RootsTech 2011: Day 1

Yesterday was the first day of RootsTech, a new conference on genealogy and technology held in Salt Lake City and sponsored by FamilySearch International, the genealogy information arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The conference started with a little bit of confusion: It seemed that there was a rush to the registration table just prior to the keynote address. This kind of thing can be minimized, of course, by opening registration the day before, or by sending all the lightweight items (tickets to lunches and events, lanyard and badge) ahead of time, and then simply exchanging one of those tickets for a standard backpack or laptop case and any other schwag and late-breaking news.

In any case, the organizers offered to let people register later; they were not going to check badges for the first event. This was something I definitely took advantage of, since I didn’t want to miss the talk by Shane R. Robison (Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Technology Officer, Hewlett Packard) A World of Information and Jay Verkler (CEO, FamilySearch International) Turning Roots, Branches, Trees into Nodes, Links, Graphs.

I am not sure what the more genealogically and less technologically minded attendees thought of Shane’s speech. It was a well-delivered discussion of the future of cloud computing and globalization. I found it fascinating. Of course, with so much of the world so populated, and with these other population centers (China, India, Brazil) poised to dramatically move into more of a middle-class existence, there are serious challenges for global sustainability. I was glad to see that Mr. Robison had sustainability in the center of his group of priorities for Hewlett Packard.

Mr. Verkler got up and tied this all back into genealogy, pointing out that cloud computing is happening in a big way already in the genealogy space: All of the new FamilySearch website is hosted on Amazon EC2 servers in the cloud, not on servers FamilySearch owns itself.

Later in the day, I spent some time manning the NGS booth, looked around at the exhibit hall, and attended some talks. IBM has a space in the exhibit hall with games: non-virtual (pool, air hockey, chess) and virtual (Microsoft Kinect). They were also giving away massages. I also attended jQuery and Web Services, a talk by Logan Allred. He was cogent and clear. Over lunch, I heard Chris van der Kuyl of brightsolid discuss Family History in the Age of the Cloud. He didn’t really talk about the cloud much, but it was an interesting romp through the intersection of technology and genealogy, and a good introduction to brightsolid as a company.

Jimmy Zimmerman’s Ruby Library for FamilySearch API was also a great talk, so full of details, it was practically a code review. I regret to say that Barry Ewell’s talk, Digitally Preserving Your Family Heritage, did not impress me. He’s very knowledgeable about the topic, but his speaking style grated on me. He would start a sentence, stop in the middle, say a couple of sentences that were relevant to him, then finish the original sentence. Maybe he was having an off day, or was a little nervous in the lights, but it didn’t make for a good presentation in my opinion. Michael Buck’s Top Ten Web Applications Security Risks (based on OWASP recommendation) was clear, well thought out, and easy to follow.

At the end of the day, brightsolid sponsored a Night at the Planetarium. There were nachos, sandwiches, and popcorn, but also IMAX films, as well as all the planetarium exhibits. A great end to the day … except that I also headed to the Family History Library, which was open until 11.