Conferences represent a major investment of time, money, and resources for all parties involved, whether hosts, sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, or attendees. Everyone involved in a conference or trade show has a vested interest in ensuring its success. A new portal service called Confabb (http://confabb.com) promises to assist all parties in improving their chances of making their investments pay off. The portal service offers a rapidly growing database that currently includes 16,655 events around the world. Initially, it is focused on gathering technical and Internet-related conferences, but, according to Salim Ismail, chairman and co-founder of Confabb, it intends on being comprehensive. Confabb employs social networking tools and a reputation-management system for critiquing and reviewing conference elements. Users can search for, promote, or track conferences; visit hosted discussions; view photos; scan blog mentions; download event calendars; and even tap into a peer-review system for conferences, speakers, and sessions.
Ismail explained the ideas behind Confabb's creation: "Confabb's staff are all veterans of the tech conference circuit. Between us we've been to hundreds of events over the years and always felt there should be a way to get more out of the time and money invested in attending, speaking at, or marketing these events. The general saturation of blogs and other easy to use live Web applications provided the tools we needed to take the positive face-to-face networking, lead generation, and professional development experiences of live shows well beyond just the two or three days and physical location the conferences are restricted to now. Confabb represents an entirely new way to discover, think about and participate in conferences for your industry or interests."
The features built into Confabb would seem to appeal to all parties interested in conferences from both the supply and consumer sides. When I asked Ismail whether it intended to focus on conference attendees or hosts, he explained that its business model depended upon revenue from conference hosts, advertisers, sponsors, etc., but only attracting attendees and others could draw the attention and support of the conference host and exhibitor communities that Confabb needs.
Conference database descriptions include start and end dates, URLs (agenda and registration), producer and organizer information, producer e-mail, venue and location contact information, and category tagging. Users can search by keyword, location, producer, or a mixture, as well as browse by 25 broad categories with numbers of relevant conferences attached to subcategories.
Users can create Confabb home pages that let them add conferences, watch lists, comments, contacts, personal interests, etc. They can create a calendar of future conferences exportable into Outlook or Apple iCal, flag or highlight conferences or sessions they plan to attend, and share this with the network. Conference administrators can manage conference information, add or edit logistical and content details into a Web information package, and publicize conferences to Confabb users.
Confabb offers RSS feeds for all blogs, pictures, and other content created by the Confabb community. The rating system includes a Top Speakers list and a Speaker Directory. The conference detail pages have tabs for quick navigation to specific pages of interest, including Details (general information), Discussion (conference administrator blogs), Speakers (including bios, histories, and lists of other events), Sessions (schedules and agenda), Reviews (real-time ratings), Events (on- and off-site), Photos (from conference administrators), and News (links to updates and special announcements).
Searching the database of conferences is open to all users; free registration, however, opens full access to all features on the site, which cover past, present, and future conferences. Speakers are encouraged to build blogs on Confabb. Conference organizers can add and promote events directly on the site (including session content, speaker selection, and peripheral events) and monitor the activities of competing conferences. Extra services for conference organizers include tags, links to blogs and photographs on Flickr and elsewhere on the Web, and links from Confabb back to conference host Web sites. Anyone, including attendees, speakers, or interested parties, can add a conference, convention, trade show, or retreat to the Confabb database.
A lot of work remains to be done on Confabb. "Right now," said Ismail, "we have a cursory taxonomy based on existing taxonomies we found. It's not perfect. We have a lot of work to do on categories. We need to cross-reference angles and components of conferences." Though Confabb currently has RSS feeds, Ismail stated that it plans to add e-mail alerts fairly soon and alerts by different types (e.g., by industry, specific conference subcategories) and by particular speakers. In the future, Ismail hopes to add travel and other hotel or conference facility information, including special deals. Confabb also plans to offer conference hosts branded versions with more advanced features, such as automated calls for papers and more prominent advertising. These services will involve a fee and will supply Confabb with additional revenue.
In the more distant future, Ismail said Confabb hopes to link to output from conferences (such as proceedings and papers), store conference coverage, and set up subgroups of common interests among planners and attendees. It may even partner with Webcast companies or handle transactions. At this point, said Ismail, "We have already had half a million hits on our Web site. We are scrambling to do what users want most first. For now, that is better search and categorization and alerting."