Saturday, March 4, 2017
Conferences, Webinars, Classes and Presentations: Genealogy in person and online
Clear back in 1965, I made my first TV appearance singing on a local station in Venado Tuerto, Santa Fe, Argentina. Since then, I have had hundreds of opportunities to be on both radio and TV and now, most pervasively, the internet. Over the past few years, I have seen that the internet has made dramatic inroads into the in-person world of conferences and classes. The recent RootsTech 2017 Conference is a perfect example. Physical attendance at the Conference was probably in the 20,000 to 30,000 range including the Saturday Family Discovery Day. But the online audience was over 100,000. Likewise, when I teach a class with anywhere from two to fifty people or more those numbers pale at the outreach we have by broadcasting webinars that are recorded and subsequently uploaded to the Brigham Young University (BYU) YouTube Channel where one of my webinars now has over 16,000 views. Of course, 16,000+ views on YouTube is small potatoes overall, but pretty good for genealogy.
As I have observed in previous posts, I was actively involved in genealogical research for about 15 or 20 years before I went to my first live genealogy conference. Subsequently, I began teaching and presenting at conferences around the United States and into Canada. But the total number of people who have watched at least one of my online webinars probably vastly exceeds the number of people I taught at all the conferences I attended over the years even exceeding the numbers who viewed my keynote presentation at RootsTech a few years ago.
What is my point? There is a dramatic shift in communication. Current studies are showing that children are spending more time interacting with other children online than they are in person. Likewise, around the country, genealogy conferences have become more local affairs, reflecting the social nature of the gatherings, while at the same time, there has been a virtual explosion of online genealogical classes and presentations. At the BYU Family History Library, we have uploaded 245 webinars and shorter presentations and that number will likely increase to almost double that number by the end of 2017. This increase in online classes is not, of course, limited to the BYU Family History Library. There is an increase from other organizations also.
Statistics about attendance at genealogy conferences is almost impossible to find online. You do find general mentions of the numbers but there are no year-to-year numbers that might show a trend. For example, attendance at RootsTech in 2015 was given at 23,319 according to Dick Eastman. In 2016 the attendance increased to over 26,000 with over 100,000 online views. In 2017, the attendance was reported to be 13,000 with the online views again at over 100,000. Maybe this is an anomaly? There has been some discussion in the past about declining attendance at conferences but with a lack of actual statistics it is hard to tell. My own observations would seem to indicate a general decline in attendance at larger conferences but some of the smaller, regional conferences still draw about the same numbers. What is certain is that the medium sized, regional conferences are getting to point where the numbers may not support the conferences especially if the sponsor has to pay for the venue and other amenities.