Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ten Takeaways from the FGS/RootsTech 2015 Conferences

Here are some of my thoughts and conclusions from the FGS/RootsTech 2015 Conferences in Salt Lake City last week:

1)  I really need to go to the Innovator Summit Day.  We usually fly in on Tuesday, and I go to the library on Wednesday for research.  A lot happened on Wednesday at the Innovator Summit, including a tour of the new FamilySearch Family Discovery Center which I passed up in favor of research.  So maybe we fly in on Monday next year?

2)  All three of the Keynote sessions were excellent, with a good mix between genealogy and family history ("stories").  I especially liked the Dennis Brimhall Keynote on Thursday, with the "Museum of Me" that highlighted the Family Discovery Center.  That looks like something that might "hook" many persons into genealogy and family history.

Mike Mallin (MyHeritage) asked "What is a Discovery? - it's a gift of knowledge!"  He noted that MyHeritage is acting as the messenger - using the "Instant Discoveries" feature, a person can enter their information, their parents and grandparents, and MyHeritage tries to add content - up to 50 relatives, based on information in MyHeritage trees.  For free.  Apparently, about 30% are successful.  This "instant gratification" is vital in the wider genealogy market.

Josh Taylor (FindMyPast) discussed his company's accomplishments and plans, including weekly new record content, accessibility of records on Mocavo, Hints in the FindMyPast family trees, partnerships with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, FamilyTreeDNA, StoryPress, and BillionGraves.  He also told us his "FindMyPast Story" in a similar fashion as Who Do You Think You Are?"  It was pretty cheesy.  I want to try it out.

A.J. Jacobs was funny and highlighted his Global Family Reunion effort in New York City on 6 June, with mini-reunions around the world. Everybody got a "I Am A Cousin!" chart on their chair.

The segments with Tan Le, Laura Bush and Jenna Hager, and Donny Osmond were supportive of family stories.  I couldn't help laughing throughout the Donny show at my geneablogging colleagues sitting nearby who were singing along, shouting and waving at Donny, they were so excited (they know who they are!).

3)  The Expo Hall was BIG!!!  BIG!!!!  170 exhibits.

Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindMyPast and FamilySearch had the exhibits opposite the main entrance doors, and had their own little theaters (seating 15-30 persons) for the staff to demonstrate their products using a presentation format.  This was, I think, very effective.  Each company also had computer stations in their exhibit to demonstrate specific features of their website.  All four were busy almost every time I passed by.

There were a number of new exhibitors with stand-alone products, or products that worked as apps with the FamilySearch Family Tree (e.g., Puzzilla and RootsMapper).  There were also companies like and Tree Crossing that looked interesting.

4)  FamilySearch had several interactive stations where persons could "play" with many of the features in a Family Discovery Center, such as:

**  First and Last Name origins and meanings
**  The Year You Were Born, or any other year
**  Migration Stops of your ancestors
**  Ancestral origins of your ancestors
**   Adding your face to a historical photograph

5)  The four finalists for the Innovator Challenge, plus several other submitters, had exhibits in the Expo Hall.  The Showdown on Friday was livestreamed, and I attended it live, and voted.  My pick was ArgusSearch, which can search for names in handwritten records.  I thought that this was the most technologically innovative of the four finalists.  The winner was StoryWorth, which uses 1990's technology (landline phone and email) to induce people to tell their stories, for a price.

6)  One of the busiest exhibits was probably the  They were having customers find themself in the FamilySearch Family Tree and then printing off a four-color 24x36 7-generation chart.  They offered free blank, and all black and white, charts, and a third free color chart if the customer bought two color charts. Lots of customers were getting a frameable family tree fan chart.

7)  There were always crowds at the Outside the Box theater where Maureen Taylor, Lisa Louise Cooke, Janet Hovorka, Denise Levenick, and Family Tree Magazine had many visitors to their exhibit, with scheduled talks featuring the products of the principals in the theater.

8)  The Demo Theater was sponsored by Backblaze, and had scheduled 15-minute segments throughout the day by exhibitors.  The chairs were comfortable, and there were tables on the periphery where attendees could sit and eat and watch the talks.  I attended Laura Prescott's talk about the Ancestry Academy, an education center.  I was disappointed that parts of it will be by subscription.

9)  The Media Hub was almost always busy, with video interviews scheduled throughout the day professionally filmed by FamilySearch.  In addition, there were couch interviews with Keynote speakers and others.  There were about 10 genealogy bloggers there each day, and more lifestyle bloggers (whose focus was stories), in addition to print and television media.  DearMYRTLE did about 12 AmbushCAM short videos which you can see on her YouTube channel.

I spent a lot of time in the Media Hub because it had excellent connected Internet and wifi service.  I wrote many of my blog posts from there, and talked to my geneablogger colleagues.  I don't do interviews.  I ventured out into the exhibit hall many times each day and took pictures of selected exhibits and also of my friends and colleagues.

10)  The Geneabloggers After-Party at the home of Pat and Gordon Richley-Erickson was even better than last year, with about 40 in attendance.  We got there by either carpool or TRAX (with a pickup at the station).  You can see pictures from the party in FGS/RootsTech 2015 Geneablogger After-Party Photos - Post 1 and FGS/RootsTech 2015 Geneablogger After-Party Photos - Post 2.

11)  I know, I said 10.  Did you notice that I did not mention going to classes at either FGS or RootsTech?  That's because I didn't go to any classes due to time constraints and my own interests in the Expo Hall and the Media Hub.  After reviewing the list of classes, I realized that several of the ones I wanted to see would be on the RootsTech livestream and I could watch them after the conference.  

There seemed to be an emphasis on Stories in the classes, and that doesn't particularly interest me.  I hope that there will be more genealogy and technology classes at RootsTech next year (the concurrent FGS classes had much more methodology content, bit I didn;'t go there either!).

Disclosure:  I received a free registration for RootsTech as a RootsTech Ambassador, and appreciated it!  Thank you, FamilySearch.

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Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver


Geolover said...

A lot of marketing and aggregator announcements, little innovation.

Janice M. Sellers said...

I agree about the Innovators Summit. I couldn't believe they passed up OCR for handwriting in favor of recording a phone call, whether for a price or not.

Dana Leeds said...

Thanks for sharing your top 10... or 11. It gave me a lot of insight into the conferences!

Looking Foreward said...

My understanding was that winners for the Innovators Summit were judged on whether their product was ready for immediate use. The OCR handwriting wasn't quite there, yet.