Rootstech Family History & Technology Conference – Day 1

rootstech teaser

Howdy everyone!  I know that I’m a new face on Voices of the Past, so please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Charleen Mullenweg, and I’m from Houston, Texas.  I currently live just north of Austin, Texas, in a little city called Pflugerville (hard to spell, easy to love), where I work for one of the local hospital systems, spoil my critters, and work on my genealogy in the dead of night.  Ok, sometimes in the daytime too, but I always shut the curtains tight.  I met Jeff and his lovely wife at WordCamp Dallas a few years ago, and we all bonded over our mutual love of cemeteries. Which is why I’m here now, cluttering up his blog – Jeff found out that I am attending the Rootstech Conference here in chilly Salt Lake City, and asked me to blog a few of my views, thoughts and impressions of this new conference.  I hope he doesn’t regret it too much!

My swag
My swag

I first heard about Rootstech late last year, and thought “Genealogy and technology! What’s not to love about this???”  I must admit, my second thought was, “Maybe I can finally see that library!” I imagine something out of a fantasy painting with a wizened old man sitting at a cluttered table in front of bookshelves that stretch into infinity in every direction.  I doubt its going to be like that, but I’ll let you know late Friday (or more likely, early Saturday) as that’s when I finally get to see it!

This morning I woke up bright and early, packed in a breakfast, and headed the 75 steps over to the Salt Palace Convention Center.  If you ever have to attend something at that center, I would seriously recommend staying at the Radisson Downtown, as it is super convenient and well priced. The breakfast ran long, though, so I missed the keynote with Jay Verkler, the CEO of FamilySearch International, and Shane R. Robison, the Executive VP and Chief Strategy and Technology Officer at Hewlett Packard.  Registration was painless, and I got a nice swag bag for my trouble, so I headed down to the Expo Hall, and killed time before the 11 a.m. session.

That first session was “Software Forecast: What Genealogists Need for the Future” presented by D. Joshua Taylor of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  Josh was an engaging speaker and very knowledgeable about the existing, emerging, and possible technologies for genealogy. In his words (from the syllabus, and I hope he’ll forgive me the borrowing of an excellent quote), “Genealogists are at a crossroads between available tools and the ability to integrate emerging technologies into daily practice.”  As you can imagine, emotions ran pretty high in parts of this, as I’m finding there’s a faction within the genealogical community that is resistant to change for various reasons, but more on that later.  Josh began by proposing a standardized metadata set as a way to make documents and images accessible cross-platform, much like a GEDCOM is for the database itself.  Doing this would allow for open source developers to build tools in order to enhance the existing platforms.  This is where the resistant to change faction began to speak up, citing security concerns, monetization worries, or simply that Ancestry will never accept such changes, but Josh supported and defended his position well.  He also brought up several possible uses for social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, but that mostly seemed to be surrounding finding and keeping in touch with fellow genealogists, or distant family members.  Finally he spoke about cloud storage solutions and collaboration tools that could be coming down the pipe. All in all, it was a lively and excellent presentation, and one of my favorites of the day.

Ancestry.com Lunch

I scurried over to the lunch, sponsored by Ancestry.com, with a presentation on “Mobile Applications: The Hows, Whys, and Future for Genealogy.”  The speaker was Kendall Hulet, the Senior Director of Platform and Mobile Product Management at Ancestry.com, and the presentation was informative.  Kendall talked about the different mobile platforms, and compared their rate of adoption and usage to models like the adoption and dominance of Netscape or AOL. He also showed us the current market share and last quarter growth of the major players in mobile platforms.  The upshot of it was that Apple’s IOS/iPhone/iPad is holding steady, while Android seems to be eating up the users that used to be BlackBerry owners.  I’d be interested to see how those numbers look next quarter, now that Verizon has finally gained the rights to sell contracts for the iPhone.  Kendall then talked about the new developments that Ancestry has made on their mobile application for the iPhone and iPad (it looks far cooler on the iPad in my humble opinion).  He talked about and briefly demonstrated some of the other products on the market for IOS, like Traces of the Past, Reunion, and Everyday Genealogy.  He moved on to the Android products like Family Bee and Genstar Pro, ending that discussion on the high note that Ancestry is in active development of their mobile software for the Android platform.  Finally, he covered the future of what’s coming from Ancestry: he said that there will be active syncing between the online and desktop trees “very soon” (SQUEE!!) and multilingual support (same timeline of “very soon”).  I tried to push him on more definitive dates during the question and answer session, but he wouldn’t budge.

Ok, I’ve delivered my breaking news (Ancestry syncing!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!), and its getting quite late, so I’ll have to finish telling you about Thursday tomorrow. Good night all!!!

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Photo teaser elements courtesy of Roberta Taylor and Frangipani Photograph

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