Anyone who has been shopping at a mall lately understands the concept of concentration of resources. There is a synergy in having a location with a variety of options. People may not travel all the way across town to one specialty store, but if they have many choices they will get in their cars and drive to mall. There is the same synergy of resources at a genealogy convention or conference. There are a number of needs fulfilled by both "going to the mall" and also by attending a conference. These include a social function, an educational function and a commercial function.
Genealogy has a tendency to be rather solitary. Even though there is an emphasis on reunions and family gatherings, there is only so much genealogy most family members can stand and a dedicated researcher will not often find someone with the same commitment and interests, especially someone with whom they are related. Conferences provide the social contact missing from the day-to-day genealogical experience. When I go to the Salt Lake Family History Library, I do so expecting to see people I know, but I do not go there expecting a social experience. I can spend the entire day and not speak to anyone. In both the mall experience and the conference, there is a group experience, even if you don't know anyone you are all there together in a common enterprise and having a similar experience. In the more developed genealogical community, going to a conference can be decidedly social. After attending conferences for years and meeting the same people over and again, you can participate in the larger community of genealogists with similar interests as opposed to those who do not attend conferences.
In a conference such as the Arizona Family History Expo, coming up on January 21st and 22nd, 2011, it would not be unusual for me to meet dozens, even hundreds of people I know or recognize. Last year when I attended as a Blogger of Honor, I had a decidedly different experience. It was a cross between being a conference attendee and having a commercial booth. In past years, I was part owner of an Apple Macintosh software company and we spent many years going to the MacWorld Convention in San Francisco. It was one thing to go to the convention and it was an entirely different (and a lot more tiring) experience to have a booth and participate in all of the pre-conference and post-conference activities, like going to a dinner reception with all of the heads of Apple Computer. I have to admit that an Apple convention in San Francisco is not exactly the same as the Mesa version of the Family History Expo, but they are actually very similar experiences. This year as both a Blogger of Honor and a Presenter, I assume I will have an even more challenging experience.
Conferences also have an educational side, with a variety of classes. In a conference like the Arizona Family History Expo, the choices are varied and interesting but there is usually one class (sometimes more) in each time slot that stands out in your interest. On the other hand, at a huge conference like RootsTech in Salt Lake City, Utah scheduled for February 10th through the 12th, 2011 there will be ten or more choices at each time slot and the decision becomes much harder. Having attended many genealogy related conferences, I usually try to make a decision as to what my main interest is going to be and select my classes based on a theme, such as technology or new developments or whatever. As an official RootsTech Blogger, I assume I will have a really different experience.
The commercial function of a genealogy conference cannot be under estimated. It is not like you can walk into your local Walmart and buy genealogical programs or services. There are very few opportunities to get acquainted first hand with the genealogy related vendors. Both the Arizona Family History Expo and the RootsTech conference will be a very good opportunity to see, meet and discuss genealogy related products.
If you have not been to a genealogy conference, please consider attending one or more in 2011. You might find out that there is a whole different side to genealogy you never suspected existed.