Wednesday, February 11, 2015’s Scott Sorensen Addresses #InnovatorSummit @ #RootsTech (#RTATEAM)

“It’s a really exciting time to be in the family history business,” said Scott Sorensen at the opening keynote of the RootsTech Innovator’s Summit. “We’re all working on a piece of the same puzzle,” he said. “It’s the same with technology.” Sorensen is the chief technology officer (CTO) at where he directs 400 engineers. He gave a short presentation prior to the main speaker.

He’s been at for 13 years. In that time, he’s seen a lot of changes. That’s back when the website looked like this:

The appearance of in 2002

Sorensen talked about three technologies.

1. Mobile platforms. Sorensen said when he started at he owned a flip phone. Today, with smart phones and family history apps he can do his family history anywhere. A lot of family history opportunities are location-specific. When at your aunt’s house, you want to access your genealogy and capture documents she has.

2. Handwriting recognition. When Sorensen started at, speech recognition was where handwriting recognition is now. Last summer sponsored a competition at the 13th International Conference on Document Analysis and Recognition. (See “Competition as Collaboration – Handwriting Recognition Competition .”) They are hoping to do it again this year.

Handwritten document sample provided to contestents

Basic algorithms are working, but the developers are working out edge cases.

3. DNA Science. When Sorensen started at, it cost a couple of million dollars to sequence a person’s complete genome. (Wow! Did I write that down right? I’m pretty sure I did.) Today it can be done in less than a thousand dollars. is innovating in the DNA space, but that has required deliberate effort. has grown to have 1,400 employees around the world. Large companies have a hard time innovating like small companies do. They separated the team so they could act like a startup. They were unconstrained. They had lots of early interaction with real customers.

The result is something calls DNA Circles. DNA Circles find groups of people with common DNA and a common ancestor, as shown by their Ancestry Member Trees. This group is called a DNA Circle. can then place people that share that same DNA into the circle, even if they don’t have a tree or haven’t previously done any genealogy. This can quickly connect a customer with a wealth of stories, photos, and records.

DNA Circles can quickly connect a prospective genealogy with his ancestors

I’m going to skip reporting on the main speaker to give me more time to write about and FamilySearch. (Sorry, Nathan.) His presentation was titled “How to Apply the Innovator’s Method to Increase Your Success and Decrease Your Risk.” I think his presentation was based on his book, so if you’re really interested see The Innovator’s Method (Harvard Business Review Press, September 2014).

By the way, the guy who introduced Scott (sorry, I didn’t catch your name) mentioned something interesting: Google Genomics. For more information, see


  1. "When at your aunt’s house, you want to access your genealogy and capture documents she has."

    Well she probably does not have access to broadband internet service, and may not have any internet access at all.

  2. Sure all those innovations are great. But did Sorensen say anything at all about FamilyTree Maker? The users are not at all happy. The program crashes, loses data and cannot sync. These are not isolated cases. It is the norm. Those for whom FTM works okay seem to be the exception. They've had 6 years to fix things and haven't progressed.

    Family Tree Maker, 373 reviews, rating 1.55 on a scale of 1 to 5.

    Family Tree Maker for Mac, 94 reviews, rating 1.48 on a scale of 1 to 5.


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