App-cidents Happen

Before I attended DigitalNow in late April, I went online to download the conference app, and mistakenly downloaded the app for the 2010 conference.

The conference length, name, and the venue, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, were the same both years, but it confused me for longer than I probably should admit.

Still, I’m glad I made the mistake, because it was eye-opening. (For starters, I saw the need to label conference apps with the year —lots of people, like me, operate at a gallop online, doing at least two other things while downloading your app.)

But the bigger, more important takeaway was the graphic example it provided of how quickly apps in particular, and tech in general, are evolving.

DigitalNow’s bread and butter is technology, but their two-year-old app now seems pretty limited. It listed the agenda and speakers, along with sponsor logos and information about the resort, and offered embedded links to email and websites. But it functioned more like a digital version of a print conference schedule than a digital tool.

The New: 2012 DigitalNow

The 2012 app, by comparison, gave far more detailed and interactive information about sessions and speakers, offering attendees the opportunity to create their own personal agendas. Attendee bios and photographs were loaded into the app, attendees could link directly to the conference hashtag, sign up for text alerts (which were used judiciously), and physically find sessions and breakouts on a map of the convention center.

The app also connects directly to archived content; attendees can access videos of select sessions, including exhibitor presentations.

As good as it was, I wanted more. Specifically, I wanted to know which sessions were popular with attendees who were a lot like me. Social media platforms like Facebook, along with websites like Amazon, are training me to look for “recommendations” from people that I don’t know well.

It is surprising to me that I expect so much, because not much more than a year ago,  I wrote a column about organizations that were developing their first conference apps. It was new ground to many of the people I spoke to, and unfamiliar territory for me as well. I didn’t even know if I would like to use an app.

Today, I’m a big fan, and a recent Convene survey of meeting planners showed that more than 25 percent of respondents use them, a figure that almost certainly has grown since then.

What about you and your conferences? Are you using apps, and how are they changing?

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.