The idea of an interest conference probably dates back to prehistory when the bow and arrow folks all got together to talk about new arrow tech. The origin of FamilySearch's RootsTech Conference is summarized in this explanation from Wikipedia: RootsTech
RootsTech is an outgrowth of a conference started at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The manager of Conferences and Workshops, Bob Hales, noted that their long running "Annual Genealogy and Family History Conference" held at the end of July each year was experiencing incredible interest in a track devoted to technology in genealogy. In 1997, Hales met with a local accredited genealogist and technology enthusiast, Alan Mann, to ask for his help in creating a new conference, breaking it off from the Annual Conference. They decided to hold this new conference in March of each year so as to avoid conflict with the July Annual Conference. The first event was held March 1998 and drew 400 paid attendees. By 1999, the second Computerized Genealogy Conference drew more attendees than BYU's Annual Genealogy and Family History Conference, coming from 49 states and 3 countries. Several strategies were employed to accommodate more attendees, including offering the same classes in evening sessions, expanding to other buildings (one of which involved transport by vans), and freeing more meeting rooms by moving exhibitors out of meeting rooms into the hallways. By 2001, the conference organizers turned away hundreds of registrations each year. In 2003, the only national competing event, GenTech, was cancelled, leading to further demand for the BYU Annual Computerized Genealogy Conference.
Over the years, other events were organized to be held a day or two before this annual conference to take advantage of the attendance of exhibitors and developers from around the world. This included the Family History Technology Workshop which displayed and discussed developments in technology for genealogists and the FamilySearch Developers Conference. In 2008, the LDS Church's Family History Department became co-sponsor of these events and the search began for a new venue. The 2010 National Genealogical Society Conference was scheduled to be held in Salt Lake City. With cooperation from the local Salt Lake City NGS sponsor, the Utah Genealogical Association, the Family History Technology Workshop, and the FamilySearch Developers Conference, the Computerized Genealogy Conference organizers met with NGS and proposed a combined NGS conference and Computerized Genealogy Conference, which was held in April 2010. The event was highly successful, and led to plans to move the Computerized Genealogy Conference to Salt Lake City for future events. The name of the conference was changed to RootsTech.
Interestingly, the Family History Technology Conference continued to be held and in the last few years was held on the Tuesday before the first day of RootsTech on Wednesday. Originally RootsTech held a tech conference for a full day on Wednesday. The RootsTech Conference in 2020, began early on Wednesday. For many years RootsTech keynotes and classes were made available on a limited basis on the RootsTech website.
Then along came the pandemic.
The 2020 Conference was held before the pandemic got rolling in the United States so the changes started coming as large events around the United States began to be canceled in March. Finally, it was announced that the 2021 RootsTech Connect Conference would be totally online. Physically attending a RootsTech Conference involved everything from finding accommodation to parking and weather reports. The virtual conference will eliminate many, but not all of those concerns. Let me highlight some of the issues and give my opinion about some possible solutions.
First of all, RootsTech Connect 2021 will be completely FREE to all who register so the issue of getting a packet, printing off your conference badge, and all that will essentially disappear. No travel. No accommodations issues. No food issues. Nothing but you and an internet connection to worry about.
But here is a new twist: the Conference will go from about 7:00 pm Eastern Standard Time in the United States until about 10:00 pm Eastern Standard Time on February 24, 2021, for 24 hours a day. Yes, It will be online 24 hours a day for those three (or four) days depending on how you count and depending on where you live. So, does anyone really expect to stay awake for the entire Conference? No. The key here is that all of the class sessions are being prerecorded and will be online for a year until the next conference.
I am going to add a rumor here. Rumor: Over 400,000 or more people will be registered for the Conference by opening day. What does this mean for the people trying to listen to the Conference during the actual dates when it is supposed to be held? We hope that RootsTech has the bandwidth to handle all these people trying to listen to the same class at the same time. But if you miss a class remember you have a year to try to hear it.
What else? You need to know that beginning on Monday, February 22, volunteers from the Salt Lake Family History Library and from the BYU Family History Libary will be online offering FREE help sessions. You do have to register for a time and again, if the demand is too great, the volunteers will be available for a long time after the conference. Here is the link to schedule an appointment. I will be online about 3.5 hours a day from Monday through Saturday helping answer questions. This is an ongoing service from the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library and will soon be available from the volunteers at the BYU Family History Library with the same scheduling program.
So what is the strategy? Try to listen to as many of the keynote addresses as you can during the conference. Then realize that the classes are not scheduled for any particular time. They are recorded and like YouTube videos, you can watch them any time you want. Start selecting the classes you want to watch and then start watching. You have a year to complete your selections.
What will happen next year? Hmm. What if the pandemic has subsided and we could all go back to an in-person conference? My best guess is that the next conference (and all those hereafter) will be online. The economies of scale are too great and the number of people reached is way too big for RootsTech to regress and hold a live conference. Just a guess, but probably correct.
Now the Exhibit Floor. Well, not really a floor because it all virtual also. The Exhibitors will all have virtual booths online that you can visit. Some of their presentations and videos that are usually shown when they attend RootsTech will likely be available on their own individual websites and YouTube Channels. For Example, The Family History Guide will be online 24 hours a day during the conference. We will also have a bunch of new videos and announcements about the website. Look for us in the Virtual Exhibit Hall.
Now, what about major announcements? I am sure that this year's RootsTech Connect 2021 Conference will hold a number of surprises and special offers and all sorts of interesting things. You may have to dig around a little and look but keep looking you never know what you will find. You might want to study the Session List very carefully. Just a word to the wise.