Update from Washington, DC

I’m in Washington, DC for the American Library Association Annual Conference & Exhibition. I started an MLS program back in 1990 (Masters of Library Science), but had to drop out because my CD ROM publishing company needed my full attention. But I have the deepest admiration for librarians, particularly reference librarians, who are vastly underrated. They don’t know everything, but they know where to find the answers, probably better than any other profession.

So I’m hanging out with 30,000 librarians and service providers. (Someone told me normally 25,000 attend, but DC is a big draw, so they’re expecting more this year.) There are 1,600 exhibitors–pretty impressive. Yesterday I spent 5 hours at the National Archives listening to some of the premiere genealogists in the country talk about using the National Archives to find records of your ancestors.

I’ve been travelling a lot lately, and often getting cheap last minute fares, and I suppose because of that, my luggage was lost for the third consecutive time. What I’m learning is that if a travel site books one segment on one airline and then hands you off to another airline for the next segment, often you make the connection but your luggage does not. A few months back I used LinkedIn Answers to get about 40 wonderful suggestions on how to get cheap fairs with short notice for international flights. Now I think I need to use LI Answers to figure out ways to travel cheap without losing baggage. I used to travel with one carry on and my laptop bag, and I could go for a few days with just that, but since the ban on liquids and stuff, I just check my baggage and carry on my laptop bag. I suppose I could try the plastic bag approach and put my contact lens stuff in one of those and still carry it on. But it is such a pain.

If you wonder why I’m blogging about such mundane and personal things, check out Mark Cuban’s recent *very* personal blog post on getting a colonoscopy. (or you can just google “cuban and colon” and he ranks #1 in google. I think the Colon Cancer Testing Industry should adopt his “it’s easy and breezy” tag line for their advertising. He clearly doesn’t think personal fears should get in the way of having this important screening done.

I had my first physical exam in 20 years last year, and it was a bit uncomfortable and I never would have blogged the details–but then again, I’m not Mark Cuban, and I suppose I do still care what people think of me. I admire Mark in a lot of ways. I love the Mavs, and was sorry to see them lose in the first round of the playoffs this year.

Okay, so back to business.

This afternoon I get to hear a lecture from Google and five major libraries about how the Google Books Project is coming. I’m very excited to get a firsthand update. In various places I’ve read that it only costs Google about $10 per book to scan and OCR a book, they use some kind of modified open source OCR program. As a long time content publisher, I’m eager to know both how to keep costs down on scanning and indexing projects, as well as to see whether Google is just going to digitize all the world’s information and make it free, making it more difficult for anyone else to be an information provider.

But even if all the books in the world were free online (and they won’t be, because of copyright issues), there would still be a role for indexers, librarians, and organizers of that free information, and people would still pay for that added value, because it would save them time and make them more effective.

If open source applications commoditize some software, and force developers to work on top of the LAMP stack, then I think in the library industry, the open sourcing of the world’s books will force professional information workers to add value on top of the “stacks” of free books, as well. (There’s a pun in here somewhere with the open source “stack” and “stacks” of books.) Disruption always opens doors to new opportunities, and those who make the transition by gaining new skill sets and providing new services can do very well.

Yesterday I heard an industry leader in preservation say they now have technology to simultaneously digitize and microfilm the things they are scanning. That is cool.

This morning I hope to hear Ken Burns speak in one of the keynotes. But I’ll be late because I lost my blackberry recharger yesterday, and have to check with the hotel’s lost and found when they open at 9 am to see if they have it, and if they don’t, I have to go two blocks to a cell phone store when it opens and buy a new one. I am always losing laptop power cords and my phone rechargers. Can’t wait for wireless recharging, a technology that several companies are now working on.

Speaking of blackberries, it’s true that you see a ton of them in DC.

This week I’ve spoken with several decision makers about Facebook Platform. After my Paul Revere style midnight ride post–“Facebook is coming, Facebook is coming”–of four weeks ago, the night of the f8 launch event, one commenter called me the “hypiest” blogger he had ever read. I think the hype was legit.

In the last four weeks and one day, 945 applications have launched on Facebook, and it was reported this week that 1,000 developers per day are signing up to become Facebook Developers.

More impressive, 17 applications have more than a million users already, and six have more than 3 million users. Can you imagine getting that many users in a month, without spending a penny on advertising?

I finally signed up for Twitter last week, and hope to get in the habit of using it often. I think it will help me fill in the long (unfortunately) gaps in my blogging, because I don’t have nearly as much time to blog this year since I’m running World Vital Records. When I was in London two months ago, a little article on Twitter was on the front page of the Financial Times.

But the most interesting use, for me, of Twitter, is for parents and children to use it to stay in touch with each other. I think I’ll start experimenting with that. How often do you wonder what your kids are doing at any given time, who they are with, what their plans are? Not that kids will want to use Twitter to keep their parents up to the minute, but I think there might be some ways to pull that off. I’m all for finding ways to use technology to strengthen families, and a Family Twitter would go a long way.

Tim Russert has been promoting his book “Wisdom of our Fathers” and in an interview I saw this morning, he talked about his relationship to his father, and his relationship to his son. He told some wonderful stories (you can find the clip on Truveo) about his son, and expressed very well how family relationships are more important than anything else in life.

If you know any parents that use Twitter to keep up with their kids and vice versa, please let me know. I may write a Connect Magazine article about this in the next few months.

Predictably, my upcoming Connect Magazine article will be on how the Facebook Platform is changing everything in social networking.

I think I saw something yesterday about Ning enabling Facebook apps now.

I’m heading to London tonight and will be there for business meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

My airplane reading is a 600 page book on Germanic Genealogy that was just published this year. I have consumed books on genealogy sources in the UK, US, Germany, England, Sweden and Italy this year, and plan to do the same with every recently published sourcebook on genealogy for every country in the world, just as soon as I can.

Ten years ago, when running Ancestry.com, I had some wonderful subject matter experts to focus on acquiring genealogy records, and I focused on internet marketing and strategy. But this time around, I intend to do both, and to see what wonderful insights and product design ideas come from understanding the records of the world as well as trying to make them accessible to more people.

One more thing: two more entrants into the family social networking space, Famillion out of Israel, and Zooof out of the UK, both have funding, both are doing good things.

And finally, when I have an hour, I want to write a thoughtful post on genetic genealogy, with Google’s founder funding 23andme.com, and Ancestry.com rekindling an old business relationship with Sorenson Genomics, perhaps in response to what Google might do. More and more genealogists are talking about DNA testing these days, and I think it will become mainstream in the next few years. I’ve been interested in this subject since reading the Decode genetics S-1 back in 1999, and trying to acquire a DNA testing company for MyFamily.com shortly thereafter (I couldn’t convince others that it was strategic), so I have a lot of thoughts to share on the topic. Just not enough time.

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Does Genealogy Pay? It Does Now.

A fun and potentially rewarding web site for genealogists is being announced today. GenealogyPays.com features a trivia puzzle that someone will solve for a cash prize of up to $30,000. But in order to solve the puzzle, visitors will need to keep returning to the site to uncover new areas of the puzzle that have been purchased by advertisers.

So many genealogists have invested all their spare time and money on family history over the years. Now one of them gets a chance to win it all back!

Advertisers win because large numbers of genealogists will find this site not only fun (and possibly addicting, as visitors will want to be the first to solve the puzzle) but also one of the best sites for discovering new genealogy sites. Just look at the initial slew of advertisers. I think Dan Lynch, the founder of GenealogyPays.com, will end up selling links to virtually all the major companies and societies in the genealogy industry, because no one will want to be left out of this site that has so much traffic potential.

I hope to have our FamilyLink.com and WorldVitalRecords.com ads live by next week, well before the formal July 1st launch of GenealogyPays.com. Dan is a close friend of mine, but he is making me pay for my ads just like everyone else! He knows I won’t be able to resist getting in on this very interesting online promotion and watching new visitors discover our genealogy web sites all year long.

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Google Gears

I didn’t have time last week to make a big point about the announcement of Google Gears, an open source software project aimed at enabling online web services (such as Google Reader, an RSS client, and eventually all the other Google Apps) to work offline.

This is a big deal. More and more people are trying to find ways to stop paying Microsoft hundreds of dollars per PC for its operating system and its Office applications. It has been difficult to do business without both. I have mostly XP machines (haven’t yet upgraded to Vista–too many mixed reviews). I bought a Lindows machine a couple of years ago from Wal-Mart, but never used it. OpenOffice doesn’t impress me, though I have it on one of my machines, and have used it a bit recently. I’m actually typing this blog post from the airport (love free Wifi) on my first ever Macbook. (No, I don’t have Windows XP on my Macbook.) I’m trying to like this Macbook, but it’s still weird for me. I still prefer Windows XP.

But like many entrepreneurs, I’m always on the lookout for new reasons to save money, including not paying Microsoft so much for all the computer systems we buy. I’d really like to be able to add cheap computers for our call center, for example, that run Linux (maybe Ubuntu). Through their web browser, our reps would be able to use Skype Unlimited for all their outbound calls, and use our CRM system to track their calls. We use Google Notebook extensively in our company for organizing information that we find while browsing the web, and we use Google Spreadsheet for tracking many things.

As more good online services appear, we’ll be able to get the software we need without paying much at all. And if that software works offline too, it will make it possible for our mobile users to take work with them.

By making Google Gears open source, Google will accelerate the extension of thousands of online applications to mobile, offline versions, thus striking a blow to Microsoft’s revenue streams, including eventually, their Office Applications.

It sounds like Google Gears is still a young open source project, but I think it is a great move, and will generate a lot more interest in online software.

(Sorry, this post is just a draft, but my plane is boarding.)

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Sundance: make room for the new family friendly film festival

My friend Brady Whittingham is a driven entrepreneur. He comes from a football family, and he played football in college. That intensity has stayed with him in business. We worked together years ago at MyFamily.com where he was our best product manager. Fast, smart, and completely results oriented. (Just like the BYU passing game.) He quickly realized that as companies get big they get slow–too slow for him (and later, for me) so he moved on, started his own internet business, and has achieve remarkable success.

He has begun doing some films. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Brady has decided to create a new venue for family friendly films to debut. The team he and his wife have put together to launch this festival is a good one.

Sundance Film Festival was started by Robert Redford just 29 years ago, and it has turned into a major international event.

I can’t wait to see what the Utah Family Film Festival becomes in the next decade or two.

Here’s how Brady describes the impetus for this festival and a little about the first year’s event:

There has always been some sort of draw for me to entertainment, and specifically film. . . .Having been exposed quite a bit to the industry through my passive role as Executive Producer for an newly completed independent film called “Take” (www.takethemovie.com), I’m more than just a little bit intrigued by the process of taking a movie from concept to finished product.

For years, my wife and I have attended the Sundance Film Festival. We have friends that fly in from NY and California every year and it’s always one of our most anticipated holidays (yes, we have made it a two week holiday around our house). As great as we think the Festival is, the film selection doesn’t cater well to the family (we have 3 little girls ages 6, 9, and 11), and we’ve been embarrassed more than a couple times after inviting friends and neighbors to a film without knowing exactly how graphic the material was going to be (there is no formal rating system for most of the independent films at film festivals). This past winter after one such experience, I told my wife that we are going to start a Family-Friendly Film Festival. She of course thought I was a little crazy for thinking that I have the know-how or the time to pull it off, but here we are, 1 week away from our first annual Utah Family Film Festival!

Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for much more than having the idea. My wife was right about at least two of three things…I don’t have the know-how nor the time to pull this off. I actually might be a little crazy too, so I guess she was 3 for 3. Referring back to my “job”, I am currently the President of a large division of a public company and spend a couple weeks each month on the road, and the rest of the time trying to catch up in the office. So to pull it off, I had no choice but to find great people and empower them to go out and make it happen. The initial stages of planning the event location, lining up vendors, notifying filmmakers of the festival, etc. were handled by none other than the 2006 Miss Utah International Brittany Bowden. She did a phenomenal job of setting this up. Once it was set up, we needed an industry pro to execute the plan, so I had to convince somebody both experienced in the Industry and crazy enough to take on the role of Festival Director with such a short time before the event. Tyler Measom was one of the Producers I met on the set of “Take”, and he was a perfect fit. Fortunately, he accepted the offer to become our Festival Director, and subsequently convinced his Partner Jennilyn Merton to join him as Festival Media Director. Add to that about two dozen close friends and family who have agreed to volunteer, and so far it looks like we are going to pull it off in a big way!

Now we just need people to come and enjoy some of the wonderful films that have been submitted by makers of Family Films all over the world. For movie descriptions and to purchase tickets, go to www.utahfamilyfilmfestival.com. See you at the movies!

When: Thursday through Saturday, June 7-9

Where: University Mall Theaters (Southeast of Costco), Orem, Utah

What: Independent Family Films, plus select retro films including Napoleon Dynamite (former Sundance film) and Goonies

Cost: $6 for adults, $3 for children

Info: www.utahfamilyfilmfestival.com

Please spread the word. Let’s make this first event a big success and set the stage for a future film festival that everyone can be proud of, and that everyone can attend without risk of embarrassment.

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