Jinfo BlogKeeping up with conferences via apps

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By Africa S. Hands

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Abstract

One way to build conference excitement and keep attendees abreast of happenings is through conference apps. While one app cannot meet the needs of all attendees, several apps used together help professionals stay connected at the conference and with clients back home.

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Jonathan Kahn’s FUMSI article, “Seven things I’ve learnt about organising a conference”, discussed important aspects of conference planning, from assessing financial risks to avoiding “committees at all costs”, to pitching the conference city as a value-add to attendees. Number six on the list was to build excitement in the community. One way to build excitement is with hashtags. With the advent of Twitter hashtags, conference organisers need only create and promote the official conference hashtag and users will take it from there. Ideally, there will be interaction between organisers and attendees as well.

Such was the case with the ALA Midwinter hashtag: #alamw12. Conference organisers regularly contributed content to the Twittersphere, fielding questions about exhibit hall access, posting links to articles about dining in Dallas, and more. Each post referenced the hashtag. Librarians enthusiastically used the hashtag in hundreds of posts leading up to the conference with a steady stream during and after the event. Transit information, tourist favourites, dining options and even wardrobe choices were tweeted. There was no shortage of excitement in the information community.

Another way to build enthusiasm and keep attendees abreast of conference happenings is through conference apps. Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure to experience a couple of different conference apps. Last November, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the American Academic of Religion (AAR) had an app for its annual conference. It’s probably accurate that, as E.B. Boyd writes, many “conference apps are just digital versions of the paper programme”, but conference programmes can be a drag to lug around when your smartphone fits neatly into your bag or pocket. Even with the duplication of content, conference apps are greatly appreciated. The AAR app featured tweets, a find-a-friend function, and expo information with a map of the exhibit hall, pins indicating exhibitor locations and links to the exhibitor’s website. The Lonely Planet travel guide was also useful.

Gigaom highlights 15 useful mobile apps for conferences. The list includes familiar favourites like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Foursquare and GoWalla. QR code readers and tools to facilitate meeting others are also suggested. For those still conducting business while at a conference, the Multi Time Zone Alarm Clock app is recommended.

A few of the same apps appear on Mashable’s list of must-have conference apps. Recognising the need for timely distribution of information back to clients and colleagues, Mashable suggests the WordPress app and the Ustream Live Broadcaster app in the event that a blog post or picture won’t do.

Conference apps are expected to offer users a value-add such as the ability to provide feedback wherein the “audience is now controlling and changing the conference in real time” says Matt Walton, CEO of an app development company. One app cannot meet the needs of all conference attendees. If you had the attention of a conference app developer, what features would you suggest as a value-add for today’s information professional?

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