Thursday, February 2, 2012

Inventing the Future at RootsTech 2012

Jay Verkler talks about the future at RootsTech 2012“The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” said Jay Verkler. “What will the world look like in 2060?” asked Verkler. “And what can we do in 2012 to make it better?”

Verkler is the immediate past president and CEO of FamilySearch International. (See “FamilySearch Announces New CEO.”) He made the remarks during his opening keynote presentation, “Inventing the Future, as a Community,” at the second annual RootsTech conference.

RootsTech is a technology conference created by Verkler last year. Technologists can learn about technology designed to help them produce better genealogy products, while genealogists can learn about the latest technology designed to help genealogists be more productive. Conference attendance has grown from 3,000 people last year to 4,000 this year.

Verkler presented a framework that could enable a dazzling future.

The framework will require the collaboration of many companies and organizations. ”I think there is a case for building this as a community,” said Verkler. There is a pretty compelling case for open standards.

Verkler brought several partners onstage to show how realistic the cooperation can be.

Two gentlemen from Google, Robert Gardner and Dave Barney, showed a browser plugin utilizing microdata. Microdata is a standard for making data on a web page understandable to a search engine. They showed what a user sees and what a search engine sees when viewing a website. All the search engine sees is a bunch of bunched up words. If the website adds genealogy microdata, the search engine sees people, names, birth dates, birth places, and so forth. Werelate, Geni, and FamilySearch have adopted the new format. Barney showed a browser extension—now available to the public. Looking at a record on FamilySearch, he launched a Google search that returns matching records on other websites. Barney also showed an example viewing a person on Geni. With one or two clicks, he had all the matching records on

Verkler invited Chris Van Der Kuyl, brightsolid CEO, to join him on the stage.

“We at brightsolid—across all our websites,” said Van Der Kuyl, “believe that the more we can collaborate, the more success we will have as an organization, and the more people will have success doing genealogy.”

Verkler also had Matthew Monahan of join him.

“I appreciate the precision and thoughtfulness of the vision Jay has presented,” said Monahan. “I’d like to echo the message of collaboration.”


Verkler walked through each element of a community framework and illustrated how it could impact us as genealogists.

Jay Verkler presented a community framework for the future of genealogy

The “half life” of a link is 2 to 3 years. That is to say, half of all URLs and addresses today will be broken in less than 3 years. “We believe solving this problem is possible.” (I know FamilySearch is working on this issue, but as Jay didn’t mention anything, neither can I.)

Conclusion sharing would allow transfer of your tree and all its links, citations, photographs, and scanned documents. You could save them to your local hard drive. Or you could transfer them from your tree, say on RootsMagic, to and have everything in the tree transfer over.

Structured records were pretty cool. The record could “talk” and could “know” about where it is used. You could look at the record and be able to link to all the trees that link to it. Or you could take a person in your tree (say one that you’ve corrected) and find all the other trees that were copied from yours.

Authorities are standardization tables that allow search engines to match on alternate name forms, such as Jim, James, or equivalents among Oriental names. The same need exists for places, dates, and even event types. ( and WeRelate just announced they are collaborating in this area.) This technology allows you to find all the records about your ancestor, even when spellings, calendars, and place names vary among the records.

imageA source authority is like a catalog of all the world’s records. If you found a record listed, you could lookup the archive. The source authority would allow standard ways of citing sources.

Verkler shared quotes from Elizabeth Shown Mills explaining the importance of citations. (Personal aside: the writer of the Ancestry Insider provided the quotes to him! I was proud of Jay for including a citation to the quotes. Unfortunately, he used a 1 pt. font. Oh well. Baby steps. )

Recognizing Verkler

Since his retirement at the beginning of the year, this was Jay Verkler’s last big FamilySearch hurray. As FamilySearch leadership joined him onstage the audience rose and gave him a standing ovation. Verkler was visibly moved.


FamilySearch chief genealogical officer, David Rencher presented Verkler with a plaque recognizing his ten years of service and innovation.

Plaque given to Jay Verkler, former FamilySearch CEO

Well deserved, Jay. Well deserved.


  1. Haven't been able to find the one mentioned in the post yet, but I did find another through a Google search that searches FamilySearch for matches for the same information gleaned from an Ancestry Member Trees search. The URL is quite long, hopefully I haven't screwed it up in copying it over, found it through a Google search.

  2. Thanks for this excellent overview to Jay's presentation. With little tech background, I was in awe.

    You must have been in the front row to get such great photos (unless these are screenshots!).

  3. For 2014, Roots Tech will be in February again.


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