Thomas MacEntee at geneabloggers.com has posted an interesting reflection (“The RootsTech Revolution – Woodstock or Waterloo?”) on the aftermath of RootsTech. Thomas raises an important question: will our Woodstock (“A bend in the road. A light in the tunnel. A happening”) become our Waterloo (not working “on our action plans, our methods of implementing what was learned [to turn] these concepts into actual products and services”)?
I did not attend RootsTech, but have been interested in the many, many blogs about the event and its effect on our genealogical sub-culture. Thomas MacEntee’s post has caused me to reflect on what I see happening as a result of RootsTech. I would agree that RootsTech seems to have been a demarcation point for contemporary genealogy. I would describe the demarcation as being almost a paradigm shift.
Since I began blogging just over a year ago, there has been a rising tide of change in the genealogy world – the number of bloggers listed on Genealbloggers.com has almost doubled… FamilySearch has radically shifted its profile as it continues to roll out a new web presence… Ancestry.com continues to grow by acquiring subsidiary firms, as well as the public offering of its stock… “Who Do You Think You Are?” has become a Friday night success in the US, now well into its second season… BetterGedcom has brought genealogy practitioners together with genealogy technologists to seek an improved standard for sharing genealogical information… there are increasing numbers of websites designed to help genealogists publish their family trees (with increased security)…
It seems to me that the tension in genealogy has been between those who control access to genealogical information (Ancestry.com; Footnote.com; previous incarnation of FamilySearch; etc.] and the genealogical practitioner – from professional genealogists and family historians to hobbyists (who range from those mildly interested in tracing family lineages to those who have been bitten by the genealogy virus bug).
Computer operating systems face a similar tension. Microsoft Windows and Apple OS are top-down systems that have developed because the developers “know” what the user “needs.” Microsoft and Apple have each gone their own separate ways, developing their own protocols and keeping their proprietary operating systems – that is, they control the system and sell it to you. Developers of the software that runs within those systems must follow the protocols of the operating system. The software programs that are developed for Microsoft and Apple are proprietary and usually must be purchased.
There do exist alternatives to MSWindows and AppleOS. These are radically different alternatives because they are Open Source systems, not proprietary ones. The open source system best known to me is the Linux operating system. I am not a computer programmer and I do not know programming code, but I have turned to Linux as my operating system of choice because it is open source. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source) includes the following statement about open source development: “A main principle and practice of open source software development is peer production by bartering and collaboration.” In the open source community “peers” may include corporate officers, program developers, vendors, and users. As a user my input (together with that of other users and developers, etc.) has brought about changes in Linux operating systems and software programs that run within those systems. Oh, Yes! Another nice thing about open source systems and software programs is that they tend to be free.
I think that the success of RootsTech is evidence that the genealogical practitioner is now a vital player (not just a consumer) in the continuing development of genealogy protocol and services. While FamilySearch still is basically a top-down service, it has become much more responsive to open source “bartering and collaboration.” This was best evidenced by the shift from an earlier abandoning of the gedcom standard to the announcement at RootsTech that FamilySearch will be reviewing and updating the gedcom standard. The basic question to be resolved is “Will the review and updating include broad-based input and involvement by the community of genealogical practitioners. Another way to ask the question: “Will the work of the BetterGedcom group (organized, as I understand it, primarily by genealogical practitioners) be taken into account in any updating (or replacement) of gedcom standards by FamilySearch, FamilyTreeMaker, Legacy, RootsMagic, et al?
So, it seems to me that the genealogical ‘world’ is moving toward a better balance between the top-down providers (vendors and data providers) and the bottom-up practitioners (genealogists and family historians). One important implication of this movement toward “bartering and collaboration” is that, if we expect to attract more younger genealogists, the field of genealogy will have to continue to move toward more collaboration. Social networking is part of such a move. Giving practitioners a greater voice in accessing and processing vital genealogical information is another part of such a move. Let’s hope that we have begun that move in a significant way – a way that will not be reversed.