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Event Apps - All the rage or ALL THE RAGE?

We've talked before in this blog about how technology, particularly in the realm of smartphones can be used to enhance events. This is, as you can probably imagine, an incredibly fast-moving area of the events industry, and so what's big now might be yesterday's news as soon as the next innovation achieves critical mass.

What will drive development in this area is by identifying, or potentially even manufacturing, a need; and using the technology to deliver a solution to that need. Remember those smart posters you used to see at music festivals 10 years ago? The ones you'd point your phone at and it could send you a free ringtone or something without you even asking. Come to think of it that would actually be kind of annoying, which is probably why it never really caught on. What did catch on to an extent is the QR code, which at least allows users to opt-in to whatever they're signing up for. Although they still haven't reached the level of ubiquity that was being predicted 5 years ago.

Push notifications
are all the rage at the moment, and they can obviously be very appealing as a way of forcing your message under peoples' noses. But on the other hand, unsolicited mail is bad enough when you're expecting it, and so unless you have something really worthwhile to say, perhaps this should be used sparingly.

The point is, innovation happens when someone takes the technology and uses it in a way that hasn't been done before. When you think of how an event app can be used, you mostly find yourself boxed in by what you've already seen elsewhere. Schedules, maps, downloadable presentations; those are all very useful, but when it comes to these technologies the sky really is the limit and this means that creativity is the key. Event apps are no longer a novelty when everyone already has a smartphone or two, so whether your guests are wondering where the fire exits are, or what's on the dinner menu that night, you can give them that information and, more importantly, your guests will know it came from you.

But if it's so fast moving, then what's next? And if we don't know what's next then how do we plan for it? That's always going to be tricky when (on the whole) it's app developers who are leading the charge rather than the end users. Technology has taken a recent fortuitous jump and with the advent of Bluetooth Low Energy and leveraging that into iBeacons or similar we're in a position where a handful of developers have found ways of tracking devices to within a few metres. What if people could set up their own meetings and then find themselves on a live tracking map? Or if an exhibition stand owner could target only the buyers who are nearby? Or an event organiser could track exactly what paths people took through an exhibition?

With the kind of information that we could collect in those scenarios then events could be targeted far more effectively for both those who attend and the organisers. But if we're tracking the location of everyone all of the time, what do we do with that information? Well firstly you make sure that no one else can get hold of it. Never has digital security been more important, which is why it should be an utmost priority in choosing who you work with. More pertinently, there's an issue of social responsibility here: at what point does logging peoples' behaviours become an invasion of privacy? Is it acceptable to harvest data, however innocuous, from peoples' actions without their informed consent? Should one have to turn off their phone altogether to avoid being tracked and targeted?

These dilemmas will probably take rather more than a blogpost to sort out, but in the meantime the capabilities of these apps, and the ways in which they can be implemented continues to grow apace. Look out for them coming to an event near you…

Written by: Jayne McFahn