A Digital Adopter’s Rumination on Event Apps

by May Liang

There’s a Facebook meme that there are two types of people in the world: those who can extrapolate…
But there really are two categories of people in this world: those who are digital natives, and—for those of you who can’t extrapolate—those who are not. What do digital adopters—as opposed to digital natives—think about mobile conference apps?
Speaking as a digital adopter, the answer is, not surprisingly, it depends. I have a simple rule when it comes to using an app: does it make my life easier?
Conferences in the Jurassic Period were quite straightforward. You would register for a conference by mailing in the registration form, show up, be issued a badge, and then handed a fifty pound binder filled with a list of attendees, a list of exhibitors, the conference schedule, a list of speakers, and the speakers’ presentations (although typically, the presentations would be handed out right before the presentation because the speaker hadn’t submitted their presentation before the printing deadline). At the end of the conference, you had a huge pile of business cards, the fifty pound binder, and the additional presentations. You then had to have an internal debate on whether it was worth shipping/packing the binder to take back with you. At least in my case, the answer was almost invariably no, and the binder was left behind in the hotel. Often, you were mailed an evaluation form weeks later (or maybe you were given one at the conference), which went straight into the trash can.
Cue up 2018. You register for a conference online, show up, and are issued a badge. If you’re prepared, you’ve already downloaded a mobile conference app, have figured out what speakers you want to hear, whom you want to meet while you’re there (if you’re extra efficient, you’ve already scheduled meetings with them), and have the most up-to-date information on the hotel, speaker presentations, and schedule. Presentations are much more interactive, as audience members can vote in real time on various topics and ask questions ahead of the actual presentation. Evaluations of speakers can also be done in real time. And, if conference organizers are smart, they can parse the data from the app to determine how to improve the conference for next time.
What’s the catch? Sometimes, people wait until the last minute to download the app (shock, I know), creating a bottleneck on the conference WiFi (which the app needs to run efficiently). Another shock: sometimes people have forgotten the password to their iTunes or Google Play accounts and can’t download the app. And sometimes, people, especially digital adopters, just like their conference materials on thin slices of wood.
There is no one mobile conference app that can meet everyone’s expectations. But all you have to ask yourself is whether the app makes your conference-attending life easier. And the answer to that question—even for a digital adopter—is yes.