To fully support the workflow of a conference participant, it is insufficient to simply provide applications for multiple devices. These devices also have to share information and to work together as one.
For example, a conference participant might want to do the following prior to and at the meeting;
1. Search and browse the sessions and presentations on the PC on his desk at the office, adding some to his “My Schedule”.
2. Do the same on his smartphone or tablet as he commutes home.
3. Do the same on his laptop on the train to the conference venue.
4. At the conference, look up his “My Schedule” on his smartphone or tablet.
To enable this, the supported devices must be capable of sharing information. Ideally, this should be seamless, without the user having to explicitly “sync” his/her device (they will always forget to do that).
Although conferences commonly provide both a website for PCs and smartphone applications, the “My Schedule” feature is often completely independent and is not shared. This is ridiculous.
Ponzu is a single web service that supports multiple devices. It is not a combination of different solutions for each separate device. Therefore, information sharing is built-in.
To understand how to create a great conference system, we have to clearly understand what a participant will want to do prior to the conference, at the conference and after the conference.
Conference IT systems should adjust to the needs and devices that scientists possess. Scientist should not be forced to own certain devices simply to access conference information. The IT systems should be there to help, not rule over the scientists.
We realize that while 100% of scientists have a laptop computer, much fewer own smartphones and even less own tablet PC devices. We recognize that scientists are not necessarily tech-geeks and many will not purchase new fads. There will be “laggards” in the high-tech device sense, but these “laggards” are often the scientists who have a large presence and saying in the scientific community.
We also acknowledge that even though tech-savvy scientists will want to use smartphones or iPads at the conference floor, they will still use traditional PCs in their planning phase at their office. Hence the IT system should seamlessly sync whatever they did on their laptops to their smartphones.
Therefore, an IT system for scientific conferences must work well with laptop computers, and also accomodate new gadgets. Focusing on new gadgets at the expense of laptops is not an option.
Unfortunately, this is contrary to what a lot of conferences are providing.
Looking at competitor activity, it seems that their priorities are;
- Provide a native smartphone application.
- Provide a rudimentary web site for PCs.
- Congre uniquely provides syncing between the PC site and smartphone apps.
- Provide a iMode site (only Congre).
Our priorities are;
- Provide a cutting-edge experience on PCs so that they can do their preparations effectively.
- Attendees can chose whether they want to bring smartphones, tablets PCs, iMode phones or printouts to the conference.
- We support smartphones, tablets, PCs, iMode phones on-site.
- After the event, they can go back to their PCs and create a report.
The simple question in the title can be reframed as “Do we want to exclude paying participants or distinguished speakers from accessing the conference program?”. Of course the answer is NO.
Although the percentage of smartphone users exceeding 50% of total mobile phone users in the United States, the number is much less in Japan. As of 2012, only about 30% of Japanese mobile phone users use a smartphone. Furthermore, demographics suggest that while younger to middle-aged people are more likely to own a smartphone, elder people, the people who tend to be distinguished professors, are not. Moreover young students are often admitted without charge. Therefore, if we were to calculate the total attendance fees from smartphone owning participants and to compare it with non-smartphone owners, we would probably find non-owners paying more.
Despite this, there is a tendency for conferences to provide native smartphone applications, which will not run on feature phones. Even when there is a website for PCs, it tends to be a very simple and rudimentary search system.
We think that this is a ridiculous situation. Our goal with MBSJ2012 and with the current Ponzu system is to support as many devices as possible, including the millenniums-old but always reliable medium; paper.
Our support strategy is as follows;
- PCs: The most ubiquitous digital device among conference participants is the PC. Every researcher has a PC to write presentations and journal articles. They will use their PCs to find out which presentations interest them, and which ones they will want to see.
- Smartphones: Smartphones are gaining in popularity and provide a huge amount of functionally. Many researchers will want to use smartphones to check the conference program.
- Feature phones: Although not as powerful as smartphones, feature phones are nonetheless capable of browsing websites. If an appropriate website is provided, feature phone users too can easily check the conference program.
- Tablets (iPad): Tablets are the ideal device for viewing conference programs on-site. They provide a wide screen while being totally usable standing. However, their popularity is still limited. The people who own tablets are a minority.
- Paper (PDF): PDFs are great for downloading and printing onto paper. If you do your homework and narrow down the presentations that you want to attend, then the amount of paper you have to bring is actually quite manageable.
Our commitment is to support all of the above media with the highest quality possible. Supporting five different media is a huge challenge, but was made possible by integrating all the platforms within Ponzu and Kamishibai.