Big thanks to Mike McAllen for having me on the 164th episode of the Meetings Podcast. You can listen to it live right here (turn your speakers on so your coworkers can hear):
Was it a controversial episode? You bet.
I predicted the demise of exhibition halls, pre-planned content for sessions, and sales people. What’s left of the conference industry after you take all that away? Just networking and attendee generated content–how self serving of me!
Head over to the Meetings Podcast and let Mike know what you think.
We’re doing customer trials where CrowdVine is hosting the entire conference website, rather than just being a social network and agenda builder add-on. Is this a change in direction? No. But it does qualify as a major new feature.
Our original goal was to make conferences more valuable to attendees by boosting their networking opportunities. Then we added in a personal scheduler in order to make sure attendees found their way to the best sessions. Now, by hosting an the entire website, we’re able to add attendee engagement across the full life cycle of the conference.
PCMA’s EduCon introduced a blueprint for a social augmented event. There are seven stages to that blueprint, and currently CrowdVine currently dominates two of them, pre-event networking and event networking.
Those are still the places that give attendees the most bang, but we also want to let them in on the rest of the conference cycle. Public proposal systems let attendees have a say in the program process. Aggregated social media content gives a constant stream of pre-event marketing phase. Session ratings let you get easy and instant analytics post-conference.
This is a massive undertaking, but if you think this is something that applies to your conference, we’d love to hear from you. The best way to contact us is simply to email me, email@example.com.
In the mean time, check out some of the conference websites that we’ve built with CrowdVine:
IA Summit 2010
Adaptive Path’s UXWeek
Net Impact 2010
I’ve got a couple of new tidbits we’ve rolled out that I wanted to talk about. They’re targeted at two of my favorite user groups: international conferences and tech geeks.
Despite my repeated denials, the entire world does not reside in Pacific Standard Time.
In fact, in addition to the conferences we’ve been working with stateside, we’ve had an increasing number of overseas conferences (Web 2.0 Berlin and ApacheCon Europe are good examples) that needed proper time zone support.
And that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Conference admins, if you click the “About” link in your admin section, you’ll see a drop down to change your time zone.
First off, I should say, OpenID isn’t just for geeks. Sick of remembering a bunch of different passwords on a bunch of different sites?
Yeah, so am I. So, if you’re a User of Authenticated Web Applications, OpenID is probably worth reading about.
The actual news here is that we now consume OpenID 2. Enjoy!
I think I’ve said this before, and it continues to be true: our blogging slows down when we’re going through a growth spurt. In this case we had a big one. In May we doubled our number of conference customers and July and August have been spent growing to accommodate them. You may notice some new faces around (Chris, Michelle, and Jenn–I’ll introduce them when they’re ready). You may also notice some important new features (again, fuel for a future blog post).
However before summer ends, I want to take a moment to say welcome to CrowdVine, in some cases welcome back, and in every case thank you very much!
SAS — Many people don’t know this, but SAS is the largest privately owned software company in the world. They’re a definite model for people like us who think about building a long term business rather than something to hype, flip, and abandon (if this sounds like common sense you don’t work in silicon valley).
Business of Software – This is put on by Joel Spolsky and Neil Davidson, two huge stars in the software business. Check out the speaker list! This is a conference I should be attending and that I aspire to speak at. They’re also beta customers for one of our soon-to-release new self-service packages.
Youth Specialties – We like any conference that proves that you don’t need to be a techie to want to meet people — that’s a universal goal. YS is a premier support organization for Christian youth workers and the organizer of massive conventions. We built a custom video submission contest for them and if it goes well we’ll offer it to other people.
Pearson’s Voices That Matter – Pearson is a premier book publisher and that means they are connected to enough authors to run conferences on almost any subject. I love that when you browse one of their Speaker Pages they highlight each speaker’s book. You can’t beat that for proving subject authority.
Adaptive Path – We just finished conference #5 for them making them our most loyal customer. A lot of our product thinking is around ways that we can reward customers like AP.
Web 2.0 Expo – We just launched our third and are getting ready to do our fourth Expo network. Besides having a long history with them (Jay and I used to work for O’Reilly and I organized a section of their SF expo) I like having them in the mix because they push us to be on the cutting edge. The challenge always is how can we be modern enough for the Web 2.0 audience but simple enough for doctors, professors, and youth workers.
Search Marketing Expo – SMX was one of our first conferences to understand that networking is part of the value that attendees are paying for. We’re welcoming them back for their third conference, SMX East.
Twiistup – When we talk about the problem CrowdVine solves we talk about what happens when you walk into a crowd, spin around, and realize you don’t know anyone. Twiistup is the ultimate example of that dynamic, a crowded party celebrating Los Angeles startups. With CrowdVine, attendees show up already recognizing faces and having people they want to talk to. Plus this was another chance to work with my favorite designer, Elliot Jay Stocks.
IxDA – I don’t want to put too much pressure on them, but based on their first conference with us I tell all of our clients that you can’t underestimate the value of community management. David Malouf, from their conference committee, is still the best, most active, and most enthusiastic community manager we’ve worked with. That plus he’s an excellent interaction designer. We’re rooting for a repeat performance.
Association of Learning Technology – We’re getting a lot of interest from people in higher education. It’s an interesting field, how much of learning is from the materials and how much of it is from people? In my experience, 90% of my career development came from being around smart people. So we’re excited to work with any educational groups that want to experiment with social networking.
Communitech – They’re the Waterloo Region Technology Association and within five minutes of talking to them I was convinced Waterloo is a hotbed of startup activity. They’re running a week long series of events spread out all over town and they’re going to be giving our calendar/agenda-builder feature a workout.
There’s also a bunch of events that are using our self-service tools, BioSysBio (science), Medicine 2.0 (health), Vanderbilt Class of ’64 Reunion (
old folkslife long friends), IET Power Academy (engineering students), and National Society of Collegiate Scholars (more students).
One thing I like about them is how they prove that you don’t need to be an Internet native to want a tool to help you meet other attendees. We’re very thankful to our friends at O’Reilly Media who gave us an amazing opportunity to get into this business by letting us try our software on their conferences. That got us into a world of web conferences. But through the faith of a few more friends we’ve broken out into any field where attendees have a reason to meet.
Thank you all. Jay and I enormously thankful for the opportunity to work with you and proud of the ways you’ve used our software. Thank you.
Unconferences started as independent conferences where the attendees organized and created the content on-site. These events do things that are hard for traditional conferences– they create great discussions, cover nichier content, and can cover more relevant topics because the sessions don’t need to be announced months in advance.
However, unconferences don’t need to be done as independent conferences–they can be incorporated into a traditional conference program. MPI, an association of conference professionals, ran an unconference track as part of their recent Meet Different Conference. The Web 2.0 Expo series of conferences has been running an unconference track (Web2Open) at their last three events. I co-organized the last Web2Open and here are some tips that you can use for your own unconference track:
1. Use OpenSpace techniques.
We’d never organized an unconference before so we were worried about the logistics. How do you explain the concept? What are the ground rules? How do you facilitate the schedule creation? We read up on and cribbed techniques from OpenSpace Technology. Open Space is set of techniques and resources for running meetings such as unconferences. They’re a great resource and we did fine as first-timers because of them.
2. Discussion only–no presentations or projectors.
One of your major headaches will be turning down people who want to give sales presentations. If their presentation was any good you would have already accepted them into the main track. The strength of the unconference track is that it allows for discussion. We had plasmas available but the best sessions were discussion only. Don’t give any room for people to lecture. Take away the projectors. Say no to presentations. Everyone will be happier with the result.
3. Have a highlights board in the main conference area.
At an independent unconference everyone is there for the same thing. They’re in the same area and on the same schedule. If you’re integrating an unconference track you’re going to need to work hard to make people aware of all the great sessions that are going on. We put a big white board in the main area and put highlights from each time slot.
4. Offer free passes for volunteers.
Our volunteers spent a lot of time answering questions about what an unconference was, what sessions were going on, how someone could add a session, and where a particular session was being held. That left us free to help the speakers, work out space issues, and actually attend part of the conference that we’d spent all this time organizing. The volunteers seemed happy to trade their time for free conference passes.
5. Coordinate before-hand online.
Normally unconferences put up a wiki where attendees can announce that they’re coming and suggest session ideas. This sort of coordination becomes an order of magnitude more important when you’re incorporating the unconference into your main track. Attendees will be coming and going. But how will they know when to come? By far the most successful session at Web2Open was on Health 2.0. The session coordinator found every single attendee in health care or medicine, emailed them to let them know about the session, and asked them what topics they wanted to cover. The result was 30 attendees who went over their allotted time by 60 minutes and when they finally did end, had looks on their faces that made clear that they’d just attended the best session of their lives, one that had been specifically tailored to them.
How did the Health 2.0 guy find and contact all those attendees? Web 2.0 had a CrowdVine conference social network. Wiki’s are nice but our social networks make it much easier to discover attendees (because of our tagging feature) and then to contact them. We hear a story like this every time we’re involved in an unconference.
Demo.com did a nice overview of Social Networking Tools for Events. They do the world famous and long-lived (18 years) DEMO conference.
I liked how we differentiated ourselves in the article:
“Across the board people discount the social needs of their customers. Conferences are focused on attracting people based on the content of the conference but the people you meet are as strong a draw as the sessions.”
There’s two things we believe strongly.
1. People want to socialize at your conference. We make it as easy as possible for attendees to meet and connect with as many people as they want. Out of all the competitors in the article, our product is the only one that feels social. The rest feel robotic and mechanical and the results are too often that people don’t meet at all.
2. Our company is only as healthy as your conference. We’re always looking for ways to make your conference a consistent draw so that you get more popular every year.
I keep running across stories about how Web2.0 is effecting conferences.
Sometimes people are talking about how technology can help you run a better conference. David Spark’s How to Web2.0 Enable Your Live Event was the first summary that I saw. It’s still the best. But I also just ran across this academic paper, Conference Connections: Rewiring the Circuit. It’s a longer read but full of good info. This is the area CrowdVine is in–we want to use our software to make your conference better.
Then there’s articles about the social changes. These tools can become echo chambers for strong opinions. Here’s the worst of it, witch-hunt for Sarah Lacy. She did a mediocre interview with an extremely hard to interview CEO. In the old days people would have gotten bored and tuned out. Instead they started posting complaints to twitter, which caused a competition for who could make the most acerbic comment.
Web2.0 has also boosted the popularity of user generated content in places that aren’t using any computer technology, most notably unconferences. Unconferences are going so main stream that they now run along side normal conference tracks. MPI, an organization for meeting professionals, ran an unconference inside of their recent MeetDifferent conference. Web2.0 Expo has run unconferences at each of their last two expos and again at their Expo in April (I’m co-organizing that unconference).
Even with the occasional blow-up, this trend is good. Main stream conference content is competing with the web. Why are attendees going to come sit in a session at your conference when they can get the same information for free on the web? You have to adapt. You have to go Conference 2.0. Unconference sections let attendees get up-to-date and often extremely niche info that isn’t available anywhere else. And the social tools help people meet face-to-face. There’s no substitute for dealing with people in-person. That’s the real reason conferences are so valuable.
Interaction08 had 450 attendees and 363 users of CrowdVine. That’s 76%. I wonder if attendance at lunch was that high.
Attendees also had some nice comments on this post-conference thread. My favorite was this one:
I think that Crowdvine whether they intended for this to happen or not generates a new type of community post-conference, and that is the one where we interact without the need for an interface (or middle man – crowdvine being one).
I originally envisioned the business as a purely ad-supported operation. In that world, we’d be in bad shape if users were graduating from our software to real world relationships. However, since our clients are conferences we’re only concerned with whether we brought value to the conference. In this case, the poster met so many people in the IxD community that he no longer needs our support to keep in touch with them.
For people who have this kind of experience, the conference is the one place where they can see all their new friends in person. They’ll come back no matter what the content is. For associations, a connected membership means better knowledge transfer, better opportunities for jobs and business deals, and higher retention. Hopefully, we’ll be back for Interaction09 helping some new attendees get this same experience.
Interaction 08 is only a week away, and I’m getting pretty excited about it. This is due in part to CrowdVine, a web service that allows groups to set up their own social networking site. Now, I’ve never had any particular interest in the likes of Facebook and MySpace. I do have a LinkedIn account, and while I don’t actively pursue it, I can certainly see its merits. I am really impressed with CrowdVine.
There’s more, including a nice clear description of our services. It’s wonderful to get this kind of feedback. Thanks Jack!
We’re being showcased next Monday at MPI’s MeetDifferent conference in Houston. MPI is Meeting Planners International, a huge association of conference and event suppliers and organizers. CrowdVine will be running a hands-on networking experience as part of their Technology Playground for emerging technologies.
I’m not sure what to expect exactly other than something akin to Woodstock for Conference Organizers. What happens when a meeting planning organization plans a meeting? I’m pretty sure we’re going to be exposed to a mix of best practices and new ideas. Jay and I are both going to be there for three days in order to soak it all in.
We just added Twitter to our conference offering as a way for conference organizers to communicate with attendees and for attendees to connect with each other. Attendees can now add their twitterings to their profile, add someone as a twitter friend, and get messages from conference organizers. For those who don’t know, Twitter is a simple way for people to share short messages and it works extremely well on mobile phones. Of our recent conferences, about 25% of attendees already had a Twitter account.
Here’s a couple of reasons to use Twitter at your conference:
Stronger relationships. Attendees who have Twitter accounts can include their Twitterings right on their CrowdVine profile. That’s a nice way to see what each attendee is up to, but we think the key feature is the link to add the person as a friend on Twitter. For conferences, we’re totally focused on helping people making strong connections. We think it’s a big deal when we can help two people meet, but the meeting becomes much more powerful when it converts in to a permanent relationship.
News blasts. Set up a Twitter account for your conference and then use it to send out news. Good things to send are speaker announcements, travel info, and session changes. It’s a good method for sending out info because it gives attendees several options for receiving: web, text message (great while the conference is going on), RSS, and instant messenger.
Live Backchannel. Attendees can see what other people at the conference are twittering. Some of the most common and helpful chatter is about which sessions are good, which are bad, and where people are gathering after hours.
Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco and Future of Web Apps / Miami are both repeat customers. They liked the CrowdVine experience so much the first time that they signed up again.
So I started to think about where our business is coming from. It’s almost entirely based on conference organizers going to a conference that used us or attendees using us at one conference and then recommending us to the organizers of another. That makes sense since we hadn’t been advertising or marketing the product (and didn’t even officially launch it until yesterday).
The thing that makes me so happy is that we’ve got a lot of improvements in line for the product. So if these organizers liked the product enough now, they’re really going to be thrilled when their conference rolls around next year.