We’ve improved our messaging features today for all conferences with two new features. These have both been in testing with a handful of conferences and have been extremely helpful.
Speakers now have the ability to send a message out to all of the attendees of their talk. We’ve seen speakers use this to share additional information post-event, to give prep materials before the event, and to prompt discussion.
This was our most requested feature by attendees. Previously, private messages from CrowdVine were delivered just via email to people’s email inboxes.
For the most part, this was a convenience that let people participate in the conference networking without having to check CrowdVine every day. However, as networks have gotten more active, many attendees are sending and receiving so many messages that they wanted a separate way to check just their conference messages.
Now they can, through the messages tab on their profile.
These two upgrades join our existing messaging features, email blasts from conference organizers and meeting requests, to make your conference a powerful networking experience.
We’re letting more people into the beta for managing the entire conference website. Our goal for these websites is to have simple defaults that are clear and engaging from the attendee perspective, but flexible when the conference organizer needs it. But what does that mean concretely?
Below is the basic feature list. If you want to participate in our beta, fill out this beta request.
Page Builder: You can’t have a website without web pages. This is the feature that lets you manage your home page or your contact page, for example.
Sponsor Listings: Easily enter information about your sponsors and have them show up on a single listing page. Entering sponsors is meant to be simple enough that you don’t have to get your web designer involved.
Program Listings: Easily enter all of your events, talks, sessions and activities.
Presentation Files: Post your presentation files and session handouts. If some of your presentations are hosted on a service like Slideshare, we handle that too.
Speaker Listings: Easily enter speaker bios and photos.
Mobile Website: We’ll display a mobile optimized version of your website that will work on any phone’s web browser.
Session Ratings: Simple online ratings that attendees can give from their computer or their phone.
Registration Integration: We don’t do registration, but we connect directly to two of the best, Eventbrite and Regonline. Or you can connect your registration directly to us through our API.
Social Attendee Directory: This was our original feature, a social network to give attendees an opportunity to connect before they show up.
Attendee Discussions: Let attendees discuss the conference beforehand, let speakers get feedback on their topcs.
Agenda Builder: Let attendees bookmark activities that they are interested in and see who else is in a session with them.
If this sounds interesting to you, requst access to our beta.
As usual, blogging slows down for us when we’re busy. I wish this weren’t true. I’d be happy if my job was almost entirely researching and publishing conference and social media information, but we’re not there yet. Our work life used to be, “Blog, serve customers, write code: pick one.” Now that we’re bigger, we get to pick two. Lately it’s been a lot of making sure customers are happy and building product updates. So, what’s new?
New Attendee List
We pushed out a new version of the attendee list that’s based on feedback from two types of attendees: people who are used to printed attendee directories and sales types. By having our attendee list follow the structure of it’s printed cousin, we can shorten the learning curve for new users. Lowering the barrier to entry has always been one of our design tricks for getting an active community. Our key change for sales people was to let them browse by state and country, which is how many have their sales territories organized. We’re using this feature to de-emphasize our plot-attendees-on-a-Google-map feature, which has always been sort of neat but not very useful.
We just wrapped up serving and attending PCMA Educon. They’re a very large association of event managers and (in my opinion) the best meetings association for getting solid high-integrity information. PCMA keeps a clear split between education and sponsor marketing (if you think this is normal, you haven’t been asked to accept a meetings technology award by sending in an $8000 check).
I’ve written before that it’s a mixed bag building a conference product without deep conference experience. On the one hand, I am an attendee coming from a world where almost all conference content is available for free online via blogs/youtube/slideshare and all exhibitor information is best gotten through online reviews. So it’s easy for me to figure out what conferences need to do to make the attendee experience better. However, except for organizing a small unconference, I’m not a conference organizer. So it’s harder to understand the experience of running a conference. That’s why I think our association with PCMA is so valuable–it’s an education. Some of that education comes out in product features, but a lot more comes out in the advice that we give.
Upgraded schedule sharing
For a long time we only had two ways to make your schedule portable: view it on a mobile browser or download an ical file to your calendar. We’ve added a print option and an email option. We also did a compatibility upgrade to the ical file. Microsoft Outlook does an awful job of parsing valid ical files and for a long time we’d get regular complaints about the ical. We’ve developed a strong distrust of Outlook, but we’ve gone two months without any reports, so I think our last round of compatibility changes were an improvement at least.
The last three months have all been records for us in terms of new attendees using CrowdVine. That’s nice, but also busy making.
As proof that we really are having record months, we hired a designer, Armando. He started off by going through some of our highest traffic pages and cleaning up the ugliest bits. A lot of his changes are already live. We’ve always worked with a lot of design conferences and the feedback we often got was, “Very useful, but dude, you need to hire a designer.” We finally got big enough to do that. That’s good for our existing features, but it also lets us get new features out faster.
We recently worked with a conference in Russia to get key parts of CrowdVine translated. Here’s what it looked like:
Over the last several months we’ve been changing our back-end systems to allow for more flexible customizations and one of the side effects is that you can change the text in many places. Our Russian conference was the first to realize that meant they could do a partial translation. It’s not the ideal translation, that we’ll offer some day, where you just select the language from a drop down. But it worked well for them without too much work.
If you’re interested, you should talk to us, because this is an area where we’re willing to offer special support. But the general idea is to go to the Manage Pages, Tabs, and Components section of your Admin tab and edit the tab names and then go through the list of components and edit those.
You can now run your CrowdVine network under a custom domain, like
crowdvine.mycompany.com. Look for it under Admin -> Custom Domain.
This is a free feature, although you’ll have to understand how to manage your own DNS settings.
If CrowdVine is your entire website, then you’ll need to change the A record for your account. That way all traffic,
typo.mynetwork.com, etc., will resolve to your CrowdVine network.
If CrowdVine is an addition to your existing site, then you’ll need to create a subdomain and a CNAME record. Our conference customers are the most likely people to do this, using something like
Exact details about which domains and IP address to point to are included as part of the setup.
We’ve upgraded or added file-upload features all over the site. You can post presentation files and attachments to talks, add file attachments to discussions, post a file when you leave a comment, and add files to your site in order to help customize it.
When you go to add or edit a talk, you now have the option to add a single presentation file and any number of attachments. Some people put the presentation and all supporting material into a single .zip file, others are using the extra attachment options to include supporting materials for the session.
You’ve long been able to add a single image to a discussion thread. But we’ve also had many requests to be able to add multiple images, or to add different types of files, like podcasts. Now you can add several files of any kind when you start a discussion.
In order to customize a site, people often want to be able to upload image files or background gradients. If you need to do that, we’ve added a “Manage uploads” option to your Admin page.
Free for now
We’ve added a new feature that lets members connect to their address book in order to quickly search a network for people they already know or to find people to invite. You may already be familiar with our Facebook friend suggest feature. This is similar, except now we’ve extended it to CSV or vCard address book files, LinkedIn, GMail, Yahoo mail, and Hotmail.
There are two halves to this. One is friend suggest, letting you know right away who you already know in the network. In a big network, especially for an event, we want to make sure you don’t miss out on a chance to put a face to someone you’ve only emailed with or to setup meetings with old friends or colleagues.
The second half is friend invite. If you’re enjoying a network, chances are you know lots of other people who will enjoy it also. Friend invite makes the invitation process simple. We have this feature turned off by default for conferences.
We’re also very aware of other services that have abused address book imports in order to send spam. We try to make our policy very clear, so that you and your members know what to expect.
That mobile version we talked about a few weeks ago—it’s live.
We originally released it as a beta feature because we wanted to get some feedback on how people used it at the conference. People mostly used it as expected, to get quick information about the conference schedule or people they were trying to meet.
Because the calendar was such an integral part of the mobile experience we’re only releasing the mobile version for people with that feature (the conference plus, premium, and max packages).
The biggest change we made after getting feedback was to add an option to switch back to our normal web version. When reception or wifi is strong, there’s a group of users with great mobile phones (like the iphone) who would prefer the normal web experience. However, when reception goes south or when an attendee has an older mobile phone, the new mobile version is a life saver.
You don’t have to do anything special to access the mobile version. Just go to your regular CrowdVine URL and we’ll recognize whether you’re coming from a mobile device or not.
One of the things I really dig about CrowdVine is that, for some conferences, a CrowdVine network is the only site you end up needing.
You’ve got a way to keep in touch with your attendees.
You’ve got your social network, which of course is a must.
You’ve got your schedule listing, which for us does double duty as a personal schedule builder. Even for a network of one, our calender is a damn useful tool.
In some cases, this is all you need.
However, there’s bits of information you want your attendees to have- hotel and transport information, etc. Where’s this going to go? In the past, we’ve recommended that conference staff put this information in a blog post on the network. This doesn’t always work, though- they can get lost in the shuffle on busy sites.
So, I recently coded up the tiniest of tiny features, which allows you to create pages that live on your network, and, if you want, to place them in the top level tab navigation.
Communitech’s Entrepreneur Week is using it to great effect. Their CrowdVine network is their conference site.
If you’re a site admin, you’ll see a link to the page edit/creation UI in your admin area. You can also just create tabs that are links to elsewhere. Textile is supported, so you don’t even have to bother with HTML.
We have a beta of our new mobile version for conferences up. This release is only for conferences with calendars as the calendar is one of the major mobile requests. If you’re using a CrowdVine with a calendar you can go directly to the normal CrowdVine site with your mobile phone, no special URLs necessary.
We’re looking for feedback on this release. What did you use the mobile version for? What do you wish you could use the mobile version for? Did it work well on your phone?
Going into this version, we had a couple of goals:
1. Very fast. I have an iphone, which often makes the idea of a mobile version obsolete, but we tested on a Blackberry from 2005. The last time I surfed the web on that Blackberry I wanted to chuck it across the room. This time, however, the pages loaded quickly and I could make out what I wanted to see. Mission accomplished.
2. Make it very easy to decide where to walk to next. The mobile home page lists the conference schedule on the home page starting with what’s up next.
3. Make it easy to find out more about someone. Did someone just give you their card? Who is that panelist? Search is the only other feature on the mobile home page.
4. Access Your Want-To-Meet List. The reason I make lists is to help me remember. Especially with my want-to-meet lists, I need help remembering names and faces. This is a logged in feature.
5. Access Your Schedule. If you take the time to login, we make it easy to review the schedule you created for yourself.
6. Simple messaging. We took most of the discussion features off the mobile version but left the private messaging in. This way, if you’re stuck for a way to reach someone, you can send them a quick message.
There’s lots going on with CrowdVine these days, much of which deserves full blog posts. However, you’ll just have to make do with this burst of mini-updates:
Full To-Meet Lists.
We’ve been experimenting in our conference product with a take off of the friend concept that we called “want-to-meet.” It indicated an aspiration to meet someone and many people have used that feature as the opening to in-person meetings. Now we’ve blown it out into a major feature. People you mark as “want-to-meet” get notifications indicating your interest, they show up on your to-meet list on your My Network page, anyone from the list that’s in a session with you shows up on that session page (so you can track them down before/afterward), and you can check them off your to-meet list once you’ve met.
We now have OpenID working with our Facebook friend importer. Sorry it took so long.
CrowdVine Twitter Account
Want to follow updates about CrowdVine? Follow us on Twitter.
A huge thanks to some wonderful customers this month: JISC, Web 2.0 Expo, ApacheCon, MX, IA Summit. We loved working with you!
Long time CrowdVine users may remember that our old network home pages had comments and blog posts separated and that it often looked like you were talking to yourself. Also, the blog posts tended to get lost. Now they’re combined into one list, blog posts pop back up if they get comments, and posting a comment on your own comment wall doesn’t look so weird.
We added popups and track coloring to the calendar. The popups make it easier to browse the list without having to click through for more info.
We added a feedback option to the calendar. Now there’s five star ratings for sessions and speakers, as well as free-form reviews. Feedback on the feedback feature has been positive so far. It’s simple enough that people actually use it, but also seems to be telling a pretty accurate story.
Along with Sarah Milstein, I organized the unconference track (Web2Open) at Web 2.0 Expo. It was a lot of fun! And the attendees gave us good feedback. Here’s Sarah’s writeup of our favorite session, Speed Q&A.
I pushed a couple of notable updates last week in between prepping for launching some upcoming conferences, so I’m going to talk about the decision behind them a little.
One of the things that has always bugged me about CrowdVine’s UI was the messaging component. Here’s an example of how it used to look:
You can see what we were originally going for here- you have the ability to email some or all of your mutual contacts here. But, that’s not what people have come to expect from a social networking application. The normal use case is messaging just one person:
And that’s exactly what we have here. When you go to a mutual contact’s profile, you’ll see a private message icon.
The things I wanted to avoid doing here were twofold: a) avoid creating yet another inbox for people to have to check and b) doing much work. So, when you send someone a message, they’ll receive an email with the body of it, but your email address will not be revealed. They can respond using a url in the message. If either of you ever want to reveal your email address, you can do it yourselves.
This has been a long time coming to CrowdVine’s code, but, when you go to your contact list page, you’ll see a tiny trash can underneath your friends’ photos. If you don’t love them anymore (or if you want to do something more useful like take someone off your “want to meet” list at a conference), just click that and confirm to delete them.
Oh, we’re also on Rails 2.0.2 now, after a very painless upgrade from a recent Edge Rails revision.