandparents, along with others from her family. There are no names and no parents’ names on those graves, and no telling if there are more buried there than the two stones. Will I ever know who they were? Actually, I probably will someday. I just don’t have easy access to stillbirths right now. But if there were more, will I find them all? How many other children were born and died before they showed up in the census so I don’t even know to look for them?

Syd Lieberman had some interesting stories to tell. I don’t have much in the way of comments for him. I loved the one quote where his mother had a date and called him to say, “In case you’re gonna call me tonight, I’m not gonna be home.”

Josh Taylor’s stories about his two grandmothers was interesting. I didn’t have a fantastic Grandma Taylor like he did. I did get to speak to both of mine around age 11 or 12 and get some of their family trees, but I didn’t know what I was doing and nobody told me more. After collecting the first round of data, I knew nothing about asking more questions, getting more details, collecting stories, or that there were genealogy societies to teach me more about what I was trying to do. I wish I had that.

One critique I had about his talk was saying that we needed technology to be able to translate old records. Why? There isn’t technology like that now and we learn to read the records for ourselves. Why must future generations have it so much easier? ;-P

Josh also told us not to disregard Twitter. Does that mean he intends to tweet more often? Because we rarely hear from him on there. Psst, hey Josh, tweet more. ;-)

And now I’m going to finish getting ready and head downtown to experience RootsTech in person. I don’t have my blogger beads yet.

The URL of this post is http://idogenealogy.com/2013/03/21/rootstech-day-1-keynotes/.