Some have contested that RootsTech is killing smaller conferences and negatively impacting the attendance at genealogical events. Long before the RootsTech call for papers was released, I knew there was no need nor intention to compete with genealogical conferences. Although I allowed the program selection committees to make their own decisions about which classes they selected for the program, I did instruct them to this end: classes that were strictly genealogical in nature should not be included in the program. To better define this, I explained that genealogy has become so inseparably connected with the Internet, that a class on genealogy that mentions the use of a website (or multiple websites) did not qualify as a "technical" class.
With that background, I recommended that classes that were genealogical in nature and heavily weighted technical should be included in the technology user program. Also, classes that were technical, but not necessarily genealogical should also be included in the program.
One segment we did not attempt to address were those who needed technical instruction from the ground up. Despite our efforts to not focus on content for these individuals, we found that the demand for technical training among genealogists is so great, that even these technical fledglings were eager to attend to receive some technical education. Their need is so great, but the opportunities to receive beginning technical training on genealogical products is limited.
To those conferences whose attendance has waned, I would ask these questions:
- Is there an opportunity for providing hands-on training from the ground-up for this large number of technology beginners who have an interest in (or may be skilled at) genealogy?
- Are the classes being offered similar to, or the same as classes offered in the past? If so, are those classes still interesting to attendees?
- Do attendees want something new?
- What content would attendees value the most?
Based on my meager observations at RootsTech, the demand for technical training on websites, software applications, and even the basics of computer use are so great that there are many opportunities available to meet these needs. These do not require elaborate computer labs, just good instructors who are willing to take the time to prepare clear, detailed, and professional presentations, accompanied with detailed step-by-step instructions (that might take up more space than four pages).
I don't know the answers for each concern or question, but I do know that RootsTech was not intended to address all of the technical needs of genealogists, nor to replace genealogy conferences. Those pursuing a genealogical education will find themselves in want if they rely solely on RootsTech to provide them with that education. Conferences and educational opportunities like NGS complement RootsTech by providing the in-depth knowledge needed to navigate through electronic resources. Additional educational opportunities include, but are not limited to local and international genealogical and historical societies/organizations, FGS, IGHR SLIG, Family History Expos and many, many more.
As one who believes in letting users influence what we create for them, I am often heard to say, if you want to know what users want, ask them!