Go Compare: WDYTYA vs RootsTech

21 February 2016

Since my return from Salt Lake City, I have participated in two Google+ Hangouts to provide some feedback on the event – one for The Surname Society (on Saturday 13th) and one for The Society for One-Place Studies (on Friday 19th). As a newbie at RootsTech, I wanted to let the genealogical public in on my experience and, hopefully, enthuse them to attend (add it to the bucket list) or encourage them to participate from afar in the future. On Friday, Suzie Morley (Publicity Manager/Events Manager and heaven knows what else for The Society for One-Place Studies) asked me, “How does it compare to Who Do You Think You Are?

One of my genie-mates, Christine Woodcock posted a blog a week ago on that exact topic. I read her post with interest and share some (though not all!) of her conclusions. In the last year, Christine has been a newbie at both events, whereas I am a ‘WDYTYA-goer of long-standing‘! I think (though I am sure she will correct me if I am wrong!) that I only met Christine a year ago but, having been to three events together in less than a year, I would consider her one of my best genealogy buddies. That’s the great thing about both WDYTYA and RootsTech – networking. You meet the people that previously were friends only on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter etc.).

Years ago, the Society of Genealogists organised an annual event in the Royal Horticultural Halls. There were a few lectures on the schedule along with halls full of exhibitors at the one-day event. Then, the television series Who Do You Think You Are? came along back in 2004 – twelve years ago! Wow! It was hugely successful and so, the Society of Genealogists teamed up with Immediate Media to organise Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Initially at Kensington Olympia, 2014 saw two events (one at Olympia and one at the SECC in Glasgow) and in 2015, the event moved to Birmingham’s NEC (it’s staying there this year too). WDYTYA has several streams of lectures on different stages so there are usually four (or so) options for people to attend at any one time. RootsTech by comparison had between sixteen and twenty (or more) at a time!!

RootsTech, hosted by FamilySearch, “is a global conference celebrating families across generations, where people of all ages are inspired to discover and share their memories and connections. This annual event has become the largest of its kind in the world, attracting tens of thousands of participants worldwide”, according to the RootsTech website. Wikipedia gives a potted history of the event which is “an outgrowth of a conference started at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah”. The first RootsTech was held in February 2011, drawing around 3,000 people and the number of attendees this year was reported as being over 25,000. RootsTech can certainly call itself the largest family history/genealogy conference in the world, I would imagine. But my question is: is it too big?

The Expo Hall (RootsTech) is vast and certainly bigger than WDYTYA but not so enormous that you couldn’t get round and see the exhibitors you wanted to see. There are Ambassadors at RootsTech (bloggers to help promote the conference, of which I was one) – un-chartered territory for WDYTYA but perhaps something which organisers might want to consider. It’s an unpaid role but Ambassadors are given free entry to the event, as well as access to the Media Hub (a big bonus). I was surprised that Ambassadors were not used more and perhaps something RootsTech could take from WDYTYA is the idea of the ‘Ask The Experts‘ bookable tables where members of the general genealogical public can schedule twenty minutes with an expert and ‘pick their brains’.

The problem with having so many lectures to choose from at RootsTech is that some lectures were full and some had very few attendees. At WDYTYA, with fewer options, I believe that the lectures are better attended (but then the theatres are smaller, so it could be a matter of perspective!). Returning to the Expo Hall, the array of exhibitors was much greater (although the basis was similar) and the Innovation Summit clearly brings more technological companies into the room at RootsTech.

In terms of ‘out of hours’ activities during the events, RootsTech once again scores in the ‘almost too much to choose from’ department. Whilst it is good to keep busy, we don’t want to be so exhausted at the end of it all. WDYTYA always sees ‘Tweet-ups’ and small groups organising evening gatherings but nothing like on the RootsTech scale. I think that is the general difference – RootsTech is exponentially bigger in every way!

And so, will I be at WDYTYA this year? Yes. I am, once again, on the speaker’s schedule. Will I be attending RootsTech again? Yes. I might even apply to be a speaker next year, but I am not so sure that RootsTech will become an annual event for me. For a start off, it’s very expensive (travel/accommodation/food/drink/leaving FWL to survive without me, etc.!) but there is so much which is made available to those attending virtually, that I might consider a role as #NotAtRootsTech attendee.

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