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March 31, 2011

Chatting With Jay Verkler, CEO of FamilySearch International

Shortly after the Awards Ceremonies at the end of the 3-day RootsTech Conference, I sat down with Jay Verkler, CEO of FamilySearch, International. I asked Mr. Verkler how he came up with the idea of combining Technology with Genealogy to create RootsTech. "GenTech had the idea first" he said. Almost every idea was a team effort. The key was thinking together with others and as such, the entire team was part of the creative process in developing the conference.

What about the older generation, I asked. Often they are afraid of new technology or they like using it but don't care how it works. How would Mr. Verkler suggest we reassure this group and find ways to engage them? Mr. Verkler's response was a surprise. He pointed out that some people are at a stage in their lives where they don't care about learning anything new. And that's absolutely okay. But said Verkler, they probably care about getting things done. So who can they ask for help? One of their children? A friend? As long as someone is there to help them, do they really need to learn the new technology? Mr. Verkler doesn't think we should drag them, kicking and screaming, into it. But he also pointed out that sometimes it just takes a bit of encouragement to get reluctant users to plunge in because they are often more capable than they realize.

The bottom line is that the new technology tools are much better than doing things manually. FamilySearch has a course on the basics - using a computer, using a mouse and so on. Volunteers at a local Family History Center are always willing to help, as are the staff at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Libraries offer assistance too. All we need to do is encourage the reluctant or fearful users to find someone or some place that will help them.

I moved on to a question about participant feelings about their RootsTech experience. At the time of the interview, the email surveys had not gone out and I asked Mr. Verkler if he had any feedback at this point. He replied that of approximately 500 comments already turned in at that time, about 498 responded that they were having a great time.  Only 2 of the 500 had suggestions for improvement. [Note: These were the numbers a half hour after RootsTech ended]

What did Mr. Verkler hope RootsTech participants would take away with them? Mr. Verkler prefaced his answer with an analogy. RootsTech was like making a cake, he said. You put together the best ingredients but you aren't absolutely sure how it will turn out or how it will taste. However many participants said they learned some practical solutions. Connections were made between vendors, with others and with associations. CEOs said they would return to a future RootsTech Conference just to work with such highly talented people. And there would be another Conference, in fact the dates for RootsTech 2012 are established (February 2-4, 2012).

I asked Mr. Verkler to take out his crystal ball and tell us what technical innovations are forthcoming. He replied that we will see new things at RootsTech 2012 that don't exist in the public domain at the time of this writing. Mr. Verkler could not share specific details at this time but he stated that technology will be moving at a faster rate than seen in the past.  RootsTech 2011, being the first, was an experiment to see what worked and what didn't. You must do more to determine if you have the right mix. If future Conferences are as good or better than 2011 then we can look for it to be a permanent feature. It will always be in Salt Lake City as there are  many good reasons to  hold it there. The Family History Library being nearby is a huge plus. He added that RootsTech will keep its theme and try to be effective not necessarily huge.

Mr. Verkler pointed out that RootsTech is about the community. The people invited to participate (technologists, genealogists, speakers, companies) were some of the best in the world. The notion of participating as part of the community to make it better is extremely important. And RootsTech 2012 will be even better and stronger than RootsTech 2011.


Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

Great interview, Lorine. I was so impressed with how Verkler made himself available to bloggers and media throughout the conference and after hours.

Genealogy Blogger said...

Amy, Mr. Verkler was such an interesting and generous person to interview. And I'm so curious as to what's coming in 2012!! I can hardly wait

Enduring Legacy Genealogy said...

Thanks :)