Sunday, March 28, 2021

Saturation Point


In past years, now would be the time when folks like me would get ready for upcoming genealogical conferences. Early bird deadlines loomed for big draws like the National Genealogical Society's conference in May, only to be followed by the conference offered by the former Federation of Genealogical Societies, and a choice of many state events, as well.

The pandemic has changed all that. But rather than shriveling a thriving conference season, we've actually seen attendance opportunities explode. Following last year's hard decision points when, hoping right up to the last minute for the situation to improve, organizations had to pivot and switch to online programming, we now have become used to the webinar option, even for venues as large as RootsTech.

There's a fallout to that abundance. When registrants can sign up for a conference and then revel in the opportunities of choosing to view everything available, we approach a change of meeting dynamics.

For one thing, being greedy, I've signed up to watch far more sessions than I turned out actually watching. Something tugs at me when I end up essentially walking away from presentations I theoretically paid to watch. Yes, I know it's the conference that was the package deal, not the sessions I chose but ended up not watching. I just can't handle missing out. The weird reverse psychology turns out to be the thought: why sign up if I'm not going to follow through? I really need to be present to benefit. I won't participate as fully, watching from home. This past year, I've learned that about myself.

On the other hand, there is such a proliferation of genealogical material available online now that the thought might be, why offer anything more? The "market" is saturated. How can an organization like a local genealogical society compete with the program development muscle of international businesses, plus national conferences and multiple state programs, as well? Besides, there are only twenty four hours in any given day; there is only so much training a budding genealogist can absorb every day. The willing learner is saturated with too many opportunities.

With a dynamic like that, I wonder whether there will be a shakeout in the genealogical world. I'm not sure it will be experienced quite the same on the business side as it will in the small, nonprofit side of the equation. While yes, a local genealogical society can also produce monthly meetings online, with such a wide spectrum of programming choices, it is most certain that some entities will be shaken loose. 

And yet, that is not the primary platform upon which local societies were originally founded. We may all—large or small—be currently existing on the same bandwidth, but eventually life will return to something closer to normal, or at least face-to-face. Then what? Will that future still include local organizations dedicated to the support of our community's genealogists? Or will they have fallen by the wayside in the metric of spiraling demands on each organization to continue producing bigger and better online programming?

Of course, the local genealogical society never signed up to be part of this race. The current reality of the pandemic restricts ability to gather together for in-person meetings, thrusting us into the same online arena in which larger organizations already have the muscle to excel. The key, however, is not to attempt to compete on that same playing field—a field rapidly approaching that saturation point of programming—but to look for the inflection point at which we, though not the larger entities, can specialize in meeting local needs. That is, after all, the trajectory we were originally intended to pursue in the genealogical community.  

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