Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What is the future of genealogy conferences?

There is an apparent proliferation of genealogy conferences. For example, if you live on the Wasatch Front in Utah (Salt Lake City, Provo, Bountiful etc.) you could attend a genealogy "conference" almost any weekend. Genealogy lists a total of 20 of the "largest and best-known conferences" for 2013. The Geni blog lists Genealogy Conferences 2013 and has 21 listed through September. Another list includes international conferences and lists 32 conferences. In going through the lists on the Web, I know about another six or so conferences that didn't make anyone's list. I am personally scheduled, presently, for 11 upcoming conferences, seminars, genealogy fairs, and other events.

Some of the larger conferences seem to be getting even larger. RootsTech 2013 was reported to have over 6,700 people in attendance. Now, this is not large as conferences go, but it is large for genealogy conferences in the United States. Next year, RootsTech 2014 may be broadcast to hundreds of additional locations throughout the world. At the same time, there is an increase in webinars and webcasts available online, not to mention videos. The question is whether or not the additional exposure of the larger conferences, such as RootsTech, will erode the interest in local conferences or will the local conferences merely incorporate content and presentations from the larger conferences?

Last year, I presented at a webinar sponsored by the Mesa FamilySearch Library. There were over 200 people in attendance for the live presentation. By this year, when I gave a similar presentation, the number of live attendees had dropped to six but the online attendance was about the same and just as many, or more have seen the presentation online. It seems that during the past year, the number of people figuring out that they could stay home and see the same presentation, has increased dramatically.

Will online webcasts and webinars erode conference attendance? I think the answer to that question lies in whether or not the conference attendees feel that the social atmosphere and the verdor areas are worth the time and expense of attendance. This issue is part of a greater issue of the growth of online courses in higher education. There are articles with the title, "College Professors Fearful of Online Education Growth." Perhaps there should also be headlines about how local conferences are being replaced by mega-conferences with distributed content?

My opinions about education come from, not only from my many years spent in school, but also from my years of teaching at high school and college level. But as a rule, conference attendees are far above the average public school student. It is a real pleasure teaching interested adults and not having to worry about discipline issues, like the time one of my "students" in high school, crawled up the row between the desks, where I couldn't see him and lit another student's pants on fire with a lighter. But will there be a motivation on the part of these high class attendees, when they figure out they can get the same instruction, for free, on their own computers sitting in their own home?

When that time comes, I suggest that those holding conferences will have to figure out and communicate other reasons to ensure attendance at their events.

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