Thursday, March 28, 2013

RootsTech: Virtual Edition

This past week marked the return of the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City! Unfortunately, this also marked the first year that I was not able to attend the conference in person. Despite my satellite position, I was still very excited about participating in a virtual manner. In fact, this was the culmination of some of my earliest desires three years ago when I gave my first review of this brand new conference. Way back then...or yesterday as it seems...I knew this was a different kind of conference, and with technology at its base, I knew it had the potential to reach multitudes beyond the on-site attendance crowd. And so here we are, three years later. For 2013, the on-site attendance has more than doubled to 6700+ and the virtual attendance number has grown to over 10,000 (per the opening session estimates). As a first time virtual attendee, let's dig in to see how things went!

1. Video streaming: This was live! Ok, the main thing I REALLY miss about not being there in person is the energy that just flows throughout this conference. From the opening pep rally (session) to the colorful and gadget flashing exhibit hall to the sessions and to the continuous conversations that flow among the attendees, this is without a doubt my favorite conference for sheer energy and idea production. While I was very excited about the live video streaming of a few sessions each day, I didn't think it would be quite the same. But I have to admit, by watching live, plus following along via Twitter, I still felt like I was part of the energy! Granted, I am a full-time librarian, which means I couldn't drop everything and watch every live session, but throughout my day, I was constantly aware of the live sessions coming up in my next break or at lunch or even after work, and it managed to keep me in tune with the "live" nature of the conference. Not to mention, checking the Twitter feed was an instant energy dose at any given moment.

I also have to compliment the conference organizers for the great quality of the live feed. I was really worried when I first joined the feed to watch Thursday morning. It took a little while to load, and on my iPad I encountered the flash symbol which had me scrambling for my Puffin browser. I heard later that they did have an iOS version of the feed that was up and running soon that morning, but I just stayed with Puffin for most of the conference. However, the quality of the feed was still fantastic, which again, added to the virtual experience. Oh, and they were super fast about getting the previous day sessions online - which are still there to view at your leisure - so if you missed them, hop on over there and have your own virtual conference!

2. Free conference materials: Syllabus print-outs and exhibitor list! I know, a free exhibitor list is standard online equipment for any conference these days, but having this list to look over and click through the various web sites for each exhibitor is, again, a bit more exciting than the standard non-tech conference. Since the exhibitors are tech-flavored and sometimes brand new tech-introductions, which can be sampled from the comfort of my own home, their exploration quickly becomes a tech treat, not to be missed!

Having the syllabus material on hand to print out or save for later reading was fantastic! I know it's not the same as attending in person, but it gives the virtual attendee something to chew on, and provides valuable information about the subject. Love it!

3. Social media: Twitter/Blogs, etc. For me, the social media aspect really enhanced my virtual experience! With the various tools being used by many attendees (both in-person and virtual), we all rocked the collaboration/community aspect of this conference. This was what allowed the conference to interact with 16,700+ people, and not just 6700. Twitter was probably my favorite tool as it allowed instant conversations to form, plus many folks shared links and photos throughout the conference that added icing to the conference cupcake. The blogging was and still is trickling in....I always love going through the official blogger list since these folks usually provide great daily re-caps. However, while the genealogy official bloggers kept things hopping, I was very confused about the selection of non-genealogy bloggers included on the official list. At first, I thought this was a really cool idea - bringing in fresh impressions to expose them to the value and excitement of this conference - but that quickly faded as I counted 8 out of 27 non-genealogy bloggers (a pretty big number in my book) - none of which has yet to blog one thing about RootsTech, or their possible experience there. Except for Sistas in Zion - these ladies rocked it, and I LOVED their posts/Twitter feed! Their blogging at this event was, I'm sure, what organizers had hoped for, but it was extremely sad to see the others given official blogger status without any response on their blog! Speaking from the genealogy community, I found that very insulting. I would have rather seen some new genealogists blogging their experiences rather than the main streamers who remained uninterested. Did any of them besides Sistas in Zion even attend?

Video also seemed to remain a huge product that comes out of RootsTech. Thanks to our video/blogging/podcasting veterans in genealogy land, we always end up with great video take-aways from behind the scenes! Also, the new HOA video features from Google+ were a new hit with folks. I look for more of these sessions throughout next year's conference!

Fin: Well, that's about it for my virtual experience this year. I will keep checking in on the Twitter feed and the blogger posts as folks continue to blog about their 2013 experiences - which should continue for several weeks. Plus, I also look forward to more canned sessions being posted on the RootsTech site within the coming weeks and months - which keeps the experience going! BTW, I see they have already posted the dates for RootsTech 2014 - Feb. 6-8. Not sure which way I will attend next year, but either way will still be a great experience!



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