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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Plenty of Tech, what about the Roots?

Rootstech 2012 is only a few weeks away, and I am one of (doubtless) thousands of people planning to attend. Rootstech 2011 was an amazing event, and expectations were running high for the next one, bu then came news of a bizarre decision by the organisers to exclude booksellers and other non-tech vendors from the exhibit hall.

I first became aware of this through a posting on Leland Meitzler's GenealogyBlog where he quotes from a message he received from the Exhibit Hall Co-ordinator:

RootsTech exhibit hall is for technically related products and services. We are purposefully not accepting applications from genealogical studies, book publishers, book resellers or arts and crafts dealers.
Please call to discuss if you like.
I am as puzzled as anyone at the reasoning behind this announcement. First of all, I'm not alone in believing that the point of Rootstech was to bring together genealogy and technology, so restricting the Exhibit Hall to technology exhibitors only is bizarre, to say the least.  There might be some justification if space were at a premium, but this is definitely not the case where the Salt Palace Convention Center is concerned. One of the ways to make an event successful is to have vendors that appeal to your attendees' demographic, even if their goods or services are not directly related to the event; for example, vendors at Who Do You Think You Are? Live have included conservation charities, travel agents and further education providers as well as family history organisations and vendors. Furthermore, it is a basic retail principle that half of the battle is getting people through the door in the first place; if you want to entice nervous or reluctant technology users to the shining path of the digital future, it's a good idea to lure them in with something from their comfort zone.

At the same time, the smart vendor will tailor their pitch to the expected audience so that those who only sells books will go heavy on technology-related titles, and those who also deal in gadgets and software will adjust their selection accordingly. Who knows, seeing at first hand the appetite for technology in the genealogy market might encourage encourage 'old-fashioned' booksellers to expand into e-publishing or software, for example. Win-win, surely?  

Then there is the matter of simple courtesy. If the Rootstech organisers want to exercise their undoubted right to exclude certain kinds of vendors (wrongly, in my opinion), then they have chosen the wrong way to go about it. You only have to look at Leland's blog and the comments posted on it to understand the unfairness of the short notice given to potential exhibitors, leaving aside any questions of tact and diplomacy. You have to plan a long way in advance to attend as a delegate, let alone a vendor. Hotels have to be booked well in advance and often pre-paid to get the best deals (the main Rootstech hotels sold out ages ago), and possibly and inventory needs to be ordered. Many vendors will have applied for their booths as soon as they could, and already invested time and money in preparation for the biggest genealogical gathering of the year. They stand to suffer real financial losses as a result of this high-handed pronouncement.

Two of the Rootstech Official Bloggers responded promptly to the news with a combination of disbelief and condemnation, Dear Myrtle and Genealogy's Star. Since I started writing this, I have seen further posts from  We Tree, Geneabloggers (two more of Rootstech's Official Bloggers) and Paula's Genealogical Eclectica, and doubtless other that I haven't picked up yet. The message is loud and clear - Think again, Rootstech. It seems that they have now undertaken to 'revisit the issue'. I should think so too.

I am saddened by this episode, since everything about Rootstech 2011 was so positive, and a sour note has now been injected into what should have been an even greater event. Still, there is time for Rootstech organisers to retrieve the situation. We all make mistakes, and shouldn't be ashamed to admit them and learn from them. I hope that in a couple of months we will look back on this as a temporary blip, or even better, have forgotten about it in the excitement of a second Rootstech even more successful than the first.

I am not one of the Official Bloggers, but as a Rootstech presenter I have received a complimentary registration for the event. I would have attended anyway, and I agree wholeheartedly with Paula
Stuart-Warren who entitled her blog post 'Don't boycott Rootstech 2012'. I hope we are participating in a practical demonstration of how massed ranks of genealogists can use social media to great effect. 'Occupy Rootstech', perhaps?

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