[Editor's Note: in honor of the first blogiversary of GeneaWebinars, here's an interview with Myrt of DearMYRTLE about the site and its important role in the genealogy community.]
How did GeneaWebinars get started?
There had been perhaps only two dozen genealogy-related webinars in the 24 months prior to RootsTech 2011. Ol’ Myrt here had done a few of her own with a select group of participants. Other webinars were sponsored by LegacyFamilyTree.com, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.
After RootsTech 2011 with the first live streaming of major conference components like keynotes and certain panel discussions, the genealogy public was ready to accept webinars as a main viable method for long distance learning.
What happened was that folks began writing to Ol’ Myrt saying – “I know you do webinars, isn’t there one this week by company XYZ?” I had appeared on several RootsTech 2011 live webinar streams, and so my email box was filling up all too fast.
I created the GeneaWebinars Calendar and blog quite simply to answer all those questions for my DearREADERS semi-automatically. Each webinar host and sponsor has been invited to calendar and promote their individual events, so there is very little hands-on work for Ol’ Myrt here.
The name GeneaWebinars made sense. We have Genea-Quilters, Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings Blog, and of course, Thomas MacEntee’s GeneaBloggers listings and so GeneaWebinars seemed like an easy-to-understand name for the site.
How does GeneaWebinars work for both those who want to attend genealogy webinars as well as those who sponsor or present webinars?
FOR SPONSORS: Virtually every genealogy webinar host and presenter has been invited to participate in the free GeneaWebinars calendar designed for scheduling a unique day and time for an upcoming event. Likewise these sponsors also have access to the GeneaWebinars Blog to provide additional spotlights for upcoming events. As new presenters and webinar sponsors come along, I’ll gladly provide access rights.
FOR ATTENDEES: Just check out the calendar at www.GeneaWebinars.com. Click to view details on any of the scheduled webinars and to find the registration info without having to visit individual websites for presenters or sponsors. Since the GeneaWebinars is a Google Calendar, you may “add” the calendar to your list of other Google calendars, making it easy to coordinate with your personal schedule. Google Calendars also provide for reminders in pop-up and email format for people like Ol’ Myrt here who sometimes needs a little reminder!
There are several formats for webinars:
#1 INDIVIDUALLY from any computer – Webinars may employ the “1 computer to many computers” model, where attendees tune in live from any computer with high speed internet access to view the presenter’s slides, and ask questions.
#2 AS A GROUP with one computer – Other webinars employ the “1 computer to 1 computer” model, where attendees gather in a meeting room equipped with a large projection screen, and a single computer with internet access to view the presenter’s slides and ask questions live.
#3 ARCHIVED WEBINARS – If a webinar is recorded and later made available on the internet, it is possible for individuals with access to the archive site to view the webinar, anytime. Pause, rewind and replay are options available in this format.
It seems like webinars are all the rage in the genealogy industry these days – can you give us an idea of how many there are each month, what they cost and what topics are covered?
A quick check of the GeneaWebinars Calendar shows that there are anywhere from 3-5 webinars available per week, except during holidays or big conference weeks like RootsTech, NGS and FGS here in the US. With each webinar typically running 90 minutes that translates to an incredible 220 hours per year of usually free genealogy instruction from software developers and genealogy research specialists. Webinars reflect the range of topics you’d see at a genealogy conference – from beginning research concepts, organization, preservation, ethnic research and DNA, to how to use a specific website software or tech tool.
What genealogy companies or societies are sponsoring webinars and why do they do so, especially if they are free?
SOCIETIES: You’ll find webinar offerings from societies such as the Utah Genealogical Association; the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree Extension Series; the Georgia Genealogical Society; and the Friends of the National Archives – South East Region. Each typically provides the “live” webinars for free, while archived webinars and the handouts are behind the “members only” wall on the society’s website. This encourages new and renewing memberships and saves the hassle of having to worry about refunds to someone who forgets to come to a scheduled live webinar.
To my mind, it’s a better use of my monies to spend $30 annual to join a society that presents one or two webinars a month, saving the archived versions in the members’ only area than it does to read the society’s newsletters. I really relate to the multi-media approach to learning. I like to listen to webinars while doing my filing or scanning on another computer. I can stop, rewind and replay a segment of an archived webinar to study a specific idea in more detail.
In the case of my DearMYRTLE Workshop Webinars, I like to interact with attendees using live demos, and hear how my participants relate to the software, website or research topic. By sharing our adventures we learn so much. Indeed we get by with a little help from our friends.
COMMERCIAL COMPANIES: Taking a slightly different tack, commercial entities see webinars as an effective tech support tool when it comes to teaching folks about their software or website. I’ve heard from several software developers who say in this economic climate, it makes better sense to host webinars to teach various aspects of their software than to take time off to travel two to four times per month, set up a large booth and deal with a customers during the all-too-short time period available for exhibit hall visits during the typical genealogy conference.
5. Any thoughts on the future of genealogy webinars?
Webinars provide a win-win-win for the presenter, individual attendees and the local society.
A WIN FOR PRESENTERS: In my December 2008 APG Quarterly article “Remote Meetings: How GoToMeeting Can Change Where You Present”, I recounted how one high profile presenter, kept home by doctor’s orders, was able to honor his contract to speak at a regional branch of the National Archives. I wrote from the presenter’s point of view that “many genealogy speakers realize they cannot make a ‘living’ from public speaking but hope exposure will increase book sales and research contracts. The GoToMeeting/Webinar business model provides a heretofore untapped revenue source by freeing up time for speaking engagements while reducing costs, particularly lost client research time due to travel.”
A WIN FOR SOCIETIES: In that same article I wrote “This model works especially well for one-hour presentations where the distant society would never before have considered flying in a speaker for such a short presentation.” The society saves the cost of travel, hotel and meals while the presenter saves wear-and-tear on travel time. Additional after-meeting revenue will be realized as archived versions of webinars are place behind membership walls on the conference website.
A WIN FOR CONFERENCE PLANNERS: Attendance at annual conferences provided by RootsTech, the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) will double by adding remote attendance via webinars. Additional after-conference new member revenue will be realized as archived versions of webinars are place behind membership walls on the conference website.
Since webinar support software like GoToWebinar by Citrix is readily available and is fairly reliable for both the sponsor and the attendee I think:
Within the next 12 months:
- APG will offer GoToWebinar access to members for a small fee per session.
- There will be an increase in presenters offering webinars to distant societies wishing to save travel expenses.
- Societies with limited budgets will look for improved program content by hiring distant speakers who offer webinar support.
- Presenters will no longer discount their webinar speaker fees.
Within the next five years:
- 50% of all in-person RootsTech, NGS and FGS genealogy conference presentations will be streamed live to a pay-per-view audience. The overall attendance live and remote will increase significantly.
- 75% of all conference presentations will be video recorded, and placed behind a membership wall.
Long distance e-learning is nothing new in other genres, and webinars have definitely arrived in the world of genealogy.
We have the technology and we know how to use it!
©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee